[It was great to read so many positive messages from all you okra fans in response to my last post.  Who knew there were so many okra supporters out there?  Here's to a new image for our pal okra!  To the dawning of the age of okra--a new era is born, and it's brimming with green pods and seeds! Okra is cool!  Okra is au courant!  Okra rules! O-Kra! O-Kra! O-Kra! Whoo!]

 

[No, you're not allowed this on the ACD diet. Image courtesy of Naijablog.]

Now that I’ve completed my first week of strict adherence to the Anti-Candida Diet (ACD), I thought I’d put down some thoughts and reactions for those of you who are contemplating embarking on it, or for those who are simply curious. (If you’re here seeking a new recipe, please come back tomorrow–we’ll have cookies!)

First, I am thrilled to say I have not veered even one iota from the procrustean parameters of the diet.  Having said that, I’m also amazed at how difficult I am finding it this time round.

Maybe I’d just forgotten how painful the process was last time, nine years ago, but I don’t recall struggling with it this much back then. Somehow, a decade made all the difference!  True, I am also nine years older, and nine years closer to the dreaded “M” stage of life. ** Or maybe those little candida critters have been pumping iron in the interim and are now more resilient than ever. 

[You are allowed burgers (sans bread)--but who would want one? Image courtesy of Beltway Confidential.]

As I mentioned in my previous post, this diet requires elimination of any food that could feed yeast or help yeast to grow (ie, allergens, toxins, etc.), leaving precious little to eat.  For omnivores, the bulk of the diet would become meat, chicken, fish, eggs. But if you don’t eat those foods, not much else remains once you cut out all grains and fruits, plus some veggies (okay, not all grains; I’m allowed 1/4 cup of one gluten-free grain per day)–not to mention sauces, condiments, alcohol, fermented foods, and so on.

Here’s what you should know if you’re curious about trying the ACD.

The Challenges:

Because I’d done this before, I was already aware of a few of these challenges, which made it a bit easier to follow the diet.  Still, it can be very difficult to stick with it unless you’re prepared for some of the following. 

  • No Dessert for You.  Since most people on this diet are addicted to sweets, cutting out the usual baked goods, puddings, candies, cakes, pies, etc. is really tough.  Initially, my body went carb-crazy and I had to eat something every two hours or so to keep my blood sugar levels steady.  This passed by day three (thankfully–it can really mess up your schedule!). I’ve also managed to create a few ACD-friendly “desserts”–which I’ll post anon.

carrot1

[Here's your dessert on the ACD. Image courtesy of Innocent Creativity blog.]

  • Precious Few Grains. The first phase of the diet eliminates most carbs, and allows very few of the “acceptable” ones.  To my mind, it seems very similar to a low-carb or low-GI diet.  Which would make sense, I suppose, since its purpose is to starve off candida albicans–an organism that feeds on sugar (including blood sugar).
  • Hunger.  Perhaps I should more accurately designate the feeling  as “unresolved cravings.”  I mean, I can count on one hand the times I’ve experienced true hunger.  On this topic, I think Mark Bittman has something useful to say. A couple of weeks ago, I heard an interview with the man, discussing his newest tome, Food Matters.  Among other things, Bittman mentioned how his “vegan until six” diet plan helped him lose 35 pounds and regain his health. 

In the radio interview, he was asked how he managed to alter his diet so radically and still stick with the plan. His response was enlightening (and I paraphrase liberally here): “Well, consider the three major needs in our lives, for food, sleep, and sex.  We all learn to control our sexual urges fairly early on; and certainly most of us in the working world regularly ignore our need for sleep.  Yet we never, ever, in our society, are willing to allow ourselves to feel hungry.  Like needs for sex and sleep, why can’t we just ignore it when we feel hungry sometimes?” 

For me, Bittman’s comment was a little epiphany. Clearly, my appetite is telling me to eat when I don’t actually require more food; the ACD supplies all the nutritional requirements necessary. What I’m fighting is the desire for those last six Hershey kisses just because they’re left at the bottom of the bag (and really, why would you leave six little kisses sitting there?) or the mindless crunching on handfuls of Red Hot Blues because I just got home from work and dinner won’t be ready for a couple of hours and what else am I going to do while I peek intermittently at Oprah?–well, you get the idea.  Remembering Bittman’s advice this past week allowed me to overcome those cravings, at least most of the time. 

  • Die-Off Reaction.  As the yeasty beasties die off, they release toxins into the system that must then be filtered and cleared out by your own detoxification systems of liver and kidneys.  This can be tough on your body.  The second day of the diet, I was convinced I was coming down with a flu: my forehead pulsated, my muscles felt weak, all I wanted to do was sleep.  By day three, it had disappeared.  Even though you may feel worse initially, it’s important to push through.

