A Bowl Lotta Love

March 4, 2009

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.”]  

[Thanks to everyone who left such sweet comments and encouragement for the hellish week of marking!  (And I know I still owe some of you emails. . . coming soon!) Some of you who are students noted that you’d be doing as much work on the other side of the red pen. Whether students, parents, teachers or the lucky few whose only connection to academia is reading about it in the newspapers–hope you all survived the past crunch week or so of midterms, study week, or finals. Now get ready, ’cause there’s a lengthy return post ahead–on to the food!]

1stbowl51

[Base of rice and buckwheatsautéed rapini and chard with onions and garlic; tahini-miso sauce; sprinkled with hemp seeds.]

I’m sure we’ve all met her (or perhaps we are her?): that woman who’s incredibly competent at dispensing affection, comfort, nurturing or support–yet seems to ignore her own emotional needs and physical well-being.

Well, I admit it, I’m as guilty as the next gal.  Ten days away from the DDD home base had me reflecting often on this whole notion of self-love.  Actually, that was only one among a plethora of topics on which I mused during the hiatus, which included (but was not limited to) the following: 

  • how much I miss blogging when I’m away.  I was struck by a true sense of void during this time, and it astounded me. Honestly, who are “they” who post studies about the Internet and  prophecies of doom regarding how it diminishes social skills or limits interactions with other people? Seriously.  In some cases, I’m in contact with blog buddies more often than my “in-person” friends (some of whom live only five minutes away).  Don’t let anyone tell you that the society of bloggers isn’t a bona fide community of lively, vibrant, and very much interactive people–all of you!
  • how many different ways one can answer the same exam question (more than you might think, but not quite as many as the meaning of life, the universe and everything).
  • how to create a tasty, grain-free breakfast pancake. I wanted something that didn’t require refined, or even whole-grain, flour–and I found it!  (more on that anon).
  • how this &%$!!?* winter refuses to retreat, even though it’s March already and why are you still hanging around, Mr. Jack Frost, can’t you tell you’re not welcome anymore and nobody wants you here, so just go away and don’t come back, ya big bully!
  • how, with the economy as bad as it is, I’m hoping the HH and I might still save for our dream home (okay, I’d be willing to cut some of the frills and just be happy with a daydream home).  And while we’re both incredibly lucky to still be gainfully employed, on the topic of saving money and stretching a dollar, I’ve been mightily inspired by the frugal and fantastic Melody over at MeloMeals.
  • why, once again, I have been willing to risk my health, well-being and future for the evil (and truly, ephemeral) charms of that sepia seductress, chocolate.

3rdbowl4

[Oat groats and amaranth base; grilled eggplant and grilled marinated tofu; broccoli, avocado and green onion; orange-fig sauce.]

Yes, folks, it’s time to focus on the “diet” portion of this blog yet again. 

When I first began to ponder how I’d spend my break from the college, I considered traveling to a new locale, attending a retreat, picking up old hobbies like sewing or knitting–but it never occurred to me I’d get sick instead.  Then, at my annual checkup last week, I discovered that my old candida afflction has reared its yeasty head yet again, and this time, with a potency that could rival the combined superpowers of the X-Men.  

I’ve decided that in order to rid myself of this recurring problem once and for all, I’ll need to return to the anti-candida diet (ACD).  I’ll be facing a highly restrictive diet and a few detoxes or cleanses along the way (no wonder I’ve been avoiding it).  But I’ve had it with the persistent cycle of diet, dessert and destruction (you thought I was going to say “dogs,” didn’t you? heh heh!). To paraphrase that seminal queen of weight loss, Susan Powter, “the insanity must stop!” (And what the heck ever happened to her, anyway?). 

I’m going on an anti-candida diet so I can be healthy.  So I can move more easily, and feel comfortable in my own body.  So I can express a little more self-love and self-care through my diet and lifestyle. (Anyone familiar with Sally’s fabulous blog already knows what I mean by this:  treating my body, mind and spirit with the kindness, reverence, and care it deserves.)  So I can enjoy a social life without being fixated on food. Oh, and so I can lose 40 pounds by my highschool reunion this May. **

My last “true” candida cleanse occurred nine years ago, and in the interim, my eating habits have slowly reverted to those that got me in trouble in the first place (chocolate too often; sweets too often; wine too often). After reading the diet on  this site (which is slightly less ascetic than the regimen I followed before), I think it’s doable (the only recommendation with which I disagree is to use aspartame or aseulfame, so I’ll just omit those).

To those of you who’ve been reading for a while, I understand if you’re skeptical, and I apologize.  After all, I’ve tried more than a few times to cut chocolate and sugar from my life.  Well, I’ve learned it’s never a great idea to publicly declare such a complete lifestyle overhaul on the blog, because later on, if you don’t meet your lofty goal, your initial vow is indelibly there for all the internet to see. With that in mind, I’ll restrict my candida commentary to the Progress Tracker page (may as well give it a new use, as I long ago stopped recording my weight over there).

And since I’ve already done a bit of baking over the past couple of weeks, I can intersperse the spartan dishes with more interesting fare.  If I play my screens right, you folks will barely notice a difference.

2ndbowl21

[Rice and brown lentil base; spinach leaves and steamed sweet potato wedges with chopped green onions; topped with almond-curry sauce.]

The first step is to prepare the system with a week or two of clean, whole-foods eating that doesn’t worry about yeast or fermentation (yeast and fermented foods will be cleared out next).   Rice or noodle bowls are a great place to start.

4thbow3

[Barley and amaranth base; grilled red pepper strips and onions; steamed broccoli; sprinkling of cashews and sunflower seeds; topped with tahini-miso sauce.]

Meals-in-a-bowl like these have become very popular at health-food restaurants and stores around North America.  There’s a local haunt that serves an amazing bowl called, appropriately, “The Mish-Mash Bowl.” Every meal contains either brown rice or quinoa, topped with your choice of four toppings from three categories (protein, veggies, or good fats), then drizzled with your choice of one or two dressings.

My own variation on the Mish Mash is a quartet of at least one healthy grain plus a protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrate (ie, veggies).  I was amazed at how satisfying–and how filling–a clean, healthy bowl can be.  The marriage of fresh, colorful veggies with chewy grains and the crunch of nuts or seeds is entirely enchanting (almost as enchanting as that vixen, chocolate–though in a different way, of course).

In putting these together, what I discovered rather quickly is that “the sauce makes the bowl.” A grain bowl sans effective topping is sort of like a perfect outfit without the right shoes or accessories–it may be good quality, it may be tailored , it may even sport a designer label, but without the proper accoutrements, it’s just a length of beige, beige, beige. 

With a winning sauce, however, these bowls are stellar; they’re delectable; they evoke impatient yearning; they’re Zagat-worthy.  And, much like those lines of toddlers’ clothing that allow the kids to dress themselves by choosing one top and one pre-coordinated bottom, they’re fun to mix and match, just to see what comes up.  

The combinations here are simply starting points to get you going; play around with different grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, veggies, and sauces.  Use these sauces with any combination you please, or go with my mixes–either way, you’ll be treating yourself with love.   

**I asked this question entirely tongue in cheek–so please, no need to send me emails detailing how unhealthy a 40-pound weight loss in 8 weeks would be!  I have no intention of actually losing that much.  Besides, at the rate I’ve been going this past year, a FOUR pound loss by May would be nothing short of miraculous.

