Guys, can we not?

90shair

Everything old is new again.

My hair is a mess. It hasn’t been trimmed in way too long, and after this summer the ends are frizzy, it’s HEAVY (I have super thick, wavy hair), it’s coarse, and I’ve found more than a couple of gray hairs this summer. Not cool. I need change.

While searching for hairstyles, I came across not only several new iterations of “The Rachel”, but also discovered that mini buns, scrunchies, and even those tiny butterfly clips are also back in style. I know now exactly how my mom’s generation felt when we liked to wear our “flares”…a mix of jealousy that these silly hairstyles look semi-attractive on young females and also a little “oh, bless your heart”. Because…no.

It’s not as cute as you think it is, I promise.

I’m much less interested in hippie flower child style coming back. I want to see 40’s and 50’s style come back. Flare skirts and victory rolls. Trim dresses with low heels and structured handbags (Ladylike Taylor Swift had this going on until she did that weird platinum-blond, trashy choker goth lipstick look). This is the style I dream of, although of course I wear the loose flow-y crap because it’s comfortable.

Let’s be honest, I dream of the real 90’s: yoga pants and sports bras. First thing that happens when I get home!

BTW, I’m going for a lob. Basically the same haircut I always get with some minor variation. (I’m not as cool/edgy as these girls. Mine will probably be more like “low maintenance mom lob”.)wavy-lob-hairstyles-with-highlights

I’ll update with before/afters when I’m done, maybe. Mostly I’m just happy for a scalp massage, a glass of wine, and no more frizzy ends.

Hopefully it will motivate me to do what I really need to be setting appointments for: a new anti-depressant with my Primary Doc and an eye appt. But those are boring, and they don’t give me scalp massages. Or wine.

What the do what now?

venus

I must take a moment to address something that has frankly been bugging the mess out of me for the past couple of weeks.

It’s the sudden influx of Veganism on my Facebook page, by several friends who have recently watched the Netflix documentary “What the Health”. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. If not, can I join you under the rock?

Now, I’m not arguing against going Vegan, or introducing more plant-based foods into your diet. That is not an issue. You do you, and I will be the first to admit that my family needs to eat more plants. We’re working on it. (In fact, dinner tonight is a vegan roasted veggie, chickpea, and turmeric rice bowl!) My favorite article that I read in my research advocates a more plant-heavy diet for health reasons. However, I am shocked at the sheer number of my friends-list (and their friends) that use both this film and the team’s previous film “Cowspiracy” to back up their veganism. As I watched it (with my admittedly cynical eyes), red flags went shooting up everywhere. I was on my phone looking for their sources within minutes of the credits, and again the next day.

So, if you are interested, I’ve gathered some interesting pieces debunking some of the claims made in both films below. I was careful to find sources with expertise in the area of food health and environmentalism, with sources that run the gamut from a Vegan Liberal Socialist to Registered Dietician to NGO Scientist to Paleo expert biologist. I just want you to be aware that if a film is using scare tactics and incendiary claims to support it’s theories, then it is probably too good (or too damning) to be true. And that lobbyists and propaganda exist in EVERY corner of life, and their job is to influence your decision making to align with their agenda. Go vegan because you truly feel it’s the best route for your health. Go vegan if YOU feel better eating a plant-based diet. Just don’t go vegan because 5 vegans made a movie that claim the world is ending because “cows”.

Danny Chivers, Socialist nutjob, but still.

Greenpeace’s response to Cowspiracy’s Insinuations

Union of Concerned Scientists (Actual Science NGO)

Robb Wolf, Paleo Advocate and Research Biologist

Stacey Mattinson, BS and MS Nutrition, RDN, LD (My fave)

As a native North Carolinian, I also feel that I need to address a particularly flameworthy claim made by What the Health regarding pig farmers in NC. The claim is that pig farmers intentionally targeted poor and primarily African American neighborhoods in Eastern NC so as to prevent literal “hogwash” from our cushy white people’s yards. Now, while I don’t discredit the research that shows that the waste lagoons in NC are harmful to humans and the environment, I want to point out a few things that the film leaves out.

