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July Fourth, Food, and Failure

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Some think that July 4th is about independence or freedom or revolution or patriotism. The current president seems to think it’s about militarism. But I know the deeper truth.

The Fourth of July, like every other holiday, is about food. Often of the unhealthy variety, and always too much of it. Holidays are not helpful for someone newly committed to a healthy eating plan. First, there’s the smell of fatty dead flesh sizzling on grills throughout the land. Luckily, this is not a temptation for me, a long-time vegetarian. No dead cow or pig passes my lips. (Except for that time I bit into cleverly disguised bacon at a wedding reception and had to decide whether to swallow or spit in front of the cute guy I was talking to. I spat. He left.)

But as soon as I hear the crumpling of a potato chip bag, my hunger hormones start hoppin’. I’ve been learning about these hormones through Noom, my new weight-loss program. Noomers are into biology and psychology and like to throw around terms like “ghrelin” (“feed me” messengers) and “CCK” (“no more, thanks” messengers). Such knowledge helps me realize that it’s not just an inner evil monster that forces me to overeat, but a complex web of internal and external interactions. Knowledge is power, and I’m empowered to make a daily eating plan and stick to it because I know I am in charge, not the evil monster.

Holidays are another story though. Oh, I had a plan. I understood the challenge. I arrived at my neighbor’s with healthy tabbouleh salad, a giant bowl of raw veggies, and veggie dogs for the grill.

I also took a six-pack of beer, because hallelujah, I found out that Noom considers beer to be a “yellow” food (moderation) as opposed to my preferred Cabernet, a “red” food (limited consumption). My plan allows more yellow calories than red. I made this happy discovery just hours before going to my neighbor’s cookout. I was so excited about it that my first beer was gone in ten minutes. Well, I could nurse the second . . . you see where this is going. Alcohol is not known for boosting self-control, and the whole deal went south.

I dutifully logged my intake on the Noom phone app when I got home: every teaspoon of full-fat mayo, handful of chips, enriched white-flour hot dog bun, plate of pasta salad. I ate way more of that pasta salad than the healthy tabbouleh salad I’d brought. Epic fail. 900 calories over my daily goal.

Funny thing is, even what feels like an epic failure was still considerably less than I would have eaten before Noom. And you know what? That was yesterday. It’s over. I’m free from it. No shame, as I wrote earlier this week. Turns out that my Independence Day — new-found freedom from regret, shame, and self-flagellation — is July 5th this year.

Onward!

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Shrove Tuesday: Pagans, Priests, and Pancakes

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SHROVE TUESDAY: PAGANS, PRIESTS, AND PANCAKES

Known as “pancake day” in Britain, Shrove Tuesday is historically a Catholic Church thing, but since most of us like pancakes, why not crash the Catholic party?

Shrove Tuesday was traditionally a day of repentance when believers would “shrive,” or confess their sins to a priest and receive absolution before Lent began on Ash Wednesday, thus cleansing themselves and supposedly bringing their appetites under control. Then sometime in the Middle Ages, Shrove Tuesday morphed into a time of feasting and celebration, which makes good sense to me. Why spend the last day before a forty-day period of soul searching and sacrificial fasting trying to bring your appetites under control? As Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow!”

Practically speaking, families wanted to use up all the fats, meats, milk, and fish that would go bad over a forty-day period of food restrictions, so they all got together and stuffed themselves.

In France, the consumption of all this fat led to the day being called “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras. And we know where *that* led. Actually, the rowdy partying at Mardi Gras time harkens back to the Pagan spring equinox festivals that sometimes coincided with the early Christian observances. Carnival!

088.mask.crop

Down to the real point of Shrove Tuesday for the likes of non-Catholics like me: it’s all about the pancakes. The English started the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday as a way of emptying their cabinets of tempting indulgences like milk, butter, and eggs.

My church is big on community, getting together whenever we can, and I happen to live in a neighborhood inhabited by lots of my church friends. What’s not to like? So tonight, about fifteen of us will gather, say grace, and chow down. It’s also possible that if enough wine is drunk, we might start confessing our sins to one another. But it’s not required.

Tasty homemade pancakes with strawberries,blueberries and maple

Peppermint Stick, Please

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I had peppermint stick ice cream on Sunday, two scoops with warm fudge sauce. You have to grab it when you can get it, because only a select few establishments serve peppermint stick. Not peppermint, peppermint stick, with little pieces of pink and green candy in it.

