I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Food

Waiting for Con Ed

My Empty Refrigerator

As news of Hurricane Sandy’s ferociousness dominated our area two weekends ago, I alternated between frenetic anxiety (gotta get batteries!) and scornful denial (damn media hype!).  When schools announced their closure, I scoffed at their overreaction, but decided I better get a lot of laundry done.  Just in case.  In my hyper anxious mood, I needed to work off the adrenalin – my son and I went for a walk/bike-ride around the neighborhood Monday morning.  The wind kicked up while we were out and branches started falling.  Hmm, maybe this IS serious.  After all, my sister-in-law is usually right and she said this one would be bad.  I began to panic.  “Aidan, we need to go home!”  We headed home, taking some “before” photos along the way.  Just in case.

I decided to make dinner early.  Just in case.  We frequently lost power in storms and I figured we would lose power this storm as well.  Around 5:00 I set the water on to boil for pasta.  The wind was supposed to be quite bad after 8:00 pm.  Plenty of time for a pre-storm dinner.

Around 5:20, we lost power.  Shit!  Spoiling my dinner!  Not to be thwarted, we all hopped into the car, prepared to head to a local restaurant for dinner.  We couldn’t leave our street.  One tree up the hill had fallen on a telephone pole and knocked out the electrical wires and transformer.  Another tree down the hill had fallen, knocking out more wires and blocking the road.  We were trapped.  Truly, it was shocking – too dangerous, indeed impossible, to drive.  Shaken, we went back home and made the best of our candlelit dinner of room temperature leftovers and discussed possible sleeping arrangements.  We decided on mother-daughter and father-son.  Somehow that seemed the right combination for body warmth, love, and parental protection during a windy scary night.

The next day we rose with the sun (late for me, around 7:30 am) and began our vigil.  Waiting for Con Ed.  And wondering.  How bad is the damage?  What can we do?  But first, coffee.  As someone who is attached to my routines, I feel unmoored when my schedule is disrupted.  I vaguely remembered being able to make coffee during the last outage.  Aidan had insisted we could light the burners last night, but we didn’t listen to him – the baby of the family.  Sure enough, he was right.  Two burners worked in this way.  Coffee and oatmeal for breakfast!  That kept me busy for a while.  That and pacing to the window to see what, if anything, was going on outside.   Around 11:00, we embarked on a walk through the neighborhood to see how everyone fared.  Many neighbors were doing the same thing, in shared dismay.  Trees and wires down throughout the neighborhood, with several houses severely damaged by trees that had fallen on them.  It was awful.  We were lucky.  We had no damage and we were okay. 

Back home and it was time for lunch.  Gotta use up the cold cuts.  Grilled turkey, ham and cheese all around.  Daytime was okay:  we had enough light; we bundled up to stay warm; we kept busy.  And we had hopeful energy.  Stay positive!  Stay busy!  We’re lucky!  Tuesday night’s candlelit dinner was pasta with more leftover sauce.  The boiling pot brought the temperature up a degree.  We huddled around our battery-operated dvd player and watched Ratatouille.  We saved Finding Nemo for Wednesday night, crying over a father’s love and the beautiful connection between beings.

Wednesday my husband trekked to work and the kids and I began our new outage routine.  My daughter and I took a yoga class every morning while my son read his book in the warmth of the sitting area watching over our charging electronic devices.  I was so happy to be in the presence of people!  But as the week wore on, more people got their power restored and returned to normal and I felt isolated in our misery.  Remember, we’re lucky!  By Friday, when the yoga teacher purred about how tragedy brings out the best in people I felt like screaming.  ”Are you kidding?  People are about to kill each other selfishly cutting each other off in gas lines!”  I think tragedy brings out the most primitive emotions in people.  Much of it good and caring, but not all of it.  I wish I were a wise, compassionate, loving yoga teacher.  Oh yeah, I AM a yoga teacher!  I have to remember that!  But I am also a selfish human who wants her electricity back so she can blow-dry her hair, eat her regularly scheduled foods, and drive to her favorite activities without worrying about a gas shortage!  Lucky White Suburban Woman Is Miserable does not make a good headline.

I guess we’re all going to get generators.  That ought to be good for the environment.  Huddled in our individual houses with our gasoline-powered generators rumbling noisily away.  At least we’ll be able to run our hair-dryers.