First, the 4000 open waste lagoons still in operation are from before 1997. No new waste lagoons have been permitted since 20 years ago the state passed a law disallowing new construction for any hog farm using this as a form of waste disposal. Do we all wish the hog farmers would start using new methods at the farms with existing lagoons? Of course. But the fact of the matter is that Eastern NC is one of the poorest areas of the country. The extra expense in converting their methods would both put the few smaller family farms we have in NC out of business, eliminating much-needed jobs (especially migrant worker program jobs) as well as make the price of pork products skyrocket in an area where families depend on cheap proteins to feed their families. I’m not saying there aren’t solutions, but I am saying that we all have to research and weigh all of the facts in an issue instead of blindly accepting the first opinion that seems plausible enough.

Second, I want to point out a missing timeline about the growth of the Hog Farm industry in NC. Hog farming is a fairly new, replacement industry in Eastern NC. In the 80’s and 90’s, as tobacco farming became no longer financially viable, former tobacco farmers either turned to raising livestock themselves or rented their unused land out to local hog farmers who were outgrowing their own space. So, while I fully agree that the practice disparagingly affects African Americans, I bristle at the filmmakers’ claims that this was an intentional positioning to target African American communities. That is a huge leap, and a socially irresponsible one to make. But, this is the same guy who insinuated that Greenpeace was being paid off by animal producer lobbyists with literally ZERO proof, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

If you want to see some terrific investigative work on the rise of hog farming in NC and the damage it’s causing, this is a fantastic article. Whole Hog – Pulled Apart

I guess I just want anyone who reads this to go into their future documentary-viewing with both eyes wide open. Like the internet, you can’t trust everything you read or see. There is a big difference between cherry-picking “facts” from studies that support the theories you’ve already developed, which is what a documentary filmmaker being funded by a Vegan activism group would do…or producing an actual research-based study with a control group, and drawing conclusions after the data has been complied, which is what Scientists do.

Trust the Scientists. Unless you still believe that Jenny McCarthy was right about vaccines causing autism. Because clearly if you haven’t debunked that for yourself yet, then you are an idiot and actual science doesn’t matter.

 

Recipe Tuesday: Italian Sausage, Bean, and Egg Bake

baked-eggs-sausage

This recipe came to me just yesterday, so it’s hot off the press! Sitting at my desk at work at 2PM, trying to think of what to cook to get back into the swing of meal planning and Weight Watchers after vacations and busy summer funtime, and I thought about the can of garbanzo beans sitting in my pantry and what I could possibly do with it. Funny that I ended up not even using it, which goes to show the incredible versatility of this dish. Experiment with what you have, and make it to your family’s preference. (For instance, I meant to include diced onion but found I didn’t have any when I arrived home.)

I knew I wouldn’t be home until almost 6:30PM, and I knew I wanted to go have a porch-sit with my best friend, who is leaving to go back to Japan tomorrow. So I knew the kids need to be fed and in bed by 8PM! Luckily, we had some leftover Italian sausage from a recipe we made this weekend. I decided this would make a great “almost meatless” Monday dinner for my family. It was a HUGE hit (and even better for lunch the next day). I’m so full from the hearty meal, which clocks in at only 7 WW SmartPoints. I included nutrition info at the bottom.*

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped or minced depending on preference)

1/2 lb bulk Italian pork sausage

1 can Great Northern Beans (also called cannellini or white kidney), rinsed and drained

1 cup roughly chopped Spinach, kale, arugula, or combo of greens

1 cup crushed tomatoes

5 eggs (reserve one for your leftovers)

Optional: warm crusty bread! (Adds 2 Smart Points) Grated parmesan (adds 2 SP as well)

Begin by heating a little oil in your pan on medium heat. Normally I would recommend a trusty Lodge Cast Iron skillet for this meal, but the acid in the tomatoes creates a bad reaction with cast iron, so I used my large saute` pan.

Add your garlic to the pan, stir, and let it simmer for a few minutes (add onions too if you are using them, or any other aromatic veggies). Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Add the sausage and break it up with your spoon/spatula so that it cooks evenly. Once it’s almost completely browned (about 3-5 minutes), add the greenery. Stir and let cook for 1-2 minutes as greens begin to wilt.

