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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Life. Death. Rebirth. Reconnect. Rinse. Repeat.

Despite the spitting rain, yesterday was a fine day, indeed. Through the magic of social media, I reconnected with one of my close friends from grad school. Over tacos, we spent about ten minutes discussing where we had been and what we’d been doing since the last time we’d seen each other, about 20 years ago. And then we just picked up where we’d left off as if no time had elapsed, discussing more contemporary subjects such as Oakley, her cats, the next generation of relatives, current events and so on. We will do lunch again very soon.

Counter to that, also through the auspices of social media, I was able to get back in touch with another friend of ours from grad school. A few PMs on FaceBook brought us up to speed with one another a few months ago. The bad news is that tomorrow she lays her wife of five years to rest. I never had the privilege of meeting my friend’s wife, but she leaves a legacy of love,  service to children, and a deep commitment to social justice. The card that inadequately expresses my thoughts goes out this afternoon. Somehow, writing F*** CANCER in red ink next to “thinking of you–wishing you peace and strength now and in the days to come ” seems a bit jarring. But were I to share with her with the level of honesty that we shared in the heady days fueled by idealism and bad coffee from the  student center, that’s what I would write.

With age come a few nods to social convention, so I will err on the side of refinement.

Good manners aside, in this season of preparation for winter repose when everything turns brown and the greens that cling to plants seem dull, there’s some sense of rebirth. At least I’m sensing it. The political wreckage of the last year revealed that some 60% (depending on the poll you believe) thinks the White House freak show needs to come to an end yesterday. I take heart from the stories about marches, people using their voices, and small acts of kindness and beauty.

I’ve found myself getting back into the groove of calling officials and choosing to work to get the current congress critter out–he has done less than nothing for anyone who is not a contributor to his campaign. I will do the same for next year’s gubernatorial election. Some feel that we need to ride out this cycle and not let our hearts be too troubled by it. It troubles my heart to sit and do nothing. If a few phone calls and reposts can speed up the cycle, it’s not a bad thing.

The trick is to see dormancy as a phase, but not to stay there.

 

 

Carrots

Image courtesy of Old Design Shop

 

I’m past the saturation point of stories about Harvey. The hurricane. I can always watch the gentle movie with James Stewart, but I am burnt toast from the images from Texas. I donated a little, and will donate more. But today I needed a break. I played in the garden and let the sun and the dirt work their magic.

Today’s lunch consisted of egg salad on whole wheat bread (Hubby) or crisp bread from Ikea (me) with the carrots that I pulled this morning. Oakley had a couple of hardboiled eggs with a scoop of the freeze-dried dog food on the side. He doesn’t like carrots unless they’ve been grated and mixed with other food. Even then, he still manages to pick them out and spit them out on the mat beneath his dish. I don’t have to step in a pile of them or chewed-up peas twice to get the hint.

These weren’t just any carrots, however. These had history behind them. Before the 1600’s, carrots were more likely to be white or purple than orange. I’d bought them from the store where I do my big bi-weekly shopping, but wanted to try growing them. They taste a little more carrot-y. The unexpected visuals of purple and white delighted the eye even if they temporarily confound the mind .

Carrots became predominately orange at that time due to hybridization and selective breeding.  According to The Carrot Museum, the story was that the scientists wanted to honor the House of Orange, the royal family of the Netherlands, and so developed the carrots in the color we know best today. That hasn’t been substantiated, but I still think it’s kind of cool.

Whether it’s true or not, carrots still provide beta-carotene among many other antioxidants (depends on the color) as well as being pretty.

They were fairly easy to grow. They were a little smaller than expected due to inadvertent overcrowding. Next year, I will thin them out, or take tweezers to the seeds. They aren’t much bigger than grains of salt and love to stick to your slightly sweaty fingers.

Even though planting them was a bit challenging, the tops waving in the breeze looked really pretty this summer. The ivory and purple roots added a note of royalty to lunch. More wait in the garden, waving the summer on in the wind.

Harvest Season

Image courtesy of Old Design Shop

I pulled the last of the radishes a couple of days ago, then planted the next crop. Note to self: heed the directions concerning thinning well to avoid overblown tops and mere roots, not rosy round radishes. Maybe using tweezers to place the seeds with a higher degree of accuracy was a little obsessive-compulsive, but these should work better.

If the cherry tomatoes will perform their alchemy and turn from little emeralds to small rubies, that would be great. There are a lot of them, but none of them seem to be ripening with any haste. If all else fails by frost time, green salsa is an option.

We have had a couple rounds of green beans. Steamed. Butter. Lemon. No need to do anything fancier. I’d hoped to have enough to freeze some for the winter, but not to be this year. I’ll have my gardening chops back next year. We’ll do better then.

I had to severely weed the other day. The alleged French mesclun greens bore no resemblance to any salad green I’ve ever seen. I gave them back to the earth and to the critters who eat them.