I am struck by the people who are galvanized to action during disasters.  They deliver meals and clothing to the afflicted.  They open their houses to anyone who needs a meal or a shower.  They open their arms and hearts to all.  My instinct is to hunker down – stoically.  No I don’t need anything, but don’t expect me to give anything either.   My way is a meager way and not the example I want to set for my children.  So, we gratefully accept the hook-up to our neighbor’s generator, powering our heating system for a few hours a day so the house is warmer.  So, we gratefully accept my sister-in-law’s generosity with food, warm beds, hot showers (and a working hair-dryer).  I am not sure how we pay back their generosity.  Perhaps it is simple.  We say thank you graciously and pay it forward. 

By Sunday, I gave up on salvaging anything from the freezer or the refrigerator and threw it all away.  The 5 year old caramel topping for ice cream.  The caper berries I bought when I couldn’t find capers.  The vacuum packed smoked salmon from a Harry & David gift basket – about 10 years ago.  I suppose some of this stuff lasts forever.  But I threw every bit if it away.  Time to move on and start fresh.  It does feel good to have an empty refrigerator, poised with new possibilities.  I cleaned the freezer compartment.  It had never been cleaned.  There was a gogurt from when the kids were little – also about 8-10 years old.  And ancient frozen waffles.  One package of regular.  And one package of whole grain.  And a melted ice cream sandwich.  All gone.  It was sad.  It was freeing.  Time to move on and start fresh.

After a week of oatmeal for breakfast, grilled cheese & omelets for lunch, and pasta & assorted leftovers for dinner, the most delicious meal we had this past week was (leftover) black bean chili served over brown rice. 

Black Bean Chili

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1-2 teaspoons of cumin
  • 1-2 teaspoons of oregano
  • 1 link of chorizo, chopped (optional add-in for meat-eaters)
  • 2 15 ounce cans of black beans (use the liquid)
  • 1 16 ounce jar of salsa (whatever is your favorite brand and level of spiciness)
  • 2-4 Tablespoons of pickled jalapenos (adds tang more than heat)

Toppings

  • Cilantro
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Sour cream

Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions, garlic, bell peppers.  Saute until onions soften – about 10 minutes.  Stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano – 2 minutes.  Add in Chorizo, beans, with liquid, salsa, and jalapenos.  Reduce heat and simmer – 15 to 30 minutes.

Serve over brown rice with desired toppings.  Makes terrific leftovers!  You can stretch out this meal by varying the ratio of rice to chili.

Serves about 6

Finding Joy in (Not) Apple-Picking

Green Applesauce

I became an expert at pureeing different foods when I had babies.  Because, of course, I made my own babyfood (while breastfeeding and pumping for as long as a working mother possibly could).  Providing them the healthiest homemade food was a manifestation of my love for them.  Even if it meant I spent more time preparing their food than actually interacting with them.  The freezer was full of ice-cube-sized morsels of carefully prepared pureed fruits and vegetables.  (Aren’t I the best mom ever?!)

When they were in pre-school, each child had to bring in Snack for the class on a scheduled basis.  This got to be really arduous for a working mother when we were supposed to make the Snack coincide with whatever color they were learning at the time.  You know:  Orange Carrots;  Yellow Bananas;  Beige Twinkies.  Well, Twinkies weren’t encouraged and I certainly would not have been the mom to bring in Twinkies.  Sorry kids.  [Full disclosure:  I loved Twinkies as a child and became quite nostalgic for them when I heard about Hostess declaring bankruptcy – I am such a hypocrite!  For Hostess lovers, there is a new report that they have a plan to reorganize and emerge from bankruptcy.] 

It was our turn to bring Snack and the color was Green.  Hmmm.  Green Beans?  Yuck was the reaction.  Celery with peanut butter?  No peanut butter allowed.  And then I hit upon it.  I will make my homemade applesauce and use food coloring to make it green!  I was very excited – this was going to be fun!  My daughter was skeptical but too good a girl to fight me on this.  I dove headlong into my project.  I cooked the apples.  I pureed the apples.  I turned them green.  (Yuck mom, it doesn’t look like it tastes good.)  I carefully spooned them into individual containers.  I proudly transported them and my daughter to school the next day.  I couldn’t wait to hear how the class thought that my green applesauce was the best Snack ever!  So?  How was it?  I eagerly asked.  (Aren’t I the best mom ever?!)  Oh Mom, nobody wanted to eat green applesauce.  They were afraid it wouldn’t taste good.  Sigh.  Lesson learned.  It’s about them.  It’s not about me.  Listen.

