Eating what I’m served.

During my visitation, I try to be an agreeable guest when in the homes of my family and friends.  Although I am known to be a picky eater, I do eat what I am served unless I know it will make me sick.

That means I eat a lot of food I would never eat at home, which is not a bad thing.

“Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich?”

I so rarely eat in other people’s homes now that I forget that they use white bread and American cheese when they make a grilled cheese sandwich.  I don’t think I have ever purchased American cheese or white bread, although at least one of my children wishes we’d been a white bread family.  It might have been a bland sandwich, if my friend hadn’t also offered tomatoes.
Farm Fresh Tomatoes
This summer, the local farm stand tomatoes are delicious, bright red to their center, juicy, and flavorful.  I’d almost forgotten what a real tomato tastes like.  No wonder I rarely buy them at the grocer’s.

“I know you don’t eat meat, so I made chicken.”

I always tell people not to plan meals around me.  I am quite happy eating the veggies and skipping the meat course of a meal; it’s what I do at home when I cook for my family.  When people tell me they made chicken especially for me, though, I am flummoxed.

Should I explain that chicken is meat?  It seems rude, so I eat a small a portion and hope my digestive tract doesn’t hate me for the next couple days.  I would not know if it did, Cupcake made with lovebecause my entire body is hating me right now for sitting it in a car for hours every day and eating dessert everywhere I go.

I can’t help it.  I’m special occasion to everyone, and they all make dessert for me.  Homemade.  It would be heartless to say, “No, thank you,” to a cupcake loving made and decorated by an eight year old.

“I forgot you don’t eat this.”

Until I arrived, my mother in law forgot that I can’t eat mayo (it does make me sick), so her beautiful luncheon of chicken and tuna salads was out of the question for me.  I was so happy when, without a fuss, she offered to scramble eggs for me.

I never realized she added condensed milk to her eggs before.  No wonder they taste so creamy.  I should try that for guests at my house.

I did remember that my in laws eat cool whip.

Pretzel Delight, the jello dish of my husband's childhoodThe only time I’ve bought cool whip was to make the very dessert she served:  pretzel delight.  I made it for my book club once, when we’d read Bill Bryson’s Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, which mentioned his memories of the many jello salads served during his childhood.  Pretzel Delight was the jello dish of my husband’s childhood.

I am not a fan of jello, or cool whip, and could happily scrape those layers away and eat the entire tray of pretzel, butter, and sugar crust.  I don’t, of course.  I eat a neatly cut square.

As I write about it, I am wondering what non-jello, non-cool whip concoctions I could place atop a pretzel crust.  I’m going to experiment with this when I get back to Colorado.  I’m thinking tart apples and a caramel sauce.  Or berries with slightly sweetened cream cheese.  Or peanut butter mousse and dark chocolate.

I’ll let you know if anything works out, because, if you’ve never had it, you need to try a pretzel crust.

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Peaches, the taste of summer

Peaches are my summer food obsession.  While I haven’t eaten millions of them this summer, I’ve certainly eaten dozens since they first appeared at my local market.

It’s not that I don’t love all the summer berries, but I can buy them year round.  Peaches are just for summer, so I must eat as many as I can before they are gone.

I eat them plain.  I eat them in my morning yogurt (peaches and blueberries are perfect in plain Greek yogurt).  I eat them as dessert with ginger snaps crumbled on top.  I eat them in pie and cobbler and crisp, although I think cooking them entirely unnecessary.  I put them in smoothies if they get over-ripe and mushy, but that rarely happens.  Mostly, I eat them standing over the sink, so the juice doesn’t drip on my shirt or the floor.

What is your favorite summer fruit?  Or vegetable, if you’re like that.

What are your 30 Foods?