The Benefits:

It’s been a mere seven days, but already I can recognzie a few of the benefits of this cleanse:

  • Symptoms abate.  Almost immediately, I noticed that my chronically blocked sinuses began to clear.  I had a strange sensation of, “hey! What’s all that air in my nose?” before I realized, “oh, THIS is what it feels like to breathe out of both nostrils.”  Similarly, the muscle weakness disappeared, some tummy grumblings cleared significantly, eyes were less swollen in the AM, and so on.
  • Clarity of Thought. One of the oft-mentioned symptoms of candida overload is fuzzy thinking or inability to concentrate.  This will begin to clear once the yeast begin to die off, after about 3 days or so.
  • Energy.  Yeast and other toxins sap your energy.  Once they begin to take a hike, your energy returns–and you’re suddenly intensely grateful for the extra hours you have during each day to blog, read, meditate, spend time with loved ones, or do anything else you please.

chaserrollgrass

[I concur, Mum--it's great to have boundless energy! You should try rolling on the grass some time!]

I won’t be chronicling the events of every week in this much detail, but will likely mention the more significant milestonres every now and again as I move through the process over the next five weeks.  If anyone has any specific questions about the diet or the experience, please let me know and I’d be happy to address them in an upcoming post as well.

Um, Mum, you know that no one could be more serious about food and eating than we are.  .  . but really, I think you need to take a chill pill on this one.  Because this post is really a downer.”

girlsscaredfaces

I don’t mean this post as a downer.  The ACD will tax your willpower and force you to confront your worst eating habits. . . but that can be a really good thing.  For me, it’s a necessity.  Well, every nine years or so, anyway. 

** no, not “Marriage,” though that might throw me just as much.  I meant “Menopause.”

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

I know, that title sounds like something straight out of my Post-Modern Literary Criticism class (oooh, I shudder just re-thinking it!).  But both bits of news cheered me so much that I wanted to share them in the same post!

The Wait is Over:

Just when I thought I could wait no longer, I received my prize, as one of the winners in Shellyfish’s great 100th Post (Felty Love) contest!  Those of you who’ve read about this here will recall that I’m not the luckiest person when it comes to randomly selected contest winners (another way to say I could buy 50 tickets for the [1-in-3 chances to win] the Heart and Stroke Lottery, and still not win–then again, I suppose that means I’ll probably never be struck by lightning, either).  So this prize was doubly delightful:  not only was it a first-ever win for me, it was also awarded by one of my favorite bloggers, Shellyfish of Musings from the Fishbowl!  I received my prize package in the mail on Friday.  And what a package it was! 

I ripped the parcel open and was immediately touched by the remarkable care and attention to detail taken in choosing the items, packaging them, and mailing them (all the way from France to Canada!). 

Hey, have a look!

[Top row (left to right): Postcard of the Château de Fontainbleau; Felty Love pouch; hand-crafted card emblazoned with maple leaf and ladybugs. Bottom row (left to right): box that contained vegan chocolates, from Chocolaterie Bruyerre--from Belgium; dark truffle square; dark liqueur-infused (I think) round truffle; dark mocha truffle square.]

First, the main prize: a sleek, fuzzy and cozy, handcrafted azure felt change (or whatever else you choose to put in it) pouch.  I loved the hand-embroidered leaf motif when I first saw it on Shelly’s blog, and it was even more impressive (and cute!) in person.  But the finishing touches tickled me the most; to wit, the ribbon trim, the whimsical orange and white lining and–the pièce de résistance–the little custom “shellyfish” tag sewn into the seam!  Now I will remember the source every time I use this sweet little change purse. 

[Just look at that adorable tag!]

Shellyfish also sent along a box of vegan Belgian chocolates! (she really knows how to steal a gal’s heart).  Now, I do love me some chocolate, and have even been known to munch on it daily for extended periods of time. . . .well, let me tell you, these were exquisite.  Each one contained a velvety truffle filling coated with rich, smooth and glossy bittersweet chocolate.  I knew I’d devour the whole set myself and so offered a bite of each to the HH, who noted that they were the best chocolates he’d ever eaten.  And–miracle of miracles–they made it across the ocean intact!  Not even a scratch. I’m planning a vacation to France at this very moment, just so I can sample some more of those babies.

In addition to the pouch and chocolate were a hand-made card with the cutest little ladybugs and maple leaf imprint (thanks for the nod to Canada, Shelly), as well as a postcard of the Chateau Fontainbleau, a lyrical castle in Shelly’s neighborhood, where she lives alongside snippets of history every day (lucky duck!).  

All in all, it was a perfect way to end the week, or start the weekend, and flooded me with memories of my own long-ago stay in Bandol as a teenager. It also made me long for another visit now, as an adult!

Thanks so much, Shelly.  I will treasure my pouch and the cards. . . and my memories of that insanely rich-tasting chocolate! :)

 

The Weight is Under

And what about the “weight is under,” you wonder? (No poem intended, there, though I created one nonetheless–must be that literary influence again).  Well, I haven’t written a blog entry related to the “Diet” portion of my blog’s title in quite some time.  Partly, I’ve felt there was no sense in rehashing old news (I mean, how many times can one re-start a weight loss plan?).  About three months ago, I gave up tracking my weight on a weekly basis, and decided that, given the achingly slow progress of my quest, I’d post an entry no more than once a month.  Well, in the interim, something seems to have shifted.

What’s the best way to stop craving sweets all the time?  Write a dessert cookbook, that’s how, and bake three or four test items perforce each day! 

Have you ever walked into an ice cream parlor, or chocolate shop, or patisserie, and marvelled at how slim the counter folk were?  Countless times in my  life, I’ve asked the shop person, “How do you stop yourself from eating everything in sight?”  I’d usually add, sheepishly, “If I worked here, I’d weigh 300 pounds in no time.” 