Add tomato sauce, stir, and let simmer to cook down about 5 minutes.

Add beans, stir. I like to break the beans up as I stir just a bit, but that’s personal preference. Some people like to try to keep their beans whole. Since they’re already cooked, if you want to keep them whole, wait until just before you are ready to stick the pan in the oven to add and stir.

Crack your eggs one at the time over your dish, spacing evenly. If you feel uncomfortable with this, you can also poach them separately to top your dish with later. I personally completely screwed up my eggs last night, so I’ll keep trying to get my perfectly pan-poached eggs right in this dish. Put the whole pan in the oven, and it should take about 7 minutes for your eggs to set. Hopefully you still have some runny yolk!

After this, it’s easy. You should have a delicious ragu-like texture in your pan…use a large spoon to dish up 4 servings. The eggs make a terrific guide of how “big” a serving you need. Serve with crusty bread. Top with grated parmesan. Eat and enjoy! You should have just enough bean leftovers to dish yourself up a lunch for tomorrow. I just topped mine with the egg in the morning, microwaved it at lunch, and it was possibly even better than the night before. I cannot wait to experiment with this dish and try other veggies and combos.

All that filling flavor, and it only clocks in at the following per serving:

258 Calories, 14g Fat (3g Sat), 14g Carbs, 4g Fiber, 18g Protein, 614mg Sodium, and 211mg Cholesterol

*I am no dietician or nutrition expert. I cannot vouch for my numbers here except to say that I used a calculator to the best of my abilities. Here is the link if you want to learn how, or do it with your own ingredients. Tufts Meal Calculator Guide

 

 

 

“Kitchen Sink” Recipe Tuesday: Black Bean Salad with Avocado and Shrimp

Black beans are a terrific food for anyone’s diet, but especially beneficial to those of us trying to lose weight healthfully. Black Beans are Good!black-beans-nutrition-image-2

A black bean salad without corn is a travesty, right? It’s corn season in NC, after all. Well, I made this salad back on Father’s Day and we didn’t have corn. (Or, I forgot to grill it first so we had corn but it sat in my fridge neglected during the making of this dish.)

The original side dish I made did not have avocado or shrimp, so the next morning I diced an avocado and threw that, some little salad shrimp (not the best but in a pinch it does OK) and extra lime juice in and I had my healthy lunch ready.

Now, because my recipes are always based on “what’s on hand”, feel free to omit or add any veggies you wish. All veggies were diced very small for this dish, and I used the pre-minced garlic that you can find in a jar in the vegetable aisle. I also have a toddler, and a picky-ish 7 year old, so my veggies are small mostly for their benefit. No harm in a rough chop if you like crunchy raw veggies.

1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of “extra” veggies, small diced: radish, celery, onion, garlic, carrots, red bell pepper, poblano peppers were the “original”

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters

1/4 cup chopped herbs: cilantro and/or parsley are great

1/2 T olive oil

1/4 lime juice

1/2 teaspoon cumin

salt and pepper to taste

This is basically a no-effort recipe if you are decently comfortable with a knife. It’s a chop, dress, and toss kind of dish. I really have no instructions, other than to try it. If you are going to add corn, I highly recommend grilling it first…it will add a nice smoky sweetness. You can also add a little smoked paprika to this. Enjoy with your next burger night, and replace your Fries with sweet potato wedges for a healthy, filling, satisfying meal!

 

Powering Through

yogajoes

Yoga is an “easy” workout, right?

No.

I’ve done yoga a few times, including super high-energy Buti Yoga (google it, it’s amazing) and for the most part, been able to get it done without looking like a complete idiot. I grew up twirling baton, dancing, and doing winterguard so I’ve always had great flexibility and balance.

But, you know, gaining 100 pounds or so changes things.

