Sunday, November 08, 2009
Every weekend (or oftener if I run out) I make a big pot of fresh soup and keep it in the fridge for midweek suppers.
When I walk in the door from work, my self-discipline is generally at its lowest ebb for the day. I'm always insanely hungry.
Even if I've stopped for an appetite-quelling fat-free sugar-free yogourt from the office fridge just before I hop in my car, I'll be hungry.
And I know about myself only too well that I can resist anything but temptation.
I KNOW that I can inhale 800 calories (cheese, crackers, butter, wine . . . ) in about 15 minutes while I'm just THINKING about what to have for dinner. Done it way too many times. Lived the reality that just 100 extra calories a day meant 10 extra pounds in a year -- and the next year -- and the year after -- until in 2001 I was 80 pounds overweight.
Took it all off. And then put twenty pounds back on in early 2009.
But if I did it before I COULD do it again. And I know just what time of day it's most likely to happen.
It's completely predictable at that crucial home-coming moment I could sabotage myself -- my 5:30 a.m. gym work out; my breakfast oatmeal; my leafy lunch salad -- my whole day's worth of careful attention to exercise and to nutrition.
So that's why it's vitally important for me to have supper ready to eat almost instantly. And for me what really hits the spot is a bowl of soup that I can nuke in the microwave in about four minutes.
Is four minutes fast enough? Nope. Sadly, experience tells me even the four minutes can be problematic. So weak-willed am I that four minutes is more than enough time to do myself a serious damage if I hang around waiting, opening and shutting cupboards, grazing mindlessly.
My soup has gotta be heated up while I'm outta the kitchen, away from temptation, shucking off my work clothes, getting into my jeans. Or into my jammies, depending upon how late it is when I roll in the door.
Soup. It works for me because I need something filling, something full of vitamins and minerals and complex carbs, but not too high in fats or in calories.
My protein intake generally requires attention, so the soup may be accompanied with a handful of almonds or walnuts, a spoonful of peanut butter, maybe a lilttle cheese, maybe some chicken or shrimp or chickpeas. And these protein partners could be "add-ins" to vary the basic soup or "on-the-sides" to go with the soup. If I'm still hungry after bowlful number one -- bowlful number two is a real possibility! A second bowlful will still be within my calorie budget!
My soups generally aren't based on any particular recipe -- it's just a matter of what happens to be available in the fridge or in the cupboard or in the cold cellar. I very rarely make the same soup twice, and that's probably why I don't get tired of eating the same soup every night for the week or so that the pot lasts.
Last weekend there were some amazing vegetable bargains at the supermarket. I bought 10 pounds of huge beets for $2; 10 pounds of onions for $2; 10 pounds of giant carrots for $2; and 20 pounds of potatoes for $2. All fresh from the farmers' fields just a few miles down the road from my house.
So this afternoon I scraped and steamed about 8 of the carrots, 6 of the beets, 2 of the onions and 4 of the potatoes in about four cups of water until they were quite soft.
Then I pureed them in small batches in the food processor, and stirred in a large can of diced tomatoes, some vegetable broth, and some rosemary plus some Frank's hot sauce for zip.
What a mess! Little splatters everywhere! With a serious potential for lethal staining -- I'll have to be careful not to spill any anywhere while I'm slurping away this coming week.
But: glorious flavour! glorious fall fragrance! glorious texture! above all, glorious colour!
I'll pick up a little fat free sour cream to swirl in each serving after heating it up, and chop some fresh dill on top for garnish.
So simple, so beautiful.
Magenta velvet in a bowl.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
My Friday night Latin American dance class with my husband is really turning into a highlight of my week.
It's such a great break from the intense "left brain" stuff which is our work (we do work together-- which doesn't necessarily mean seeing a lot of each other at work.) Most days we get up at 5 a.m. and hit the gym for 5:30, and most days we aren't home much before 6:30 or 7 pm. Not to complain -- life is good, the work is interesting -- but it's pretty demanding and stressful.