I began reading Mary Roach’s book Gulp, Adventures on the Alimentary Canal yesterday.  I’m only 80 pages in, but this footnote on page 43 really caught my attention:

“Pet foods come in a variety of flavors because that’s what we humans like*

*Or that is what we think we like.  In reality, the average person eats no more than about thirty foods on a regular basis.  “It’s very restricted,” says Adam Drewnowski, director of the University of Washington Center on Obesity Research, who did the tallying.  Most people ran through their entire repertoire in four days.” “

The average person wats no more than 30 foods on a regular basis.  What are your 30?This is something I’ve always known about myself.  It’s a bit of joke, really, because my husband loves to eat out, and there are times I tell him to take the kids without me because I just want to stay home and eat “my regular food,” ie a bowl or cereal or a can of soup.

I thought other people, people who are not picky eaters, were eating a greater variety of foods than I was.  Apparently not.  They’re just eating burgers instead of lentil soup.

This is my list.  It started out in order, but I think I lost that at some point.

  1. Fage Greek Yogurt, plain, non-fat.  I eat it for breakfast with fruit and granola almost every day.
  2. Lindt 85% dark chocolate.  I eat one square almost every day.
  3. Coach’s Oats.  I didn’t start eating oatmeal until I discovered this brand.  It’s my go-to night snack when I haven’t eaten enough that day.
  4. Cashews, unsalted.  Another go-to snack.
  5. Eggs, scrambled, usually with salsa.
  6. Oat Bran Pumpkin Walnut Muffins.  Either for breakfast or nighttime snack.
  7. Pineapple.  I love fresh pineapple.
  8. Blackberries or Raspberries.
  9. Blueberries.
  10. Apples most of the year.  Peaches or plums or apricots in summer.
  11. Tofu.  I eat tofu at least twice a week.
  12. Onions.  I think half of what I cook might contain onions.  And/or garlic
  13. Mushrooms.
  14. Cauliflower.
  15. Eggplant.
  16. Brown Rice.
  17. Avocados.
  18. Peppers, all sorts – Bell, Serrano, Jalepeno.  At least once a week dinner includes peppers.
  19.  Strawberries in summer.  Oranges in winter.
  20. Amy’s Organic low-salt Lentil Soup or Lentil-Vegetable Soup.  I’m listing them together.  I eat a can of soup for lunch 2/3 times a week.
  21. Tasty Bite Madras Lentils.  Another lunch, at least once a week.  Yes, I really like lentils.
  22. Cereal and Milk.  I don’t eat this as much as I used to, but it’s still on my list.
  23. Winter squash – Butternut or Spaghetti.
  24. Summer Squash, yellow or Mexican or zuchinni.
  25. Black beans.  I eat other kinds, but I eat black beans more than the others.
  26. Pasta.  We eat pasta maybe every other week.
  27. Sweet potatoes.
  28. Feta Cheese.
  29. Sharp Cheddar Cheese.
  30. Broccoli.

That was harder than I thought it would be.  I’m not sure if I cheated by grouping foods together or by not listing olive oil, but I think I covered the core of my diet.

What are your 30 foods?  Or even your top ten?

Betting on the Horses

Yesterday, my husband and I went to a Derby Party, complete with hats and $1 bets.

Knowing nothing about the horses, I placed my dollar on the horse whose name most appealed to me: Normandy Invasion. (He came in fourth.)

I was asked to bring an appetizer, which caused me a few moments of consternation.  “What qualifies as an appetizer?” I asked my friends via email.  Does it have to be cooked?  Bite sized?  Not require a plate or utensils?

Clueless, I know, but I always volunteer to bring dessert.  I don’t think I’ve ever taken an appetizer anywhere in my life.

I decided that my appetizer would be bite sized, mostly because I have an abundance of toothpicks leftover from one of my daughter’s school projects. Several boxes.  I may never need to buy toothpicks again, or I may start taking appetizers everywhere I go.
Watermelon Mint Feta Appetizer
I made watermelon-mint-feta appetizers.  As we were leaving, my husband said, “Isn’t it an hors d’oeuvres if it has a toothpick in it?”

I have no idea, but either way, everyone loved them.

Here is the recipe:  stack a cube of watermelon, a tiny torn mint leaf, and a cube of feta.  Spear it with a toothpick.