“No, no, you wouldn’t,” they’d inevitably respond.  “If you work with it all day, you just get sick of it.”  Well, sorry to say, when I ran my little bakery, I was surrounded by baked goods for 16 hours a day–for two years.  My taste for sweets never waned during that time, and my weight began its ugly ascent during those years as well. 

This time, however, something is different.  I’m testing recipes in my home; I’m basically forced to eat at least a mouthful of each one (to ensure quality, you understand); and somewhere along the line, I became indifferent to the piles of bars, cookies, cakes, tarts and whatever else positions itself alluringly on the counter.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve retained a desire to taste everything, and I’ve definitely indulged.  But for some unknown reason, the impetus to keep going even after the first two or three tastes (or two or three brownies, cookies, slices of cake, etc.) has more or less vanished. 

Why has this miracle from heaven been bestowed upon me?  I have no idea.  How can I ensure that this state of affairs never changes?  Again, I’m stumped.  Will I manage to stay the course this time and keep losing weight?  Beats me.  All I know is, I am unspeakably grateful, I embrace this current reality, and I am ecstatic to be experiencing it. The greatest mystery of my life so far seems to be, “why have I been able to exercise “willpower” and lose weight at certain periods of my life, but not others?”  And so far, like the secret location of Atlantis, like the methods of building the pyramids, like where Sasquatch is really hiding–like the reason for Julia Roberts’s popularity–the answer has eluded me (and all of civilized humanity).

If anyone out there has insight into this particular conundrum, please do let me know.

Mum, it’s easy to exercise willpower when someone else feeds you.  Just get an owner to dole out the food. Oh, and it helps if you learn to raise a paw when asked.”

No food today, my love has gone away. . .

No, not really (well, unless you count chocolate going away). 

However, today’s blog title is a bit of a double entendre: first, since today was Day One of my detox regimen (no wheat, animal products, sugar; and NO GRAINS), I do somehow feel as if I’ve had no “real” food yet (though I must admit, I actually ingested a fair amount); second,  as a result of today’s overcast, dreary, and very glum weather, I have no food to share with you all on the blog.  Oh, I prepared something, all right; I was just unable to produce a photograph in which you could actually make out anything recognizable as food (or anything else) beneath the obscuring veil of gray (a pox on that inadequate, gratis camera, I say!). 

For now all I can share is this: I prepared a soup; and the HH and I practically licked our bowls clean when we ate it.  I promise to try again tomorrow (no hardship having to eat it again, believe me), since the weather is supposed to be sunny and more conducive to taking photos.

In the meantime, it seemed as if even The Girls were having a hard time finding food today.

["Oh, Mum, you embarrass us.  And really, if you gave us more food, we wouldn't have to eat this crappy green ball.  (Oh, wait a sec, we're color blind. . . that was just a lucky guess.)"]

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

Well, as we round the final corner of this Total Health course I’m taking (only two weeks left–where have the past seven weeks gone?), the class has been asked to embark on a “cleanse” (detoxifying diet) as our final piece of homework.

Our teacher, the very embodiment of “tranquility,” has asked each participant to eliminate something from her/his diet that would ultimately lead to a cleaner, less toxic and healthier body. Each one of us, she suggested, should begin exactly where s/he is right now; for the instructor herself, this might mean embarking on a water fast (something she’s done for up to 10 days at a time in the past).  For one particular participant, this would mean cutting out red meat for the week (and retaining the rest of the animals on his plate). And for me?  Hmmn.  Hard to say.

I’m reminded of a lecture I once attended at the University of Toronto many years ago.  As I recall, the gist of the talk was “how we interpret past customs in the present day” or something to that effect. What I do remember is one speaker in particular, a very liberal rabbi in his thirties (tall and lanky, he wore a black leather jacket and Levis–clearly, not your typical rabbi)  who happened to be a vegetarian.  He related a story about a somewhat obscure religious ritual that he likened to Lent, in which Jews are asked to give up all meat for a period of time (sorry, I don’t remember how long–though I’m pretty sure it was less than 40 days). 

As a vegetarian, he figured he might substitute another food to create a similar spiritual impact (since he felt the intent of the observance was to experience self-denial in the name of penitence).  He met with a more conservative, elderly rabbi, an expert in this area, to ask what else he could give up instead. 

“I already don’t eat meat,” he told the senior cleric, “So maybe I could choose something else, to observe the intention behind the rule. How about tofu? Or what if I give up beans?” 

The rabbi appeared pensive, stroked his beard a few times, then replied: “No.  The tradition decrees that you must give up meat.  Give up meat.”

“But I already gave up meat,” the younger guy persisted. “Isn’t the point to sacrifice something? Aren’t you supposed to miss it just a little, so you can appreciate it more?”

The older man became a bit annoyed at this point.  “Give up meat,” he repeated.  “That’s what the custom says. Give up meat.”

“But isn’t there a substitute I could use?”

“No.  Meat.”

“But–“

“MEAT.”

Well, much like our young rabbi friend, I’ve already given up many of the foods that would represent a great sacrifice to the other members of the course (meat, eggs, dairy, sugar, wheat, etc.). The problem is, I haven’t given them up permanently, nor even consistently (what springs to mind is chocolate–a substance which, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard somewhere, contains sugar).

