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Monday, August 13, 2007

Wow. My first actual request for a blog entry. The pressure is too much. I have a stomach ache, except for I don't, which is what I'm writing about.

My friend the Lady M and I were talking about how we eat, not necessarily what we eat, but how we get our food. Lady M and I were roommates back in the 90's, before we were married. Read that last sentence again and imagine me saying it to my kids. X immediately asked, "You and Lady M were married? I didn't know that." Which led to a conversation about same sex marriage and the different ways that same sex couples can become parents. Standard stuff for us. Anyhow, Lady M and I were not married, but we were roommates before she married Sir P of Italy and I married A of the Annoying Snorers. Lady M and I put quite a few miles on my awesome Toyota Corolla going through various drive-thru restaurants around town. We were partial to Burger King (Whopper Combo with cheese, no onions and a Diet Coke, please), but also got into Jalapeño Poppers at Sonic, Cajun Filet Biscuits at Bojangle's and the now defunct (sadly) McD.L.T. at McDonald's. Tasty, or so we thought at the time. I'm sure we ate other stuff, too, but I remember the fast food.

We had the potential to appreciate good food but, due to a lack of ability and total unwillingness, we didn't cook, which left us with restaurants, which we couldn't much afford, unless they were fast food. So, there you have it. Perhaps if we hadn't been so into the Vodka Tonics (ahhhhh...the days of counting straws to keep track of how many we had had...) we might have had the funds or the initiative to do better than burgers (or even to do better burgers), but that's neither here nor there.

In my mid-twenties, I started having children. I continued with my fast food habit (and lack of funds or initiative, but I did slow down on the Vodka Tonics and cigarettes). I remember driving around until O fell asleep, going through a drive-thru, and parking and reading People Magazine in the car and enjoying my Bag O' Grease while the innocent O slept. Good times.

My first step on the road to healthier eating came when the Innocent O was old enough to sit forward facing in his car seat and could recognize when we pulled up to a "Shrensh Shry Doh." In case you don't speak Cutie Patootie, that means French Fry Store, something O discovered on a road trip he and I made up the East coast all the way to Canada. I cringe thinking about it but, due to budgetary concerns and inability to pack food on my part, we ate at a lot of French Fry Stores along the way. O was just under a year old and french fries were one of the only things he could eat there without choking. Anyhow, when we got home, every time we'd pass a fast food place, he would point and yell, "Shrensh! Shry! Doh!" And I knew it had to end, so there was no more fast food when he was around, which was always.

For a while, I went to an extreme. We ate a lot of tasteless tofu and rice and beans themed meals. I did the dairy free thing, choking down unsweetened soy milk poured over unsweetened whole grain granola. I'm ashamed to admit that I made O's first birthday cake healthy. As I recall (or try not to), the icing was made from unsweetened goat's milk yogurt and the cake was...too gross to think about. He didn't eat it and it looked gross in pictures, because it was brown and slimy. I also didn't shy away from processed "health" food, like tofu hot dogs and soy cheese.

Although I'm not the first to make this observation, it bears repeating: Food, like sex, is something we need to survive, and it's a gift from God that they're both so enjoyable. No, I'm not saying you need to get laid or you'll die, dummy; sex is essential to the survival of the species. Duh. Sex, like food, can become tedious if you just use it on a basic level. Anyone who's ever tried really hard to get pregnant can tell you that sex can become a source of annoyance. In fact, our last child, who was conceived two months after a miscarriage and as a result of furious fertility charting, was conceived during a quickie after a fight. Because of the furious charting, I knew we needed to seal the deal that day, because it was Thanksgiving week and we hadn't had much time to... Anyhow, my husband wanted to go drink beer with his brother, leaving me alone in a houseful of dirty dishes and boys. I was maybe a little cranky and I said, "Fine! But you're not leaving until you have sex with me!" Which he did. Which ended the fight. Before he left, he very kindly brought me my book so I could read while I reclined on the bed with my legs in the air. Most guys would love a chick who insists on having sex with them before they go drink beer, but I digress.

So, food can be the same way. I had stopped looking at food as something good and it became a huge source of stress. I wanted everything we ate to be organic and dairy free. No Exceptions. Not even really good cheese or my precious Diet Coke. When I ate pizza, I'd feel guilty for days. After a while, self awareness kicked in and I realized that eating healthy to an extreme was no different from starving myself, which I did fairly regularly until I got pregnant with O. During my second pregnancy, in an attempt to avoid the problems I had in my first, I ate way too healthy. I think I had french fries once. I forced myself to eat vast quantities of (healthy, tasteless) protein, kale and this nasty stuff. I also drank some vile tea of vile herbs. Yuck. Thanks to the protein, I gained about 80 pounds and still had X early, not as early as O, but early enough. I was also miserable and spent most of my pregnancy thinking about food. I actually got sick of eating and cried thinking about having to eat more.

After that pregnancy, armed with the knowledge that perfect nutrition doesn't heal everything, I started to make changes. In the process, I realized what kind of hippy I really am. I'm the kind of hippy who drives a Hybrid car...with leather seats, a 6 CD changer and a sunroof. I shop cool expensive little boutiques; thrift stores are for college kids. I love the long as someone's serving drinks and the bugs aren't too bad. I love "green" long as it's super stylish, like my sideboard.

And I love healthy food, as long as it's good and a little bit sophisticated. I'm a Snob Hippy, and I'm totally okay with that. I'll even admit to irrationally reveling in being the first person I knew to have one of the new front-loading, energy-saving, wallet-busting washing machines. Which I use to launder my babies' one hundred percent cotton diapers. In your FACE! Ahem...sorry.

