Nasoya TofuPlus Review (and giveaway! Come on…give it a try!)

Today is Monday, right? I’ve lost track of the days. Time in my world is divided into BTF (before the fire) and ATF (after the fire). I wasn’t the world’s greatest manager of time BTF, but it seems I’ve gotten worse ATF.

Thankfully, the coupon the folks at Nasoya sent me BTF for one free Nasoya item doesn’t expire until December 31. Leave a comment at the end of this review, and if I draw your name on Friday (I’ll tie a string around my finger to remind myself), I’ll send you the coupon!

As most of you know, I’ve been a vegetarian for six years. Only recently have I added a bit of fish back into my diet, but mostly I’m a veggie/fruit/legume/whole grain kind of girl. I also consume a few soy products once in awhile, like soy milk (I don’t like dairy milk unless it’s hidden in a latte) and edamame – cooked or roasted – but I’ve only had a handful of experiences with tofu, none of which were memorable.

Part of the problem was that most of the tofu recipes I’d read seemed complicated or required ingredients I’d never heard of or would only use a few times. When Nasoya asked me to review their new product, TofuPlus, I thought I’d give tofu a try…again. The difference this time was Nasoya’s website. It’s filled with tofu information, how-to videos, and recipes. A lot of recipes. Most of which don’t require traveling to Thailand for ingredients.

I bought Nasoya TofuPlus Extra Firm (organic tofu with added calcium, vitamin D, and a couple of B vitamins) and made tofu taco salad, loosely following the recipe for Tofu Tacos. Rather than a packet of taco seasoning, I used Tippy Toe Diet Cammy’s taco seasoning recipe. (Cammy also reviewed Nasoya TofuPlus a few weeks ago. See her post here.) And instead of stuffing a taco shell, I crumbled a few shells on to a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, beans, salsa, sour cream, and avocado. (I think I also added a bit of light Ranch dressing, but I made this BTF so I don’t remember.)

I agree with Cammy that tofu tastes better the day after it’s been cooked in spices. I liked the tofu taco salad the night I made it. I really liked it the next day. The TofuPlus absorbed the spices nicely. I also like the added calcium and vitamin D, nutrients I struggle to get enough of in my diet, particularly in the winter.

I’m looking forward to trying more recipes from the Nasoya website, namely making something that uses silken tofu, something I’ve not tried before.

So tell me, what is your experience with tofu? Are you an avid fan or a curious bystander? If so, leave a comment and I’ll let you know on Friday who won the coupon!

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From Vegetarian to Pescetarian…

When I started eating a vegetarian diet six years ago, the hardest meat-based food for me to “give up” was Trader Joe’s Turkey Bacon. The second hardest was fish. (I’d not yet tried sushi, but I’m sure that would have been harder to give up than turkey bacon.)

Back in my pre-vegetarian days, I liked cod, sea bass, orange roughy, et al, but mostly I loved peel and eat shrimp, scallops, and grilled tuna sandwiches (any excuse to eat Miracle Whip…you know my condiment addiction!).

About a year ago, on a whim, I ate a few shrimp, fresh off the grill. They tasted like manna from heaven! A few months after that, I bought orange roughy, and again, flavor Nirvana! Now fish is what’s on my plate at least three days a week. I go easy on salmon and other steak-like fish, including sea bass, though. Very tough for my former-vegetarian stomach to digest. And I just say no to tilapia. Too much omega-6. But trout? Perch? Haddock? Mussels? I’m all over them again. And maybe…just maybe…this year Santa will send me lutefisk. A girl can dream!

This reintroduction of fish to my diet doesn’t mean other meat products are next. I don’t miss chicken or turkey or pork – including bacon – at all, and I haven’t eaten beef in 26 years, so I’ve forgotten what it tastes like. I just remember not liking it much in the first place, except for cold roast beef sandwiches smothered in ketchup! (Again…condiment addiction…)

But fish? I know it’s not emotionally healthy to find joy through food, but it’s OK – at least in my book – to find joy in food, especially when not throwing portion control to the wind. That’s what fish is to me: a mouthful of joy. It tastes good. It makes me smile. I’m happy with 4 ounces of haddock cooked in a little lemon and tarragon or four jumbo shrimp with a tablespoon of cocktail sauce or a half can of tuna on my spinach salad. Like any food, if it’s overeaten, it’s not fun anymore.