Attempting to decide on the specifics of my cleanse got me thinking back to the first year I learned about the NAG diet. Like a bride on her honeymoon, in those early days I hung on my teachers’ every word. Each time we learned about a new diet, from Ayurveda to macrobiotic to raw to vegan, I immediately went home and tried it out. I loved incorporating more greens into my diet, loved the increased flavor intensity I discovered in organics, loved trying new and ancient grains, loved the array of natural sweeteners–loved them all. If I were still consuming a similarly (exclusively) healthful diet, I’d be in for a water fast at this point, too.

In the past couple of years, however, the purity of my diet has been sullied considerably; even though I continue to consume all the healthy stuff, I am still occasionally drawn back to the unhealthy side of the spectrum as well, and that’s what gets me into trouble: cookies, cakes, chocolate, candy–all can be highly toxic (even the vegan, spelt-and-maple syrup kind, if eaten in excess). 

And so, I determined (with a little pang): I must cut out grains in all their forms for the week.  I had considered simply giving up “flour” (which would effectively eliminate any baking during the cleanse), but all grains made more sense.  Since I’m the type who might overdo something as healthy as a Quinoa and Buckwheat Salad or Millet and Pepper Pilaf when the cravings hit, to avoid any carbohydrate temptation, no grains it will be.  For one entire week.

Unfortunately, this ban will also affect other dishes that harbor grains-in-hiding, such as my tofu omelette or fritatta, or even a delectable nut roast (which contains some breadcrumbs and flour).  What the heck will I eat for the next week?  Well, I’m guessing I’ll return to some previously enjoyed raw dishes, since almost none of those feature grains (and where they do make an appearance, it’s sprouted). Since the weather will supposedly (and finally!) be hot and sunny this weekend, there should be a good variety of fruits and vegetables available to me at the local market.  I’ll also feast on beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.  Why, it’s a veritable cornucopia! And if I feel desperate for sweets, there are always raw desserts like fruit sorbet, carob-cashew pudding, or LaRAW bars.  Gee, there’s just SO much choice, I might even have TOO much to eat! 

(Repeat to self as required: “I am happy and satisfied eating my veggies and fruits.” “I feel comfortably full and content with my measely nuts and seeds.”  “No, there is no sense of deprivation whatsoever without oatmeal for breakfast, or pasta, or muffins, especially when the HH doesn’t need a cleanse and gets to eat whatever he wants, at every meal.” “Of course not, I totally don’t feel those insistent, gnawing cravings that eat away at me like rats in a prison cell that wear me down like stones at the seaside that force me to leave my home at 11:00 PM and drive to the convenience store practically in the middle of the night just to satisfy the aching desire, the ineluctable urge, the desperate NEED for chocolate. . . . Oh, my.  This may prove to be a little more difficult than I anticipated. (Help).

During this week, I’ll still post recipes that I find tasty and worth eating, though I’ll do my best to avoid anything too “out there” (but since I’ve already posted about cultured vegetables, what worse could I throw at you–except, perhaps spirulina bars?)

(“Mum, please don’t get stressed about this cleanse; we will be happy to eat your portion of the grains this week.  Oh, and remember that patting your dogs will help lower your blood pressure.” )

On Being Mindful

May 1, 2008

I know I said I’d relegate comments about my Total Health program to a coda each week, but last night’s class spurred such a barrage of ideas that I wanted to set them down (despite last week’s blathering about eating styles–we all know how well that one went over). So be warned:  this entry features no recipe, and it’s about dieting.  Please feel free to skip if that’s not of interest!

When I first started this blog back in late October (six months yesterday!!), I wrote quite frequently about my diet and (tenuous) attempts to lose weight.  I actually never intended it to morph into a food blog, but once I started reminiscing about different recipe origins, preparation methods, ingredient sources, etc., it seemed to move naturally in that direction (at least, most of the time). I preferred to write about the dishes themselves rather than my reactions to, or feelings about, them.

Well, one of our “assignments” last week in my Total Health course was to “eat without distractions.”  From what I gleaned from our instructions, this meant virtually the same thing as “eating mindfully.”  For any of you who’ve read Jon Kabat Zinn’s seminal book on mindful living, Full Catastrophe Living, this concept is familiar.  In the book, Zinn suggests eating a raisin with full attention to its shape, color, texture, smell, size, mouthfeel, taste, and effect on your emotional or psychological state.  Giving that wrinkled grape your full awareness while consuming it takes several minutes at the least, and you’d presumably experience every nuance, every physical reaction, every sensory impact of consuming that raisin.

I was a little hesitant to embrace this homework, as my schedule these days is beyond hectic and I feel I barely have time to heave a heavy sigh before the day is over.  But I did it.  Breakfast became a private communion between me and my oatmeal (or scone, or almond butter-topped apple, etc.) as I cleared the table and sat and ate. . . mindfully. 

And what did I discover?  That my mind didn’t have very much to contribute to the exercise.  That I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

For me, trying to focus exclusively on my food as I observed, smelled, tasted and then mused upon it was like “torture lite”–maybe not a figurative year in a Medieval prison, but more like recess trapped in the corner of the schoolyard with the class bully.  As with meditation, my mind kept wandering, I found myself scanning the rest of the room as if searching for a deus ex machina to release me from my penance, and I twitched and evaded and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Me?  Wishing EATING would be over??  It’s unheard of!