The after-race dessert was Kentucky Butter Cake.  I think you should make it.  It would be good with fruit, or a cup of tea or coffee.  Or all by its buttery self, which is how I ate it.

Did you watch the Kentucky Derby?  Or celebrate May the Fourth Be With You Day?  Will you celebrate Cinco de Mayo today?

Most importantly, do you distinguish between appetizers and hors d’oeuvres?

How Many Weight Loss Rules Are There?

How many food rules can I break?Since I began the food diary two months ago, it has been hard to resist talking – and writing – about it incessantly.  I don’t think I’ve ever had to think so much about eating, so it is often on my mind.

True confession:  Left to my own devices, I’m an under-eater.

One of my dearest friends suggested this to me years ago, but I had a hard time understanding how I could be gaining weight by not eating enough.  My Fitness Pal warns me about “starvation mode,” but we’ve all seen photos of people who are truly starving.  They are not chubby like me.  I really do not believe I gained an extra thirty pounds by eating too little.

I think I gained it the modern way:  eating too much junk and too many calorie-laden restaurant meals as my metabolism was slowing down.  Under-eating some days and way over-eating others has probably been my norm for the past decade.

The first month of tracking, I lost ten pounds, most of it in the first couple weeks.  I think a fair bit of that was water retention.  Does sugar cause water retention?  I think it does, because when I cut the added sugar, my joints no longer felt swollen and achy and I dropped several pounds in a week.

(In case it isn’t obvious, I have no scientific training or medical knowledge, and nobody should take dietary advice from me.  Except my husband and children, who should.)

Then, I stopped losing weight.  I was also struggling to consume 1200 calories, much less the 1470 recommended for me, and felt miserable.  I wasn’t bothered that the scale wasn’t budging.  I was bothered that my digestive track wasn’t budging.

This is the primary reason I stopped eating meat years ago.  Apparently forcing myself to eat both eggs and yogurt every. single. day. has the same effect.  I decided to listen to my body and stop forcing myself to eat “high quality” protein.

Healthy eating is stressful.  All the best advice out there might not actually be right for any given person.  Apparently, I can only process so much protein a day, and most of it needs to come from vegetables and grains.

Sorry if that was TMI.

So, for the past two weeks I’ve been eating less animal protein and more of everything else, and I’ve lost a couple more pounds.  I’m not trying to eat low carb or low fat.  I am trying to eat 1200-1400 calories a day.

I’ve stopped trying to eat the five small meals a day that experts recommend, because it’s too much work planning that many meals.  I eat my three regular meals and, if my calorie count was low for the day, a bedtime snack.

If I crave chocolate in the afternoon, I do eat a square of dark chocolate.  If I want orange juice, I drink it, ignoring the juice-haters.  I have no forbidden foods.  I don’t deprive myself, other than relegating sweets to special occasions.  (Although I am not craving sweets, it does still feel like deprivation when I see others enjoying them.)

The nighttime snack (often cereal and milk because I need to get my calcium) helps ward off the junk food envy.  My family likes to eat chips or candy at night, and the sound of munching makes me want to crunch something, even when I am not hungry.  So a snack before bed works for me, even though I keep hearing that I should not eat at night.

I feel like the foundations of better health will be built upon breaking the rules.

At least, it will be built upon breaking expert rules, but they change their minds so often that I’m probably better off ignoring most of what they say anyway.

Pumpkin Walnut Oat Bran Muffins

Pumpkin Walnut Oat Bran MuffinsI thought it would be hard to give up candies and sweets, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.  It has been difficult to give up home baked goods.  Not breads, but cookies and pies and muffins and cakes and sugary temptations.

This morning, I decided I could not be a sugar martyr any longer and made a batch of reasonably healthy muffins.  If you were here, I’d give you one to try, but since you’re not, the best I can do is share my recipe.  I adapted it from the recipe on the box of Quaker Oat Bran, which you can find in the hot cereal section of the grocer’s.