I had trouble losing weight after X was born and I actually went on Atkins for a while (well, my version, where white wine is included.) For me, the best thing about following the Atkins diet was how much I learned to love vegetables. Mixed greens became a staple. Turnip Raw Fries replaced regular. Mashed cauliflower with Wasabi replaced mashed potatoes. Fresh berries were the best treat around. Some people do Atkins and eat nothing but processed low-carb crap, bacon and cheese. I did it with fresh vegetables, fish and lean meat. I learned to make simple meals that tasted great. I came back to butter, really good, strong cheeses, and meat. Food was good.

Problem is, eating like that can get expensive, especially if you're trying to stick with organic. A friend and I were talking about nutrition one day and she said that my (ideal, not always realized) way of eating sounded in line with Slow Food, an organization filled with people like me. People who aren't ashamed to say, "Let's be kind to the environment and the animals in it. So we can continue to eat them." Eating local goods when possible is one way to do this. We love pork from Caw Caw Creek Farm, about an hour away from us. For the last few seasons, we've signed up for a share from a local CSA, Five Leaves Farm. When I shop at the grocery store, I look for local produce. We also buy local from this Farmers' Market, held twice a month at local restaurants. Often, we can find locally grown food that's organic too. And the less it has to travel (over distance or through middle men), the less it costs.

Another way I save money is by letting what's available dictate what we eat, instead of going to the store with a meal in mind. Things that are in season are less expensive (and usually taste better!), which is one reason I've posted recipes recently for eggplant, okra and tomatoes. Europeans, or so I'm told by my French mother in law, who's always happy to tell us how Europeans trump Americans, shop daily for their food. So do we, even though I'm half Winnsbar' and half Columbia. We even chose our neighborhood based on its proximity to good grocery stores and local businesses. Without using too much gas (sometimes I even walk, provided it isn't a hundred million freakin' degrees out), I can shop every day or every other day.

I think healthy eating is also about routine. For example, we can get local eggs at the Farmers' Market I mentioned earlier, but it only happens twice a month. So we buy two or three cartons of eggs each time, enough to last until the next time. Local eggs are fresher and keep a lot longer than the ones you buy in a regular grocery store, so there's no need to buy them too often. We also get meat there and freeze it.

The more you cook, the easier it is. As our family has grown, I've had to cook more, if only to avoid the last minute, unpleasant over-priced restaurant trips with screaming children. I've learned to simplify recipes, so I don't have to use a million pots or spend twenty minutes chopping stuff. I've learned when to use something pre-made (organic whole wheat pie crusts and these sauces, for example). When I buy ready made stuff, I read labels and make sure that the ingredients are the same that I'd use if I made it myself.

I also think you can gradually transform your usual meals into something better. Those Whoppers? Now we serve burgers, sometimes turkey, sometimes organic beef, but they're smaller than the Whopper. And we serve them with really good multi grain buns and a plate of things to pile on top: pineapple, red pepper, fresh (not pickled) jalapeño peppers, sliced avocado, mixed greens, vine ripe tomatoes, sprouts, red onion, and assorted kinds of cheese (swiss, havarti, blue, feta, whatever). As an homage to my dear Dr. Atkins, I often skip the bun and pile the whole mess on a bed of greens. The fries? We like thinly sliced (The Lovely Cuisinart saves time and slices super thin) roasted sweet potatoes, turnips, red potatoes and other root vegetables. Bonus points for adding curry, cumin and cayenne pepper to the olive oil before you drizzle it on the vegetables.

There are easy ways to make anything, it just takes practice. I've learned to make Thai Salad Rolls and Japanese Nori Rolls. The first time I made them, it was hard, but once I understood the steps and did it more often, it didn't seem any more complicated than making the great Southern Delicacy, the Green Bean Casserole, with canned soup and canned fried onions (or crumbled potato chips in a pinch). Bonus: my kids will eat anything I put inside either of those rolls, including vegetables galore.

As much as I like to eat fresh, there are some things that are just fine from frozen, including spinach, broccoli, corn and peas. I buy the organic kind and make sure there are no additives, but I flat out refuse to cut up and steam a head of broccoli. It's just a pain in the you know what and I end up throwing away the tough parts so it's expensive, too. And cutting it up is messy. I hate messy. After I had my third child, my mother in law came to stay. Some grandmothers are helpful. Some are not. My mother, if she came over right after you had a baby, would hold the baby and tell you to go take a shower. When you came out, she would have made the bed and washed the dishes. The baby would be clean, dry and asleep. My mother in law bought a head of broccoli and held the baby and made him cry. Every time we sat down to a lovingly prepared meal brought by one of our friends, she would bring up the damn head of broccoli. She would talk about how she knew I never used anything but frozen. She would talk about all the reasons I had for doing so. And she would lament that neither she nor I had thought to prepare the damn broccoli to go with the meal, which didn't really need the damn broccoli. But whatever. When she left, I limped out to the trash can and threw the damn broccoli away, in some pathetic act of passive aggression. And I hate to waste food, but, as my sister in law says, our mother in law really brings out the rebellious teenager in anyone.

I once thought of opening a consulting business. You give me a recipe or even a description of a meal you like, and I'll come up with a healthy, easy version. As a bonus, I might even come up with away for you to make enough to freeze for another day. I'm way too slack to run a business, but if anyone wants to send me a recipe, I'll do my best, for free. Then you can cook for me.

Incidentally, as anyone who reads this probably knows, my last pregnancy lasted the longest (37 weeks!) and resulted in the least weight gain (30 pounds!) and I ate pretty healthily, but didn't over think it. And I drank the occasional Diet Coke. Yum.

Namasté, y'all!

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