The applesauce recipe has gotten a lot of use over the years.  It is easy to make and easy to improvise.  I would go to it in the Fall to make use of all the apples from our annual apple-picking outing.  Our annual apple-picking outing petered out a few years ago.  The orchards were a zoo.  (When did apple-picking become trendy?)  The families we went with were growing up and busy with activities and schoolwork.  And who had time to make homemade applesauce when there was perfectly good “storemade” applesauce at the neighborhood produce place I go to every weekend.  My daughter wanted to resurrect apple-picking this year.  She is the most joyful and determined holiday celebrator I know.  She has enthusiastically gotten out her cozy Fall sweaters and has already made Pumpkin Muffins and can’t wait for Thanksgiving.  My son is in the wings with Halloween decorations ready to go, eagerly following her lead.  Sadly, I tend to focus on the work involved with the holidays.  Besides, they were not really joyful occasions for me as a child.  But it’s about them, not about me.  Listen.  Maybe there is joy to be had. 

We jumped in the car and headed up the Merritt to Easton’s Silverman’s Farm.  It was a zoo.  Literally.  They had a petting zoo where a bunch of chickens were pecking the life out of the runt.  And the hayride had no hay.  The pumpkins were small and blemished.  And, unbelievably, there were no apples!  Apple-picking was over.  What?  It’s only the first weekend in October!  We bought some apples and some donuts and drove to a restaurant and had a lovely lunch out.  A very grown up outing with our very grown up children.  We had a great time, but I am wistful – watching them hang onto their dreams of what the holidays should be…and are.  They both have a deep desire to celebrate that I don’t want to joylessly crush.  Perhaps we will make applesauce this weekend.  Together.  (Aren’t they the best kids ever?!)

Applesauce

3 pounds of fruit:  approximately 8-10 tart apples or a combination of 6 apples and 3 pears, peeled and cut into pieces

2/3 cup of water

½ cup sugar

1 cup of dried apricots, cut (use a scissors) into small pieces – adds tang and appealing, natural color

or

1 cup of fresh cranberries.  Add them later in the cooking process – they don’t need to cook as long as the apples/pears.

Combine all ingredients in large saucepan.  Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.  Mash, blend, or process to desired consistency.  I like it lumpy.  Chill.

What Would Happen If I Didn’t Eat Breakfast?

The Most Important Meal

It is ingrained in me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I can recite the reasons touted in all the women’s magazines that I have read (voraciously) and worked for (diligently) all my life. 

  • Breakfast fuels your body, revving metabolism and allowing you to focus.
  • Willpower is high in the morning, allowing for healthy food choices and optimal nutrition at breakfast, while minimizing less healthy choices throughout the day.
  • Taking time for breakfast allows for a mindful approach to your day.

Besides, there are some days when the only reason I get out of bed is to have that cup of coffee and to eat.

It was my mother, not magazines, who instilled the breakfast habit in me.  Or rather, an extreme fear of not eating breakfast.  As a girl, I would get headaches.  Lie-in-the-dark, too-nauseous-to-eat migraines.  My mother would anxiously hover over me.  She would massage my temples, read to me, spend time with me.  In retrospect, these headaches had many components:  family dysfunction, school stress, perfectionism, anxiety, dehydration, less than optimal nutrition, less than optimal physical fitness, hormonal changes.  I certainly learned that a good way to let people know that the world was too much for me was to shut down with a headache.  My mother worriedly enabled this behavior.  “It’s too much.  Stay home.  Rest.”  She dragged me to many doctors – because doctors knew best.  I was medicated for migraines with Cafergot – you had to anticipate when a migraine was coming on so that you could nip it in the bud with the medication.  (Starbucks wasn’t on every street corner then.)  I was also diagnosed as having hypoglycemic tendencies.  (Don’t we all get irritable and shaky when we are hungry?)  Thus began my fear of not eating enough.  I had to have just the right quantity of food and combination of nutrients to feel good and prevent a headache.  Balance the fear of not eating enough with the fear of eating too much and imagine the anxiety that resulted!  Not to mention a complete disconnect between feeling hunger and satisfying that hunger appropriately.  And now, add in my daughter who cannot and will not eat breakfast … truly karmic.  May we all learn our own bodies and find our own way.  My way is not her way. 