It's not surprising, then, that Friday at 7:30 p.m. finds me exhausted and overwhelmed and wondering if I really really want to move my butt out the door for dance class. However, I'm discovering once again that when I do, Friday night at 9:15 p.m. will find me exuberant and energized and looking forward to the weekend.
We've been ball room dancing off and on for at least 20 of the 30 years we've been married. Waltz, fox trot, two-step, salsa: we've tried them all. So are we good at it? Not so much! No one would mistake us for a Dancing with the Stars episode, that's for sure.
The sad truth: neither of us is a "kinesthetic learner". I have to work hard to hear the rhythm and make my feet move to the beat of the music: so does he.
Rumba, jive, cha cha, merengue, samba: each dance with "basics" and each with specialty steps and new routines. Posture, gaze, hand position, signals: it's not just my feet, but my whole body which needs to be coordinated -- and coordinated with my partner's body.
Am I a rabid feminist? You are right. (Although: a girly feminine version of same). And in ballroom dance, the guy has to lead. The gal has to follow. Gulp. But I've gotta put up with it, wait for his signals, because : it just won't work any other way. And of course the passion for dance is primarily mine -- he's there because I love it so much, he's trying so hard because I love it so much -- so that balances everything out. Really.
You can bet we screw it up -- OK, it's the "New Yorks" after the basics, but then shoulder-to-shoulder? Dang! We went right into the hand-to-hand! Again! And how do we end the hand-to-hand? And what's the segue to the next routine?
We step on each other's feet. We kick each other's shins (those jive flicks can be lethal!). We get momentarily exasperated. With ourselves. With each other. And then a move happens with such smoothness and coordination that we're both gaping with astonishment! Where did that come from?? Can we do it again? Probably not, but we can try!
We sweat (500 calories burned for the 75 minutes, says the tracker: but I bet THAT"s a gross under-estimate).
We laugh. We come home and have a glass of wine. And we sleep better, both of us.
Dance class is a nice decisive break with the week that's done -- even if more likely than not I'll end up logging in from my home computer to my work computer and doing a little sumpin' before the weekend's passed.
Still: for a few moments we've felt like pretty hot stuff! And that means: I'm loving our Friday night dance class!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I am attending a family wedding in Austin, Texas in November and I don't have very much information about it. So here I am, requesting a bit of advice/insight about "local norms" and wedding dos and don'ts as they may differ from those practised here in the more obscure regions of the GWN (that's Great White North: Canada!).
No, we don't wear tuques and mukluks up here all of the time. Just late October through May. Then we switch to mosquito repellant and bathing suits. (And yup, I'm exaggerating).
But here's the thing. Although I've travelled quite a bit (including to such "exotic" destinations as Kyoto and Cairo) and although I love visiting the USA, it's still true there is no place that can make me feel so much like a visiting anthropologist as the States.
I suppose that might be because we (both Americans and Canadians) are all expecting cultural dislocation in the exotic places. When we are in certified "foreign" destinations we probably all try hard to be respectful of cultural differences (removing our shoes at the door in Japan; covering our female heads at least in Muslim countries).
Whereas there is an unconscious expectation as between Americans and Canadians that we really aren't all that different. Aren't there golden arches in both places? WalMart too? And Americans do know about Mounties, moose and mountains, maybe even Celine Dion and poutine!
But Americans and Canadians in many ways are quite different. I recognize that when I see American tourists here in the GWN. Sometimes with pleasure: love your friendliness. Sometimes not so much. Won't say: don't want to hurt anyone's feelings! Because: I'm pretty sure that when I'm in the States, I'm probably treading on toes fairly frequently as well.
For example, I recall a trip to the theatre during a stay in Sanibel, Florida which completely astonished me. Mostly because of the intensity and overtness of the patriotism expressed uniformly by all the Americans in attendance. The "history of music" theme advertised turned out to be the history of AMERICAN music only. We Canadians didn't have OUR hands over our hearts at the Star Spangled Banner finale. Wouldn't have done so had it been "O Canada" either! Canadians (although fiercely patriotic) tend never to say so . . . or if the topic comes up, to make self-deprecating jokes.