It can be confusing choosing the “right” fish. What’s over-fished? What tends to have heavy concentrations of mercury? What about farm-raised? Wild-caught? This article in Nutrition Action Healthletter answers those questions pretty well: “Save Our Seafood: What’s good for us and the oceans.

A lot of you who belong to the Lynn’s Weigh community on Facebook have expressed your love of specific kinds of fish and its preparation. Here’s one of my favorite recipes. It was invented by my ex-husband, and if I’m ever in a position where I have to choose my last meal ever, this would be it.
 
(FOOD PORN AHEAD! Of course, if it was truly my last meal for all eternity, I’d add half-and-half and serve it with angel hair pasta, crusty bread, an artichoke with a side of creamy dip, and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting… *grin*. Doesn’t everyone have a last-meal fantasy?)

Larry’s Sea Scallops (the healthified version)
Serves 2-3

1 T light butter
1 small onion, finally chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 pound sea scallops, rinsed, dried and cut in half
¼ t black pepper
½ tarragon
2 T lemon juice
1 T lime juice
2 T dry sherry (you really need to add this for that…mmmm flavor)
2 T grated Parmesan cheese (use the brick, not the pre-grated stuff in a jar)

In a skillet, sauté the onion and garlic in the butter until onions are translucent.

Add the mushrooms, scallops, pepper, tarragon, lemon and lime juices, and sherry. Cook over low to medium heat until scallops are cooked through and half the liquid is reduced (about 30 minutes. You may need to turn up the heat at the end to reduce more liquid.)

Over low heat, sprinkle the Parmesan on top and let it melt into the dish.

(To make this my last-meal dinner, add ¾ to 1 cup of half and half just before adding the Parmesan…and add more Parmesan…just sayin’. )

What’s your favorite fish? And if you’d care to share, what’s your last-meal fantasy? Talking about any kind of food isn’t illegal here! Go with your bad food self!