After many (many) years of experimenting with breakfast – food choices, quantity and timing – my personal favorite breakfast that makes me feel good all the way until lunch is some kind of whole grain cereal or bread with protein, fruit, strong coffee, and – most importantly – some time to enjoy it (and digest it). 

Granola

I am ALWAYS disappointed with store-bought granola.  Bear Naked – blech!  The only store-bought that is worth its price and its calories is Early Bird Granola.  Even better, is making a batch of your own homemade granola.  It is not difficult and it is so delicious!  Here is my favorite recipe, adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark in the New York Times:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups raw pistachios, hulled
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
  • 1 cup coconut chips or coconut flakes
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.  Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until lightly golden and toasted.  Don’t overcook.   Granola keeps in an airtight container for 2 weeks. 

How I eat it:

  • 6 oz of yogurt (I mix 50-50: half Vanilla with half Greek Nonfat Plain)
  • ½ cup of Granola
  • Fresh berries

or

  • 2/3 cup of All Bran Cereal  (you get your fiber with this option!)
  • 1/3 cup of Granola
  • Vanilla Soy Milk (I prefer Silk, not the light version.  Vanilla soy milk has more flavor than cow’s milk when combined with cereal and prevents any digestive discomfort related to lactose first thing in the morning.)
  • Fresh berries

Oatmeal

My version is not very sweet, but extremely satisfying.  I make it while doing other things in the kitchen so it has time to simmer.  The only annoying thing about oatmeal is cleaning the gloppy pot afterwards. 

  • 1 ½ cups of Vanilla Soy Milk
  • 2/3 cup of Old Fashioned Oats (not quick, not instant, not steel-cut)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of sugar (to your taste.  I find that as I eat less and less sugar that I don’t like things that are too sweet.  A virtuous circle.)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons of dried fruit (I prefer golden raisins or dried apricots or dried tart cherries)
  • A sprinkle of cinnamon

Bring soy milk to a simmer.  Add oats, sugar, dried fruit, and cinnamon.  Simmer 5 minutes.  Watch that the milk doesn’t boil too hard and overflow the pot.  A mess.  Turn off heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes, absorbing the liquid.  Stir occasionally.  Play with timing to get the right consistency to your liking.  I like it thick and creamy, not too liquid-y.

Serves:

1 large serving or 2 normal servings

Raisin Toast

Cinnamon Raisin Bread is so decadent it should be considered dessert.  My favorite kind from the Vermont Bread Company is as healthy as it gets.  I toast it and spread it with almond butter and then sometimes top this concoction with a bit of pumpkin butter.  This makes for an unbelievable sandwich for lunch as well!

Whole Wheat Bagels or English Muffins

Thanks to my friend Judy, I now top my whole wheat bagel or my whole wheat English muffin with goat cheese and a bit of orange marmalade or tart cherry jam.  I eat this on the weekends when I give myself permission to splurge on a bagel.

Shredded Wheat

My easy go-to breakfast is Shredded Wheat ‘n Bran (65 mini squares;  Yes – I count them), Vanilla soy milk, and sliced bananas.  Healthy, quick, tasty.  

Coffee

Scoop coffee into French Press.  Bring water to boil.  Pour water over coffee.  Stir gently.  Steep 4-5 minutes.

Serves 2 large mugs

Escarole and Beans

Invite People In To Your Food Weirdness

People with disordered eating patterns, like me, are prone to eating alone, secretly.  Eating alone makes me feel sneaky, a guilty pleasure.  I can eat as weirdly as I want.  When I was at the height of my eating weirdness I would eat an entire large honeydew melon in one sitting.  It was sweet and filled me up but had almost no calories.  And it was huge!  So it took a long time.  I liked stringing out my meals.  It was a way to avoid feeling empty.