Carrots still hide underground. They haven’t started peeking above the soil yet. It’s still early. When I was on the wedding frenzy the other day I inadvertently pulled one. It was pretty tasty. This year I planted heirloom carrots that come in purple and white as well as the best known orange. They should liven meals up a little.

Basil has been prolific. I’ll be able to get some more pesto and pasta sauce out of the plants.

The broccoli? I don’t know about that. It put forth some impressive foliage, but doesn’t have anything resembling broccoli yet.

So we wait and see what happens for second harvest.

Random Monday Thoughts

Two new goals have popped up in the last week or so: to create a firmer schedule for my days and to start doing meal prep and plan once a week.

The schedule is to give the sails of the day some structure the way masts and riggings would on a ship. Otherwise the day just kind of flops around and I embody the stereotype of the writer who watches TV  or goofs on social media all day and wonders what happened. Today I’m on track. I did yoga, walked Oakley, and am writing this entry before checking in with my buddies in cyberspace. Yes, I will still have fun and yes I will still have time to watch TV, but filling the day with meaningful activities pushes me to be more selective about what and how much I watch.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of blog entries and watching videos by Tonya Leigh, a life coach who made significant, lasting changes for herself by studying French culture and applying the the lessons to her own life. Anyone who tells you to throw out all the self help books that make you feel broken is someone you need to listen to.

The meal prep and plan is an act of self nurturing and self defense. Otherwise it’s just too easy to look at what’s in the fridge and nibble on leftovers instead of sitting down with a portioned-out meal. This goes double after yoga class. Or to succumb to pizza’s siren song. I’ll likely do that on Wednesday and shop Tuesday en route home from dropping Oakley at day care.

In the garden, the beans have blossomed. I have a pretty decent crop of basil and lettuce.  Some of the veggies look so different in their natural state that I can’t tell what they are, but there are a lot of them.  However, I have a lot of stray grass and other things I didn’t sow that need to be pulled. Oakley and I will do that tonight. Well, I’ll do the pulling while he stands guard. He’s good at that.

Attempts to relearn crochet unfold. I can create a semi-decent granny square in about a half hour. I’m not in it for glory or cash; I’m just in it to keep myself out of the snacks. It calms my mind for the most part, except for the times when I can’t get the tension right or I have to repeatedly rip out stitches due to a multitude of errors. Then I put it aside.

And find something else to occupy my hands and head to keep myself out of the snacks.

Taking Refuge in Lake Wobegon

 

 

(from cardcow.com)

 

“Chocolate cake.”

Until last week, those had been two of my favorite words. Hearing them spoken by  The Wearer of Ferrets as he discussed the moment during a dinner with China’s President Xi when he gave the green light to bomb Syria put a considerable pall on them. I may never be able to eat either again. If there is a positive, the sound of his voice echoing around my mind is aversive enough to keep me away from both as efforts at weight loss continue.

While desserts have their charms, taking refuge in them too often is not a good idea at all. Just ask my jeans.

Where, then, does one turn to escape the rampant insanity ? I’ve tried to keep the TV off with mixed success. Two PBS shows I love run late morning, and then there’s the midday news that a couple of minutes of won’t hurt, then perhaps a couple more, and next thing I know it’s 1:00 and I have to ice down my middle fingers from overuse. Not a good idea.  Limiting time tuned to WCPT  (independent progressive talk) and NPR to short bursts in the car helps somewhat as well. Somewhat.

In times like these, we need refuge from current affairs to prevent a collective slide into madness. I find mine in visits to Garrison Keillor’s fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Blessed be the tuneIn app that delivers the stream to the Sonos system that fills the house with his soothing baritone, gentle wit, and delicious sense of absurdity.

There are days when one needs to hear stories of hair raising escapes from fishing sheds as the ice breaks beneath one’s feet (especially when the shed in question is an RV). There are days when one needs the tale of a homecoming parade inadvertently but rudely interrupted by the queen’s father’s front loader that just excavated a septic tank. And there are days when one needs a slice of rhubarb pie and fresh coffee at the Chatterbox Cafe.

Based on the quick news summary just now on WFMT with the sabre rattling, I think I’ll take the pie, please. And if there’s any vanilla ice cream, a scoop of that on the side would be most appreciated.

 

 

 

Oatmeal Morning

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Rain came through the soybean field on Saturday. It finally broke the endless string of days hovering between the high 80s and low 90s with tropical humidity levels. The windows have been opened since then.

The six a.m. sun turned the condensation on the window pink. The crickets’ songs of harvest time harmonized with the fan’s steady whir, gently waking me up. Make coffee, mix Oakley’s breakfast (he wakes up when he hears the microwave beep), then sip coffee while I offer prayers and intention to The Great Mystery. A few lines in my journal, and we begin the day.