Food Is Like Brylcreem: A Little Dab Will Do Ya


Sally Albright is my hero

All the while I lost weight and during my first few years of maintenance, I was married. Larry supported me (still does…he’s a great friend), and even lost 20 pounds himself. I didn’t have to explain why I was ordering a salad with light dressing on the side or ordering an entrée with a to-go box on the side so I could put half of the meal in as soon as it arrived. He didn’t mind that I asked questions of our server about how the food was prepared or requested the chef to please go easy on (or omit) the oil.
I touched on it in “Throwing Out The 300-Pound Pitch,” but until last week, I never gave any deep thought as to how two people co-exist in Foodland. Dating again, I was more concerned with how to explain the past seven years. And thankfully when I met Steve a few weeks ago and I recited the whole weight loss thing, he didn’t run screaming in the other direction. What he said – with a great big grin on his face – was, “I love to cook.”
Turns out, Steve’s a foodie. And I mean hard-core. He reads Wine Spectator, and studies the cookbooks of Paul Prudhomme (“Chef Paul” from K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen), Anthony Bourdain (oft smart-ass chef and author of “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly”), Thomas Keller (award-winning owner of the Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry), Eric Ripert (world renowned French cook and owner of Le Bernardin in New York), and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, whose restaurant in Pittsburgh – Lidia’s – is on Steve’s date list.
What I first knew about Steve was that he’s a union carpenter and owns a beautiful red Harley. He can match me song for song, artist for artist in music trivia. He wears cowboy boots; drives a pickup; looks smashing in a pair of Levi’s; holds every door open for me; loves his cat, Boo; and can drink a Starbucks latte as readily as diner coffee, and Budweiser as easily as 20-year-old Glenlivet. All of this I can deal with. It’s the butter, the cream, the Italian food that has my maintenance brain spinning. And not just any Italian food. “Good ‘country Italian,’” he said. “You know, that sort of rustic Italian.” Um…no, I don’t know. But I have a feeling I’m going to find out.
I talked to him about how I choose to eat and he assured me that wasn’t a problem….just before he said, with a devilish grin, “But you know I’m your food anti-Christ.”
I’ve loosened the chains a bit over the past two years, but other than using a bit more oil in my cooking and eating whole grain pancakes and consuming a few more sweets lately than I care to admit, I don’t stray too far from the plan that got me and keeps me where I am. When I go out, I order the safest thing on the menu: salad, or occasionally a garden burger, sans the bun. I haven’t ventured into many restaurants that employ several bona fide chefs, and I’ve certainly not dated a capital F Foodie who cooks with butter and cream and makes his own lemon sauce to pour over lemon cake:
Last weekend, Steve and I wanted to go out for brunch. We went online and looked at menus and chose The Cornerstone because it offered eggs Benedict with duck confit. OK, back up. HE chose Cornerstone because it offered duck confit. But I found something that looked interesting, too. A risotto made with wild mushrooms, butternut squash, and kale. After we were seated, I asked our server if the risotto could be made vegetarian. She said, “I’ll as our chef.” A few minutes later, she came back and said, “Why yes, we can make it vegetarian, but not vegan because the chef uses butter.” Not a problem, I said, and yes, I would like a fried egg on top. Toast? No, thank you.
The risotto was the first non-vegetable/non-egg-white focused breakfast I’ve eaten in more than 7 years. It was fabulous, but I felt a bit guilty, and I panicked about my plan for the rest of the day. Subsist on water, an apple, and some edamame for dinner? Walk five miles?
“Shut up!” I told my brain. “You can do this!”
And I did. I enjoyed the risotto, eating slowly and stopping before I was full. Steve didn’t care if I cleaned my plate. He only noticed because I pointed it out.
Remember how I said I was looking for someone who didn’t eat Doritos in front of me? Well let me tell you, Doritos have nothing on mussels sautéed in garlic and wine, bruschetta on French baguette, and bleu cheese dipped in honey. Steve eats these things, yet never pushes them on me. It is I who must be disciplined to eat one or two mussels, a bit of bruschetta, and a piece of bleu cheese. It is my challenge to taste all the flavor these foods have to offer without going crazy and consuming them all.
A few weekends ago, we went to Oakmont Bakery for coffee because What’s Cookin’ at Casey’s wasn’t open yet. I told Steve the story about how, when I was a little girl, my dad took care of my brother and I on Saturday mornings so Mom could sleep. He’d let us dress in anything we wanted (I was a stripes-on-plaid kind of girl) and he took us to the bakery for a donut before we went to the car wash. I always got a glazed donut with chocolate frosting. As Steve was paying for our coffee, he asked the cashier for a glazed donut with chocolate frosting.
My first thought? ‘OMG, I can’t eat that!’
My second thought? ‘Wow…that was really sweet of him.’
We took our coffee and donut to a table and I savored two small yet amazingly awesome memory-filled bites of glazed chocolate donut. I got teary thinking about those days and how much I love my dad. Not once did Steve say, “Come on. Have another bite.” He was just happy that he’d made me happy.
Food can be that conduit to memories, as long as we understand it is like Brylcreem: “A little dab will do ya.” Take the meaning and savor a bite. Leave the rest of the calories behind.
How do you navigate the really good, memory-invoking food waters?

“Nothing” Food

Here’s what’s in my fridge as of this morning, April 25, 2012: 3 packages of Shiritaki Noodles, a quarter-full bag of shredded carrots, a half-full bag of spinach, a container of grape tomatoes, five crimini mushrooms, a near-full container of Daisy Light sour cream, half a bottle of shiraz (it’s one red wine I like chilled), leftover tofu and veggies from yesterday’s Mad Mex fajitas, a couple bottles of salad dressing, some light string cheese, condiments (the holy trinity: ketchup, mustard and light Miracle Whip), a container of light butter, and a half dozen eggs. And a jar of horseradish and some tahini. There might also be some strawberry jelly and maple syrup in there, too, now that I think about it.

Clearly I need to go to the grocery store, but – along with some cupboard staples and a few things in the freezer – I have food enough for me for a day or two. Seven years ago, if I opened my fridge and saw Shiritaki noodles, spinach, mushrooms, carrots and tomatoes, I’d have said, “There’s nothing to eat in here!” and promptly picked up the phone and ordered what constituted real food at the time: pizza and cheese bread sticks.

Old Me didn’t completely avoid “nothing” foods. I’d eat fruit. I loved strawberries, blueberries, and apples, especially when they were surrounded by a pastry shell or sat atop a big bowl of Neapolitan and covered in fudge sauce. I liked veggies, too, but their little tiny portions got shoved to the side of the plate, nearly buried under a mound of cheese potatoes or some breaded chicken or pasta monstrosity. Eat a salad for dinner? Sure! As long as there were plenty of French fries, shredded cheddar, and ranch dressing on top!