There are similar differences in the expression of religious values as between Canadians and Americans -- Canadians may be devout, but it's generally a private matter within a religious community. And there is a host of other disjunctions. I run smack up against them over and over again on SparkPeople itself (which does not detract one bit from this warm and welcoming site, which of course I expect to be American). But they sometimes puzzle me. For example -- I haven't seen even one mention about President Obama's recent Nobel Prize. It would not be for me to say anything -- but I had been waiting for some outpouring of pride, exultation, exuberant hope. It never happened. Or if it did, I for one didn't see it happening.
All of this of course is quite a detour into my own inquiry on what has to seem a far more trivial concern: what do you wear to a Texas wedding in November? Said wedding to be held at what promises to be quite an elegant venue (a 1916 mansion at the local art museum).
I don't know the bride and really don't want to bother her. And of course the groom is not going to be of much help! Nor is this about me or -- at least not entirely: I am not wishing to make a big fashion statement. But only not to stand out (in a bad way). And to be respectful, of course, keeping in mind that a wedding can also be a religious observation and perhaps is more likely to be so in Texas.
So far as I've been trying to find out "what to wear to a Texas wedding" by googling. But in seeking insight into what might be appropriate, I'm getting a lot of contradictory information.
Some sites suggest that people go to weddings in golf shirts and khakis (that would be guys, presumably) even when the groom and male wedding party are in "tuxes" (Canadian: "black tie") and the bride/bridesmaids in long gowns. I won't be doing that.
Several suggest that trousers for women aren't dressy enough: I can eliminate those if necessary (although I do have a pair of lovely evening trousers . . . which would if acceptable have eliminated the "long or short" issue).
A number suggest that "skanky" is bad -- too much cleavage, front or back -- and at age 58 I won't be doing that. Wouldn't have done it at 18 either.
Some sites suggest that female wedding guests never wear white (we're agreed on that one, except perhaps in a tropical locale had the bride requested it for picture purposes).
More troubling is an apparent absolute and unilateral edict against ever wearing black to a wedding, since black is just for funerals. Really?? black evening-type wear would be my go-to, by a wide margin of preference. It would mean I could shop in my closet, which I always prefer. But I don't of course want to suggest by wearing black that anyone is in mourning over this wedding. Particularly since it is a second wedding at which the adult children from a previous marriage will be in attendance.
I know Austin's municipal motto is "keeping it weird". And that it's the live performance music capital of the world: hoping to catch a few acts! Which should mean there is some margin for edginess, even at what looks to be a fairly traditional wedding celebration.
In any case I'm prepared to believe that Austin is not entirely in compliance with the stereotype of Texas: cowboy boots, Stetsons, BBQ?? -- and maybe I've got that stereotype wrong anyhow. Because Texas writ large is probably way past 1980s Dynasty-style big hair and shoulder pads. (But should I be making a salon appointment??).
Cutting to the chase: can anyone tell me that black would be OK? If so, much appreciated. If not, also much appreciated.
And: are there any other pointers I should know about, so that I can disappear gracefully into the background?
Or should I just forget about the impossibility of looking like a native and wear my toque and mukluks?? Of my anthropologist disguise: grass skirt, bone through the nose?
You can see I need help!! All assistance gratefully received!!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Today I was ironing an "emergency" shirt for our son. He can iron, he does iron, but he was running late to get to work -- and I was prepared to show a little mercy!
Our iron worked fine long enough to get the shirt done for him, thank goodness -- but then it completely pooched, for no reason at all that I could see. When I tried to iron a couple more blouses for myself for next week, all I got was languid temperature, water oozing out everywhere, no robust "shots of steam" -- persistent wrinklies!
