The Nordic-Terranean Venn Diagram Food Plan

 

 

If any good comes of the health crises abounding on Hubby’s side of the familial ledger and my brother in law’s quad bypass surgery, it’s that we’ve both felt the Universe’s foot in our butts about making some overdue changes to our food choices and exercise goals.

The two of us have family medical histories that read like a CDC bulletin: cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure; diabetes; cancer; strokes; arthritis. In fact, Hubby had an uncle who had the trifecta of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. He still made it to 80, but the last few years were of highly questionable quality.

Needless to say, we don’t want that. It goes double for me since then nonsmokers in my family hang around until their 90s. Several lengthy conversations and not a little research later, we drew the following conclusions:

  1. Both of us need to move our behinds a lot more. I added weight training (we have a machine in the basement) twice a week and committed to practicing with yoga videos from YouTube at least twice a week on top of walking with Oakley at least 30 minutes a day.
  2. We needed to tweak our food intake. Even though there is nothing more soothing to the soul than carbs and cheese, a steady diet of it does no one any good. Especially when mac and cheese, albeit homemade, becomes the default meal.
  3. Portion control is a factor. We are both guilty of eating out of the container and picking at leftovers and stress eating.
  4. Both of us see kale as the vegetable equivalent of waterboarding.
  5. We like ice cream and cake.

So how do we make these changes as painless as possible? We had been sort of kind of eating according to the Mediterranean diet. (Graphic on the right, not mine in any way shape or form.) For Hubby, it’s perfect because his roots sink deep into the soil of the Mediterranean Sea’s eastern shores. He just has to do some portion control and he’ll be in great shape.

For me, however, it was a tad too high in carbs, even unrefined ones, and fats, even healthy olive oil. Plus I’m wired to need more substantial sources of protein than legumes and nuts. (Now you know why I can’t go completely vegetarian.) Unlike Hubby’s, my ancestors wandered all over the map of the United Kingdom, western and northern Europe. What, then, should I eat?

Behold the graphic in the upper left: the Nordic, or Baltic diet.  (Again, not my work.) A team of Helsinki researchers riffed on the Mediterranean pyramid to use products that are easier to find in northern Europe.  It emphasizes lower glycemic foods such as berries; grains such as barley, rye, and oats; lentils; and more dairy products, preferably low fat. Oh, and canola oil, preferably organic. Plus potatoes.

The overlaps are in the seafood, leafy greens, nuts, yogurt, and small amounts of chocolate departments. We start meal planning from there.

We back off on the starch based meals and watch the amount of oil. Trina Hahnemann’s New Nordic Diet has a crazy easy cod and mussel stew recipe that’s become a go-to, replacing the mussels with shrimp if we can’t get to the fish monger’s.  Just put everything in the pan and let it steam until done. I am eating rye bread most of the time–the really good bread Aldi gets from Germany. I am eating oatmeal.

If we can stay the course, we can still have a bit of cheese and we can still have pasta a couple of times a week in moderation.

I am happy. I will be more more so when the scale starts to move.

 

 

 

 

 

Pseudo Posole

red chillis on brown wooden tray
Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

Tough times call for tough food.

Times are tough here in the soybean field, even though we know they will pass. We continue the process of unravelling the knots of grief around Hubby’s recently departed sister. His oldest brother in law waits in the celestial departure lounge for his flight to the great beyond to be called.

And while on his last visit to Michigan to see Eldest BIL,  Hubby found out that his second oldest sister has developed cancer as well. I’m not sure what her status is, but we will find out.

In the meantime, we get on with it as best we can, taking breaks to massage our faces so they don’t permanently freeze in the OMG position. We walk. We write. We do homework. We just go about our days trying to ignore the stalker ten steps behind us.

Times like these call for tough food. Preferably something laden with carbs and fat to boost the mood and give energy for daily activities. After a mid-September to mid-October like this one, we needed something that would stand up to the sorrow.

I tried making posole, a cross between a stew and a soup. Its roots run deep in Mexican history. The recipes I read called for the chicken (or pork) to be simmered in one pot, the beans in another, and the broth in a third. Everything would be combined in one pot at the end.

Truth be told, I’ve never had luck cooking beans. I also need to store up my patience for other things these days. I took a look in the freezer and pantry. Box o’chicken broth? Check. Red salsa? Check. Canned beans and hominy? Check. Great. Is there chicken in the freezer? Check.

Sometimes, I, too, can be organized.

