Barbara: The Joy of Food

IMG_4982First a note: I’m having a hard time keeping up with weekly posts here on Wellness Wednesdays.  Perhaps I’ll post every other Wednesday and you’ll get more substance.  I wrote a pretty crappy blog earlier today, but I hadn’t one of my rare sleepless nights last night and honestly, I phoned that baby in.

But after writing that blog, I started cooking. It was simple stuff, vegetarian tacos with a new base to substitute for ground beef. It’s my mother’s recipe, with chile beans and softly fried corn tortillas drained on paper towels.* I love them, but I haven’t found exactly the right substitute, and I was trying again. The play of cooking restored me and gave me a better idea for a blog.

If you’ve ever read any of my books, you know that I love food and cooking. I love to cook for people. I love to cook for myself. I love browsing farmer’s markets to find the produce that’s just exactly right this week.  I love puttering around with recipes, inventing new ideas, figuring out how to showcase something stunning, like fresh mission figs or the best cantaloupe I’ve ever tasted (which I found last week, by the way, a Rocky Ford (which is only 60 miles away), as big as my head. It smelled like an afternoon filled with sunshine and hummingbirds and tasted like candy, the very essence of summer mornings) or one of my favorite things of all time, baby red potatoes taken six minutes ago out of my garden.

This week, I harvested the first of my potatoes. I never grew them before I had this garden, but Christopher Robin’s mother sent me potato bags from England a couple of years ago, and told me what to do, and I was hooked beyond all reason. I have figured out that it costs me about 3 x as much to grow a pound of potatoes as to buy them, but it doesn’t matter.  This is why:

It’s a hot sunny afternoon and it’s finally The Day. I carry a colander out to the garden with me and clear a spot of weeds and little rocks. I upend the bag and there are the jewels, purple red potatoes, so pristine, so perfect that you’ve never seen the like in your grocery store. They’re all sizes, from fingernail to Texas Roadhouse Spud size, and all of them are cloaked in that bright, tender skin. I handle them carefully, gently, their dewiness easily bruised and injured. I think about people who never eat potatoes because they’ll make you fat, or because they’re too high in carbs, or because they have a high glycemic index (true), and think we are too far away from our food.  If you pluck an ear of corn from a stalk or dig a potato out of the ground or watch a peach ripen all summer long, just waiting for that one, perfect moment, you are invested and respectful of food. You don’t stuff yourself. You don’t overdo it. You don’t throw it away, knowing there is another bag of potatoes at the store, another pile of peaches, another stack of sweet corn at the market.

We have moved a long way from the true joy of food in our current society.  Part of it is our diet diet diet mindset, but most of it comes from being so far from the sources of our food, far away from farms and ranches, far away from backyards bursting with produce and maybe a chicken, from a barn where there was a cow or a goat who gave us milk, far, far, far from the slaughter of a cow or a pig, an elk or a deer, to see us through a long winter.  We have lost a sense of our connection to food, what it really takes to get nutrition to the table and into our bodies, and therefore, we have lost perspective.

Most of us don’t have the land or the inclination to grow all of our own food (and it’s very time consuming to boot!) but we can get to healthier attitudes and get a lot more joy out of food by taking a few steps to be aware of the food we’re eating.  When you’re cutting a zucchini, think about the plant, then the flower, then the tiny baby vegetable, then the hands taking it off the plant and getting it to market.  Think about your eggs, and where the chickens live.  Think about the peaches and where they are growing and who does what to bring it to your table.  Maybe think about growing some tomatoes on a patio or some radishes or potatoes in a pot next year. Put some potted herbs on your kitchen window, or dig up a few cubic feet of grass and put in some vegetables or a fruit tree next year.

And this week, consider heading out to your local farmers’ market. Pick up some stuff that was in the fields a day ago.  Working with what’s in season connects us to the natural rhythms of seasons, and it tastes amazing.

Have you been cruising the farmers’ markets? What’s fresh and great in your neck of the woods? Do you have something getting ripe right now in your garden? What will you do with it? 