I was with some friends at Seibel’s restaurant, an old family-run business in Spencerville, Maryland. They serve meatloaf and mashed potatoes and open-faced turkey sandwiches and creamed spinach with bacon. The vegetarian options are limited (no veggie burgers or California wraps here), but believe it or not, the potato and sauerkraut croquettes with sweet and sour sauce were quite tasty, and I was completely sated. 

But Seibel’s makes their own ice cream and they only occasionally offer peppermint stick, so there was no question of passing it up.

I’m not an ice cream fan in general, only peppermint stick. I’m also not generally a WordPress Daily Prompt fan because I’m not focused enough to finish a blog post in one day, and I’m usually not passionate about the prompt ideas. But when today’s prompt asked “Vanilla, Chocolate, or something else entirely?” my passion was aroused (in an ice cream kind of way).

The ice cream I had on Sunday was good, not great. There weren’t nearly enough candy chips in it. You need to be able to tuck all the candy bits into the inside of your cheek so that at the end you have a big sticky ball of candy to suck on.

Worse yet, Seibel’s has no marshmallow topping. And it goes without saying that marshmallow topping is de rigueur for peppermint stick ice cream.

Marshmallows in all forms, including the swarm of Easter Peeps that has descended upon our grocery stores, is the one chink in my holier-than-thou vegetarian armor. I just can’t resist the horse hooves that make up the gelatin that makes up that fluffy white stuff.

And a digression — did you know that the original marshmallows were made from the tuber root of the marshmallow plant? That’s where they got their name. I learned that in my college Marsh and Dune Vegetation class, which if you said it real fast sounded like Martian Dune Vegetation and always made us laugh, especially when we had been inhaling a certain type of burning vegetation. Hey, it was college.  (OK, that was multiple digressions, but they were short.)

The very best peppermint ice cream I know of is served at The Piazza in Keene, New Hampshire. It’s best eaten when surrounded by four excited grand nieces and nephews. I get a large cup of it, smothered in extra marshmallow sauce. To. Die. For. (Do people still say that?)

Coincidentally, the place I discovered this pink bliss at the age of ten was also in Keene, New Hampshire at a now defunct ice cream parlor called Mackenzie’s where my family used to go when we visited my grandmother, Beedie.

Beedie loved Mackenzie’s and always suggested we go there “for the children.” It was one of the few places I saw her really relaxed, surrounded by her grandchildren and daintily picking at the whipped cream on her sundae. Beedie was not relaxed by nature. In the first place, she was British. She also saw “some things” growing up in South Africa — her little cousin was murdered by Zulus and she was never allowed outside alone again — and she lost her first child in its infancy and her husband in an awful ship fire at sea and her family money to her late husband’s brother’s schemes.

Beedie was a stiff upper lipped, soldiering on type of woman, except when she was at Mackenzie’s. There she became her child-self again. I don’t remember if her favorite was peppermint stick, but I like to think it was, and I like to think of her slipping peppermint chips into her cheek and sucking on her wad of candy — surreptitiously, of course, because a proper British lady would never do such a thing.

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From a long line of ice cream lovers: my nephew Jeff and his son Josh

Seriously? This is Your Thanksgiving Post? Again?

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OK – I guess this is going to be my annual Thanksgiving post. Lazy? Maybe. But I want to go hang out with my friends and eat lots of carbs and drink good wine. So enjoy your day, whatever you eat. Here is some food for thought:

Writing with Spirit

Thanksgiving Turkey Thanksgiving Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Are you still a vegetarian?” people ask me from time to time, which I find odd. As if I might respond: “No, actually, I used to think it was unethical to murder animals and eat their flesh, but now I think it’s OK.” So yes, I am still a vegetarian, and since this post was so popular last Thanksgiving (surprisingly), and I have several thousand more readers this year (will wonders never cease), I will re-share my thoughts for Thanksgiving Day 2013. I wish you gratitude, whatever you eat.