Tahini-Miso Sauce

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

4thbowl21

Almond and Curry Sauce 

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

2ndbowl1

Orange Fig Sauce

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

3rdbowl3

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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.” 

[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I’ll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days.  For this third entry, I’m focusing on Avocados. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]

Since today was the first Sunday following my Total Health course (and I promise–that’s the last time I’ll mention it!), I realized it was time to resume my regular Progress Tracker entries. 

It’s been nine whole weeks since I had a regular Sunday weigh-in, so this morning, I donned my sweats and and finally returned to the workout club (Well, hi again, Elderly Gentleman Who Always Wears Black Knee Socks! I’m back, Burly Guy Who Stares at Women’s Breasts Between Sets!  I actually missed you, Septuagenarian Couple with the Matching T-Shirts!).

After completing various stretches and weights, I performed the official post-course, ritual weigh in.  And the result?  After NINE WEEKS of eating healthfully and stepping up my exercise routine (literally–I’ve doubled the amount of walking I do each day since the osteopenia diagnosis), I lost. . . . are you ready for it?  Okay, here goes. . . . I lost. . . . FOUR POUNDS. 

Yep, four. Quatre. 4. Vier. Quattro. IV.  Tessera. FOUR!!!!  In nine weeks.

Lovely, no?  That’s just under half pound a week.  Okay, I suppose that’s not awful considering that the goal of the course was not to lose weight so much as to learn about healthy eating and to undergo an attitude adjustment in that area.  During the course, I consumed just as much (healthy) food as I wanted to and never deprived myself in any way (except during the cleanse week, obviously).  What this means is that I am now exactly back where I started when I began this blog–with 40 pounds to lose to reach my goal.  And while I do feel better since taking the course, that’s simply not acceptable.  Nope.

And so. . . I’ve decided to take up the challenge offered by Gizmar from Equal Opportunity Kitchen, who wrote in her recent comment: “Ok, I’m throwing down the gauntlet – I want to lose some weight – I challenge you to a slim down!!!”  Giz, you’re on! Ah, but how much weight?  And in what time period?  I will contact you so we can work out the details.  But for now, I’ve decided, it’s time to get serious! (Again).  Watch out, excess avoirdupois!  Take a hike, jiggly thighs! Run for the hills, cellulite!  I am  on a mission.

* Sigh. *

(Okay, end of weight rant.  We now return to this week’s regularly scheduled Lucky Comestible.)

One thing I realized while on my cleanse week is that I don’t eat nearly as many legumes as I should.  Sure, if you consider peanut butter and carob, I suppose there’s a regular intake, but in general, my diet is sorely lacking.

As a child, the only beans I was ever served were the canned variety.  Heinz Baked Beans made a quick and yummy dinner, just on their own.  (Of course, my mother bought the “in tomato sauce” flavor so she wouldn’t have to deal with that one pasty, white, slimy chunk of pork fat that always rose to the top of the can.  A few years ago, the HH and I took a course called Mini Med School at the University of Toronto. One evening, we were led down winding, clandestine hallways through an unmarked door into the actual anatomy lab, where we examined formaldehyde-infused hunks of human limbs, their outer layers peeled away to expose the muscles and bones underneath.  One thigh had a rectangular chunk of flesh carved out, the cutout placed neatly on the counter beside it like a rubber bathtub stopper.  Well, that little cube of pork fat looked just like the rectangular hunk of thigh. Good move, Mom.)

When I moved into my very first apartment the summer before my Master’s program began, my father’s housewarming gift to me was a smoked ham. (Not so strange if you consider that he owned a butcher shop–what else would he give me?).  With the help of my trusty Joy of Cooking, I ended up making split pea and ham soup (even then, I couldn’t stomach the idea of an entire piece of ham on its own).  I had just started dating my first true love a couple of weeks earlier (hey, Spaghetti Ears!  How’s tricks?) and he, along with his two room mates, kindly relieved me of any superfluous soup–which, as it turned out, was pretty much all of it.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy bean dishes, either.  It’s just that I never really think to make them.  In more recent years, I’ve amassed a fairly reliable roster of bean recipes that I use on a rotating basis.  There’s hummus, of course, but also sundried tomato hummus and roasted garlic hummus.  Oh, and I can’t forget white bean hummus or fava bean hummus or even no-bean hummus (which, come to think of it, doesn’t really belong in the “dishes with beans” category, does it?). The HH and I also enjoy lentil-spaghetti sauce about twice a year, as well as my version of Tuscan baked beans (with olive oil and sage) and a classic three-bean salad in the summertime. Other than that, though, it’s pretty much hummus all around.

Well, I decided it was time to create something new and interesting with legumes.  In keeping with the focus on avocado, I naturally gravitated toward the green legumes–or, more correctly, “legume”: lentils.  Besides being one of the quickest to cook (they’re done in only 25 minutes, with no soaking required), lentils also provide a substantial contribution to your daily mineral requirements. In addition, they’re extremely high in fiber (both soluble and insoluble, important for healthy cholesterol levels), and they’re known to help keep blood sugar levels steady. Oh, and they taste really good!

I seized the green theme and just ran with it (okay, I kind of “speed-walked” with it), throwing pistachios into the mix as well.  In these patties, the avocado acts as an egg substitute, while the nuts and beans work in tandem to provide a complete protein.  While they’re not overly “meaty” in texture (the outside is crispy while the inside remains soft), these burgers are great either baked or fried, and would probably make a tasty loaf as well.  Just for fun (and because I’m weird that way), I baked half the recipe and browned the other half in a frypan. I have to say that I actually preferred the baked version, which also held its shape better. 

These patties are a great way to subtly add more legumes to your diet. And if you happen to be watching your weight–well, as it turns out, they’re pretty low-cal, too (about 150 calories each patty).  Shall we start with these for dinner, Giz?

Lentil Pistachio Patties

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

These substantial patties offer a full-bodied flavor with a wonderful protein content, courtesy of the lentils and pistachios. The trio of avocado, olive oil, and pistachio adds richness and a healthy dose of  heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

The Dirt on Cleansing

June 8, 2008

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.” 

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that I’m on a cleansing diet this week, an outgrowth of the Total Health course I’ve been taking for the past month and a half.  Well, I hadn’t intended to post yet another non-recipe entry this week, but since I’ve received quite a few questions about why I’ve chosen this particular cleanse and how it works, I thought it might be useful to share a bit about cleansing in general and my own choice for this week in particular.  I’ll warn you, though: what follows is a fairly long post (word count: 2443).  If you’re simply interested in the food I’ve been eating, I’ll post that later–so feel free to come back then!

[Please note: This is a condensed and somewhat simplified account of the process, based on what I learned while studying to become a nutritionist, my own reading on the topic, and my personal experience with cleanses over the past five years.  It is by no means intended as any kind of medical or professional advice and is purely my own perspective on the topic, presented for informational purposes only. ]

Q: Why Detox at All?

Whether you use the term “fast,” “cleanse” or “detox diet,” the process focuses on a single goal: detoxifying and rebalancing the body’s internal operating systems, primarily the digestive tract (but also the liver, respiratory system, urinary system and lymphatic system).  Given the environmental factors, lifestyle, and eating habits of most of us in the modern world, I believe that everyone, no matter how thin, active or deemed “healthy,” could benefit from a cleanse once in a while.  Even the instructor for our course (who has been following a strict regimen of ultra-healthy eating coupled with cardiovascular exercise, strength training exercise, yoga, dance, nia, sports, and a daily spiritual practise for over 20 years) undergoes a cleanse twice a year. 