*The substitute was the best one so far. Boca ground crumbles stirred with onions and olive oil, then a vegetable bullion cube.  Yes, I know this is not particularly whole-foods or local-food friendly, but one does what one must at times. The tacos are worth it. Here is my mother’s recipe: http://www.barbarasamuel.com/blog/2007/04/27/rosalies-tacos/

 

Barbara: Getting back on track

Here is my confession: I have not been very healthy the past week.  I’ve been guzzling alcohol, consuming the things I never let myself have like berry pies and nachos and eggs. If I slept six hours a night, it was a good night. There wasn’t a hint of exercise, although I have friends who got up and walked or worked out before the day started.

Uh, yeah. Never gonna happen.

I’ve just returned from the RWA conference, where I happily got to meet some of you (and you said you were eating more vegetables! And walking sometimes!).  I let most of my good habits go while I was there, because my focus is on the fun to be had with my friends, on the business information I might be picking up, and the roar that is the national confrence.  I love it. This year, I had dresses I loved, and good friends I felt comfortable with, and lots of good news, so it was an especially great time.

Now I’m home again, getting back on the wagon, and thinking about what makes us healthy.  Is it bad for me to eat all that fat and drink all that booze?  Yeah, kinda.  But I have rules even when I travel.  Here are some of those modifications.

#1  Sleep. I don’t have breakfast meetings unless I just cannot possibly avoid it, and I never schedule anything before 9, period.  I am a big sleeper and at the conference, I don’t go to bed early. At all. So if I want to function without all the crashing sobbing depression that comes from too much emotional overload combined with a lack of sleep, I have to give myself the morning hours to re-enter. I have to be able to sleep in, like a college student.

#2 Drinking. I love wine on a normal basis, bphotout it goes to my head pretty fast, and I don’t know if it’s the sugar or some additive, but it can give me headaches.  So I stick to beer.  It takes longer to drink beer.  I like the refreshing nature of it, and these days, there’s great craft beer everywhere you go.  Yes, it would be healthier to leave the alcohol alone, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.  I LIKE beer.

#3 I bring healthy snacks with me and keep them in my room.  I asked a friend to take me to the grocery store when I arrived and brought pistachios, hummus, bananas and pita bread. Nothing brilliant, but it was better than eating eggs every morning.

#4 If there were vegetables in any form on a dinner or lunch menu, I ordered some of them.  Sometimes, as this was Atlanta, this was sometimes only a salad or some lightly prepared potatoes. It still counts.

#5 I skipped desserts.  Mostly. (There was that one dinner at bacchanalia with the peach empanada….but seriously, would you expect me to skip all of them?) I also don’t keep sweets in my room.  It’s easy to gobble down sugar under stressful circumstances and then crash, eat sugar, then crash, eat sugar, then crash.

#6 Whenever possible, I checked out the menus ahead of time to see what I could eat. I got into the habit of this when I became a vegetarian, but it works on all levels—it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a menu and then end up ordering some impossible rich thing you don’t even really want

It’s also possible, if one so desires, to check the calorie count of things ahead of time.  I do this for Starbucks, which is omnipresent in the US, and where a glazed doughnut is 450 bloody calories.  Not worth it when I can get a normal pastry for a couple hundred.

#7 Walk if possible to every outside event. Swim if I can. Don’t sweat it too much—just walking around such big hotels all day long every day is a lot of exercise.

#8 Give myself a pass if I have an indulgent day and get back on the healthy train when I get home.  Now that I’m back, I’m eating fresh fruits and veggies and my lentils and beans. Even though it was really difficult, I went to see Tabor the Trainer on Monday, partly to get more red blood cells back into my body after being at low altitude, but partly to honor the habit of trying to be healthy.  The reward was a deep sleep and a sense of confidence.

How about you? How do you handle vacations—and what are your biggest challenges? Food prepared by people you love? Habits that are hard to keep on the road?  What is your best trick? 

 

Barbara: Wellness Wednesdays–a dog, a ball, and a lake

My brother had a dog named Loki, a black springer spaniel mutt, who loved the water and loved chasing balls. If you combined the two, say a lake and a 1012181_481787078578553_1501958219_nball, he would chase that baby for hours.  Hours.  Until his legs were shaking. Until the sun was setting. Until my brother had to leash him to make him stop.

That’s what exercise should feel like.  Believe it or not, there is an exercise out there that will feel that good to you. Our bodies were designed to move and every single one of us has something that will feel like that spaniel and the ball in the lake

As I’ve said before, I was the anti-PE girl.  And I’m still so uncoordinated that I wouldn’t dare pick up a tennis racket or try to throw a baseball. But this afternoon, I headed out to the garden.  I kept thinking I should go swimming because I’ve been doing it a lot and my massage therapist said that my back looks great, and many of us are headed out to the national RWA conference next week, so I wanted something to keep looking good. Calves and back, that’s what I’ve got. (And forearms, baby. Let me flex my forearms for you sometime. Please?) Everything else is showing its age.