I don't do very much ironing at our house -- mostly, that's my husband's department. He has a whole group of golf buddies who iron their own shirts, actually -- they call themselves the "iron men". "Les hommes de fer" of course (NOT "les hommes d'affaire"). One anniversary without prior consultation as to choice of gifts, he gave me a new iron -- a pitching wedge -- and I gave him a new iron -- of the steam variety! Deluxe models, of course, in both categories. His golf buddies loved the coincidence. And we thought it was pretty ironic.
So: with this background it's pretty clear husband thinks that having a really good steam iron makes quite an essential difference when it comes to whipping through either his golf shirts or his work shirts. When equipped with the appropriate iron, he'd rather do them all himself because, frankly, he's pretty particular!! Verging on the OCD. He eliminates every tiny crease. He times himself. Competes against himself to improve his times. And since he really can't get through a week without a functioning iron, the two of us knew we were going to have to stop off at the big box housewares store on the way to grocery shopping.
Although he had reconciled himself to the absolute necessity of buying the new iron, husband did first of all want to see if the broken iron we had could be repaired. (Then we would have two! maybe he could give ironing lessons!! Inveigle our son into competitions!!!). And so he detoured to the front of the store to make the repair inquiry at "customer service".
I harboured no such delusion -- everything now is essentially welded shut and disposable, no matter how expensive -- so I headed straight to the back of the store to see if I could find another iron of the identical model. The best. Even though it had pooched, still the best.
It was not long before I could see my tall handsome husband approaching down the long long aisle clutching the irreparable iron. But -- and this was a surprise -- he was not alone. Unprecedented for a big box -- he was getting the personal escort treatment. From a store clerk about our age who (sorry -- but it WAS self-evident) found him pretty attractive! (Well, he is that). And (I was reading the thought balloon over her head) this attractive guy was probably single. Maybe newly divorced. Well, duh. After all, what other kind of guy would be buying an iron??
With a big smile upwards in his direction, talking non-stop about ironing techniques based upon her personal experience, putting forward the possibility that a less-costly model might be good enough -- and without acknowledging my presence whatsoever -- the store clerk brushed past me. Customer service to the max. Very helpful. Very. Making sure this "single" guy's attention was directed to the appropriate shelf. With all the very very expensive irons, yes, and the less costly ones too. Which might, after all, do the job. With the right techniques.
(Do I ever get this kind of service? a personal escort? right to the shelf? when shopping for housewares?? Uhhhhhmmmmmmmm, no. Maybe not!!).
And then, she realized.
I wasn't just standing there. I was WITH HIM.
I pretended (very kindly indeed) not to notice her dawning realization. I smiled sweetly. I listened as her ironing advice lost its steam.
Husband (who is very modest. And very focused on the acquisition of his new iron) really did not notice. Until I clued him in, privately, after we were back in our car.
Well, we've got a new iron. Just like the old one. For a good price, too: turned out it was marked down.
And yup: we did enjoy the iron-y. Part two.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Don't read a word of this if you have the Martha Stewart gene: it's a shocking revelation!
But I don't -- not even the Betty Crocker variant -- and here in Canada we're celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend. So as I was running around the supermarket picking up my Thanksgiving groceries, and watching all the other ladies (mostly) getting theirs and looking harassed and consulting complicated lists (canned deep fried onion rings, sour cream, whipping cream, cream cheese -- there is a theme developing here) -- I thought about how much I've changed my own approach to holiday feast-making over the years. And also thought a bit about the blogs I'm already seeing from SP friends worried about weight gain during the Thanksgiving to New Year's season coming up. Because they know they're going to be cooking -- that traditional green bean and onion ring casserole which is long on fat and short on green beans, for example -- and they know they're going to be eating -- and they know it's going to be tough to resist -- and yet if we don't do it, where's the tradition?? How can anyone be adequately thankful unless there are marshmallows on top of their yams?