Sometimes Old Me pops in for a visit, and for a moment, I see the world through her eyes. This morning, when I opened my fridge, the first thing I thought was, ‘There’s nothing in here.’ But as quickly as that thought came, that thought dissolved, and I saw the eggs and cheese and I imagined an omelet. Old Me would have been halfway to Eat ‘n Park for pancakes. I saw the spinach and tomatoes and planned lunch. Old Me would have debated whether to drive through McDonald’s or Wendy’s for lunch on her way to the grocery store. I saw veggie soup and one lone veggie burger in my freezer and that will be dinner. Old Me would have bought all the fixings for manicotti and garlic bread.

I’m not dissin’ Old Me. I give Old Me a lot of credit. Sure, she can be annoying sometimes, especially when she whispers, “What’s one more piece of chocolate? Go ahead, Lynn, you deserve it.” But even though she put away a lot of chicken nuggets back in the day, she eventually took off her blinders and saw the contents of the fridge and gave “nothing” food a chance. So later, in her honor, I’ll raise a glass of shiraz and thank her for making me who I am today.

Cheers!

“Hotdogs, cheeseburgers, pizza sticks, cheese burritos, chicken fingers, fish sticks…”

Food.

Is there a subject more complex or convoluted? Politics, religion, the differences between the sexes…those subject’s got nothin’ on food.

We need food to survive. Of course. But it’s not like we can take a pill of food in the morning like a birth-control pill and hope it works. Food demands our attention. And it has some people’s attention more than others (people such as me, a confessed foodie).

We love some food and we hate some food, but there’s never a consensus. We defend the foods we love like they were some kind of holy grail. I’ve listened to people argue over barbecue sauce recipes, for cryin’ out loud! That’s not love. That’s obsession.

There are times we cook food and times we grab food. At our most determined, we plan and implement a diet plan, and when that determination wanes, we drive through McDonald’s. We seek the magical comfort of mashed potatoes while standing firm in the face of cheesecake. We are conflicted.

When it comes to food, we all have choices. All of us, that is, except for the little ones. Those folks who are too young for debit cards, too young to voice their opinion (except to put their hands in front of their mouths in protest), and who rely on us…adults…to make the best food choices we can for them.

Meet Jessica. Jess is a 27-year-old mother to 11-month-old Sarah. Sarah attends a Class A daycare in Louisiana while Jess and her husband, Mark, work. Until now, Jess has provided the daycare facility with all of Sarah’s foods: breast milk and baby food.
Now that Sarah is ready for “table” food, the daycare insists she eat what they provide. In fact, the government requires that Sarah’s lunch be delivered via the daycare. No home food is allowed without a doctor’s note. The problem is that Jessica isn’t real happy with the daycare’s food choices. It’s not that Jess is a picky, hard-to-please helicopter parent. Not at all. Jess is simply a food-conscious woman who wants her child to have every advantage of healthy, wholesome foods.

And to Jess, hotdogs, cheeseburgers, pizza sticks, cheese burritos, chicken fingers and fish sticks are not healthy, wholesome foods.

You know I agree.

Anyone who has lost weight and is maintaining their weight probably didn’t get to weight loss and maintenance by eating a lot of hotdogs, cheeseburgers, pizza sticks, cheese burritos, chicken fingers, or fish sticks. But I’d be willing to bet they got there (raising my hand!) by eating hotdogs, cheeseburgers, pizza sticks, cheese burritos, chicken fingers, and fish sticks. Frequently.

Our Standard American Diet of fat and simple carbs is flat out wrong. We know this. And yet, it is perpetuated in our schools while we sit around scratching our heads wondering why we have an obesity epidemic!

Shame. On. Us.

Shame on school districts. And more appropriately (despite Michelle Obama’s efforts), shame on our government for sanctioning this disease-by-food policy.

I invite you to read Jessica’s blog, “The Healthy Conundrum.” Parents, foodies, weight losers, weight maintainers… please post your comments there as well as here. I look forward to the conversation.

(Just Like) Starting Over

Lying in bed this morning, listening to the rain, eating a bowl of last night’s stir fry, and playing Words with Friends on my iPhone, John Lennon starting singing in my head:
“It’s been too long since we took the time
No one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly…”

I reached over and grabbed a Kleenex off the nightstand. A pity party began as a lump in my throat. I blew my nose and wiped a tear and thought, ‘I miss my bike. I miss my elliptical. But it’s been so long, my body’s going to hate me. It will be just like starting over and I don’t want to start over. I want to lie here and eat Chinese food and maybe some chocolate and I think I have real peanut butter downstairs…’

I caught it all the last three weeks – a cold that refuses to go away, two different stomach bugs, some weird flu-like thing with aches and a fever, AND…as if that wasn’t enough fun…Aunt Flo came for a visit.