I can still touch my toes, I can still put my nose to my knees (even if my belly is squished uncomfortably between the two and my boobs are literally smothering my chin), and I’m still surprisingly flexible “for a fat chick”. But trust me when I say, I’m not doing a split anytime soon. And the biggest change I’ve noticed is my lack of cardio ability. As in, completely nonexistent. Part of the reason I want to change my body is not because I’m embarrassed at how I look (I do get those feelings sometimes, but honestly, ain’t nobody got time for that)…it’s because I have 7 and 2 year old little boys who want to run around the yard and wrestle with me and toss baseballs and footballs at my face, and I NEED to be able to do those things with them without feeling like I’m going to pass out face down in the grass.

I know that exercise has to be a component of any weight loss plan, especially when it involves improving your cardiovascular health. But y’all, I live in NC. And it’s July. Just walking outside in the 90 degree heat with 90 degree humidity is enough to make this body (and face) sweaty and out of breath. To people who say, “just start walking every night”, I just say:

Michael-What-the-office-10400786-400-226.gif

So, that brings me to my birthday money. Due to some very generous family members, I get a mini-windfall (to me, that’s pretty much anything over $50 meant to spend on myself) and I get excited each year planning what I want to buy with it. This year, I spent the first $20 on a series of Yoga classes at my community center. As I’ve said, I’m not a complete Yoga novice. I’ve taken a class here and there, and took a wonderful pre-natal Yoga class during my second pregnancy that I highly recommend to any pregnant lady, especially one hoping to have a natural or VBAC birth. So I got some moves. And I am Christian in faith, but can appreciate the way that the meditation components of yoga connect me to myself and shut the other stresses of the world out for a little bit.

But yesterday’s class made me realize just how much damage I have done to my body over the past few years. I can do a downward dog, but pretty much everything else we did, especially as we got into the “flow”, I had to modify or take frequent breaks. And this was not a hard class. There were 3 of us who were young 30’s to middle age, and 3 who were closer to 50’s+ retirees. It sucks to be the biggest person, at the back of the class, unable to hold a position or even complete a flow while everyone else seemed to be doing fine. I don’t get embarrassed easily, but for a moment yesterday morning, it broke me. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, my clothes in disarray and exposing my mid-section, and the tears just came to the surface. I actually thought of just running out mid-practice, and I did step away to get some water and wipe my face.

But then I came back. And I pushed through it, and I focused on the feeling that I was doing nothing but making my body stronger, one little pose at the time. By the end of the class, when we had time to lie there and connect with our minds and push the rest away, I felt calmed. I felt victorious. And I felt like I could continue to make little steps towards finding the body I am supposed to have instead of the one I’ve created for myself through negativity.

All the cliches are true: you don’t gain the weight overnight, so you can’t lose it overnight. It takes hard work, perseverance, dedication, and celebrating little victories. Today, I will reward myself with a new shirt that makes me feel good, instead of food. And tomorrow, I will take a little more of my birthday money and buy a 15-visit pass to my local pool, and MAKE the time to get back to doing my first exercise love at least once a week: swimming.

Risotto Made Easy

246711

OKAY. As promised (to the 3 friends who currently read my little blog), my first recipe post. I apologize in advance for A) the unorthodox style of my recipe writing and B) the fact that this isn’t a Weight Watchers or even a particularly healthy recipe. It is clean, whole foods-based, and delicious, however, and it will hopefully either demystify what some claim to be a really difficult dish to master, or give you some new ideas to break out of your “lemon-pea-parsley” risotto rut.

The fact of the matter is that risotto is not simply an Italian comfort food, but serves as a fantastic one-pot meal with Southern influence in my family. Arborio rice is a pantry staple of mine, and I rarely “plan” to make risotto for dinner. It’s usually out of a “hmm…these veggies are going to go bad if I don’t use them soon” kind of observation, or when I realize that all of my reliable proteins are frozen and I don’t feel like defrosting. As long as I have Arborio rice, stock, and wine (and rarely am I out of any of those), I can throw together a risotto. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not even that labor intensive, and since you do have to stay nearby to check your progress, it’s a great weeknight meal because you can clean your kitchen while you are cooking. When you are done it’s one pot, and however many bowls and spoons as there are people in your family. BOOM!

So, before we begin: here are my keys to risotto success.