What I did instead of swim was drift out to the garden.  Shade comes into my backyard in the late afternoon, and I can address certain tasks even if it’s a hot day.  I’ve had some black fabric bags to hang on the fence for weeks, and I found some cheap, half-dead petunias and verbena at Lowe’s the other day.  I told myself I could do a little gardening, then go to the pool.

I changed my shirt and shoes—again the RWA conference is coming and my feet have their usual, embarrassing walking sandals tan—and headed out.  Gloves, a cute flowered bag with pockets that Christopher Robin’s mother sent me (she sends great gardening things from England) and got to it.  Digging a little here, pulling weeds there, tying up some beans.  A wild thing that had been adding a nice bit of architecture had finally grown too tall so I dug it out and put in some squash.  I pulled more weeds.

It was hot.  I sweated a lot.  My face was streaming, and dirt stuck to my chest. I kept thinking I’d stop in a few minutes, but I had an idea to put the leftover petunias in the cinder blocks I use to prop my fig trees up high enough that when my darling dog lifts his leg, he doesn’t pee INTO the pots.  If he pees on the petunias, they’ll cough a little and be fine the next day.  When that was finished, I decided to dig out the dead rose and put some cucumbers there.

By then, I was seriously thirsty so headed in for a drink of water. I glanced at the clock and realized I’d been out there for three hours.  THREE hours!  I drank a big glass of water and headed back out to finish up, dragging my trash inside, making sure the new plants had water.  Of course I was famished.

Because you know how many calories general gardening burns in three hours? Continue reading

Barbara: Eat The Veggies!

We all know we’re supposed to eat more veggies, but it often feels like another chore, another bothersome, unenjoyable thing to add to our list of bothersome, annoying chores.

The weather here has finally been cool and rainy, which we really needed to put out fires and fire danger.  I needed it so that I could get into my garden and pull weeds and check the progress of various things.  The heat and smoke has meant the tomatoes and cucumbers are still stunted, the corn is only calf high, and most of the other veggies are hardly even appearing.  I grow flowers, too, all mixed into my hippie-suburban backyard, though the cats put their collective paws down over chickens.

The wonder of the garden is that many things are still doing well. Beneath the growing vines of some scarlet runner beans were some leftover radishes, fresh radishesand the last of the monster spinach, looking as robust and healthy as Popeye himself. This is an heirloom variety I decided to try, and the leaves are as big as my forearm and very smooth so they’re easy to clean.

As I stood in my kitchen, washing the veggies, I thought about the days and nights, the sunlight and the wind, even the smoke, that had gone into the molecules of the vegetables. How amazing! I took a bite of that big, beautiful purple radish and thought about how the hours of sunlight, the water, the earth and worms moving around it to produce this one radish. By eating it, I was taking in that sunlight, that rain, the days just passed, the moonlight, the birdsong twittering in there. I mixed the spinach into orzo with lemon and garlic for lunch–feeling magnificent about my eating choices.  Who could ever feel badly about eating that food? How nourishing!

That’s how it is with veggies, especially when you can visit the local farm stand or farmers market or grow some in your backyard. Continue reading

Barbara: Awesomeness, Kaleo-style

Once upon a time, I walked in France with my friend Sonia. She speaks French fluently, loves red lipstick and has the most luscious voice in the history of the world. She used to write historical romances but now she’s a big wheel at Copyblogger and she likes to lift weights or maybe swing kettlebells. Whatever. She likes being strong. On her Facebook page, she sometimes posts things from a blog called Go Kaleo, which is written by a woman who lost 80 pounds and got strong by…well, eating more and exercising more and figuring out what her body wants.

Wellness encompasses many things. One is our attitude toward ourselves and our bodies. Loving our bodies just as it is can be very challenging in a society that adores slender youth or phyisical strength and dismisses most other body types. At best. At worst, it excoriates the obese, ignores the old, dismisses the frail.

Try this instead:

http://gokaleo.com/2013/06/24/im-awesome-and-so-are-you/

Seriously, go read the pictures.  You’ll thank me.  Then come back here and give us your manifesto.  (Do it there, too, if you want.)