I thawed four chicken quarters, then peeled off the skin. Into the slow cooker with them. Next came a jar of red roasted pepper salsa and half a box of chicken broth. If you want something closer to a soup, use the whole box. I wanted something more stew-like. I set the cooker on slow and let ‘er rip for about three hours until the chicken started parting company with the bones.  I removed it from the pot and shredded it before returning to the pot. Then I drained the beans (a 15-ounce can of cannellinis) and the hominy (I think it was 15 ounces as well–it was the smaller of the two cans offered) and let everything coexist peacefully until dinner.

Hubby ate two bowls and dozed off in his chair.

Maybe it wasn’t authentic, but it sure did its job.

 

The Month of the Big Let Go

 

dawn environment fall fog
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com  

Last Friday brought the first frost advisory via the five o’clock weather report. I went out into the rainy late afternoon and pulled the last of the tomatoes so they could ripen indoors. Covering the plants last year resulted in watery, sour spheres despite a stretch of warmer days afterwards. Not something I wanted to go through again. At least in a brown paper bag they’ll get some semblance of color.

The cool rain didn’t bother me, even as it trickled down my neck and back. Earlier in the week we’d had to turn the air on after cooler weather briefly flashed its ankles at us. That had lasted for a few days until heat and humidity returned. Friday marked the end of the run for the heat and the beginning of weather more in line with the autumnal equinox.

I can’t say that I was sad to see September go. I let the rain wash it away.

I let it cleanse me of the anxiety over my brother-in-law’s bypass surgery. Four of the five blood vessels were 80-100% clogged with the gunk that collects in them as we age. Some can circumvent it with diet and exercise. In his case despite doing everything right, plaque still took up residence on his arterial walls. The surgeon was shocked that BIL hadn’t had a heart attack before this. No damage to the muscle, and just a couple of days after his surgery, he sounded more energetic if a little breathy. He was able to walk to the end of the block and back ten days after surgery.

I let the rain wash away the sadness surrounding the passage of the father of my high school best friend. He was funny, kind, and flew a B-26 in WWII. His students in the agriculture department at Michigan State were lucky to have him. He was 96, and living with problems peculiar to people of an advanced age. It was time, not to take from anyone’s sorrow. It was just time.

In the fading light, I looked upwards at the variegated grey clouds.

We’d had one call  Tuesday night from Hubby’s oldest sister, one of the calls after ten p.m. that bodes unwell when you get to be our age. Second oldest sister was on her way out. Another round of sepsis came on and the weapons-grade antibiotic couldn’t touch it and it’s any minute now. Oh, and Oldest’s husband is failing, fading. Maybe six weeks according to the doctors at Cleveland Clinic. The radiation intended to kill off the cancer irreparably damaged his lungs, making them look like the red lace doilies used by children to make Valentine’s cards.

The call we’d hoped some miracle would stave off came about 2:30 Thursday morning. Second Sister had slipped the veil into the next world. She was only 64. A retired junior high guidance counselor, gardener par excellence, and active in helping refugees.

Hubby had been able to get an earlyish flight to Phoenix. He left at 5:30. Called me at 8:30  that night. I supported him as best I could. Funeral the next day, Friday. Family members flying back and forth between Detroit and Phoenix, tending to the living as they prepare to say goodbye to the passed and the passing.

The rain washed away the helplessness, the sorrow.

I took the tomatoes inside, then sat in my spot on the sofa. Oakley, sleepy from an afternoon at day care, snuggled his tush against my hip. I rubbed his ears. We don’t need words to talk. I read some poems. I watched some mindless filler on TV, too, until bed time.

Hubby arrived about three a.m. I heard his footsteps and the soft scrape of the chair across the kitchen tiles, and went back to sleep.

Many hours later, we talked of his travel experiences, seeing his family, and the service. We talked, too, about the need to get our estate planned and our advance directives down in ink. Neither of us want heroic measures. Personally, I want to include a clause that will warn anyone thinking of putting me on life support that if they do, I will haunt them to the end of days.

And while I don’t know how my funeral will go beyond hoping that people will say kind things about me, I do know that I want the memorial to conclude with a reading of Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon, followed by a pause, and then for the very last thing, Spring by John Denver. (A live performance would be cool, but it’s up on YouTube if that doesn’t work out.)

I hope that’s many years off, though. Our immediate tasks are to tend to his brother in law, support his sister when that time comes, and go about the present and all there is there, letting the seasons cycle as they will.

In the meantime, I’ll let the rains of autumn wash me clean.