(You want to stop reading, don’t you? I don’t blame you. But I promise, it only goes uphill from here. Pinky swear.)

A pity party’s a great tool for reflection…WHEN I don’t wallow in the pity part too long. “Poor Me” has taught me many lessons over the years, such as what and who are most important in my life, and what I should let go of and what I should hold on to.

Today, Poor Me took me back to the days before I started exercising and how blah I felt all the time. Blah was my state of being. I didn’t know there was a non-blah way to live until I got up one morning several years ago and deliberately walked a half a mile.

Poor Me reminded me that I don’t want blah to be my lifestyle again. Then Poor Me asked me to dig a little deeper.

“Why haven’t you hit the exercise – other than a few power walks – for three weeks?” she asked.

Well…I was sick.

“Yes…but what else?”

Um…in between illnesses, I didn’t manage my time well enough to fit in a workout.

“OK…what else?”

I also…deep down inside…didn’t want to exercise because it will suck starting over.

“It won’t suck as much as you think,” Poor Me assured me.

…sigh…

You’re right. My mind needs to chillax and let my muscles do the work. I will work out…slowly…building up to where I was before, and in the meantime, reap the benefits of endorphins, as always happens, even in a short workout. How quickly I forget.

40-day “I Give Up” update:

I was happy to see so many of you here and on Lynn’s Weigh on Facebook take the challenge to either give up a food you’ve been struggling with or reflect on a food-related behavior for the 40 days of Lent.

I’m hanging in there with my two resolutions.  I’ve rejected all restaurant bread, which, to be honest, hasn’t been too hard since I haven’t been out much in just a week. The only temptation was on Saturday:

Two innocent looking (Look how small! Aren’t they cute?) pieces of seasoned white focaccia bread arrived on my salad plate, which I quickly moved to another plate (Why yes, I order a side of steamed veggies every time I order a salad. I kid you not.).

That still wasn’t far enough away, so I asked BF to remove them. So he hid them behind the ketchup.

As for sweets, again, I’ve done very well. I bought a quart of Breyer’s fat-free strawberry ice cream and a bar of dark chocolate. I savor one bite of one (not both) of them every day. And I mean “savor” as in I am mindful of that bite to the very end.

Reflecting on my sweet tooth this week, I’ve realized that what I want to control is not my sweet tooth, but rather my actions. I’ve taken to heart the advice given by Millie Jackson, a Lynn’s Weigh Facebook follower, who wrote in a post the other day: “I thought, ‘Oh, I need to eat something sweet on Fat Tues.’ And then I asked why? And didn’t.”

Sometimes all it takes to get past a craving or change a habit is to ask the simple question, “Why?” as the moment unfolds. It’s amazing the answer you’ll get when you’re open to it.

John Lennon and I are off to end the blahs and hit the bike. Ah…my bike…

“We’ll be together all alone again
Like we used to in the early days
(And) when I see you darling
It’s like we both are falling in love again

It’ll be just like starting over…”

Lost In Space

The space of my life right now is filled with crazy difficult challenging things. School, work, joint issues, relationships…you know what I’m talking about. 