As denizens of the modern, industrial world, we are exposed to myriad toxins daily, both from within and without.  Just by virtue of living near the great and wonderful metropolis of Toronto, I have the pleasure of inhaling highly polluted air most days of the week.  For the first two months that we lived in this house, I could smell the distinct aroma of fresh paint gases (courtesy of the landlord, who was actually attempting to do us a favor) every time I entered the house.  I ingest all kinds of unsavory substances that leach through plastic water bottles, the plastic containers I use to transport my lunches to work, the dyed and bleached clothing I wear, or the cleansers I use (though I’ve tried to eliminate as many of those as I can).   

And that’s only the exogenous toxins.  We also take in toxins from the food we eat, whether hydrogenated oils from junk food, artificial colors or flavors, or “milk” shakes at McDonald’s or Burger King. Because these substances are not made in nature and our bodies weren’t designed to process them, the liver works overtime to detoxify them out of the body (as much as possible) to keep us healthy. 

When your liver is on overdrive neutralizing toxins that you take in, free radicals are formed.  Free radicals are basically cell-killers, and they can result in cancer and chronic diseases that are often connected to inflammation (such as arthritis, heart disease, etc.). Those of us with weak immunity or overworked filtering systems (such as myself) suffer the consequences and wander around with stuffed noses, digestive distress, joint inflammation, or other chronic conditions that are so often attributed to “aging” or simply “life in general.”

One of my natural health practitioners put it this way:  imagine a pile of bricks that’s being built into a little tower, one brick at a time. Each brick is a different toxin that your body has to deal with and try to eliminate.  As with a pile of bricks, you can add quite a few to the pile without any dire consequences at all; in fact, observed from the outside, everything appears hunky-dory, stable and unchanged. One would even infer that the extra weight being piled on top is doing no harm, making no difference whatsoever. 

But then you reach the point where the pile can no longer support even one more brick.  You place that last brick at the top of the pile and–BAM! (not to quote Emeril in such grave matters, or anything)–the pile completely collapses.  Your body works the same way.  When you were younger (or healthier), you may have been able to tolerate a huge number of toxic “bricks” in your system. But tax the system long enough and then, suddenly, it appears as if everything breaks down at once.

That’s what happened to me several years ago.  After assuming all was well for years (even though I drank up to a liter (quart) of aspartame-sweetened pop a day, had 3-5 coffees a day, imbibed wine and spirits on weekends and consumed whatever junk food, candy, cookies, cakes, or other garbage I desired on a regular basis), everything came crashing down.  I spent about a year suffering from symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, endured multiple recurrent sinus infections (one so serious that it required four–FOUR!–courses of antibiotics to eradicate), and suffered almost continuous yeast infections, coupled with fatigue, depression, and general feelings of “lousy.” At that point, I really needed a cleanse.

All this to say, if there’ are any actions we can regularly take to diminish our load of toxic “bricks,” we should do so.

Q: What Is a Cleansing or Detox Diet?

Basically, cleansing means “cleaning up the diet (and, ideally, environment) to allow the body to rest from fighting off and eliminating toxins for a while, so that it can repair and rejuvenate.”

There are many levels of detox, depending on where you find yourself to begin with. It’s recommended that people start at a level just one echelon away from (less toxic than) where they are now, because detoxing encourages the toxins to exit the body quickly (through elimination and sweating, primarily), and if too many to escape too fast, you’ll end up feeling sort of like a deflated baloon in a mud puddle–or one really sick puppy (this effect is called a “healing crisis“). 

The very first time I went on a detox diet, my naturopath–only two months into her practice–didn’t think to warn me what could happen if I changed my eating habits too drastically. She prescribed what is essentially a NAG diet, but without any animal products. After one day of the diet, I was felled by my body’s extreme healing crisis (I describe the event here).  Luckily, it passed in a couple of days.

By starting “slowly”–that is, without altering too many aspects of your diet or life at once–you avoid a severe healing crisis.  Most people feel a little bit tired or sleepy; some experience mild flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, but these ususally disappear in a day or two. 

Q: How Do You Know What to Eat and What to Eliminate on a Cleanse?

The diet you choose should depend on the diet you eat regularly before the cleanse.  If someone enjoying a SAD (Standard American Diet) decided to embark on a water fast, it would likely spark a full-scale healing crisis and the person would feel rather sick. So decide where you are now, then move in baby steps toward a full-scale cleanse.

There are basically five or six levels of cleansing diet.  Ideally, you would work your way up to the most challenging level as you clean up your diet over the years. 

Level One: Basic non-toxic diet for everyone. (from Elson Haas, The Detox Diet)

Level one is what I often refer to as the NAG diet, the diet that, if followed regularly, should allow your body to exist with minimum toxic intake and to keep you pretty healthy. (Other versions are Anne Marie Colbin’s diet in Food and Healing, Tosca Reno’s The Eat Clean Diet; or Elson Haas’ diet in Staying Healthy with Nutrition.).  If you’re not already on this type of diet, it would be the first step.  Try this for a week and see how you feel. You could theoretically stay on this diet for the rest of your life.

Level One: The NonToxic Diet (from Elson Haas, The Detox Diet):

  • Eat organic foods whenever possible.
  • Drink filtered water.
  • Rotate foods [ie, eat each of these no more than once every four days or so], especially common allergens such as milk products, eggs, wheat, and yeasted foods.
  • Practice food combining.
  • Eat a natural, seasonal cuisine.
  • Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and, for omnivarians, some low or non-fat dairy products, fresh fish (not shellfish) and organic poultry.
  • Cook in iron, stainless steel, glass, or porcelain cookware.
  • Avoid or minimize red meats, cured meats, organ meats, refined foods, canned foods, sugar, salt, saturated fats, coffee, alcohol, and nicotine.

And while it’s not stated in this list, Haas also prohibits anything processed or made with chemicals or artificial colorings–this should go without saying.

[“Sounds good, Mum, but do we have to do the part about avoiding meat?”]

Level Two: (this and later levels from Caroline Dupont, Enlightened Eating).

Level two is a step beyond level one, as “it eliminates all animal products and glutenous grains.”  As Dupont points out, this can be a lifelong diet rather than a detox diet if mostly organic foods are eaten and sources of protein and vitamin B12 (which can only be acquired naturally through animal products) are carefully monitored. 

For those who already eat a Level One diet as their regular fare, Level Two would be considered a mild cleanse.

Level Three: Living Foods Only

This level kicks it up a notch (seriously, WHAT is Emeril doing in this discussion?) by allowing only raw foods, effectively eliminating grains (except for sprouted grains). People at this level eat raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, freshly pressed juices, sprouts, and possibly raw dairy.

Q: Why Is Raw Supposedly Better?  Why Are There No Grains? Isn’t That a Lot of Fruit–Why is All That Sugar in the Fruit Acceptable?

RAW:  A raw diet provides the body with readily available digestive enzymes in raw, but not cooked, foods; these would otherwise need to be generated courtesy of your saliva, stomach, and pancreas.  For that reason, it is much easier to digest raw versus cooked food; raw foods give the body a bit of a break so it can concentrate on other functions, such as detoxifying, maintaining, and repairing.  People on all-raw diets have experienced incredible boosts in energy as well as healing effects. 

GRAINS:  Unsprouted grains (the kind we normally eat) are more difficult to digest than raw foods.  There is nothing inherently wrong with eating grains, especially if your digestive system is in tip-top condition; but for those of us with digestive issues, or when cleansing the system, grains are just a bit too challenging.