In our class last evening, I raised the issue.  Was I the only one who’d had a hard time with it?  Apparently, yes.  For the rest of the class (to be fair, not everyone actually did the exercise, so I don’t know about those few who didn’t), eating with no distractions was like an oasis of peace and calm in an otherwise crazy welter of their days.  One woman even said that she’d come to rely on her breakfast ritual, in particular, as a way to start her morning on the right note, and felt unmoored without it. 

According to our instructor, sitting one-on-one with your food and forcing yourself to focus exclusively on it accomplishes a few things.  First, you are more aware of the quality of the food itself.  As she mentioned last week, it’s virtually impossible to plunk yourself down and devour a cannister of Pringles mindfully.  I found that to be true as well (not that I’ve eaten Pringles in the last decade or so):  once you know you must to sit and attend to every puff of popcorn, or every corn chip, or even every goji berry, one at a time, over and over, the idea of grabbing a quick snack between writing assignments doesn’t hold the same allure.  Similarly, if you’re eating food that is of poor quality, paying close attention to every sniff and bite will only highlight that fact, and you may find you’re not as inclined to scarf down that McDonald’s burger and fries quite so often.

In addition, eating mindfully slows down the process of how you select, bite, chew, and swallow the food, so bingeing is virtually eliminated.  When I succumb to a chocolate binge, I’m not paying very close attention to the quantity I ingest.  Basically, I eat as much as there is, until it’s gone (which is why I try not to keep it in the house).  With mindful eating, however, I realized very quickly that I didn’t need all that much to fill my belly.  After one apple (cut in segments and smeared with about a tablespoon of almond butter) for breakfast, I realized I’d had enough.  Maybe I wasn’t used to this bizarre new physical awareness, and it made me uncomfortable.

Finally, I realized that this exercise simply highlighted for me how much I’m overstuffing my schedule as well, and how I usually attempt to fit in too many items in a day; so many, in fact, that taking an extra hour or two to consume meals in isolation throws off the rest of the itinerary.  As I sat chewing my apple with awareness, I was also painfully cognizant of the newspaper draped across the opposite corner of the table, and that my solo meal meant I wouldn’t have another moment to read it that day (well, my teacher would say, you shouldn’t be reading the paper anyway–too much negative energy).

I’m going to try to stick with the practise, despite my discomfort.  For one thing, it’s helped me to determine whether or not I really want to eat something before I dig in; if it’s worth stopping my current activity to sit down and spend some alone time with a food, then I figure I must really feel like having it at that moment. Our instructor promises that the purpose of the exercise is to create a greater appreciation of what we eat, and, ultimately, a greater enjoyment of the food.  I’m waiting for that to happen.  In the meantime, I am glad for the decreased caloric intake.

This week’s homework:  incorporate greens into the diet once a day, along with cultured veggies.  Recipe coming up!

Carrots Raised in Fear

April 23, 2008

Whoa.  That was some heavy-duty holistic workshop tonight.  We covered a huge array of topics, and ended the evening by packing jars with homemade cultured veggies (which, methinks, I will write about in due time, on this very blog).  Overall, I really enjoyed the course, especially since we’ll be taking the changes slowly, and one at a time.  Homework this week:  eating without distractions. 

Rather than bore you all with the minutiae of my diet/lifestyle/meditation/life overhaul program every week, I’ve decided that in future I’ll just add a little coda at the end of whichever post happens to follow my classes.  But for today, I’d like to provide a general sense of the core principles we covered.  And to do that, I’m going to tell a little story, one that spans the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Once upon a time, when I first started teaching, I knew exactly one person who was vegan.  As someone who’d done some minimal reading about different diets, I understood what “vegan” meant, but had never actually met one of the species in the flesh (no pun intended).  But Ms. X was very hip and very cool (sporting both bleached blonde, spiky hair and faux-leather corsets–those were the days just on the heels of Madonna’s pointy bra, after all), so I screwed up my courage and invited her and her dark, brooding boyfriend to dinner.

I have to give them credit for actually eating what I served.  It’s not that any of it was particularly distasteful on its own–I did know how to cook, after all–but I threw together such a hodge-podge of disparate dishes (based solely on the fact that each was devoid of animal products) that the menu was fairly, shall we say, “eclectic.”  It was a situation reminiscent of one my former friend M used to describe to me: often, when acquaintances first heard he was gay, they’d burst out, “Oh, I know another gay guy! Why don’t I fix you up with him!” (assuming, of course, that their shared sexual orientation would, on its own, give rise to an immediate and eternal love affair).   

Well, that’s how I treated my vegan dishes that evening, I’m sorry to say. Ever had kasha-stuffed samosas alongside mango and curry rice, with sweet and sour carrot/parsnip patties?  Oh, and with a side of guacamole? Well, I have.  And it wasn’t pretty, trust me.