In a few moments of reflection today in my doctor’s office, I realized that within the crazy spaces, there has been a lot of “fun,” as in moments or stretches of moments of oblivion. Those “caught-up-in-the-moment times of ‘ahhhh….’” times.  
A good joke, an unexpected moment with a friend, being drawn in by a beautiful flower or bird, a meeting of the minds with colleagues over a cup of coffee… For me, these moments get buried in the monotony of my primary spatial existence. When fun is happening, I often concentrate on what future challenges lie ahead instead of breathing in those moments of laughter and calm. 
You know how you can hear 10 really good things about yourself and one bad thing, and you remember and focus on the one bad thing more than the 10 good things? If we only concentrated more on the good than the bad, how much better we’d breathe and eat and exercise and overall treat ourselves better. 
I sometimes get so caught up in how my jeans fit and what I eat and in reminding myself to read the latest/greatest report on weight loss that I forget how to live in my body and have fun in it and with it. Those are the times I need this guy: 
Danger, Lynn Haraldson!
The two things I thought about in the waiting room today were: 
1. Maelie Julianne – grandbaby #3 – turned 1 year old on Feb. 10. All the regulars were at the party – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – and everyone wanted to see and hold Mae. She allowed people that and entertained everyone with her teetering walking, but she escaped the crowd once in awhile, gravitating to one of her favorite toys her mom put in the corner of the dining room so it was out of the way. I watched her play while everyone else talked and ate lunch and I thought, ‘How cool! Mae’s 1 and already she knows she needs time alone.’  Don’t we all? To recoup and recognize fun when we experience it? Of course! But…do we do it?
2. The soup kitchen where I volunteer is surrounded by poverty and need. Everyone who works there understands that and does NOT take that truth lightly. But inside – where we do our work – there are a lot of moments of fun. Peeling butternut squash and telling jokes, inventing a cabbage and tomato dish with only what’s in the pantry, washing dishes with a latex-glove-encased stopper sticking out of the water… Heck, even putting on a hair net can be hysterical! (You’ll have to trust me on this.) Thinking of my fellow volunteers and the paid staff who patiently guide us through our work made me crack up in the doctor’s office. I’m sure I made a few heads turn, but I don’t care. ‘How lucky are you?’ I thought. *grin* It was a fun moment.
I’m five weeks into the spring semester, and I’m learning a lot about enteral tube feedings and medical terminology and bacterial growth in food. But it’s the life lessons I continue to learn that mean the most: 
Little. Things. Matter. 
Little things make me sane. They ground me. 
I know each of our lives is multifaceted. But thinking strictly within the realm of diet and exercise, how often do you allow yourself to have pure, unadulterated fun that doesn’t include body image or food? 
Body image and food (and all that they encompass) have become the buzz in the background of my mind, and I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. But…like laughter…it keeps me grounded. I just have to remember to keep a pulse on all of the things that make up the space of my life. And that includes fun. 

I Give Up

When I was a kid, I viewed Lent as a six-week nightmare for my Catholic friends. They always had to give up something they loved, and it was almost always food.

Usually their parents chose that something for them, or when they got to choose, it had to be something other than spinach or liver. For some it was sweets – Mountain Dew or chocolate or bubble gum. For others, it was a meal staple like hamburgers or pizza. Sounded like torture to me, especially when they threw in that whole “fish on Fridays” thing.

I’ve given up food before. Oh heck yeah. There are several foods I’ve let go of. Permanently. Beef, for instance. Haven’t eaten it in 25 years. Burger King chicken sandwiches? Fifteen years. And I haven’t touched a Girl Scout cookie since 2005. But none of them were given up with reflection. They were given up because they were “too tempting” and therefore they needed to be eliminated. “No soup for you!” Boom. Done.

I don’t know why now, but this pre-Lenten season 2012 has me thinking about the whole “giving up” thing. And in the course of these thoughts, I’ve identified two foods that – until now – I’d limited during my weightloss/maintenance journey. Two foods that I’ve been ingesting a little more than recreationally lately. So I’ve decided to use Lent as a time to “give them up” and reflect on the behavior(s) that have led to their over-consumption.

First…restaurant bread.

When I started losing weight seven years ago, I always – and I mean always every time – asked the wait staff to not bring bread to my table. Now, well…it and its evil friend Butter are regulars at my table. White, whole wheat, rye…doesn’t matter. I’ll eat it. I’ve even started eating *hanging head* the crusts of my BF’s sandwiches. Who am I??

Here’s what I know about food challenge #1: I overdo restaurant bread and it’s time to stop and to reflect why. Restaurant bread…gone for the next six weeks.

Second…sweets.

Big, broad category, I know, but my sweet tooth has taken over like a bossy mother-in-law.

My daughter, god love her, is a really good baker AND I’m at her house several times a week. Dangerous combo. Cookies are her specialty, but she makes blondies to die for, and last week was Miss Mae’s first birthday so, of course, Cassie had to make a “test cake” before making the actual birthday cake for the party. Guinea Pig Grammy that I am had to taste-test the cake to give Cass feedback. But there’s “taste” and there’s “stick your fork into the dang thing 10 times” kind of taste. Who am I??

And it’s not just Cassie’s scrumptious baked goods. It’s an escalation of what I’ve always allowed. For instance, I’ve made it a point in this journey to eat a piece of chocolate every day. But there’s a piece of chocolate, limited to one, and there’s a piece of chocolate AND a Medjool date AND a square of a Graham cracker AND a bite of whatever Cass has made that day… Agh!! Enough! Time for a sugar detox.