FRUIT SUGARS:  It’s true that a raw diet provides a large number of fruits, and fruits do contain natural sugars.  But please don’t confuse naturally-occurring sugars with refined white sugar (or even honey or maple syrup, which are both concentrated sugars).  When you eat something refined, the sugar is converted to glucose (a monosaccharide–the smallest sugar molecule, as it’s broken down by the body and passed into the bloodstream) extremely quickly, because it’s already practically in the form of glucose when you eat it. 

With fruits, the sugars are bound up with fibre and other nutrients, and the body must work to extract the different elements in the fruit and to convert the sugars to glucose in the body.  This means you won’t get the same kind of spike in blood sugar levels from eating a fresh fruit as you will from eating a piece of cake or even cup of coffee with sugar in it.  Sugar in fruits is healthy and doesn’t generate toxins in the body. (Think of diabetics, for instance–they’re allowed most fruits).  Fruits with extremely high sugar levels could be eaten in smaller quantities, but even then, they are still healthy foods.  And fruits are digested very quickly and easily in the body–they are the easiest foods for your body to break down, so they don’t tax the system.

[“Give us more fruits is what I say, Mum!’]

Level Four: Blended Foods, Smoothies and Soups

By blending foods, you render them yet more easily digestible.  Dupont suggests incorporating some of these foods into a raw foods diet; furthermore, this level is presented as an excellent “introduction to fasting for people with hypoglycemia, bowel disorders [or] constipation.”

Level Five: Juice Fast And/Or Master Cleanse

At this level, you’re basically removing the need for your bowel to process any fibre and are providing very nutrient-rich clear liquids that are processed very easily by the digestive tract. At level five, a person consumes only freshly squeezed or pressed fruit and vegetable juices, or the Master Cleanse, a mixture of filtered water, lemon juice, maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Level Six: Water Fast

At this point, only those who have already gone through the other five phases should attempt a water fast; drinking only pure filtered water gives the body’s internal organs the ultimate work break. According to Dupont, no one should even attempt a water fast who has not first “established a consistently healthy diet for at least 6 months first.”

[“Yes, pure water is definitely good, Mum.  Especially in summer.”]

Q:Why Did You Choose the Cleanse You Did?

When I was in nutrition school, after spending a full year following the NAG diet and trying out most of the other diets we learned about, I felt ready to complete a Level Five (Master Cleanse) diet for almost a full week.  At that point, my “regular” diet was so non-toxic that the Master Cleanse was a good step.  I felt great while on it and did reap the benefits of better digestion and more energy.

These days, however, my regular diet is more like Level Two, above.  I already don’t eat meat; I already don’t eat refined foods; I already don’t eat most gluten grains on a daily basis.  When I examined the next level–all raw–I realized that would be too challenging for me, and I was afraid I’d slip if I tried to limit myself to raw foods alone. As a compromise, I chose a diet that still eliminated the grains, but retained some cooked foods. I’m happy with the compromise and am feeling some pretty good results so far. 

Maybe next time, I’ll be ready for another raw-go-round. 

Q: Readers: What Do You Think?

If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to know: how many of you have tried detox diets or cleanses?  What was your experience?  What worked, and what would you warn against?

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.” )

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.”]  

*Or, It’s a Long Road “Back”

*Or, Things You Think About While Lying Flat on Your Back for Ten Days

Well, I may not be completely “back” just yet, but I am at least vertical once again–if only for a couple of hours a day.  YIPPEE!  Talk about an ordeal. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone, nosirree.  Not even the nastiest bully from grade school.  No, not even the most loathed former boss.  Not even the rudest clerk at the video store.  Or even the most reviled ex-boyfriend (He of the Black Leather Pants).  Yes, it was that bad!

And I am thrilledl to finally return to the world of blogs and blogging!  It feels like eons since I’ve written on (or even looked at) this site, or any of the other blogs out there I so enjoy reading. I promise to catch up on them all over the next week or so.  But before I even begin to write about my unanticipated interval of Great Bed Rest (aka Grevious Back Relapse)–or GBR, I want to share a recipe I discovered as soon as I returned here:

Blogger Twice Marinated in Wet, Salty Broth

1) Get Ricki to hurt her back, badly. Result: first marinade in wet, salty broth (also referrred to as Crying Jag Number One).

2) Get the HH to write a short note explaining her absence (no easy feat, considering the blog-shy HH).

3) Have Ricki return to the blog about 10 days later, read the parade of amazing, supportive and sympathetic comments from readers and other bloggers. Result: second marinade in wet, salty broth (also referred to as Crying Jag Number Two).

4) Allow Ricki to marinate for about 5 minutes before she returns her attention to the blog.

5) Accept her heartfelt gratitude for your wonderful, generous outpouring of good wishes, which is appreciated beyond words.

6) Wrap carefully and store in a safe place.  Will last indefinitely.

In other words, THANK YOU ALL for your comments and kind thoughts while I was away! I have missed you all, and am very, very happy to be “back.”

And so. . . what the heck happened, anyway??

Well, the official diagnosis is a one-two punch of, first, a bulging disk (sometimes erroneously called a “slipped disk”), followed almost immediately by an inflamed facet joint (the latter occurring due to an overly strenuous exercise regimen prescribed by a zealous physiotherapist, only ONE DAY after the original injury! Definitely a no-no).

I had thought the initial pain was pretty bad, but the second injury catapulted it into the realm of “no adjectives available.”

It’s true, the HH and I have no children, so I never had the experience of childbirth as a reference point for that particular brand of agony.  Nevertheless, I can only attempt to express the depths of physical torment inflicted by this back attack:  for the first three days or so, each time I even ATTEMPTED to get off the bed, I would be overcome with an immediate draining of blood from my face and I’d begin to black out. If not for the deft and sturdy embrace of the (relatively) strapping HH, I would have surely ended up in an unconscious heap on the floor.  And though he’s not especailly musclebound, the HH was, thankfully, still strong enough to lift my mumblemumbleundisclosednumber-pound frame back onto the bed.

[“I really hated it when you were sick, Mum.”]

As it turns out, the word “vacation” in this blog entry’s title, above, is not merely a euphemism.  You see, here in Ontario, colleges run year-round, offering three full semesters (including one through the summer months).  I happen to be one of those weirdos trailblazers quirky teachers who prefers her holiday in the winter, and who teaches all summer. Given my oft-declared abhorrence of winter, being able to curl up by the fireplace, hunker down, and just do nothing when the snow makes its unwelcome appearance is a privilege I truly appreciate.

And while I did spend the last 10 days or so lazing around, reading, sleeping as much as I felt like (more than I felt like, actually), and being waited on hand and foot (I am eternally in your debt, Oh Great HH), it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, akin to a “vacation.” Being stuck in bed with nothing to do but follow the aimless peregrinations of my (painkiller-enhanced) thoughts did, however, allow me to formulate some interesting observations.

