I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: March, 2013

Eating for One


More Meatless (Part 2)

When my husband decided to take our son skiing for 3 days over Spring Break, my first thought was “I can eat whatever I want!”

I immediately decided to go vegetarian for the time and planned out my meals.  But why?  Because all the other health-oriented middle-aged women are going veg?  I didn’t want it to be just because it is trendy.  On reflection, here are the reasons why eating less meat is right for me:

  1. I feel better, physically, especially with no red meat.  When I eat steak (which I love), my stomach gurgles and I can’t sleep.  I feel lighter and more alert when I eat less meat.
  2. I feel better, mentally, as a global citizen.  A vegetarian diet uses fewer resources than a meat-eating diet.  It just seems the responsible way to eat.
  3. I feel better, emotionally, as a living being.  When I look in an animal’s eyes, I see another soul.  I don’t like to think I am killing other beings.
  4. I feel better, spiritually, as a yogini.  Ahimsa – do no harm – is the first moral restraint of yoga philosophy.

As an obedient rule-follower and laden with eating baggage, do I really need more food rules to live by?  Probably not.  Which is one of the reasons why I have not gone down the vegetarian path more vigorously.   Besides, it would mean rocking the boat on the family dinner front.  Rocking the boat is not something I do.  As I’ve quietly but forcefully acknowledged and embraced who I am, I’ve begun to assert who I am with more confidence.  Part of that assertion occurs around food and consciously choosing what I want to eat.  Not being embarrassed by the way I eat.  Perhaps I am not the one with the eating disorder after all?  Perhaps nothing is wrong with me and I have something to teach others?

My husband and I fell in love over food.  Cooking for each other, cooking with each other, sampling restaurants.  It was fun!  In those early months, merging as one – as couples do in the initial phase of a relationship, we ate the same foods.  As we built our marriage and our family life, a central component has been and continues to be cooking and eating together.  We plan meals, choose recipes, share the cooking and share the eating.  Family dinners are a significant and valued part of our family life together.  About 10 years ago (around 40), I gradually shifted to a more insistently healthy diet.  I had gained the “normal” weight that a 40+ woman puts on after marriage, two children, a sedentary full time job and a lot of pasta and red wine.  I changed my choices for breakfast and lunch but pretty much kept dinner with the family.  Then I eliminated dessert and cut back on wine and switched to whole wheat pasta, whole grain everything.  And lost more than the 15 pounds I had gained over the years.  And felt better.  And slept better.  What does it mean to eat differently than my husband?  He cooks for delicious nourishment.  I cook for healthy nourishment.  Can our diets co-exist?  I tend to compromise more than he does.  After all, doesn’t Ahimsa also apply to appreciating and enjoying his delicious food offerings without my food and eating hang-ups mucking it all up?  The question hovers.

Alone for three days, I sighed with relief and eager anticipation.  Here is what I enjoyed eating.

Day 1

Breakfast:  Shredded Wheat and Bran (64 mini-squares, yes – still counting!) topped with 1 Banana and Vanilla Soy Milk; Grapefruit Juice; Black coffee

Snack:  Siggi’s Yogurt (thick, tart, not sweet, high in protein) and lots of water throughout the day

Lunch:  Peanut Butter & Apricot Jelly on whole wheat bread; Mango;  Iced Venti Half Caf Non-Fat Latte from the ubiquitous Starbucks


I sautéed shitake mushrooms in olive oil and mixed them with farro (a barley-like grain, chewy and flavorful)

Salad of cherry tomatoes and sliced avocado with some olive oil and white wine vinegar

Chardonnay (only 3 ounces…more disrupts my sleep and gives me a headache)

Sweet Riot 85% dark chocolate, 6 squares

Day 2

Breakfast:  Vanilla yogurt (1 cup) with ½ cup Müesli (Familia, no-added-sugar) and blueberries; Grapefruit Juice;  Black Coffee

Lunch:  Hummus and Feta on whole wheat bread;  Sliced apple;  English Breakfast tea

Snack:  1 banana;  lots of Water


My favorite Escarole and Beans

Chardonnay (3 ounces again)