Pumpkin Walnut Oat Bran Muffins

Preheat oven to 475F.

2 cups Oat Bran
1/4 cup brown sugar
2tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
dash of cloves

Mix all those in a bowl.

1 scant cup milk
1/4 cup molasses or honey or blue agave (I always use molasses.)
2 eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin

Mix all those together in another bowl, or like me, in a measuring cup. Then pour them into the dry ingredients. It will look grainy and not at all like cake batter, which it is not.

Finally, add 1 cup broken or chopped walnuts.  (I’m lazy, so I just break them with my hands.)

Pour it into a dozen muffin cups. I use silicon cups and fill them almost to the rim, because these do not rise much.

Lower oven temperature to 425F and bake for 15-17 minutes.

These both freeze well and travel well.

According to the calculator at My Fitness Pal, each muffin contains 167 calories, 8 carbs, 6 protein, 3 fiber, and 8 sugar.  I’m not guaranteeing that, and if you use a different calculator that is more accurate – or miraculously decreases the sugar count – please share it and I’ll update the nutrition information.

My Fitness Pal: friend or foe?

Raspberries, ie sugar is delicious.

Dear My Fitness Pal,

It has been two weeks since our relationship began.  I am still not sure you are the sort of Pal I want.

I believe you are well intentioned, but you are making me crazy.  When Karen Irving at After the Kids Leave told me about you, you sounded great.

I figured that even if I don’t lose weight, maybe you could help me improve my health.  Not that my health is bad.  It’s fine.  Losing fifteen would be fantastic, though.

You seemed like you wanted to help.  I don’t think you’re malicious, but….

I cannot do what you want me to do.  It is not possible.

You tell me I need to eat more calories, but you don’t want me to eat more sugar or fat.  I expected scoldings about my cookie and candy habit, so I gave them up.  Now you are being ridiculous about this.   I feel like you want to take all the pleasure out of eating.

I drew you this picture, so you can see how I feel:

Why We Abandon Diets

You’re holding too much against me.  Who knew that fruits and veggies were so sugarful?  And milk?  Plain Greek yogurt has as much sugar as protein.

I used to think everything delicious contains sugar or dairy.  Now I realize that just means that everything delicious contains sugar.

I can’t give up every food I like to eat.  I know sugar is bad, bad, bad, but it is so good, good, good.  I’m not going to stop eating blackberries.  I don’t care how often you highlight my sugar overages in red.

Should we break it off now, or should we give it more time?  I want to think you’re on my side, even if we don’t see eye to eye on the fruit and veggies issue, but I’m not sure.  I’m confused.

I spent the first week forcing myself to eat when I wasn’t hungry, and the second week feeling hungry all the time.  I lost a couple pounds the first week, but as soon as I got my calories near your goal, I gained them back.

You’ve encouraged me to eat more protein.  It was hard the first week, but it’s getting easier.  I thank you for that, but I also wonder if the protein consumption is what is making me feel so much hungrier.  Or am I hungrier because you make me spend so much time thinking about food?

I’m trying to be faithful, but Sugar has been my friend for so long.  Choosing between the two of you is not easy.  So far, I’ve chosen you over candy, but I need to see results to make our relationship worth sustaining.

I’ll let you know at the end of the month.

Your reluctant friend,
Ginger Kay

P.S.  I’m visiting my mom next week, and that is usually one long junk food binge.  If I give that up for you, I expect pounds dropped.  If I don’t, please don’t hate me.

Were we all picky eaters?

When I was a child, we ate at home. Eating out was something you did on vacations, which were not annual events in our family.

McDonald's Tampa 1979 05 02

There was, however, this one McDonald’s where my father would stop on our way to our grandparents’ town.  It was near the halfway point of the four/five hour drive, which we made several times each year.

My siblings would look forward to this treat, but I dreaded it and wished we would not stop.  We always did.  Then the ordeal began.