Here’s what went through my mind as I contemplated my lot over the past fortnight or so:

  1. Never begin an exercise routine for a sore back the day after you first injure it.  Never.  NOT EVEN IF THE ZEALOUS PHYSIOTHERAPIST TELLS YOU TO.  You will regret it.  You will rue the day.  So, never!
  2. Dogs are strange and wonderful creatures, and I love them more than ever. Throughout the Great Bed Rest, every day and all day, Elsie and Chaser held vigil at the foot of my bed. Not quite close enough for me to touch them, but close enough so that I knew they were there. Eventually, we three began to sigh, heave, and sleep along the same diurnal pattern, until the HH came home.  (“Um, don’t mean to hurt your feelings or anything, Mum, but we were actually just worried that we might not get fed any more–not that we weren’t concerned about you, too, of course.”)
  3. When you are stuck in bed, staring straight up at the ceiling for over a week, the stucco finish begins to look strangely like snow.
  4. When you are stuck in bed, staring straight up at the ceiling for a week and the stucco finish begins to look strangely like snow, the actual snow outside will melt, and so when you finally get up again, it will be spring!
  5. The HH is one helluva good sport.  Can’t cook worth a dime, unfortunately, but nevertheless one very sweet guy. He took care of daily housework and chores, walks for The Girls, feedings (theirs and mine), hairwashing (mine), as well as other less appealing ablutions. He came home from work at lunchtime each day to ensure I had food and a break, and also to confirm that the house hadn’t burned to the ground in his absence (an outcome I would have been helpless to prevent, in any case).
  6. Finally, I came to the clear realization that this GBR would never have occurred at all, had I not gained all the weight I’ve been earnestly trying to lose since I began this blog. And so, this latest episode has prompted a reaffirmation of my resolve:  I must get healthy! 

It’s with renewed determination that I return here to focus on all three: DIET, dessert, and dogs.

And, of course, all of you.  Thank you all for continuing to visit, for reading, and for commenting (I love hearing from you!). 

And while the latter part of the Lucky Comestible posts will have to wait until I can stand a bit longer, I’m looking forward to scanning my files and posting about some previous exploits in the kitchen as the back continues to heal. 

Yes, it’s great to be “back”!

(Oh, and I promise never to write the word, “back,” in quotation marks, ever again.)

[“Glad you’re feeling a bit better, Mum!”]

My Diet: MIA

February 15, 2008

For the three of you who’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you may have noticed that my “diet” posts (ie, posts in which I talk about how my diet’s not working, posts in which I discuss how I’d like my diet to be working better, posts in which I examine how I might be able to make my diet work better, or, simply, posts in which I use the word “diet” a lot) have gone MIA.  Wherefore art thou, O Ricki’s Diet, and why has she forsaken you?

Well, I must apologize.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten about my diet (ha! AS IF), but more that I haven’t felt there was anything worth reporting or mulling over lately without sounding terribly repetitive. Given that the original intent of this blog was (at least, partly) to chronicle what I hoped would be a monumental (40-lb.) weight loss over the next year, and to share with you how I was going to go about doing that, I seem to have lost sight (but never taste, apparently, or I might have actually lost an ounce or two) of the goal. 

Honestly, it’s not because the “diet” aspect of the blog is any less important.  It’s not because writing about food–desserts, especially–is any more fun (even though it is). It’s mostly that I haven’t been feeling very worthy of writing about dieting lately, given my recent eating patterns (which, suspiciously, resemble my pre-blog eating patterns).  How can I write with any authority about losing weight when I’m not doing so?  If you’ve looked at the progress tracker at all, you’ll see that the numbers have been going up, down, up, down, up, down, even more than the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills negotiations.  I’ve been so taken lately with all the appealing, interesting recipes and food in the world of blogging that I’ve neglected taking care of me and my health.

Well, that’s all about to change.  Now that Valentine’s Day is almost over (in our house, it’s taking place tomorrow), I’ve made a resolution.  True, most people make their resolutions on January 1st; but I’ve always been a later bloomer. 

Soooo. . . I’m going to declare the rest of February a “Chocolate-Free Zone.” 

You see, since I was a wee tot (who am I kidding?  I was never “wee”), chocolate has been the bane of my existence. Like an ex-boyfriend that you can’t quite let go of, like a Canadian winter, like the Oscars–I both love it and hate it.

The “love it” part is easy:  it’s a perfect base for dessert (which, after all, is my area of specialization); it’s creamy, smooth, sweet, delectable; it’s a booster of serotonin levels; it’s a portable bite for that 3:00 PM sugar crash; and it’s my very, very favorite, “I-can-eat-it-any-time-even-for-breakfast,” food.

The “hate it” part is less black and white (or milk and white, depending on your predilection): it’s a source of sometimes uncontrollable cravings; it’s the cause of weight gain (though not of acne, as once believed); it’s a pathetically poor substitute for a hug, a phone call with your best friend, or therapy; and it’s usually not as good as you thought it was going to be (sort of like that ex-boyfriend, again).

For me, the only way to avoid the inner turmoil around chocolate is the extreme move of cutting it out entirely.  Not forever (I couldn’t live with that), but for at least a week, until the urge passes. I’m embarking on a chocolate fast.  No chocolate.  No eating it, no baking with it, no buying it, no hiding it in the cupboard for a little nip when I’m feeling down. 

Instead, I’m going to try out a week (or, if I can make it, two) of eating in a way that’s worked for me in the past: a NAG-friendly , semi-detox diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds; minimal whole-grain flours; and only stevia as an added sweetener.  And NO CHOCOLATE.  (“How about cocoa, Mum?”) No, not even cocoa. (“How about carob, Mum?”)  Carob is acceptable. I’m also going to aim for over 50% raw foods each day. 

For me, this move is part desperation and part a yearning to regain to the experience of vibrant energy and health I enjoyed during my year studying natural nutrition.  At the time, one of my teachers there followed a 100% raw-foods (or living-foods, as it’s also called) diet. She also taught cooking classes, and I attended every one.  I was amazed at how fantastic the food was–colorful, delicious, a veritable feast for the senses.  I’m hoping to share some of her recipes, as well as others I’ve discovered over the years.

Hopefully, this new hard-line regime will help me ride out the chocolate-DTs, followed by a more moderate approach to eating (and, of course, chocolate)–and maybe even a little weight loss.

I do have a couple of desserts and one or two other dishes that I’ve recently prepared and will post as blog entries over the next two weeks, but for the most part, I’ll be sharing my healthier, detoxifying, health-conferring goodies with you.  And I’m hoping that declaring it this way on the blog will help me to actually follow through!

So I hope you’ll bear with me after the recent influx of indulgent baked goods.  Like some of you, I sometimes feel that a day without baking is a day devoid of some ineffable, necessary primal “something,” something that satisfies at the chromosomal level. 

No doubt, the baking will return.  Part of my goal when I started this blog was to lose 40 pounds before my next birthday, and unless I somehow get the chocolate habit under control, I know it won’t be a very happy one.  (And speaking of birthdays, another HUGE impetus for the chocolate ban is the upcoming birthday bash for Gemini I’s husband–a massive party in the works–on March 1st.  Two weeks away; need something nice, nothing fits, don’t want to have to buy something new. Think I could lose 10 pounds by then?  Me, either.)

And so, chocolate, adieu.  It’s only for a short while, but I’m hoping that absence, in this case, will not make the heart grow fonder.  No doubt I will miss you; I may even pine for you.  Still, one day, I hope to look at you with the same indifferent eye with which I gaze at Cream of Wheat, or paisley, or Josh Groban (sorry, Josh, not a big fan). After the week is over, let’s renegotiate our relationship in a more level-headed manner. In the meantime, I’ll attempt to forge ahead on my own, without you. But we’ll always have Paris (it is, after all, home of your finest specimens).