  • Rice is important. Arborio, specifically. I don’t trust people that make risotto out of barley or quinoa or whatever else buzz-grain is around at the moment. Don’t do it! (Sidenote: there are other varieties of traditional Italian rice that are more difficult to find like Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, but I haven’t gone out of my way to find them so I stick with Arborio.)
  • Warm your stock. This was the one true key to making a more perfect and authentic version of risotto for me. Having your stock at the same temp also lessons the time it takes your rice to absorb it.
  • Equipment is personal preference. I use a Dutch oven and a Bamboo spoon similar to the traditional wooden spoon with a hole in it. A wider bottom is preferable over a narrow, deep well.
  • WINE. Because everything is better with wine.
  • Follow the method: fat, rice, aromatics, wine, stock, stock, stock, other veggies, remove, cheese, top, serve.

Beyond that, this is a simple base recipe for preparing risotto in general, with some of my more successful “twists” below to give you inspiration. I highly encourage you to do as I do, though, and clean out your vegetable drawer, use the herbs in your garden, and have fun!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup dry arborio rice

1 T Olive Oil (other fat ideas: butter, bacon grease, etc.)

Finely diced/chopped Aromatics (some combo of garlic, onion, shallots, celery, carrots, etc.) I guess you want this to be somewhere b/t .5-1 cups

A cup-ish of wine (traditionally white***)

16-32 Oz of stock/broth (chicken is my standard, but veggie and beef work. I normally heat the whole 32oz carton)

1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese (traditionally, you can get creative here, too)

Step one: put your stock in a pot on the stove, bring it up to a quick simmer, then dial the heat down to 2-3 to keep it warm.

Step two: heat your “fat” in a dutch oven over medium heat (if using meat fats, slowly render 1-2 slices of bacon or other fatty meats in your pot first, then remove them to a plate).

Step three: pour in your rice, stir to coat with the fat, and let it simmer for just a moment.

Step four: add the aromatics to the party, stir to coat, and keep your heat on the low side of medium. Let cook for a few minutes (the onions are a good thing to watch here, once they are translucent, you are good). If you use dried herbs, this is where to add them.

Step five: WINE TIME! Pour it in, stir, and then let it simmer until mostly evaporated.

Step six: Once your wine is mostly absorbed, begin adding your stock. I use a large soup ladle, and add 1-2 ladles in the beginning and 2-3 towards the end of cooking. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t HAVE to stir constantly to get good risotto. You just want to give it a good stir when you add liquid to help it “spread” in the pot and cook more evenly. After that, you can go about your kitchen business and keep an eye out, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Once you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir, you are ready to add more liquid. It’s a feeling thing…you want it to be not soup, but not mac-and-cheese gluey, either. Taste it as you go along and get the firmness of the rice that you want. Obviously, you don’t want it to be hard or crunchy.

Step middle-of-six: add optional veggies. Popular here for easy weeknight recipes are mushrooms and green peas. They will cook beautifully in the time you have. To go more complicated than that (think asparagus or butternut squash), you want to pre-cook (blanch the asparagus, or parboil cubes of squash) your veggies so that they don’t release too much water into your risotto and become gluey.

Step eight: remove from heat. Add cheese and/or butter. Parmesan is traditional, but this is another cool place ripe for experimentation. Stir to combine, and serve, topping with fresh herbs, pepper, and /or any of those delicious fats your rendered in the first place.

And that’s it! Creamy deliciousness on a plate, or in a wide flat bowl as preferred at my house. Here are some unorthodox combos that my family has raved about recently.

***Bacon and Beet risotto. This came about one night when I really, really wanted risotto but only had red wine. I scoured my kitchen and thought…hmmm…why CAN’T you make risotto with a nice Carignan? While I’m sure there are purists who scoff, I think it’s pretty genius. I had beets. Beets are going to turn it red anyway, right? Voila! I roasted my beets ahead of time, started with bacon as my fat, and subbed red wine for white. My beets were then cubed and added towards the last steps of broth time. Even my 7 year old loves this version. I also sometimes wash and cut my beet greens, and add those in as well.