Most of the time I eat pretty much the same stuff: breakfast is either yogourt and fresh berries or a variation on an oatmeal theme -- occasionally a cold cereal. Lunch is almost always a giant salad with a lean protein source plus chopped fresh fruit. Dinner most days is a bowlful of soup nuked in the micro from this week's big pot in the fridge, and some nuts, maybe some cheese, and maybe a low cal hot chocolate for "dessert". Never never never get tired of this routine -- the variety is in the range of vegetables and the range of fruits and the colours and textures and salad dressings and soup spices -- but I obviously am not doing much cooking on a day to day basis.
I CAN cook -- used to do reasonably competent multi-course dinner parties -- even won the grade nine Home Economics prize! Which makes people who know me now yelp with laughter.
I did diligently cook when my kids were little and needed me to do that for them. Yes, I did!
But I don't LIKE to cook. And that is in large part because I know that the more time I spend in the kitchen, the more likely I am to eat to excess.
Holiday feasts for the family, then, could be handled in any one of several ways to accommodate my "not wanting to cook much".
We could go to a restaurant -- but that's not very "family" or "festive": we have lived here for 23 years now, we love our shabby old house and all of us want to be at home.
We could have the holiday feast catered -- but that's going to be expensive, means that we have to be here at a set time when the meal has been ordered to arrive, and it means us knowing someone else isn't going to be enjoying the holiday day with their own family (even if it IS their business). Catered-in won't result in nice cooking smells throughout the house, it feels too fancy rather than "family": and there won't be any left overs.
Pot luck isn't going to work for me yet -- all our parents have passed away, our own kids are adult but not launched with their own kitchens just yet, and we have relatively few relatives close at hand whom we could inveigle to bring stuff along . . .
So my option of choice for quite a few years has been "pre-fab" . Custom pre-fab, of course, with a few judicious mix-ins.
Appetizers: frozen hors d'oeuvres. Yummy, bake up in the toaster oven since the big oven will be full. Huge variety to choose among (just not too many for me of these: they tend to be high cal). And a defrosted shrimp ring with seafood sauce -- yummy AND low cal.
Butternut squash soup: Imagine brand in the carton is terrific -- might add a bit of nutmeg, or maybe some curry powder. Easy.
Main meal deal: Pre-stuffed frozen turkey, a totally amazing invention which only requires me to peel off the wrapper and throw it in the oven: doesn't seem to dry out because it's also pre-basted. Tastes better than if I make my "own" stuffing and plunge my hands into the turkey's guts -- which I hate -- because I don't actually eat much meat. Canned whole berry cranberry sauce with maybe a little fresh grated orange peel, maybe fresh grated ginger. Sous vide mashed potatoes in the bag -- so easy to mix in a little extra seasoning to "customize" them too: butter, chives, etc. Ditto canned turkey gravy: much improved with a shot of sherry, a bit of sage and fresh ground black pepper. Veggies: not much trouble to steam some fresh broccoli, some baby carrots, dress'em up with a little sweet red bell pepper for colour. Nothing wrong with frozen corn, either . . . That's green, orange, red, yellow: it's looking harvesty!!
Dessert: nobody at my place likes pumpkin pie so why bother. If your family does, it's pretty subversive to buy an unbaked frozen one, let the crust thaw a tiny bit, slide it out of the foil pan into one of your own seasonal pottery pie plates AND -- here's the diabolical touch -- pinch the crust all the way around into your own fancy pattern with your very own thumbprints! What could be more individual and caring than that?? (And yup, I've done it).
But for this year I bought a very small (for tiny portions) very very rich (and OK, expensive) chocolate caramel truffle cake from the bakery-- will dress it up with a little fresh fruit, raspberries and blackberries -- or ice cream if anyone wants that ---
And there it is! Holiday dinner all made, least possible fuss for me, least possible time in the kitchen "tasting" a bit of this and a bit of that (none of the tastes calorie free) -- greatest possible time instead to take a long walk through the gorgeous crunchy leaves with my golden retriever and any other family members who can be persuaded to join me!
Holidays are all about tradition, right? And "pre-fab, less flab" is - it has become -- my very own, highly cherished tradition. I commend it to you for your careful consideration!
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