Here’s what I know about food challenge #2: I overdo sugar. A little is OK, but what I’m doing is inching closer to the behaviors of pre-weight-loss me. As with the bread, it’s time to stop and reflect. Strategy: One piece of chocolate OR one Medjool date OR one bite of Cassie’s ridiculously tasty  baked good per day. Reflection will coalesce with the restaurant bread in my head and on paper.

What I’ve come to realize (and to my Catholic friends, I apologize if I get this wrong), is that Lent is not about “giving something up.” It’s about understanding the pull of the want of material or other non-spiritual things that supersede our best interests and take us away from self-reflection (or G(g)od).

It takes six weeks to develop a habit, so here’s my challenge: In the next five days, pick a food- or exercise-related behavior you want to change or a food you want to eliminate. Commit to reflecting on your choice every day, writing your conclusions in a notebook or, at the very least, meditating on it a few minutes every morning or evening.

Next Wednesday is our day one. Let’s convene in six weeks. Good luck!

Food

Since embarking on this weight journey seven years ago, I’ve lived, breathed, written about and obsessed over food. I’ve studied it, planned my life around it, cursed it, adored it, avoided it, snuck it, and forgot about it.

But never in the last seven years – or ever – did I lack it. Never did I not know where my next meal would come from or what it would be.

When I began volunteering at an inner city non-profit a month ago, my intent – in addition to “helping people” – was to learn more about community nutrition by working for the agency’s food pantry, soup kitchen, and Meals On Wheels program. What I’ve learned so far is just how naively short of reality my definition of “community nutrition” fell. Feeding people in need is much more than filling a bag of groceries, spooning mashed potatoes on to a plate, or knocking on a door.

The effort it takes to feed thousands of people every month is nothing short of Herculean. The manpower required (both paid and unpaid) and the volume and variety of food (both donated and purchased) that is delivered every day is staggering. And every day, those people unbag and unload and prepare and distribute that food.

In the soup kitchen, they clean dishes, scrub floors, pare potatoes, chop onions, divvy up desserts, roll plastic silverware in napkins, bag containers of milk and juice, assemble sandwiches and hot meals and bag lunches, chop meals for those with no teeth, hand out extra ketchup because it’s the nice thing to do, say no when it’s necessary, put on and take off multiple pairs of latex gloves, and fight with hair nets. (But maybe that’s just me.)

In the food pantry, because it’s January, funding sources require every person who comes in for groceries to have new paperwork filed. Each person must present proof of income (or, in the case of no income, fill out a non-income affidavit) and a recent piece of mail to verify their address is within our service area. Then they need to answer questions: How many are in your family? Ages? Do you receive food stamps? Is anyone in your household disabled? Does anyone in your family not have health insurance? How far did you go in school? Do you own or rent? While I understand the relevance of each question and how the answers will be used, there’s an unavoidable sense of judgment attached to each one.

One young woman I interviewed Monday said she’d worked at two jobs all of last year. One as an administrative assistant for a non-profit agency and the other as a clerk at Staples. After the holidays, the non-profit’s grant was not renewed and Staples let all holiday staff go.

“I work hard, I really do,” she said, wiping away a tear. “I’m out there every day trying to find something. I don’t come here very often, maybe three times last year, but I have my kids and…” She looked away.

I can’t assume to know what it’s like to be the thousand families the food pantry serves monthly or the 85 Meals On Wheels clients or the 95-125 soup kitchen clients served daily. I know some are indifferent and are not affected by the hoops they are required to jump through. But many, like the young woman I interviewed, swallow a lot of emotions to feed themselves or their family.

Of all the many things my blog readers have taught me over the years, perhaps the most universal is that emotion and food cannot be separated. There’s the detachment of enough and the fear of not enough. There’s the pain of addiction and the casualness of indifference. There are the opposite feelings of warmth and guilt when in the presence of comfort food. There’s a sense of belonging and pride when preparing or eating ethnic food. Food is complicated.

Of all the things I’m learning as a volunteer, the most important thing so far is understanding that the “community” in community nutrition is all of us. Whether we’re heroin addicts or stay-at-home moms, shoplifters or Wall Street analysts, living under a bridge or sailing a yacht around the world, we all need food. How we acquire it is our only real difference.

Food is something I will still obsess and write about, analyze, study and eat too much of sometimes, but food is something I can no longer – in good conscience – take for granted.

