Tag Archives: Health

Three S’s for 2016

Okay. Yes. I made New Year’s “resolutions.” But no, they are not aimed at losing weight or making money. Instead, I set intentions for myself in the new year. The idea came after a bout of anxiety in the final months of 2015. Folks who, like me, are prone to periods of anxiety never know when they’re going to strike. But it’s captured quite well in this internet meme.

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My initial sneaky trigger last fall was a worry about my son Eric and illness. Think the usual worries most moms feel, multiplied by … a lot. Soon, the Paris attacks happened, and the negativity and anger that surfaced afterwards were deeply upsetting. I started a blog post about it and simply couldn’t finish it. My husband David was also travelling overseas a lot in those weeks, and I was in a state of constant fear for his safety. It was all just a little too much.

I went into a bit of a personal hibernation (despite the abnormally mild start to the winter) in which I was just productive and present enough in the daily wife & mom grind, but rendered pretty powerless in most other respects. I rallied and cheered up for the holidays, yet the start of the new year still found me feeling more than a little bit vulnerable.

So I set three intentions for 2016. Coincidentally, they all start with the letter S.

The first one is self-care. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: It’s often hard for moms to take time for ourselves. Even when you’re at home, like me, the time your kid is in school can easily be spent dealing with family and household stuff. Add to that a lot of stressful stress, and toward the end of the year, I wasn’t writing or seeing friends or going to yoga class. I was barely exercising, and wasn’t even reading much. I thought of returning to New York City, a hugely re-energizing solo trip I’ve made every February since 2012, but then wondered if I could justify it, since I’ve finished my novel set in the City. I usually know better than to be a martyr mom or to draw all identity or worth from parenting, but it’s such an easy place to hide when feeling emotionally lousy, that I found myself using family as the excuse for everything I simply had to or couldn’t do.

newyearssunset

On the second day of 2016, David and I watched the sunset off the West coast of Puerto Rico, and talked about what self-care means to me.

Thankfully, my knowing better caught up with me, as it usually does. And I realized I was in woeful need of some serious self-care. For me, it starts with taking time for myself without feeling guilty about it, or trying not to … baby steps, you know. Time for my writing, for reading, for exercise, for personal space and quietude. It’s eating right, and while I’m on the subject of what I take in, also learning to discern amongst the many —many— thoughts that enter my head. I mean, I can be discriminating about food but then accept every wild and crazy thought (and I have some real doozies) that assaults my mind like it carries a truth about me and my world? Uh, no. Right?

My self-care also entails saying no to things I’ve been accepting, which compromise who I am and my values. When I was in the throes of some internal struggles right around New Year’s, I came across this beautiful article. The highlight:

“The sapling doesn’t look to its elders for approval. It just grows toward the light … it all comes down to how each of us dares to say no when asked to be other than who we are.”

It can be hard to say no, but sometimes there’s too much at stake not to. I’m talking here about no as a complete sentence, without apologizing for it. And oh — yes, I am going back to New York City this month!

emptycup

Clichéd but true.

My second intention with the letter S has to do with my relationship with the concept of should. Because come on, think about it. If you’re anything like me, you obsess over what you should be like. And over how someone else should be behaving (usually someone who’s pissing you off). Or exactly what a given scenario should be, look, and feel like. Frankly, I am exhausted! The thing about should is, it conjures expectations. Obviously, right? And I don’t know about you, but I could seriously use a reality check on expectations, and a firm, honest sense of what I can and can’t control.

Which brings me to my third and final S, the Serenity Prayer.

SerenityPrayer.jpg-600x600

I think of the term change in this prayer as closely paralleling control. Iyanla Vanzant says that the greatest human addiction is the addiction to control. That we fear what we can’t control, and since we don’t want to be in fear, we try to control, control, control. Something like that. Though I may not be in a 12-step program for substance abuse, I must honestly confess that I have been addicted to control, in one form or another, my entire adult life. And it has been at the heart of So! Much! Needless! Suffering! I suspect I’m not alone in this. Enough, please.

Among the many reflections I’ve made on aging and life since turning 40 recently, maybe the most important lesson learned is, growing pains never really end. And at the same time, growth is always worth it. So, time to grow up, like the sapling, toward the light. Time to say no when it matters. Time to seek wisdom about what I can and can’t control. To embrace acceptance when something’s out of my hands, and courage when I do have power over it. Most times, the only thing I’ll be able to control is the story I choose to tell myself about what’s happening within and around me. And maybe, that’s power enough.

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Food lovers’ food fight

In September of 2010, our son was 6 months old when his first little tooth was starting to poke through. With the exception of a few weeks when my post-partum depression had been especially exquisite, and my husband David had to step in with formula a few times, our baby had been nursed exclusively throughout those first 6 months. We had been told that this was an appropriate age to start babies on solid foods. So, at our neighborhood Farmers’ Market one weekend, David and I bought a sweet potato to prepare for our sweet angel. I rinsed, peeled, cooked it until it was just tender, and pureed it. So exciting!

This was his reaction.

I can almost hear it, “What the hell, man?!”

Baby 1, Parents 0. Thus began our endeavor to feed our baby anything other than Mama’s milk. And then, one month in, with my mother in town, it just happened–Boom! Maybe she deployed a secret technique one evening that she was alone with him. All I know is, just like that, we went from the photo above to the one below. Baby 1, Parents 1. Win-Win! Then we couldn’t feed him fast enough.