Dark Chocolate (another 6 squares of Sweet Riot 85%)

Day 3

All Bran cereal (2/3 cup) mixed with Early Bird Granola (1/3 cup) topped with blueberries; Grapefruit Juice;  Black Coffee

Snack:  Emmi Swiss Yogurt (creamy and sweet, as delicious as a dessert); lots of water

Lunch:  Whole Wheat cinnamon raisin toast topped with almond butter;  Sliced Pineapple;  English Breakfast Tea


Aha!  My first test.  I had a date with my sister-in-law.  She’s always trying to lose weight (even though she is not heavy) and we were happily fantasizing about grilled brussels sprouts.  I had told her I was eating vegetarian while her brother/my husband was away.  My husband texted me that he would be home in time for dinner.  We switched restaurants to one that was larger and could accommodate all four of us.  What to eat?  I opted for the fish special (roasted Sea Bass in a sherry wine sauce – which was too sweet) and I substituted broccoli rabe for the risotto side.  It was good, but not great.  The problem with restaurant meals is that they cook with too much fat and too much salt.  I missed my healthy dinners.  And was so thirsty from the salt!

Okay, it’s Day 4 and how to continue?  Breakfast and lunch are easy.  I will have a whole wheat bagel with goat cheese for breakfast and a salad of quinoa and black beans for lunch.  For dinner, my daughter returns from Spain today and we are going to make one of her favorite family dinners:  Grilled steak tacos.  These tacos are delicious!  We grill steak, sauté corn and red pepper and red onion, top with guacamole and salsa, and roll it all up in one’s tortilla of choice (corn, plain, whole wheat).  I have been gradually eating mine with less and less steak and will continue to do so tonight.  A little bit of steak, probably 1-2 ounces.  And tomorrow, I will cook for my daughter.  She has been interested in eating more like me, so I will make our favorite Sunday morning oatmeal and our favorite Sunday lunchtime lentil soup.  For dinner, I am fantasizing about my husband’s grilled salmon – the very first thing he cooked for me 20 years ago when I fell in love with him.  I think we will be able to work out our eating differences – with love, respect and some compromise.


Lentil Soup

  • 4 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 1 cup of celery and carrots, chopped fine
  • 1 cup of Yukon gold potatoes, chopped
  • 2/3 cup of lentils (French Green)
  • 2 Tablespoons barley
  • Thyme, salt and pepper
  • 4 cups of liquid (Water or Vegetable Broth or Chicken Broth)  (I prefer Chicken Broth.  I am not a good vegetarian.  Water is too bland.  Vegetable Broth tastes weird.  Too sweet.  Sigh.)

Saute garlic, celery and carrots, potatoes in olive oil – for 10 minutes until lightly browned.

Add liquid, lentils, barley, seasoning.  Simmer for about an hour.

Serves 4 – 6.

“Who’s Your Favorite?”


Love Is Not Finite

“You’re my favorite,” I winked conspiratorially at my son.

My 17-year-old daughter was packing for Spain and having a conniption about not being able to use her phone (the terribly backward iPhone 4).  We had arranged for a loaner Droid, but it was not up to her standards.  It was my fault.

My husband was scornfully not eating his delicious crabcakes for dinner, because I had forgotten to get tartar sauce to accompany them.  His dinner was ruined.  It was my fault.

My son had dutifully done his homework and uncomplainingly eaten his crabcake.  He pointed both out to me, leveraging the opportunity to come out on top of the family rating scale that evening.  And so, what else could I say but “You’re my favorite.”

“Ah!  Mom, do you know that that is the first time you’ve said that to me?” he replied with an earnest look into my eyes and a catch in his voice.

He is almost 14.  How could that be?

“Kiera, Daddy, even Cooper!  (our beloved parakeet) but never me,” he added, inserting knife and twisting.

Maternal guilt strikes.

“Who’s Your Favorite” had become a family joke.  All Aidan’s life, he has anxiously and eagerly demanded to know who was our favorite.  So sure it was his ambitious, obedient, over-achieving big sister.  So desperate for it to be him, we dealt with it by:

  1. Refusing to answer the question.
  2. Answering the question by naming anyone in our family community except for him – teasingly.
  3. Engaging in long, philosophical conversations about love.