I’m Not All That and a Side of Iron

I thought it was about time I dug my head out of a book to let you know I’m alive and well and up to my ears in quizzes, exams, foods lab, papers, and all kinds of analysis (read: math *cough*). I’ve been exercising my right brain more than my body these last few weeks, but it hasn’t been all work and no play.
There was Gettysburg:

I climbed this tower, despite my fear of heights.

Colton and I climbed Big Round Top where I stopped to climb into one of the stone fortresses lining the mountainside. It was eerie and sad to think about the men who’d fought and died in that space.

The tower and the fortress were spaces I could only have experienced from a tour bus or in books and photos when I was at my heaviest. Every time I add things to my list of things I can do now that I couldn’t do then, I thank and honor the woman who made the decision to lose weight nearly 7 years ago.

Halloween was successful:

Police officer Claire

Pirate Luca

“I don’t want to be a monster!” Mae

I consumed only one small roll of Whoppers malted milk balls and one (only one) candy corn, which Claire shared with me after I begged a little.

I’ve also watched three seasons of “Mad Men.” Don Draper is my non-caloric eye candy reward for working so hard in school. Yummy!

I also completed the second part of the 3-day intake analysis assignment I first wrote about October 5 (see “Knowledge is King & Breaking Bad…A Tale of Bread Addiction”).

We were asked to take a look at the complete nutritional picture, not just the energy nutrients (carbs, protein and fats) from the previous assignment. What did I learn? That I need a big serving of vitamin D, with a little iron, fatty acids, and B12 on the side. Oh, and a sprinkle of thiamin and niacin on top. Hold the sodium.

We were to write about where we were lacking and how best to improve our diet without supplementing. I won’t bore you with the report I wrote, but here are the highlights.

My essential fatty acids (Omega-3 and Omega 6) intake fall short of the DRI (daily recommended intake). Because I don’t eat fish (although I did try fish oil tablets a year ago and did not tolerate them), I need to pay closer attention to my consumption of flaxseed and walnuts, and use sunflower, safflower or soybean oils in my cooking.

Thiamin and niacin will get a boost if I eat more pinto beans, soy milk, and tofu, and I can improve my vitamin E intake through an increased intake of seeds and nuts (which will help with the Omega-3 issue, too).

Because of B12s importance in maintaining nerve cells and a whole lot of other things, I need to improve my average daily intake. On the day I recorded a cup of soy milk and a serving of cheese, I exceeded the DRI by a fraction. On the two days I didn’t eat these, my B12 intake was miniscule at best.

My biggest vitamin concern is vitamin D. I am at 27% of the DRI. Given its relationship to calcium and phosphorus in maintaining blood concentrations of these minerals, 27% is clearly not adequate. While I’m sure I get enough vitamin D during the summer because I spend a lot of time outdoors, this isn’t the case now. I need to rethink my egg-whites-only diet mindset and begin to consume more yolks with my morning omelet and look for products that are fortified with vitamin D, particularly in the winter. The only way I can drink cow milk is in a Starbucks latte and I’m not paying for one of those every day. So I bought a container of cottage cheese. I only like cottage cheese as a dip for potato chips (no, I’m not kidding) and on lasagna, but I’ll give it a try by itself. Mixing it with fruit will…trust me…only make it worse for me.

Regarding minerals, I’m pleased with my calcium, magnesium and potassium intake. While the 3-day average had my potassium slightly lower than the DRI, on a broader average, my intake of potassium-rich foods puts me above the DRI most days.

Where I’m lacking is iron. My iron levels have been low most of my adult life, except when I was taking a multivitamin with added iron. I stopped taking supplements a few years ago, and while my doctor hasn’t been too concerned about my lower-than-normal iron levels, it doesn’t mean I should ignore the fact that I consume less than 50% of the DRI for iron every day. According to our text, “Vegetarians need 1.8 times as much iron to make up for the low bioavailability typical of their diets.” Again, increasing my consumption of soy, legumes and seeds would help, but so, too, would cereal such as cream of wheat, a favorite of mine from childhood. I have begun to consume wheat products again on a very minimal level, but I will give the cream of wheat a try a few times a week to see if my levels improve when I see my doctor in early December.

It was an enlightening assignment, to say the least. Not that I’m going to go all hog wild and stress myself out to get it all perfect, but knowledge is power, and I’ve got the power to change a few things to improve my diet. Why not? I might discover I actually like cottage cheese by itself.