It was during our dinner that Ms. X began to worry aloud about the direction in which she foresaw her diet heading.  No, she wasn’t fretting about the stereotypical vegan concerns, such as how to acquire enough calcium in the diet or where to get sufficient vitamin B12; Ms. X was ruminating (oops, sorry–again, no pun. . . ) about cruelty to vegetables.  After cutting out meat, then fish, then eggs and dairy, then every other non-produce foodstuff from her diet, Ms. X now wondered how she could continue to eat even vegetables and fruits. Eventually, she surmised, “I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep eating carrots raised in fear.”

Perhaps you need to take a moment here to compose yourself.  (The HH loves that line. . . but that’s neither here nor there.)

Okay.  To continue:

Well, apart from giving me nightmares about carrots suffocating in plastic bags, carrots crammed one on top of the other into too-small cartons, baby carrots being clubbed to death, etc.–Ms. X did introduce the notion that we could all stand to be a bit more mindful of what we put into our bodies. And during our course this evening, we discussed this very issue at some length (though not in the same terms as Ms. X’s lament). 

As we know, all living things (and this would include plants) emit an energy field; and recent new-agey theories focus quite directly on the impact our own “energy” has on the outcome of our lives (as in, “the intention you set will influence the outcome you achieve,” for those of you who’ve seen or read The Secret).  Then there are also Emoto’s amazing studies on the effects of energy on water, etcetera. 

On a more pragmatic level, is it possible the energy in our food has an impact on us?

Well, said my teacher tonight, the answer is “yes.”  Hence her recommendation to eat without distractions, to notice the food we put into our mouths, and to opt for whole, organic, raw foods whenever possible. Natural nutritionists have long asserted that “dead” foods (such as highly processed or GMO products), being composed to a large degree of chemicals and non-organic materials, harbor no real, “living” nutrients, and so can’t, in any meaningful sense, nourish us.  That’s why we can gorge on various fast foods and pre-packaged foods, yet still remain hungry even after consuming massive quantities of them. 

In the end, it may behoove us to treat our orange roots with a little more consideration, but it’s these non-foods that should really incite fear instead.  

And so, my prescription from this evening’s class was fairly clear (apologies to Michael Pollan): Eat plants. Many raw. Not much else.  I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise. 

In the meantime, I’ll still be preparing “regular” dishes and will continue to post about them on the blog (and when I cook something with fearsome ingredients, I’ll attempt to restrict my intake to tiny nibbles). 

Tonight’s coda:  A few years after our inauspicious dinner, Ms. X got pregnant.  During those nine months, “for the health of the baby,” she returned to eating meat, and continued to do so after the baby was born. She was still eating animal products up until we lost touch about a decade ago. I have no idea about carrots, though.

 

[Warning: this post contains material that some might find offensive.  That's right--I'm going to be serious for once.]

 

Last evening, the HH and I went out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary (eleven years since we met—can it be possible??).  Actually, our true anniversary was last Sunday, but given the unexpected GBR that had me stuck in the house, we deferred until yesterday (sort of like we did with our Valentine’s Day dinner, celebrated on February 16th—guess we’re just wacky that way).

 

As we always do on this milestone date, we splurged and went to our favorite restaurant (something we do about twice a year—any more, and we probably couldn’t afford regular food!).  Even though it’s outrageously expensive, the place does deliver, and consistently: great menu, great service, great atmosphere. It’s never a problem to find a meal that suits my dietary restrictions (there’s often a tempeh option!), and even if there’s nothing suitable on the menu, they’ll whip something up on the spot—and it’s always absolutely spectacular (how does a starter salad of Belgian endive stuffed with puy lentils, candied pistachios and dried cranberries, topped with a pouf of lentil sprouts and misted with a light champagne vinaigrette sound?).

 

As usual, I enjoyed the meal immensely; as usual, I ended up consuming too much (how does a heaping plate of fresh potato gnocchi—nothing at all like my own feeble attempt a few weeks back—graced with a saporous, light and meaty wild mushroom sauce and laced with caramelized leeks and occasional hints of thyme sound?). 

 

Well, everything was fine and dandy while we were still celebrating, cleaning our plates and draining our champagne flutes, feeling pretty good about our decade-plus-one status.  But then, this morning. . .

 

Ah, this morning.  

 

 

When I first started this blog, I designated Sundays as “Progress Tracker” day, when I’d weigh-in (at the Workout Club), then record my weight as I lost it. Which means that this morning was weigh-in time. Needless to say, I haven’t been to the club since I hurt my back; but worse, today’s eye-opener was that my weight has now surpassed the original number when I started the blog!

 

 

Do I capitulate, and remove the “diet” from the blog’s title?  Do I keep mum and pretend that the pounds are melting away when they’re not?  Do I forget about the whole thing and just eat whatever the heck I want??

 

No, I decided, I can’t do any of those. Besides the fact that I am still a firm believer in the notion that healthy eating, even without counting points, calories, or carbs, will eventually lead to natural weight loss and health, I don’t feel good this way. I am still able to remember those days when I maintained a healthy weight, and how everything–from walking up the stairs, to getting out of a chair, to playing Frisbee with The Girls, even to pulling on my socks in the morning–was so much more free and easy.  And so, even before the anniversary dinner yesterday, I had decided that some drastic measures are in order.  Time to get some help with this quest of mine. Time to call in the Big Guns.