(“Oh, Mum, you’re so histrionic.  Really, get a grip. Who cares about chocolate?  It’s not a big deal.  But, um, you’re not thinking of changing your mind about carob now too, are you?  Because, you know, we’re allowed to eat carob, and we really love that carob-date thing you make.  So we can keep the carob, can’t we, Mum? Can’t we?  Mum???”)

elsiecarob.jpg

You Have My Word

February 2, 2008

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  –Mark Twain

I recently started reading the highly acclaimed Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Almost immediately, I found myself laughing out loud as I read page 2, and was hooked.  

Gilbert’s memoir recounts her travels through Italy (eat), India (pray) and Indonesia (love) following the chaotic dissolution of her marriage.  Now that I’ve reached the penultimate chapter of the “Eat” section, I’ll be sorry to see all those robust and flamboyant foods disappear, slick with garlic and olive oil.  But I am also looking forward to delving into the next section and the solemn world of spirituality as it’s presented by this enviable wordsmith.

In one of the Italy-based chapters, Gilbert discusses the theory of a friend of hers, who asserts that each city, based on its communal “personality,” has a single word that epitomizes the very core of that city.  In the case of New York, for instance, it’s “ACHIEVE.”  (Yes, Gilbert writes these words in all-caps).  For Rome, says her friend, it’s “SEX.” (He explains, “If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets. . . you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought.”) Dang, those randy Romans!

If I had to propose a word for Toronto, with its most-ethnically-diverse-population-on-the-planet claim to fame, it would have to be “ACCOMMODATE” (not to be confused with the defining word for the country as a whole, which is “POLITE.”). 

This little word game got me thinking. What would my own personal word be?  My first thought was, Well, that’s easy.  It’s “FOOD.”  No, I soon realized, that’s The Girls’ word.  (“And what’s wrong with that, Mum?  No, seriously.  What’s wrong with it??“) 

Upon further reflection, I decided my word was closer to “SEEK.”

In truth, I suppose these two concepts, eating and seeking, coexist in my life, and even work in tandem.  In both my work and my play, I’m frequently surrounded by food and on the lookout for that classic, “perfect” recipe.  At the same time, I’m a perennial seeker (the better way, knowledge, inner peace, what that comment really meant, self-improvement, weight loss,  le mot juste)–basically, I am made restless by the status quo, inevitably searching out something–sometimes, anything–else. 

In my quest for that elusive something, however, I have on occasion lost track of the present and all the wonders that exist with me now.  Perhaps my new word should be “APPRECIATE,” as I remind myself to take stock of what is going right, right now. Steady income? Check.  Great guy?  Check.  Dear, long-term friendships? Check. Two dogs I am crazy for?  Double Check.  Beautiful winter weather for 5 months?  Hmm.  And I was going along so well there, for a moment.

On another note, this blog has been indispensible in my quest for what’s good, and what’s next.  I’ve read about all kinds of approaches to eating, weight loss, and life in others’ blogs and found humor, new perspectives, and inspiration there.  As I continue to seek out the best of healthy and, at the same time, tasty, recipes, I simultaneously discover what works for me, which foods appeal and which allow me to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. It’s work, but it works, too.

With luck, my word will continue to evolve over time. Perhaps “FOOD” and “SEEK” will commingle, or perhaps the constant striving toward some elusive “better” will eventually be eclipsed by another, more appropriate, word. I’d happily accept “SATISFACTION” or “GRATITUDE” as my life’s new keyword.

Until then, the search continues.  But for now, it’s on to the next chapter.

What would your word be?

Driven by Distraction

January 8, 2008

I wouldn’t have believed it myself if it hadn’t happened to me personally (why, yes, you’re absolutely right, that does sound like the opening line of a letter to Penthouse Forum! But sorry, it’s not).

Two whole days, and I have consumed not one single sweet. No cookies.  No cake.  No muffins, even.  But best of all:  no chocolate! My small intestine is saying, “thank you.”  My gastric juices are whispering, “we appreciate the time off.”  My liver is chanting, “Bless you, my child.”  The scale is even winking at me in gratitude. The Girls–well, they’re not as thankful.  (“We really do miss getting the leftover bits of those oatbran banana muffins, Mum.“)

How did I accomplish such a feat, you ask? Well (like so much else in my life, unfortunately), it wasn’t a conscious choice.  I have discovered since our new semester began this week that it is just soooo much easier for me to eat healthfully when I have some distraction.  During the past two days, I’ve had distraction squared.  Exponential distraction.  To wit, dozens of students emailing with questions, numerous pieces of coursework to put into place, several meetings with colleagues, coordinators and Chairs (and chairs, too, actually), a cooking class to present in a major grocery store, a doctor’s appointment, and myriad other little errands and domestic tasks that I’ve left by the wayside for too long (hmmmm. .. why don’t we see just how long we can live without unpacking the second half of our kitchen, still in boxes from our recent move?)

On some level, I guess I know that my dietary habits are curbed by being busy, so I tend to overbook myself, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.  But hey, I like it that way; I get too stressed out when I’m not so busy that I’m stressed out.

It just seems that the ability to exert willpower over poor dietary choices is much more effective when I have many things to occupy my time and mind.  This fact tends to convince me that my eating is, indeed, emotional, as I am able to easily ignore even the most insistent rumbling of my stomach during times that I’m involved in what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (I swear, that’s his real name) would call a “Flow” activity.

I guess I’ve always been someone who requires structure and consistency to be comfortable and stave off anxiety. As an undergraduate, I was exceedingly organized, so much so that I could work part time, go to school full-time, be a teaching assistant part-time, and still have a social life.  I was one of those annoying students who elicited the gag reflex in others by always having her course readings done (with notes) before class, and always finishing essays long before the due date (though I never actually handed them in before the due date, because I didn’t want my professors to think I hadn’t used the maximum time allotted, thereby designating me a slacker).

When it comes to my eating habits, however, I tenaciously resist the idea of structure.  Why? There have certainly been times in my life when I did diet according to “Diet Rules,” whatever fashion dictated they were at the time. 

Ah, nostalgia: I remember clearly when The Nurse first explained to me (a mere tyke at the time!) about the concept of calories. The rules were easy:  it didn’t matter where you got your calorie buzz as long as your sinful activity never exceeded a certain number per day (I think it was 1000 at that time).  You could eat anything you wanted, no matter how decadent, and you’d still lose 5 pounds a week as long as you followed the rules. But if you went too far, or enjoyed too much, you’d pay for breaking those rules by growing fatter and fatter, and your friends would ultimately reject you. So we went on a chocolate cake diet, eating one slice of it for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner in order to lose weight. (Come to think of it, that was also about the time she explained the birds and the bees to me as well, so maybe I’m getting those two sets of rules mixed up.)

Later on was the “same thing for each meal” diet (not to be confused with the previous one, which is technically the “same thing for every meal” diet).  In its second incarnation, the diet prescribed a bowl of corn flakes with skim milk for breakfast, a salad and orange for lunch, and chicken and vegetables for dinner.  At that time, I was working lunch hours in the high school cafeteria, so I’d get my orange and salad for free (I know, I can get my entire lunch for free, and what do I pick?  Salad and an orange).  Back then, in my early teens, that diet also worked beautifully. I did lose weight, my first large weight loss.  Unfortunately, I also lost my period and felt pretty crappy most of the time.  (Oh, and losing the weight didn’t help me get a boyfriend, either. Bummer.)

I could go on (but I’ll spare you).  Suffice it to say that, over the years, I tried sundry and various ways to lose weight, always keeping it off for a short time (except my one big “lose,” after which I maintained my slim self for about a decade).  But eventually, I gained back the weight in the most cliched fashion, even surpassing the previous “high” weight.