How could he possibly be insecure about our love for him?!  We have enfolded him, literally and figuratively, into our arms, our lives, our hearts, profoundly.  I know no deeper love.  How does he not know this to the core of his soul?

When I was pregnant with him, I confided to my husband:  “I love Kiera so much.  I am afraid I won’t love another child as much.”  As an insecure only child, I had little-to-no experience with groupings of people, waxing and waning of friendships, sibling rivalry.  I did know what it was like to want to be the favorite of my parents in our dysfunctional triangle.   I, like Aidan, wanted people all to myself.  If there was fighting, it meant the love was gone.  I never experienced “normal” family fighting and making up and loving each other even when you disagreed or thought the other person was annoying.  My husband, one of three children, said gently to me: “Love is not finite.  You will make room in your heart for another child.”  How did he know?

Sure enough, when Aidan was born, my heart burst open more and there it was:  deep, profound, maternal love for this amazing creature.  So different from my first child.  He is sweet, sensitive, eager to please yet stubborn, charming, competitive, funny, empathetic, motivated by avoiding parental displeasure, disarmingly naïve, and deeply honest and transparent.  He pretty much would be happy staying home 24-7 and hanging out with us all day long.  He tolerates school, mainly because it is important to us.  His is a tough personality to have in a family where everyone else is busy being an over-achiever.

How can I help him feel secure that we love him and confident that his qualities are valuable?  It is challenging for me to not focus on academic and competitive achievements, because that is what I have spent my life valuing.  Aidan’s interests and talents lie elsewhere.

He is the best hugger I know and will happily spend unlimited amounts of time just being close.  Just being.  Not my comfort zone.  I want to encourage healthy, loving touch between mother and son.  Since I did not have that with my father, nor with my mother, it is difficult to know how best to be close.  Am I helping or hindering his appropriate development and eventual independence and separation?

He is not self-conscious.  He says what he thinks; he asks what he doesn’t know; and he is loyal to his family and his friends with intensity and without embarrassment.  There is no calculus of how is behavior or his words will impact his social standing or his cool factor.  He wears his heart on his sleeve.  As first grade teacher Mrs. Goldman whispered to me at our parent-teacher conference, “Aidan is a treasure.”  Yes, he is.

He plugs away at all that we ask of him, with mixed ability and mixed results.  He is diligent, resistant, a procrastinator, a day-dreamer, hard-working, lazy, thoughtful, creative.

He makes me laugh.

He remembers the words to all the tv commercial jingles.  (But not the words to all the math theorems.)

My interactions with him frequently take the form of nagging.  Did you do your homework?  When is your next math exam?  Did you read the chapter for ELA yet?  Pick up your clothes.  Make your bed.  Set the table.  Take a shower.  The time we spend together revolves around working on homework or driving to tennis clinic.  It is wearing us both out.  Surely there is more for us to talk about and do together?  I am at fault.  On the treadmill of life and achievement, I want to make sure he is keeping up.  Instead of quizzing him, perhaps I should listen to him, say yes more, and be open to what he has to teach me, to offer me.  Lessons on how to love, how to relax and have fun, how to be.

A few weeks ago, Aidan invited me to go to the movies with him.  I suppressed my impulse to say “No, I’m too tired on Fridays and just want to go home and relax.”  After all, how much longer will a 13-year-old boy want to go to the movies with his mom?  We went out to dinner afterwards and shared our thoughts about the movie.  And then we did it again the following week.  And again the following week.  Maybe this will be our thing.  It is for now.  When I get out of the house I’m not consumed with all the chores I should be doing and all the homework he should be doing.  When we get out of the house, we can just be ourselves, having fun together.



Resilience (Part 2)

“Fuck You New York Times” was my first reaction.

“I’m not a good writer after all.  I can’t do it.  I quit!”  was my second reaction.

Whoa!  What?  Both reactions require me to be angry, depressed, hiding away licking my wounds in victim-y self-pity.  Swinging between the extreme undemonstrativeness of my father where everything I did got a “fair” assessment and the blind adoration of my mother where I could do no wrong, I am an odd mixture of hubris and anxiety that I am a failure.  Any success I have is dubious, because I am a fraud and have everyone fooled.

