I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Vegetarian

I Don’t Like Bacon Anymore

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Cooper

Actually, I haven’t liked bacon for a long time.  I have fond memories of liking the smell of bacon and I feel like I should like bacon but I don’t.  We use to have bacon for special occasion breakfasts until I realized that I hated the grease cleanup and didn’t really enjoy the taste, so I stopped initiating them.  Sometimes my family acts a bit wistful for these breakfasts, but not convincingly.

When out to celebrate my daughter’s birthday at one of our special occasion restaurants, I decided to splurge and ordered the roast chicken with apple wood smoked bacon.  When it arrived, the chicken was overcooked and dry.  Highly unusual.  Just as unusual, I sent it back.  They brought me another and it was just a touch less dry.  The smokey smell of the bacon was overpowering.  I could not enjoy it.  Maybe, maybe it was time.

I’ve been very gradually eating less and less meat for several years now.  Not quite putting a stake in the ground.  Rather, I’ve been tip-toeing toward pragmatic vegetarianism.  Eating less meat as long as it didn’t disturb anyone else’s meal plan.  As is my cautious way, afraid to put myself whole heartedly out there with a strong point of view.  I can argue both sides, affiliating with everyone while offending no one, and not really honoring who I am.  After all, I love a juicy roast chicken or a grilled steak or my husband’s homemade meatballs.  And while trying to feed a family of four with completely different food likes and dislikes, why add another challenging component to getting dinner on the table?  Declaring myself a vegetarian seems both selfish and an act of self-sabotage.  It’s hard enough to deal with dinner for the family every night of the week.  Do I really need another food rule to live by?

When I took the step of getting more serious about yoga, I became aware of one of the first principles of yoga, Ahimsa, which translates to nonviolence.  Many yogi’s are vegetarian and base their decision on this precept, to be kind to all living creatures.  That year I reflected on the ways I inflict harm on myself with my cuticle picking and anxious thoughts.  I started looking people in the eye and smiling more.  I noticed that I felt better and slept better when I ate less meat and so my gradual tapering off of meat began.  I found meatless recipes that made it into the family dinner repertoire.  I brown-bagged my lunch and ate out less frequently or at restaurants that had more vegetarian options.  I lost 15 pounds.

But I didn’t really question the values behind the food chain.  Why shouldn’t we eat meat?  It’s what we humans do.

When we went away for vacation last month, I found myself ridiculously sad to leave our two parakeets behind.  We got our first parakeet, Cooper, for Christmas two years ago to satisfy my son’s desire for a dog.  We felt our lifestyle was not amenable to having a dog and settled on a parakeet instead.  Cooper is attentive, social, sweet and adapted quickly to the family, hanging out with us as much as we let him.  We were still away for much of the day, however, and we worried that he was alone and lonely.  So Ginger joined the family a year later.  She has not acclimated as well, presumably because she has Cooper in a way that he didn’t have another bird to fall back on.  She is more wary and less friendly, with a very distinct personality to whom I’ve also grown very attached, identifying with her wariness.

I grew up with pets.  As an only child, I would fantasize about how wonderful it would be to have a companion and wheedle until my parents would give in.  Fish, a turtle, gerbils.  Then there were the more significant and long-lived pets:  George the guinea-pig who would oink excitedly when he heard the refrigerator door open, hopeful that some lettuce was coming his way.  Buddy the parakeet for whom I played a recording of me saying “Hi Buddy!” for hours, hopeful that he would someday say “Hi Buddy!” back.  He never did.  And Pansy the poodle, who became my mother’s dog, not mine, because she was the one who fed her and spent time with her.  When George and Buddy died, I felt enormous guilt.  After the initial infatuation, the drudgery of having a pet set in and there was only so much bonding I was able to do with a guinea pig and a parakeet as a young girl. 

With Cooper, and Ginger, there was some sense of wanting to alleviate my guilt.  Could I take better care of them than I did of Buddy?  I watched them.  I looked them in the eye, trying to understand their moods, imagine what they might be feeling, trying to create a nice life for them, as much as a caged suburban life can be for a wild creature, even if bred for caged suburban life.