 

As serendipity would have it, I received an email from my friend and former teacher at nutrition school last week. She’s offering a nine-week course called  ClearBeing Total Health, aimed at one’s overall lifestyle. I registered immediately! The plan focuses on more than just diet alone, and that’s exactly what I need.  I’m also hoping this will be the necessary impetus for me to renew the habits that were already so natural when I studied nutrition a few years ago. 

 

Best of all, this approach is totally compatible with the kinds of food I’ve been highlighting on this blog. The only difference is, I’ll be eating less of them.  In fact, this may actually be the first time in my life I’m looking forward to starting a “diet.”

 

Wish me luck!  I’ll be keeping you posted.

 

 

 

Dreams of Chocolate

February 23, 2008

Nope, not one.  Not a single one.  Not even the tiniest smidgen of one. 

That’s right: for the first time ever in my adult life, I have not seen ONE of the movies nominated for Best Picture tomorrow night. (And YOU thought I was going to say “not one piece of chocolate!  Ha ha on you!! Well, I haven’t had a single smidge of that, either.)

And that is all I will be saying about the Oscars.

I’ve decided that I must have been a cacao overlord in a previous lifetime, and now as part of my atonement, I’m seeing chocolate, chocolate everywhere–just when I’m trying most to avoid the stuff (for those of you who just joined us in medias res, I’m attempting a detox to clear my body of the influence of the Devil Chocolate–and so, the Week of Chocolate Asceticism). 

As I mentioned before I began my week, I did whip up a few delectables before I started so that the blog wouldn’t be entirely bereft of the sweet stuff for the entire time.  Then, last night, I even dreamt of some new chocolate-based dessert I could make! 

And, of course, other bloggers are flinging chocolate this way and that, directly into my field of vision all this week: Eat Me, Delicious has just posted about a mouth-watering Chocolate Cookie Bark; The Good Eatah made a very rich, very creamy chocolate pudding;  Vegan Noodle of Walking the Vegan Line made some wicked-looking truffles; Hannah made her own–homemade!–white chocolate bar; that rascal, Michael Clayton, made nothing; Cate from Sweetnicks made Chocolate Pots de Creme (how did she find the time??) and Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice has even devoted an entire month to the stuff (please, somebody save me!)

And so, I decided I couldn’t escape it.  Although I am still determined not to let one mote, not one spec, not one shaving, not one MOLECULE of chocolate enter my mouth until I’ve given my system a decent break, I thought a little virtual indulgence wouldn’t do any harm.   

So here I’ll share some photos of chocolate-based recipes I’ve played with over the past few weeks, as well as some goodies I had to bake for customers.  

When I expressed some dismay that I wouldn’t be able to taste-test any of my catered goods, my friend’s very helpful teenaged daughter piped up:  “Well, you could just take a bite, chew it, and then spit it out.” Remember that episode of Sex and the City, where Miranda has dinner with an ex-boyfriend?  And they haven’t seen each other in years, and when they do, he’s lost a ton of weight?  And then they go out to eat at a swanky NYC restaurant, and he orders steak?  And then she catches him spitting a gnarly, saliva-soaked wad of chewed steak into his napkin?  Yep, that’s the one. And so you see why I couldn’t take the daughter’s advice. 

As it turns out, I’ve made most of these items several hundred times, so I didn’t have to break my WOCA and sample anything. 

The first item was a Double Chocolate Mint Explosion Cookie, part of the treats table at a birthday party.  These are fudgy on the inside, just slightly crispy on the outside–a definite winner with kids and adults alike. 

dblmintexplcookie.jpg

Then I revisited a recent experiment with vegan chocolate-covered caramels (to which I must devote an entire post, anon):

caramelclose.jpg

After that, the chocolate rush subsided a bit, leaving just the chips in a Chocolate-Chip Blondie, baked for a school event (yes, indeedy, that is a kitchen towel behind the plate):

blondietower.jpg

 Next up, a Chocolate Satin Tart.  These were a holiday item last year, which I baked for a vegan meal-delivery service here in Toronto to give to their customers (I hear they’re thinking of expanding to Calgary, where the Canadian Music Awards–called the Junos–are taking place this year).  A shortbread-like crust is filled with chocolate ganache, then dusted with cocoa:

silktart1.jpg

And I ended the virtual pig-out with a memory of a recent experiment, with sugar-free, gluten-free chocolate buttercream frosting:

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After this heady daydream, I felt prepared to snack on my lovely carob pudding, or raw fig and cherry bars (recipe to follow eventually).  And while it’s true that this No-Chocolate Land is a tough place to be (and it’s no country for old men, either, believe me),  I do feel more energetic, a bit more in balance, and happy about my healthy eating ths week.

WOCA Update:  Big, massive, seismic cravings today. And just when I thought they’d all passed!  Serves me right for being so smug about it last post.  But I shall persevere. . . I shall battle the demon with all my wits and all my inner resources. . . and I shall overcome. . . the scourge. . . that is Chocolate! Watch out; it’s possible there will be blood. (Oooh. Do you think I could maybe get away with just one little, tiny, eensy-weensy piece?  Naw, didn’t think so.)

And to those of you who watch them, enjoy the Oscars tomorrow (and sorry about that Juno reference.  It was either that or mention the mythological daughter of Saturn.)