Lack of success in the past may explain why I’m diet-shy at the moment and bristle at any mention of counting points, calories, carbs, fat grams, or anything else that would cause me to practise my rusty addition or subtraction skills before eating.  I am truly thankful that I haven’t felt the urge to consume anything unhealthy in the past two days, but I’m still not entirely sure why that’s been the case. 

What I’m aiming for, eventually, is to regain the power in that equation (there’s that darn math again!), allowing me to assume conscious control of whether or not I lean toward the slice of chocolate cake or the scrambled tofu for dinner.  And judging by the last couple of days, it would make sense to examine just what it is that distraction offers.  Because in the end, I think it’s far preferable to meander through your days, relaxed and aware, than to rush through a predetermined schedule just to avoid the temptation of unhealthy eating.

Remembrance of Foods Past

January 4, 2008

As our man Marcel so eloquently illustrated, it’s pretty much natural for most of us to be flooded with sensory memories when we inhale the aroma of some beloved or long-forgotten food–images come flooding back as quickly as a montage in a rap video. 

The scent of hot chocolate?  Of course: that was studying for high school metriculations, 1978.  The wafting aroma of eggplant parmesan?  That dinner party with my wacky room mate (ah, yes, the one my friend Ed said had a revolving door in her bedroom) in 1981.  The tingly, acidic rush of champagne bubbles on the nose?  The first New Year’s Eve with my HH, way back when.  Oh, and the next one.  And also our anniversary.  Oh yeah, also my birthday.  And the following New Year’s.  And this past one. . . .

Yes, food certainly elicits memories for most of us.  What’s weird about me, I’ve since discovered (among all the other things) is that the opposite is also true: memories elicit food.  What I mean is, I tend to recall past events according to the food that was present at the time.

Just the other day, my HH and I were discussing how sweet my friend Gemini I is, to always invite us to her cottage for major holidays like New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving.  “Yeh, too bad we didn’t make it this past year,” my HH remarked. I thought for a moment, then realized we had, indeed, been there. 

“Sure, we were there, don’t you remember,” I said.  “It was the first time my gravy came out perfectly, no lumps. And Gemini II made that amazing Caesar salad in her huge salad bowl on the stand.”  (Okay, it’s true, I didn’t call her “Gemini II,” but I did say the rest of it.)  My HH had no recollection whatsoever of this.  When my HH remembers places or events, he remembers them as normal people do:  according to what happened, or where the place is, or who else was there.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t recall those types of details as well.  It’s just that, for me, it seems major events are distinguished by the kind of food that was present.

During our first rocky summer together, my HH and I split up twice.  I will forever remember the second split, since we were at a favorite restaurant and ordered, respectively, linguine with seafood, and veggie pizza (before the days I couldn’t eat wheat).  As I sat, tears streaming down my face, my HH shoveled food mechanically into his mouth as a way to stave off the rising emotion at our impending separation.  Back in those days, untrained in how to emote (or even have a discussion with someone who was emoting), my HH seemed unable to utter the simple words, “But I don’t want to break up.”  As a result, I sat there, immobile, crying, but not touching my food. 

After a few minutes, the very solicitous restaurateur approached to inquire whether the food was not to my satisfaction (No, no it’s great, sniffle, I’m just not hungry, whimper whimper, thanks anyway, boo hoo sob sob), and then proceeded to return to the table every five minutes thereafter, sweetly attempting to encourage me to eat–anything–by placing one after the other free dishes on the table before me (I declined on the antipasto, garlic bread, and cheesecake, but did accept the wine–hey, even heartbroken, I’m no fool). 

When I think of that breakup, I always think of the food involved.  (In the end, that’s sort of what brought us back together again:  I wrote about the incident in the newspaper, and after reading it, HH contacted me to give it one more try.  In the end, what I assumed was no more than a several-night stand has endured more than a decade.)

Almost every major event I’ve experienced is somehow associated with an attendant meal, or at the least, a dish.  My ultimate date with my first love, way back during the Me Generation and Excessive Everything, was a phenomenal meal at a Detroit restaurant called The Benchmark (no longer in existence, alas).  A very posh place, far beyond the budget of a sweet, romantic History major trying to impress his girlfriend, they sure did know how to treat a couple. Led to wait for our table at the upstairs bar, we became so engrossed in our conversation (I know, youthful amour can do that to you) that we completely lost track of time and, before we realized it, more than an hour had passed.  When we inquired whether our table was ready, the horrified maitre d’ apologized profusely and offered us a free bottle of champagne as compensation for the time lost. (That brand remains my favorite). 

Later, I remember vividly the most delicious, velvety, slightly pungent and salty Cream of Olive Soup I’ve ever tasted.  Was it the company that made the soup so spectacular?  Or the fact that, as a starry-eyed twenty-something with very little experience in restaurant protocol, I was bowled over by the incredible opulence and extravagant service of the place? Who knows.  But whenever I think of ol’ Spaghetti Ears, that dinner isn’t far behind.

And what can I say, my family is weird.  (Actually, that has nothing to do with food-related memories, just a random factual statement). My sisters and I define memories based on food.  Which birthday was it?  Oh, yes, that’s right, the one with the Bo-Peep birthday cake.  Or remember when The Nurse’s boyfriend managed to quit smoking for a year and we baked him that “Happy Healthy” cake?  For years afterward, all my friends wanted a Happy Healthy when they, too, quit smoking (because in those days, everybody still smoked). 

And speaking of healthy, what about the evening–the first after I’d started on my naturopath-decreed cleansing diet–that I shared a dinner with my friend Mark? We’d actually found a restaurant willing to honor my new restrictions and serve me plain, steamed, organic vegetables and steamed basmati rice–no seasonings, no flare whatsoever.  Mid-meal, I sensed some lightheadedness and attendant dizziness.  Within minutes, the room spun and I wasn’t sure I’d make it home.  It was mid-February, snowy, and visibility was almost nil as I inched my way along the roads, gripping the steering wheel for dear life, moving no faster than 20 km per hour (that’s less than 12.4 mph, my American amigos), desperate to avoid an accident before getting back to my house.  I was so weak by the time I arrived home that my HH actually had to take my shoes off for me, before I collapsed in a heap on the bed and fell into a fitful slumber for 18 hours. My first (and only negative) detox experience.

I’m not sure why I evolved this way; maybe it was the constant parade of homemade foods in our house, the kitchen as the fulcrum of our family life, the genes I inherited from my mother’s side of the family. 

Whatever; I’m hoping I can establish a novel trend in 2008 and begin to associate milestones with healthy food, or–shockers!–nothing to do with food at all.  How about baked sweet potatoes (one of my favorites) linked with our 11th anniversary? Or a great trail-walk with The Girls encapsulated by raw Fig & Cherry Bars (recipe in a future post)? Even better, I’d love to relate significant events to other activities entirely (and no, they don’t have to be “that” kind, you naughty ones!).  Wouldn’t it be great to have strong associations with other things besides food?

Food is great, I love food, and it’s always been at the forefront of most aspects of my life, but I’ve come to learn that’s not the healthiest way to be for me.  Food will always remain a central part of most social events, but maybe in the future, it can be tempered with other important markers as well.  The next time I face a major challenge or triumph, I’d like to be able to connect it with something else, by making a conscious effort to focus on the people, or the place, or the things that contribute to that memory. 

Still, I’ll always have a soft spot for champagne and olive soup.