Why is it okay to eat chicken and not parakeet?  Why is it okay to eat pig and not dog?  Why is it okay to eat cow and not cat?  After looking in Cooper’s eyes and feeling his heartbeat and his complete trust, I don’t think I can eat animals any more.  Truly, he has a soul.  But what about squishing bugs and eating fish, delicious fish?  Where does one draw the line?

After reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where the man and the boy are the good people in search of other good people while avoiding being killed and eaten by the marauding gangs of bad people, I wondered, if my life depended on it, what would I do?

I am increasingly uncomfortable with considering myself and other humans as better than other animals and entitled to eat them.  I am increasingly uncomfortable with keeping quiet about what I believe to be right for me.

Eating for One

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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

Dinner:

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

Dinner

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

Dinner

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.

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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.

Meat

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More Meatless

I love meat.  Juicy, rare, marbled steak is a favorite of mine.  Roast chicken, with the skin on, is another.  But when I hit my 40’s, a variety of disconcerting changes occurred.  15 pounds creeped on.  (The Perimenopausal 15?)  When I ate steak, my stomach complained, gurgling for hours and keeping me up at night.  Speaking of sleep, I couldn’t sleep any more.  Every night around 2 am, I woke up to go to the bathroom (beyond tedious) and then was UP for hours.  One (of many) tactics I employed to lose weight was to eat less meat.  While everyone else was having 3-4 meatballs with their spaghetti, I cut back to 1 meatball with my whole wheat spaghetti.  When going out, I split a steak entrée with my daughter.  Now I forego the steak entrée altogether, opting for fish or a vegetarian option.  My stomach stopped gurgling, I slept better, and the 15 pounds (and more) crept off.

Also around this time, I dove deeper into yoga and yoga philosophy. I studied the Yama’s and the Niyama’s, yoga’s ethical guidelines, the most famous of which is Ahimsa or non-harming.  This “Do/Don’t” is an overarching belief that one should live with love and compassion for all beings and not behave in any way that harms another being.  It is generally cited as the reason for yoga practitioners to adopt a vegetarian diet.

As this virtuous circle expanded:  I ate less meat, I did more yoga, I felt better and slept better, I loved more and stressed less, I ate less meat and did more yoga.  I became a big fan of Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman.  Both write with great conviction and adopt a pragmatic approach to eating less meat.  Pollan’s simple advice is to “Eat Food.  Not Too Much.  Mostly Plants.”  Bittman’s approach to eat vegan during the day and loosen the rules at dinner works for me, allowing for more flexibility with my family and our dinners together.

Because, you see, my family does not share my intense über desire to eat healthily and to eat as a responsible world citizen.  It becomes very challenging to eat nurturing meals together when family members have different ideas about what they want to put into their bodies.  We tend to compromise which works fairly well, but it does mean a lot of double cooking and other juggling and shopping for me, the one who is more determined to not just eat something because it’s easy or tastes good.  (My husband, the weekend Italian chef, cooks food that tastes very good.)

Eating less meat makes me feel better.  The health benefits are compelling.  The environmental benefits are compelling.  I made this soup/stew over the holiday break and the whole family enjoyed it (well, not my picky son).  It just got better and thicker as each day passed, a delicious virtuous circle. Turn it into more of a meal by serving over barley, brown rice, or quinoi.

Butternut Squash Soup/Stew

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups of butternut squash, cut into even-sized ¾” cubes
  • 1 large baking potato, cut into even-sized ¾” cubes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 15 oz cans cannellini beans
  • 1 14 ½ oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh thyme or fresh sage
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (or more, to taste) – adds brightness

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Place squash and potato on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, and roast in oven for about 35 minutes.

Saute onion and garlic in ¼ cup of olive oil until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Add stock and bring to a gentle boil.  Add squash, potatoes, beans, tomatoes.  Simmer until squash and potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.  Puree half the soup in a food processor until consistency as at desired thickness.  Add thyme or sage.  Stir in lemon juice.

Serves 6, gets thicker and tastier with time

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