[All of these recipes will appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog.  For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]

The Habit of Exercise

January 27, 2008

I hate winter.  For someone who was born and grew up in Montreal, that is a heretical statement.  But I’ve never been athletic, I get cold easily, I don’t have the greatest sense of balance (not exactly a plus when you’re navigating ice-laden sidewalks while holding the leash of a frisky, determined dog in each hand), and so winter makes me grumpy.  Grumpy, and lazy.

During the snowy months, I have to be vigilant not to let my exercise routine slide somewhat.  I mean, who wants to take the extra twenty minutes to pile on an additional pair of wooly socks, long underwear, scarf, insulated hat, dexterity-diminishing gloves, earmuffs and galoshes, drive through snow and sleet at 15 km./hour to unwrap for another twenty minutes on the other side before changing into workout gear, just to push some weights around for 40 minutes or so? Not I. 

And so, I often end up missing my otherwise quite enjoyable workouts during this cold season (“So long, Septuagenarian Couple with the Matching T-Shirts!  Sorry to miss ya, Burly Guy Who Stares at Women’s Breasts Between Sets!  Catch you next time, Personal Trainer with the Gigantoid Biceps!).  Feeling compelled to make it there this morning, however, (after all, how could I let down the legions of fans interested in my Progress Tracker?), I forced myself to go.  And then, had a very lovely time. And was truly glad I went. 

 Keeping motivated can be problematic at any time of the year, but winter presents its own unique challenges.  For me, a change in routine tends to help (as starting a new set of machines, for example, or a different activity entirely), but it’s still difficult to keep up that kind of momentum. 

I recently came across an interesting article from Lifehack.org that provided some help in this area.  The article is actually about tricks for making new habits stick, but I think many of these apply to the habit of exercise as well.  One that struck a chord with me in particular was using a “but” statement.  As in, “I’m no good at sewing, but if I work at it, I might get better.”  There are seventeen other tips as well, including items such as “commit to 30 days” or “form a trigger” (something else you do right before the desired habit, to create a pattern). 

For me, changes might include setting out my workout gear the night before I plan to go to the club (the trigger) or asking a friend to commit along with me so that we can be accountable to each other. 

I may be having trouble keeping up with my workouts during the winter, BUT I’m working at it.  And I guess that means it can only get easier.  (And I think moving to Florida might help, too.)

snowchaser.jpg

(“Mum, we love the winter.  It must be that Scottish heritage in us.  So why not make walking US your trigger??”)

We’ve been having endless gloomy weather lately, which always gets me thinking in macro mode about my life and career: where they are now, where they are (or aren’t) heading, and where I’d like them to be.  Quite often, it boils down to the issue of focus: I just don’t seem to have much.

In fact, I’m one of those people who might start to clean my house at 9:00 AM by dusting in the living room, only to happen across a stray cardigan lying on the comfy black chair, so I pick it up and take it to the bedroom to put it away, and then notice the dog’s bone on the floor, so I pick it up and take it over to where the dogs’ pillows are, where I notice as I toss it that there’s a full wastepaper basket beside the desk, so I pick it up to take it downstairs to the garbarge can, but when I get there, I notice that big cup of tea I left steeping on the kitchen counter, except by now it’s cold, so I pick it up and put it in the microwave to reheat for 30 seconds, during which time I wander to the kitchen table and notice my daybook that I left there last night, so I pick it up and take it to my office where I notice a magazine I bought last week and never did read, so I pick it up and well maybe there are some good recipes for my blog in here, so I’ll just take a little peek. . .ooh, look, isn’t baby Suri cute?  and wow, I had no idea that there were so many undiagnosed women’s illnesses! and what?  are they kidding?  who’d wear THAT in the middle of winter?? and by the time I next look up, it’s 5:45 PM, I forgot to eat lunch, there’s cold tea in the microwave, my HH will be home any minute, and the house could really use a good cleaning. 

Hmm.  Now what was I talking about?  Oh, yes.  Focus.  

Well, I noticed that this same lack of focus could be detected in my blog. By now, I’ve been visiting other blogs long enough to realize that mine is a bit of an anomaly in the field: it has food info and recipes.  It has diet rants and musings.  It has talking dogs. 

Most blogs zero in on one main theme or topic, but I just can’t seem to narrow it down.  I began to wonder if perhaps I was being unfair to those poor, unsuspecting readers who happened upon the blog and found a recipe, only to return the next day to be faced with a diatribe about chocolate addiction. Or what about those other chocaholics who share my weight issues, and discover a story about how my dear Elsie acquired her name the next time they visit? 

The whole issue got me thinking quite a bit about why I write about the things I do in this blog.  It even prompted me to revamp my “About” page to include a fairly lengthy bit of background.

In the end, I realized there’s no point agonizing about it. The blog is an amalgam of my various parts, and I guess it will have to reflect those. And while I hope it’s not just a “cheese sandwich” blog, it does occasionally focus on the minutaie of my life that, most likely, are of very little interest to anyone else but my closest friends and family (who, as it turns out, have never seen this blog!).  So if I wander from diets, to dessert, to dogs and back again, I hope you’ll forgive me and allow me that little lack of focus.  At least I haven’t offered to clean your house.

Mum, we think the house is just fine as it is.  .  . the dust bunnies just make our beds softer.”

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