Friday, May 30, 2014

in which I confess to nothing

I have three half-written posts in my drafts folder right now, and another one in my head. They sound fascinating in my head before I sit down to write them, but when I am actually in front of the keyboard, they disappear. I think I'm going through my midlife crisis, and as I say that, I think I remember telling you that before. HA. I just went and did a search and it was back in 2007. Apparently I'm having a seven-year midlife crisis.

Anyway. Every time I start working on a post, it turns into a whiny, navel-gazing bore-fest. Even the few I've posted in the last six weeks have had that screechy scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel feel. So I'm sparing you. I will tell you two things, though.

One is that I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which is the mega-best-selling story of her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail back in the mid-90s. Her writing style sucked me right in. I couldn't put it down. But it's also pretty odd. I'm not sure I'd recommend it. It just wasn't very believable--not that I doubt that she's telling the truth (I have no way of knowing), but anybody who has tried to write non-fiction knows that just because something "really happened" doesn't mean it needs to go in your narrative. One small example: practically every man she met on the trail was handsome. Maybe they really were, but it makes her seem shallow and silly to say that every time a new man shows up.

Also, I find it difficult to relate to people who have had a lot of experience with heavy-duty drug use. It's just so far outside my experience that I can't understand it. Which probably makes me sound like the ultimate prude, but so be it. I want them to get over it and then feel bad about their experiences, then make the standard anti-drug lectures based on what they've learned, but it doesn't seem to happen that way. For some, it just seems to have been a necessary phase of their growing up.

Anyway. Reading it did seem to be just what I needed, though, because I'd picked up two or three fiction books in the week previous and hadn't been able to get absorbed in any of them. So I'm grateful to her for that, at least. Wild is very entertaining. Read at your own risk.

I have now started out two paragraphs of this post with the word "Anyway," and edited it out of another sentence. Which is probably about how I talk in real life, so now you know.

Anyway. (sorry, couldn't resist.) Here is the second thing: Yesterday was our 30th anniversary. Woot! You know he's a pretty special guy if he's put up with my nonsense for that long. Since we already took that trip back in March, we just went out to dinner last night, but it was pretty nice.

And speaking of time flying by, we're just a couple of days away from June. At the moment, I can't imagine that I will have anything else to tell you for quite awhile, but every time I think that, I come up with something new to post about, so who knows. Have a nice weekend.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Food on Friday: Not-so-sweet treats

Remember when I gave up sweets for Lent? It went so well that I decided that for the most part I should just cut out sweets altogether. For the most part, I have. I haven't been a saint about it--I had chocolate covered strawberries at a party last week, and there may have been some ice cream once or twice. But really, I'm finding that I don't need sweets.

Except sometimes. Sometimes you just need to indulge. So I've been scouting around looking for recipes that are relatively healthy sweet things for those moments. Not necessarily low-calorie, but sweets that have some nutritional value so I'm not just downing empty calories. I have several, but I'm just giving you two today. They're based on recipes in Alicia Silverstone's cookbook The Kind Diet, which actually has a lot of cool ideas in it. She's vegetarian all the time, vegan most of the time, and some sort of raw-macrobiotic combination sometimes, too. Since we are none of those things, I didn't think I'd find much in her cookbook that was useful, but it's good. She's a pretty creative cook, and although she clearly has strong opinions about food, she's not preachy. Just enthusiastic.

Aside: have I ever told you about my love of cookbooks? Maybe not. I love to read cookbooks. I have an astonishing number of cookbooks for someone who doesn't really cook all that much. And also I check them out of the library--our tiny library has hundreds of cookbooks. But I'm not a recipe follower. I modify recipes to fit what we have on hand, and also to fit what I know we like. The cookbooks just give me ideas for different things to do other than my standard six recipes that I make all the time.

(This is based on a recipe from The Kind Diet, but practically every vegetarian cookbook has a version of these, sometimes called power balls or protein balls. Feel free to experiment and use what you have on hand.)

1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
3-4 tablespoons cocoa powder (dutch process or regular, doesn't matter)
3/8 cup maple syrup (3/4 of a 1/2-cup measure)
1/2 cup almond or peanut butter
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t salt
optional: unsweetened coconut or chopped nuts

Pulse the walnuts in the food processor 5 or 6 times for 2 seconds. Add the dates and continue to pulse another 5-6 times. Add the remaining ingredients (except optional coconut and chopped nuts) and process until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be really sticky, so spray your hands with Pam and then form it into balls about an inch in diameter. Roll in coconut or chopped nuts if you like. Freeze until firm. Alicia says you can eat them straight from the freezer, but I keep them in the fridge. These are pretty astonishingly fudgy, and sometimes that is exactly what I need.

(This is also based on a recipe from The Kind Diet, but when I made them following her instructions, they came out a sloppy mess-- you had to eat them with a spoon. Which isn't exactly a tragedy, I know--dang, gooey chocolate and peanut butter-- but sometimes you want to be able to transport them without having them fall apart. So I changed it up a bit, and I actually like this version better. These are not nearly as sweet as their orange-and-yellow packaged counterparts, but they are more satisfying.)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or Earth Balance
      (Earth Balance is vegan "butter" and it's actually pretty useful stuff)
3/4 cup peanut or almond butter, crunchy or smooth
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup brown rice crisps or Rice Krispies
     (brown rice crisps are the whole grain version of rice krispies)
1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar

Optional Topping:
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 milk (any kind)
extra chopped nuts (peanuts or almonds)

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or use silicon muffin cups. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, maple or brown sugar, and rice crisps. Spoon about two tablespoons into each muffin cup. If you want the chocolate topping, melt the chocolate chips with the milk and spoon a tablespoon or two of the melted chocolate over the peanut butter mixture in the muffin cups. Top with chopped nuts if desired. Refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Ingredient of the Week: The brown rice crisps are pretty cool. They're the whole grain version of Rice Krispies, so they have more fiber and more nutrients. The brand I can get at my grocery store is Barbara's (nice name, yes?), and you can swap them out anywhere you would use Rice Krispies. I've never been a fan of the marshmallow Rice Krispie treats (marshmallow = blecch), but at least this would make them slightly healthier.  But you could also go with the theory that marshmallow Rice Krispie treats are a hallowed tradition of childhood and you just can't mess with them. They're not supposed to be healthy.