Enjoy:

The last time I ate meat was Thanksgiving of 1978. Once each year, I would forsake vegetarianism to make my mother happy. But after I told her I could no longer partake, she always made a huge bowl of special stuffing with no meat juices, and I would obligingly eat the whole thing…

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What To Do On Your Day Off

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OK, so maybe you don’t want to hear what a busy weekend I had, and how I just had to rest on Monday so I could fully engage with the other six days of the week that I don’t work. I know it’s obnoxious to say, but five years into my “sabbatical” from the work-a-day life, I still like Mondays best because everyone else is headed back to work.

Mean spirited? Maybe.

But hey, I worked full-time for thirty-four years, and I’ll have to work again unless I become a famous author. I took off yesterday. I was tired. Get over it.

Recommendations for Leisure Time Well Spent:

  • Go to the gym. It lifts your spirits, plus you feel virtuous even if you don’t do bupkis for the rest of the day. But don’t get weighed and measured because you might find out that you have gained three pounds in a month and put on several inches in the process. Also, your body mass index might resemble that of a slab of cheddar cheese. But you can always explain to the coach that your brother died and you are grieving and so you’ve been eating too much. Friends have been taking you out to eat a lot, and you need to have two pieces of cinnamon toast with butter every night because that’s what your mother always gave you when you were sad.
  • Take a long bubble bath with an excellent new book. Mine is a collection of writings called Spirituality, Contemplation, and Transformation. But don’t stay in the tub for an hour and forty-five minutes or you might almost miss the grocery store. Then you wouldn’t be able to buy a bunch of healthy organic kale, zucchini, and apples and then come home and eat left-over pizza for dinner.
  • Write, write, and write. In your journal, for your blog, and for an upcoming anthology that you hope will facilitate your authorial fame. Write all day instead of paying your overdue bills or your deceased brother’s overdue bills. Don’t put off paying his bills till evening, though, or you might decide that would be too depressing right before bed and instead go back to reading your book. Which would mean you would have to make a snack, like say, cinnamon toast with butter.
  • Make lists! Get organized! Make lists of daily tasks, weekly tasks, and monthly goals. Put them on a nifty dry erase board using different color markers. Devote plenty of time to deciding which color is appropriate for each task. Your new iPhone has lots of fun ways to waste time get organized, too. If you spend enough time making lists, you can achieve a sense of accomplishment without — well, you get my point.
  • Don’t, under any circumstances, get on Facebook. And if you accidentally do so, don’t spend hours in virtual conversations about Bob Dylan’s Superbowl-advertising-sell-out to the auto industry, people’s use of plastic versus reusable bags, or the history of using one or two spaces after a period. With my friends, this can take the better part of an afternoon. Still, you might decide it’s worth the time when you come across a friend’s post saying that she just discovered her little boy doing his first Google search: “How to bild a growing up mashine.” This made my day.

Artwork: Winslow Homer, Girl in the Hammock. Wikimedia Commons.

Monsanto, Bald Girls, and Chili with Beans. Also Congress.

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In America, every month is declared “Earth Shatteringly Important Issue” Month, have you noticed? Due to the recent implosion of the country’s political system, you might have missed October’s various claims to fame.

I became quite familiar with these “awareness months” when I worked on Capitol Hill. My first day at work for the Sierra Club in D.C. (long before you could watch the congressional circus on C-span), I was asked to peruse the daily debates in the Congressional Record for any mention of environmental issues.

Heady stuff, right? The import! The historical implications!

The first issue I read devoted several pages to a long, flatulent debate over whether October should be declared National Chili Month or National Chili with Beans Month, beans being vitally important to a certain congressman’s district. Now that I think about it, my disillusionment with Washington began right there with my first Congressional Record.

bowl of chili large

Chili with Beans

Who would have guessed that future sessions of Congress would make chili beans versus chili beef look like a productive debate? At least they passed budgets and kept the parks open in those days.

Ah well, I don’t want to add more hot air to the ranting about Congress – this post is supposed to be about the month of October, not Congress.

Mostly these National Blah-Blah Months pass right through my brain without pausing for processing, but October carries several monikers that warm my heart and which might also be food for thought as we watch our government “at work” (or not) this month.

October is National Co-op Month

I’m a big fan of cooperatives, where you buy into a collectively owned business or operation and then, well, cooperate with each other.

The word cooperative comes from cooperation, of course, which means “to work together.”

Are you listening, Speaker Boehner?

Let me tell you about the town where I live, Mr. Speaker.