My body manifesto is this:  Bad knees, Buddha belly, wrinkly neck, great calves, muy muscular back. Great breasts, old booty. Dancer, yogi, strength trainer, hiker.  Have walked to the top of mountains and over the trails in many places and have a younger partner who thinks I rock just as I am. Awesome as fuck.

Now you.  

Barbara: Wellness Wednesday–Just Put One Foot In Front Of The Other

When I was in the midst of a wretched divorce (and they are all wretched), my friend came by every morning to go walking. 9 days out of 10, I did not want to go. I was nuts, really, up too late at night writing endless journals, fighting with my soon-to-be ex, worrying about everything.  I had headaches and random physical pains and—oh, yeah. Depressed.  Shocking, I know.

10 days out of 10, she calmly and cheerfully insisted that we go anyway.  We’d walk four miles around my neighborhood and then she’d go on her way, and I’d discover that—quite to my astonishment—I was actually alive and breathing for one more day.  All thanks to Sue, dragging me out. (May the saints sing her name.)

Walking seems like an absurdly simple exercise, doesn’t it? We often discount it because it is simple, and yet, experts say it’s one of the single best things we can do for ourselves, right up there with eating vegetables and giving up the smokes. I am of the belief that even if you smoke and haven’t touched a vegetable in five years, you ought to be walking.  Maybe even more so.

Not everyone is capable, I get that.  My father has diabetic feet issues and walking is excruciating for friends walkinghim.  There are other conditions, too.  You know if you are one of the people that absolutely should not walk.

If you’re suffering knee or hip or back problems, however, you might find that walking will help.  I had such severe lower back issues when my boys were small that I would sometimes have to sit in a chair to cook breakfast, and as soon as I got them out of the house to school, I’d break down in tears. I resisted anything physical because it hurt. A lot.

A massage therapist who was treating me asked me to start walking around the block a few times a day.  I agreed, tearfully. (I was pretty much tearful about everything.) It was embarrassing, hobbling around my block, Continue reading

Barbara: Wellness Wednesdays–Making Peace With What Is

Welcome to Wellness Wednesdays.  I realized I had more to talk about than just exercise.  Lani has such a full schedule she has to bow out and I happily grabbed her spot.

Today, I was going to talk about swimming, because yesterday in the horrible, horrible heat—which many of you are now experiencing, too—I picked myself up out of my un-conditioned house and went to the pool at my gym. In the summertime, it is packed with children, and even the normally sleepy times are so overrun with teenagers in packs that it can be exasperating to say the least.  I will say more about coming to peace with teen girls and their hundreds of towels per day usage, but I have other things to talk about today.

Like making peace with What Is.

Here’s the thing:  I dislike intense heat intensely.  It’s not humid and I know everybody says that humidity is what makes it hot, but just try walking around happily in sunshine at 7500 feet altitude at 95 degrees.  It’s like having an iron on your skin at all times.

So, yesterday, there I was, too hot and trying to escape it and very grumpy. I decided that I had to do something. One of my life rules is that I am 100% in charge of my own happiness (not that I am particularly good at remembering this), so what could I do to make it better?

I could go swimming. I went. The outside lanes were packed and I didn’t want to go inside, so I plopped myself down in the 95 degree heat and waited.

And waited. And waited. Finally a lane was free and I leapt in—

It was absolute, utter, complete, deepest BLISS.  Cold water pouring through my hair. Blue sky overhead. Blue water beneath.  I’ve always liked it when you open your eyes underwater and see all that wavery light below the surface.  It’s a secret, thrilling world.  Mainly, yesterday, it was cool.  It improved my mood instantly.  I felt like my twelve-year-old self, off to the pool with my siblings for the entire afternoon, not swimming For Exercise, but playing. Paddling around in the water.  Daring ourselves to jump off the diving board. Learning to swim underwater with eyes open….all those things.  One way to be happy is to find that sense of childhood play.

Right this minute, however, there is a big fire devouring a forest just north of my neighborhood.  It started suddenly this afternoon and blustered out of control in less than two hours, already burning down homes and forcing evacuations and triggering the entire city’s PTSD, because it hasn’t been quite a year since the Waldo Canyon Fire burned more than 350 homes in one neighborhood in our city.  Continue reading