IMG_6999-1024x682

Last night’s Country Proscuitto and Leek version was a hit with my husband: we had some Prosciutto made in the NC mountains (ie: a cross b/t traditional Italian bacon and straight up salty country ham). I rendered that and removed it, proceeded with every member of the albom family I could find (garlic, shallots, leeks, onions), and added a bit of goat cheese with the Parmesan at the end. I topped it with the crunchy pieces of ham and a chiffonade of basil that I GREW MY OWN DAMN SELF. Like NC on a plate.

My favorite combo is the fall one: leeks, mushrooms, and butternut squash. Pure deliciousness on a plate.

Now you make a version and tell me what you put in your risotto!

 

 

 

Seriously, Just do it!

Friday was my 38th Birthday. Already, it felt so much better than last year, which I mostly spent feeling sorry for myself. For what, I cannot remember, except depression. I was in a funk, thought no one remembered or cared, and just did everything I could to make myself miserable at everyone else’s expense. I’ve had other years like that, and I have no explanation for it except to just move on and accept that I’m going to be weird sometimes.

This year, I embraced the “I’m older, and I don’t give AF” (as the kids say) attitude. I asked my mama to keep the kids, and my husband took me out for fancy food, once of my greatest pleasures. I ordered my bottle of wine in French, embarrassing the waiter who clearly did not speak French and just asked me to point to it. They were out of the bottle (the wine list was literally 20 pages) but instead of being salty (as the kids say) I ordered myself a glass of rose` and let my husband pick his own wine. Then I had a tremendous glass of Cab Franc from the Loire Valley with my dinner, full of tropical and floral notes. It was heaven in a glass. Until I ordered a Bourbon with dessert, something I have never permitted myself to indulge in. If you are wondering, I am not typically a Bourbon woman, but it just felt right, and after doing a little research this weekend I learned that I made an expert pick for a novice Bourbon drinker wanting to try a neat that didn’t burn all the way down: Basil Hayden.

But back to what I wanted to write about…I am totally “that mom”. The one that is sad when her kids no longer need help on the playground. The one that is a little peeved when she can no longer join her kids on the bouncy equipment. The one that is the first one running around in the ocean, playing some ridiculous toss game with a 7 year old and crawling around a tide pool with a 2 year old on her back, despite the massive wedgie her swimsuit is making (true story). The Monday before my birthday, I was the mom on the water slides with her kids. And on Friday, I was the obese-mom-on-skates at her son’s ice-skating camp. Despite not being on ice skates for close to 20 years, despite outweighing the other moms watching their kids by AN ENTIRE PERSON, and despite the pain my feet were taking from way too tight hockey skates, I was the *ONLY* parent out there, shuffling around, trying not to cling to the wall or fall over, taking advantage of a free 30-minute skate with my kid. (I didn’t fall, by the way, but I also couldn’t muster the courage to do a hockey-stop.)

I don’t understand these other moms. I don’t get why you would pay to go to a water park just to park yourself under an umbrella and watch. I can understand why a tired, late-30’s mom of 2 or 3 young kids needs to spend some time resting or reading under her canopy on the beach while the kids play, because we’re ALL tired, especially after carrying a 30-pound toddler on my back for a quarter mile hike from the car to the sand, dragging the cooler behind me. But I don’t understand the mom in front of me last weekend who literally moved out of her beach chair only twice during the 3 hours her kids played with their dad, and never set foot in the ocean. I’m out there huffing and puffing, out of breath, making a general mockery of myself and showing everyone my nearly non-existent fitness level, and NOT CARING. AT ALL.

So, I will gladly be the biggest mom on the waterslide, or on the beach, or hiking up that mountain, or out there on ice skates, because Damn it, that’s about all I’ve got left in this body as it is and I’m not letting go of it. I don’t care what I look like to other people. I’m sure some are thinking, “wow, I can’t believe she’s out there in front of everyone, how embarrassing”. But mostly I hope people are thinking, “wow, look at how much fun she’s having with her kids…if she can do it, I can!”

To return to French, this year on July 7, and hopefully for the rest of the summer, I will be that mom, the one with the “joie de vivre”.