I still look forward to meals alone when I can eat my weird meals:  secretly, silently, selfishly.  However, it has recently occurred to me that my weird meals are not so weird and that maybe it would be nice to share my weird meals with other people and not worry that they think I am weird.  One of my favorite dinners when someone in my family is out and I don’t have to make a more formal family meal  is a large plate of escarole and beans.  It satisfies my desire for a large quantity of food.  It is tasty and healthy and very satisfying.  No one else in my family is interested in eating this dish with me.  My family is used to my odd food choices, but other people are not.  Now when a child’s friend or a niece or sister-in-law want to stop by on “Escarole and Bean Night,” instead of coming up with an excuse about why they can’t come over I invite them in.  They don’t necessarily share my meal – but I share with them some of my eating issues.  I can laugh at myself and share more of myself, which deepens my relationships.  On a recent night, instead of setting up my son and his friend at a separate table with their pizza, the three of us ate together.  Them with their pizza and me with my escarole and beans.  And we talked about God.  And what we hope and believe about God.  (I believe that holiness is the love between people.)  Amazing things happen when you invite people in.   

Escarole and Beans

1 large bunch of escarole (1 lb or more), leaves washed and spun dry

2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin

3-4 T olive oil

1 jar of cannellini beans, imported from Italy preferred, approximately 12 oz

Sautee garlic and escarole in olive oil.  Take your time with this process.  The more you sautee the escarole the richer the flavor.  I do it on low heat and let it cook for about 30 minutes, while I do other things in the kitchen.

Add beans and their liquid.  Sautee the beans with the escarole for another 10-15 minutes.

The desired consistency, for me, is not too much liquid.  This is different than the more traditional Italian version which is much soupier.  The escarole exudes water.  You want to cook off the liquid and almost brown the escarole and beans in the olive oil. 

Experiment with cooking times, temperatures, and escarole:bean ratio!

 Serves:

1 very large serving, or

2-4 normal servings, with bread to soak it all up

My Chocolate Stash

 

A Secret Pleasure

I eat it alone.  Secretively.  I take a bar of dark chocolate and examine the calories and the size of the bar.  I calculate how many 100-ish calorie portions I can divide the bar into.  I break the bar into that many pieces.  I keep one piece out to eat and carefully wrap the remaining pieces up to save for another day.  I need to put them away right away so I am not tempted to eat more than my 100-calorie portion.  I sit and enjoy my chocolate, illicitly, placing a small amount on my tongue and letting it warm up in my mouth so I get the full intensity and complexity of the flavor.  Sometimes I forget to pay attention to the taste and mindlessly pop the chocolate into my mouth.  I am very disappointed when the chocolate is gone and I realize that I didn’t savor the moment.  I feel gypped and want to eat more later.

Very dark chocolate is my favorite.  I go as high as 85% and like the bitterness but I find the flavor is more delicious and mellow in the 70%-75% range.  I don’t really like a lot of add-ins or flavorings, though coffee is a nice touch.   My current favorite is Chocolate Santander, 70%, with coffee bits.  It is not bitter or stale or hard or too thick.  The texture is smooth and it truly melts in your mouth.   

Why am I alone when I eat chocolate?  I am embarrassed to enjoy food in such a sensual way.  Good girls don’t enjoy.  I am embarrassed at my need to control the quantity and the experience.  My weirdness will be discovered.  And besides, if I am not alone, I am expected to share!  Sharing messes up my schedule of allowable chocolate portions.  But, as my husband pointed out – he teasingly outed me and my chocolate stash long ago – it is more fun to share.  Truly it is.  And he still loves me in spite of my weirdness.  Now, I just buy more chocolate and share it as much as I can.  After I measure out my portion…

Dark Chocolate and Weight

I know it is not news that dark chocolate is good for you, but it can help you control your weight.  For me, reserving and looking forward to a treat of dark chocolate every day functions as a signal.  The meal is over – time to stop eating the meal because it’s time for my chocolate!  And it keeps me from eating other types of desserts that have more calories and are not as healthy.  The intensity and the complexity of the flavor are deeply satisfying.  If you focus on the experience, you don’t need a lot.   

My Vacation Fix 

On vacation last week, I got my fix of dark chocolate at a boutique in Newport, RI, Destination Chocolate.  After placing each individual beautiful truffle on delicate china saucers (I chose the 75% pure dark chocolate), Carl coached us on how to optimize our chocolate tasting adventure.  TWO BITES!  Take one bite and place it on your tongue.  Notice the flavor.  As it melts, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.  Fully finish the first bite before taking the second bite.   After that, it’s up to you to enjoy!

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