That’s pretty much how every day starts. Today I had a definite craving for oatmeal. I’ve had yogurt or eggs or toast with a reasonable amount of nut butter on it and some fruit, but this morning I wanted oatmeal. Maybe it was the coolness of morning, but that called to me. So I had a packet of instant oatmeal with flax, a spoon of almond butter, and blackberries. I do instant because the need for portion control overrides the other benefits of plain ol’ rolled oats, plus you can’t make cookies with it, so it prevents scarfing down the dough.

If you can actually get the cookies in the oven or not sit and fudge with portion sizes, whole grain or rolled oatmeal is a great breakfast. The fiber fills you up, helps to keep cholesterol in line, packs in a good amount of magnesium (helps with generally feeling mellow as well as keeping muscles relaxed), and stabilizes blood sugar levels. Wanting lunch at 10 is a bit awkward. If you give in to the siren song of the donut to get you through until noon, that can cause a bigger blood sugar crash that will leave you feeling rotten and craving more sugar.

The biggest issue is making sure that you choose toppings that won’t play havoc with your nutritional goals for the day. Recipes abound for high-sugar variations on the oatmeal theme that pretty much negate the benefits, so I find it best to just stick to fruit and milk with a tablespoon of nuts or nut butter to boost the protein.

One of the spins gaining popularity in recent times is the jar breakfast: put oatmeal, milk of choice or yogurt, and fruit in a jar and refrigerate overnight. In the morning the oats will be soft enough to be edible. That way a person can reap the benefits of the humble oat year round without turning on the stove in hot weather.

It may not be the most exciting of breakfasts, but it’s reliable and does its job. You can’t ask for much else.

The Point of Sweet Tension

Some years ago, I had a yoga teacher who called the place where you’d bent into the pose enough to get a good stretch, but not far enough to put yourself in pain “the point of sweet tension.” As August slides into its middle weeks, I find myself in that place. Not so much in a forward bend, but with life and time in hurry up and wait mode.

On one hand, I look forward to Labor Day and all that comes with it. We’ll be making a trip to Bristol Ren Faire (sigh) for closing weekend, the start the countdown to next July. Daytime highs will begin to creep to more acceptable levels, and the colors will turn to golds and crimsons. And in November, we will finally be through this election season that has been unparalleled in sheer bad behavior and insanity.

On the other, despite the highs being uncomfortable, in the face of political insanity, and despite the changes and challenges foisted on me this year, I don’t want to wish it away. This ride, even with the pain and the headaches, is just too short. There are days when the middle years feel like a war of attrition: life choices and genetics catch up with a person eventually, and sometimes a passage just happens for no apparent reason.

If some how I had been able to fast forward, I would have missed the hawk making lazy circles above me as I drank an iced coffee with a shot of caramel at a park. I would have missed an excellent lunch with a spirit sister last weekend, and the song of the crickets this morning as I woke up. Don’t forget the gifts of homegrown tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers, either.

The sweet point among the salad is the need to stay in the moment, and knowing that eventually you can straighten up, but enjoy the stretch in the meantime.

 

The End of Eras

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Photo by Brian Hanna via freeimages.com

 

Garrison Keillor hosted his last “Prairie Home Companion”  yesterday. Of course I listened. Just as I have for the majority of Saturday evenings since–OK, you caught me–I was in junior high. There will be “best of” rebroadcasts, I’m sure, as NPR has done with “Car Talk.” It won’t be quite the same, but I’m sure that my fellow fans will still be able to count on two hours of respite from the lunacy that is the world these days.

Another end came up in my news feed yesterday, too, one much closer to home. The mom (no pop) shop where I’ve bought some of Oakley’s supplies since his first week home was sold.

The bittersweetness was mitigated by knowing that both transitions are likely for the best.  Garrison’s leaving the show in the capable hands of Chris Thile, a mandolin player I look forward to getting to know better. He is cut from the same cloth as Garrison, and will do well as he puts his stamp on the show. The new owner of the pet supply store is a local chain that has the same values and commitment to providing customers with high quality products made in the US as the mom does. They’re keeping all the staff, so that’s a good thing.

Both changes are for the better. Garrison is 73. In one of the many articles covering his retirement he quietly mentioned some health concerns as well as a desire to get back to writing. Under its new ownership, the store can expand and serve more people and pets now.

I still spent a lot of time sighing yesterday. Sighing for the passage of time. I took Orion to the mom store the last couple of years of his life, followed by a then-scrawny semi-feral Oakley.  Wondering how I arrived at the age I am now even though I still feel twenty most days. Sighing for yet another round of changes and letting go. Not exactly painful, not earth shattering, but just change.

Yet, there is consistency. Both Garrison and the mom ensured that the high-quality entertainment and pet supplies continue. We’ve been left in good hands by both. It will play out for the best and highest, I’m sure. In a mass produced world, it’s good to see the unique continue.