I have a few more like these, but this has gone on long enough. Maybe I'll do more another time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

the post menopause post

I thought about calling this post "Ladies Only" but I figure putting the word "menopause" in the post title has done the work for me, and my three male readers have already run for their lives. So here we are.

I've been reading online a bit recently about menopause trying to figure out exactly where I am. Technically speaking, the bad part of menopause is actually peri-menopause, the months or years leading up to menopause, when you can be *smirk* swamped with heavy, unpredictable, long periods, hot flashes, irritability, mood swings, forgetfulness. Oh, yeah, I had those in spades. But menopause is actually just the cessation of menstruation--which has traditionally been defined as 12 months after one's last period.

So I'm there. It's been a couple of years at least. I'm actually not sure when my last one was, I think maybe fall of 2011?? And the worst of the symptoms is long gone. Thank God. Goddess. Whoever. I still have the occasional minor hot flash--maybe once a month??--but they're not nearly as severe as they were awhile back. I've always been a bit of a ditz, but it's not nearly as bad as it was three or four years ago when I was so spaced out I thought I was already in the early stages of alzheimer's. And I can't say how nice it is to not have to mess with the paraphernalia of periods. (paraphernalia. I had to look up how to spell it. That is a thoroughly excellent word.)

Maybe the best thing though is--as just about every woman I know who has been through it says--suddenly you're just not so concerned about what other people think. It's like this cloud of worry and anxiety about whether or not I fit in and how I hard I should work to make people like me--all of that is lifting away. It's not gone. I still have to deal with it, but it's so much better. I'm not so willing to throw away what I want just to keep everybody else happy.

Anyway, that's not what this post was going to be about, I just wanted to make sure that I buried this far enough down here that I'd have lost everybody who's not going through this. Because--also like many women I know who have been through this--suddenly I'm twenty pounds overweight. We've talked about this before. I've never been as thin as I wanted to be, but I've never really been overweight, either.

But now, I am. It pisses me off. I didn't change anything. I exercise more now than I ever have before. But suddenly I packed on the pounds. It happened in the space of about a year during my first year of grad school. Then I gained another ten pounds while I was writing my thesis. I lost that last ten pounds pretty easily, but the twenty that were from the first year of grad school and menopause--they're still hanging around.

I absolutely refuse to become obsessed with thin-ness, because being ultra-thin and being healthy are unrelated, as much as the diet industry would like us to believe otherwise. You have to find the size that's healthy for you, and it may not be the same as anybody else. I am at an unhealthy size for my build and lifestyle, so I've been working on this for awhile--those of you who have been around for awhile will remember some of this from a couple of years ago. I've tried various different things, but after failing miserably at anything that resembled a "diet," I swore off dieting some time ago. We've talked about that before, too.

But you know, a couple of weeks ago suddenly it occurred to me: to lose weight, you have to have a caloric deficit. There's no way around it. You may be able to achieve that through various different means, but that's the bottom line. And if you have caloric deficit, sometimes you're going to be hungry. And there it is: I hate to be hungry. I'm slightly hypoglocemic, so when I get hungry, I get angry and anxious and bitchy and obsessed with food. And sometimes I get a migraine. The surest way to make sure I'm thinking about food all the time is for me to be starving.

After I realized that, I spent a couple of days thinking, well, I'm just going to have to get used to being this size, because I can't deal with being hungry. But last week, I decided NO. I'm going to do this. I don't want to get back to the weight I was when I was 25 (which would involve losing about 45 pounds). I'll never be that thin again. But I can lose ten pounds--I've already done that, right? And if I can do that, maybe I can lose another ten and get down to the weight I was when I turned 40.

So I started a new rule. It's not a diet, because there's no prescribed list of things I eat. I eat pretty healthy food already, I just eat too much of it. But I can only eat every three hours. I've told you before I don't wake up hungry, so my new routine is: eat at 9:30, 12:30, 3:30 and 6:30. The first two days were pretty miserable, but I had decided I would do it for a week--you can live through anything for a week, right? and it was the beginning of the month, so I had plenty of migraine drugs.

You know what? By the third day I was starting to get used to it. And now, a week and a half later, it actually feels good. I feel so much more in control of my eating. I didn't realize how often I just cruised by the kitchen and put a bite or two of something in my mouth, and then if it tasted good, I'd cruise back by and have a few bites more.

All of that is eliminated. And it takes less food than I would have expected to fill me up at the times when I eat. I've made exceptions a time or two, but for the most part, I've been sticking with it. And I'm discovering that there's a different kind of hungry that goes with migraines. The migraines kind of hungry isn't what causes migraines, it seems to just go along with them, just another symptom like light sensitivity.

So will it result in weight loss? I don't know, but I'm sticking with it because it feels better. I lost a pound and a half the first week, but that's not statistically significant, as they say. It could just be fluctuations. But I'm sticking with this for awhile. I don't know if you remember this, but a couple of years ago, in this post, I said that I hadn't found the joy in food choices yet but I was sure it was there somewhere--and this is starting to feel like I might have found it. I'm not sure if this would work for anybody else, but it's working for me.