The experience of submitting my essay – in actuality – differed from the experience in my mind.  In my mind, the New York Times enthusiastically accepted my submission within 24 hours, eager to publish it immediately.  That Sunday!  I was planning the announcement to my community of friends, family, colleagues, and maybe a few frenemies.  (Hah!  See!  I showed you!)  I was the undiscovered great essayist they’ve been waiting for.  I would become famous and admired for my honest and beautifully written personal remembrances.  I would get a book deal!  True, I would have to confront going public with my stories, most frighteningly to my parents.  But I was ready.  If not now, when?  It was time.  How dare they reject my submission?  I had already planned out my future – all based on their acceptance!  Fuck the New York Times.  I must be a failure and a fraud after all.

That night, my husband was tired of kids’ tennis duty and asked me to pick them up.  I passively aggressively agreed.  This was cutting into my time – it was my night to work late or sneak in a yoga class or just go home and have the house to myself to write.  Besides, I was out of sorts from receiving the rejection email – one month, precisely, from the day I had submitted it, as promised by their precise submission guidelines.  I grumbled out of the house and got into the car and turned on WNYC.  And was transfixed.  The Moth Radio Hour was on.  In my heightened awareness of writing and story-telling, what could have been better?  Josh Axelrad was telling his story of gambling.  His word choice was sophisticated and intricate, his timing and intonation were amazing, his story was riveting.  Wow.  Now that’s how to tell a story!  Fuck the New York Times.  I must be a failure and a fraud after all.

Now what?  Deep breath.  Pause.  Take a day, or a week, or a month, to consider my next steps.  I don’t have to react immediately or impulsively or emotionally.

What now, is that after 50 years of rejections and acceptances I can find a middle ground.   I am a good but new and inexperienced writer.  Maybe the rejection has nothing to do with me and my essay.  Maybe it just didn’t fit the direction they want to go with the column.  Maybe I should submit it somewhere else.  I can do that.  I don’t have to quit.  I can keep writing, keep practicing, honing my skills, getting my 10,000 hours in.

At 17, I was not so patient.  I had been obsessed with ballet.  For all of 2 or 3 years.  Dancing 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, I probably had about 4,000 hours in when I decided to audition for New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet.  Not a city kid, my mother and I took the train from D.C. to New York, where I was overwhelmed with the monolithic gray busyness of the city.  We took a taxi from Penn Station to Lincoln Center.  We found the dark and cramped administrative corridors in the bowels of Lincoln Center leading to the seemingly enormous mirror-lined dance studios of the school.  I was too nervous to remember much.  My mother had made the appointment, so I had a private audition not a cattle call.  I went into the locker room to change and then they brought me to the studio.  Two older women with Russian sounding accents were there.  Not unkind, they looked me over.  I pliéd and did a glissade.  And that was about it.  Perhaps they had me do a small combination in the center of the grand old studio.  That was enough for them to know that I was not what they were looking for.  I was not tall enough.  I was not ethereal enough.  I was not uniquely talented enough.  I didn’t have my 10,000 hours in.  They suggested that I go to a college with a strong dance program and explore other forms of dance that were not so exacting.  Excellent advice that I could not hear.  I was determined to be a ballet dancer at the most prestigious dance company I was aware of.  That was the future I had imagined in my mind.  They rejected me.  Closed off to other possibilities, I quit ballet.  Later, I quit college to return to ballet – but with similar results.  Bouncing between extremes, I never let myself enjoy being good enough – open to possibilities other than greatness at something ridiculously hard to achieve.

Now what?  What now is that I can practice resilience, mindfully choosing flexibility and optimism.  Rejection is not a tragedy.  It is an opportunity.  Your loss, New York Times.  (sigh, still angry)  I will practice my writing and find other venues to publish and to reach an audience.  Just as there are myriad other profoundly amazing dance companies and dancers (which, regretfully, I was not wise enough at the time to explore – sigh, still sad), so there are other ways to tell stories.

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