Well, I hope everyone out there had a Happy New Year.  Ours would have been very pleasant and laid back–after all, we were guests at my friend’s 8000 square foot “cottage” (you read that right–were we lucky, or what??), we were in a pastoral wonderland of snow, lake, birch trees, rare birds and other wildlife prancing past the picture windows between the stone and wood walls, and we spent the time with two of my very favorite people in the world, Gemini I and Gemini II, as well as their families.  Could it get any better?

In our pre-Chaser days, we used to go up there fairly frequently, and have spent many a lovely Thanksgiving or Christmas with the Gemini I family. This time, however, we discovered a tiny, heretofore unseen quirk in our (post-Chaser) Elsie Girl, something we’d never witnessed before:  she has a newfound propensity to lunge at and–if permitted–eat any of the other dogs up there (Chaser excluded).  What the–?? 

My beloved fur baby, the one I’ve adored since we got her from the pound back in 2002, the one who is consistently docile and sweet and gentle?  The one I refer to variously as Sweet Face, Sweet Girl, Honey Girl, My Darling Girl, My Little Love, and innumerable other nausea-inducing, endearing sobriquets?  The one who timorously permits Chaser to nibble endlessly on her ears like popcorn at the movies, who hangs her head in submission when I see her even walking toward the open garbage can, who lies at my feet silently here at the computer and reminds me, with a barely perceptible, feathery whisper of a touch with her nose, that it’s dinnertime? 

Yes, that one.  What on earth has gotten into her?

As a result of this sudden possession by the Dog Satan, we spent most of the time hovering over Elsie to ensure that she didn’t consume Gemini I’s new cat, or bundling up in our snow suits to accompany Elsie on the leash to do her “business” outside.  How I wish Cesar Millan lived in Canada. Sniff.

I also realized, as soon as we were on the road and past the point where it would be feasible to turn back, that I’d forgotten my camera up north.  Granted, it’s a cheap little unit (I must be the only blogger on the face of the planet who takes pictures with a camera she got for free using Air Miles), and also I have no photographic ability, but I am inordinately fond of the thing and it feels like traipsing around the house naked to post without photos of any kind. 

The final rather unpleasant discovery to greet me after the weekend (well, actually, the last two weeks) is that it appears I have gained a couple of pounds (really?  pigging out on baked goods and chocolate can do that to you?).  As a result of all these events, I’ve been feeling pretty disheartened since we got back.  Boo hoo.

Well, as Cesar himself would say, it’s the owner, not the dog, that needs training whenever there’s a problem.  Don’t I know it: time to listen to The Great Emperor of Dog Training and get my ass in gear, literally and figuratively.  Also, a perfect opportunity for some goal setting (notice I didn’t say, “resolutions”). 

Every year around this time–sometimes right on the first of the year, sometimes not until April–I sit down and write out a “Five-Year Plan,” a set of goals to reach within 5 years, 2 years, one year, and the next six months.  This is something I learned about from the original study at Harvard (I didn’t participate, just read about it) that confirmed how those people who actually write down their goals are more inclined to someday achieve them.  Some years it works better, some years worse, but it always seems to help keep me on track and steer me toward my goals, even when I immediately put the list back in its desk drawer and promptly forget about it till the next year. 

I’m also always amazed at the goals that eventually come to fruition even when I’ve literally forgotten about them in the interim.  To wit, a couple of years ago one of the goals I wrote was “Work with a business coach for free.”  Through a series of serendipitous events, I ended up with three full months of terrific coaching. Similarly, “guest appearance on TV morning show.”  Or, “Adopt second dog.”  At the time I wrote that, my HH’s response was a definite “no.” As the months rolled by, for some reason, he ultimately changed his mind, and eventually he succumbed.  Now, he’s Chaser’s greatest fan, and the two of them are almost inseparable.(“Thanks for changing your mind, Dad!  You’re so much fun to wrestle with. . .but wait a sec, Mum, if you’re not also my greatest fan, then whose fan are you–?“). 

So, to that end, I am going to list my goals.  I will say straight up that this isn’t the complete list, as there are still some things that I’ll keep private (goals related to relationship, family, etc.), but given the name of the blog, I think I should at least include all the food-related and health-related ones here. 

Of course, everyone and their cousin is making resolutions about now, and to that end, there was a humorous send up of these kinds of lists in the Arts and Life section of the National Post today.  Near the top of the list was this goal:

“Shed those unwanted pounds, or, if that’s too hard, spend some quality time with those pounds at a Wendy’s and make them feel wanted again.” 

In that same spirit, I shall not berate myself for those “unwanted” two pounds, or the fairly unstable wagon off of which I’ve fallen. Instead, I’m going to set about outlining some goals for the next while.

And So:

Five Years Hence:

  • Post and Beam.  My lifelong (okay, adult-long) dream is to own a post and beam, slightly north of the city, with my two dogs and HH (and in it, I’ll still be writing this blog, of course).
  • maintain normal, healthy weight and eating habits (continued since year one), following the plan I outlined, below, in the 6-month goal. 
  • go swimming on a regular basis (something I used to love as a kid/teenager, and have been too embarrassed to do in public since the weight gain).
  • Have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga (or other easy-on-the-joints, meditative exercise) as a weekly part of my life.
  • continue to have an easy, healthy relationship with dessert, able to enjoy with moderation without being thrown into binge mode, as outlined below in the one-year goal.
  • have a healthy, effective method in place for dealing with stress (hey, may as well reach high once I’m setting goals, right?).

Two Years Hence:

  • maintain normal, healthy lifestyle and eating habits since year one (as outlined below, in the 6 month section).
  • maintain a healthy, normal relationship to dessert, as outlined below in the one year goal.
  • have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga or similar type of exercise as weekly.
  • go swimming again–take lessons if necessary.
  • have healthy, effective method for dealing with stress in place and almost perfected.

One Year Hence:

  • reach normal, healthy weight (about 50 pounds from now) 
  •  achieve a sense of control around desserts–that is, the ability to eat them within reason, without breaking into a binge because of one chocolate bar, or brownie, or piece of cake
  • continue to create healthy, delicious desserts for fun and profit
  • continue to eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.
  • complete an intro to yoga course, and continue throughout the year.
  • improve work on weights, to previous levels, working with trainer if necessary.
  • continue with regular exercise at least 6 days a week, as outlined below.

Six Months Hence:

  • down 25 pounds from now
  • eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.  (I know from past experience that this will help me with the dessert goal, above, as I seem so much less inclined toward unhealthy foods when I regularly consume veggies, whole grains, and the like).
  • exercise regularly:  weights/club at least 3x per week; treadmill at least 4x per week (I know this can be done, as I’ve done it before, for years at a time)
  • take intro to yoga or similar exercise course; begin meditation, with the help of a course if necessary.

I think these are realistic goals, especially since I know I’ve mastered some of them in the past.  I’m also giving myself a fairly lengthy period to establish new habits (I’ve read that it takes about 6 weeks of repetition to establish a new habit, but have never found that to be true for me; even after 2 years of eating no sweeteners whatsoever, it didn’t take long to return to old habits once I allowed sugar back into my life).

Now, of course there are many other goals on the piece of paper written out here at home, such as those related to my writing career or travelling (basically, I’d like to do some).  But for now, if I can focus on the physical health and psychological wellness, I think I’d have a great head start toward everything else. 

(“You go for it, Mum!  My goal this year is to earn more treats.  Oh, and I suppose not to attempt ripping apart other dogs would be good, too.’)