I would ask if I could just have french fries, not a burger (these were pre-McNugget days).  My parents would insist that I needed to eat meat, so I would order a plain hamburger.

My family would eat their meals while I waited, and waited, and waited at the counter for the staff to grill a fresh burger for me.  (Special orders did upset them.)  I’d eat it walking to the car (no eating in the car), while my parents complained about the inconvenience I’d caused.

I don’t deny that I was a picky eater, but my parents were misguided in thinking that I took any delight in mealtime drama.   The only thing worse than the embarrassment would have been the stomach cramps and nausea from the vinegar in all the condiments.

Who doesn't like mashed potatoes?Of course, it wasn’t just McDonald’s where the food drama occurred.  It was a regular feature of my childhood.  I was the picky eater, the one who couldn’t swallow the fried liver, didn’t like the mouth feel of mashed potatoes, and was disgusted by the smell of canned green beans.

My siblings and parents could not relate.  To them, a potato was a potato.  Mashed, boiled, baked, fried, or instant did not matter.

As an adult, I came to believe that I was not the only picky eater in my house.  My parents claimed to “eat anything,” or at least “normal foods,” and it’s easy to see why they were able to delude themselves.

My father, like many others of his generation, was only served meals that he already knew he liked.  My mother only cooked foods she liked.  There were set meals that he and my mother ate, and those were rotated on a regular basis, with only small substitutions.  (Look, we’re having creamed corn instead of regular corn tonight!)  Neither of my parents were adventurous eaters, and my mother was not a good cook, but most of my friends described the same meal-rotation that my mother employed.

I can understand why having a child who didn’t like six of the ten meals they regularly ate would be incomprehensible to them.  Their childhoods were marked by food rationing, necessitated first by the Depression and then by the War.  The idea that a child would refuse to eat perfectly good food must have been maddening.

Nobody talked about sensory integration issues or food sensitivities in those days.  Picky eaters were just being difficult.

In retrospect, sometimes I was.  After so many bad food experiences, I dreaded mealtimes and the ensuing battles.  My guard was always up.  The best I could hope for was to not be noticed.  The only meal I enjoyed was breakfast, where I could eat my bowl of Kix or Rice Krispies alone, in peace.

Cold cereal is still a comfort food for me.  I still prefer to eat alone.

It wasn’t until I moved away that I began to discover foods I liked.  None of them come from McDonald’s.  On road trips, my family is welcome to get whatever condiment soaked meat they want while I walk the dogs.  I’ll happily eat my apple and graham crackers when we all pile back in the car.

What were the mealtime staples of your childhood?  Did you love them, endure them, or hate them?

It’s too soon for this.

Yet, there they were.

My craving for Peanut Butter Cups drew me to the candy aisle.  I looked at the dozen varieties of PBCups.  None were quite right.

I noticed one I’d never seen before; it was like a double-stuffed version of a Reese’s.  Almost, that sounded almost right, so I picked it up.

Then put it back.

Resigned, I turned away from the candy, thinking that it would only be another month before they appeared.

Turning the corner, I walked right into them.  The display of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Easter Eggs.

It’s too soon for this!  I haven’t even eaten any St. Valentine’s Day candy yet.

I caved to the craving.

Perfect.

Had any brilliant ideas lately?

I invented the gingersnap icebox cupcake yesterday.  Layer thin gingersnaps (I used Nyakers) and whipped cream in a custard cup or what have you.  Refrigerate a few hours.  Eat.  It’s good.

(I learned about icebox cakes watching Mr. Rogers as a child.  He made one with chocolate wafers one day.)

I’m not going to google it, but I am fairly certain that thousands before me have invented the gingersnap icebox cake.  That’s how it always happens:  I have a brilliant idea, then learn that it is already in production.

For example, the credit card accepting parking meters – my idea!  I thought of them when searching for quarters for a meter one day at the city library.  Told my husband.  He said they had them in other cities.  A year later, I was sliding my card through a meter by the library.

I know I’m not the only one.  What did you invent (after it had already been invented by someone else)?