Old Greenbelt, Maryland is a cooperative community designed and built during the Roosevelt administration. It’s a National Historic Landmark because it was the first planned community in America, and it’s internationally recognized for its collectively owned homes and open land, all run with strong citizen involvement. A co-op grocery store, credit union, nursery school, restaurant, and several artists’ co-ops thrive in our town.

The democratically elected Board of Directors runs our town for the benefit of its members.

For the benefit of its members – did you catch that, sir?

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that: “Communities of this type presuppose that the people living in them are going to be interested in the welfare of the whole community and that they are going to be successful in bringing about certain changes in human nature.”

Like, say, giving a damn about the poor and the sick and the elderly and our veterans? That would certainly be a change in the nature of our congressional leadership. Eleanor hoped that co-op residents would be “less selfish and more willing to share their security with those around them.”

Imagine that, Mr. Speaker. Imagine if everyone could have a decent healthcare plan like yours.

First Lady of Greenbelt

October is – Are You Kidding?

The first week of October is National Hair-Pulling and Skin-Picking Awareness Week. Don’t laugh. I know – they could have chosen a more catchy name. But it is what it is. I wrote a post about this last October which remains one of my most popular, probably because it does have a catchy title: Hey Girl, You’re Bald!

It’s my personal story of growing up as a hair-puller (trichotillomania) with bald patches on my head and eyebrows and eyelashes. A weirdo, in other words. Although this form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder caused me tremendous shame, guilt, and anxiety, it also taught me to be less judgmental of people who are different from the norm – if there even is such a thing as “the norm.”

Being a weirdo taught me acceptance, compassion, and empathy — something else that certain members of the House of Representatives might consider this month.

Being a Christian — which most Tea Party House members boast about — is supposed to teach one compassion and empathy, and maybe even lead to those “certain changes in human nature” that Eleanor Roosevelt dreamed of. But in the words of President Jimmy Carter:

Photo: We couldn't agree more.

October is non-GMO month

I know, I know – these guys need a little marketing help with their name, too. Just think of it as National Safe Food Month. Non-GMO month started three years ago as a way to educate people about the dangers of genetically modified organisms in our food. In case you aren’t familiar with Frankenstein Food, this is a type of genetic engineering that crosses plants or animals with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other life forms. Eeewww, right?

Right.

Biotech firms do this to create plants that can withstand direct application of poisonous pesticides and herbicides (because of course consumers want their food drenched in toxics).

Most developed nations have restricted or banned GMO foods, but the U.S. government approved them based on studies by the very companies that create and profit from GMO’s. Surprise! Monsanto doesn’t think there is anything to be concerned about.

(In case you are interested, Monsanto’s political action committee spent $654,000 on the elections in 2012. And yes, they maxed out on Speaker Boehner.)

Although a significant majority of Americans say they want their food labeled with GMO content, Monsanto and other biotechnology lobbyists have fought against labeling and have managed to keep these ingredients a secret. Monsanto contributed millions to stop a 2012 California proposition that would have required labels. They’ve already contributed nearly five million to beat back a similar vote that’s about to happen in Washington state.

You need to do some homework to keep this stuff out of your kitchen and your body, but you can find the information if you work at it. The following ingredients have a high potential for being genetically modified: corn, canola, soy, beets, cotton, malt, citric acid, maltodextrin, and soy lecithin. More than ninety percent of the soybeans grown in America contain Monsanto’s GMOs.

Corn on cob BW

Careful what you eat!
(Thanks, WPClipart)

Buying organic products is the best way to guarantee your food is safe, and some companies have taken a pledge to stay away from GMO’s. Visit this great website to find out more about the dangers of GMO foods and how to avoid them.

After all, if you’re one of the thousands of workers furloughed because Congress can’t get its act together, you’ve got plenty of research time on your hands – it’s not as if you can afford to go anywhere without a paycheck.

While you’re at it, why not sign this petition in protest of this outrage:  Believe it or not, Monsanto is about to win the prestigious World Food Prize … for creating GMOs! I’m sure this has nothing to do with the five million bucks Monsanto contributed to the World Food Prize foundation a few years ago. Because that would be wrong.

There, see? I wrote a nice little post about October and totally ignored the goings-on in Congress. Well, except for the briefest mention.

Enjoy October! And buy organic!

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