What followed were several very happy months of experimenting and making him all sorts of food combos. When the time came for us to begin introducing our own foods to him, things started to change. Again. Maybe one mistake was to start him on bland and vaguely sweet stuff, per the recommendations of pediatricians and “experts” everywhere, before transitioning him to what we normally eat. It made enough sense to us at the time. We were rookie parents in this era of ever-increasing food allergies and unknown scary crap being put into our food. Now, I am convinced that folks who start their kids eating what the grownups eat from much earlier on have got it right.

That transition, in our case, has been an ongoing issue. When he was a baby, I had virtually no tolerance any time something new made him gag. Still, in fact. Is that so wrong? There were times when we probably gave up too quickly. I take responsibility for that. And four years in, enforcing that he eat something new or go to bed hungry is simply not happening; can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Having your child help with the food shopping and preparation to get him interested in different types of food? Done, and done. He loves food in an abstract sense. And he has been exposed to a much larger variety in types of food than either my husband or I ever were growing up. These enthusiasms have simply never, or very rarely, translated to an interest in eating the foods.

Helping Mama make breakfast for dinner (with awesome veggie sausages). Trimming green beans. Declaring that monkeys live in broccoli. (Monkeys live in trees, broccoli looks like trees, it stands to reason…)
The truth is there’s no telling how different things would be based on changing a few key elements in our approach 4 years ago. These days, there are certain things that our son eats with consistent regularity. Oatmeal, fruits of any kind (just don’t try to get him to eat kiwi, kiwi freaks him out!), other cereals, rice, raw carrots, garlic-roasted broccoli, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, milk, yogurt, pretzels, anything sweet. Foods that he eats with varying consistency include chicken (only when it’s been prepared by me at home), couscous, peppers, feta cheese, olives, tortilla chips, pancakes, hard-boiled eggs, beans.

My goal? To be able to go into a restaurant and order something for him other than rice. If it isn’t the type of place that serves rice (and forget pilaf or wild), everywhere else we go, we bring his food. To that end, I spent some time one weekend bribing him with Disney videos on my phone if he would eat the chicken nuggets we ordered for him.

Feel free to judge. All these years, I have taken such pride in the fact that no fried chicken tender/nugget had crossed his lips. Eh, I was over it; now I wanted him to eat the chicken tenders!

This is particularly ironic given how much my approach to eating and cooking has changed in recent years. Home-cooked non-(or minimally-)processed foods, and no meat other than fish–and the occasional bacon. Some examples:

Cream of vegetable soup. Roasting the veggies with garlic first makes it extra special.
I have made more salads at home in the past year than I did in my previous 37 years. Raw brussel sprouts? Radishes? Never made anything with them before this year.
Fish and veggies every week, usually more than once. Sometimes I fry the fish, when we have a hankering for Baja fish tacos.

I obviously love to prepare rich, sweet, indulgent stuff sometimes, too. Using real sugar, dairy, and gluten–no subsitutes. Yet still made from scratch.

Last Christmas.
Because yum.

So you see, we eat pretty well in our house. It’s not as though we are trying to get him to eat lima beans. Boiled cabbage. Hemp loaf. Cabbage or hemp in any incarnation, really. And he has been excited to help shop for and prepare the vast majority of the things in these photos. Will not try a single one–except for the sweet stuff.

I marvel any time a parent tells me their child eats “pretty much everything.” Okay. What I really marvel at is whenever I confirm that they are actually telling the truth when they say this. But I get it. My kid won’t even eat pizza, and odds are good that theirs does. Most picky eaters will eat at least one of the items typically featured on restaurants’ children’s menus. And I have seen with my own eyes some kids who really are wide open, easy eaters. Kudos to the parents. Or congratulations on lucking out? Don’t know.

Meanwhile, we have the first of several summer trips in less than a week. Road trip to Florida. And we will likely go everywhere with our loaf of bread, and jars of peanut butter and jelly. Maybe I’ll throw a jar of Nutella into the mix, for variety. Pretty sure he’d eat a Nutella sandwich! Just don’t tell our pediatrician. And David and I will bemoan the fact that we can’t just order spaghetti, pizza, or chicken tenders off the children’s menu for him. Ah well. Ultimately, though, I’ll still be glad that he’s not eating the “chicken” tenders, that he has no concept of McDonald’s, and that thus far we have been spared the slippery slope of our kid enjoying and craving fried junk foods.

It obviously isn’t about keeping score or who wins or loses. We want him to be healthy more than anything, and thankfully, he is. We also wouldn’t mind a little more practical ease when traveling and going to restaurants and birthday parties sometimes, that’s all. Just eat the pizza, kid! But if modeling behavior is the most important way to teach our children valuable habits, then I have to believe that eventually, our sweet, highly demanding and discriminating little angel-man will indeed eat a very wide variety of foods, just like his parents do. I’m prepared to wait it out. I mean, right … ?

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Mexican lasagna / Food blogger envy

 

 “Jealousy is a very ugly thing, Dorothy. And so are you in anything backless!”

(Image from Starstills.com)

 

This line is among my top-40 favorites from The Golden Girls, one of my top-3 favorite sitcoms of all time. I agree with Sophia, that jealousy is a very ugly thing. In fact, I was recently thinking about this when I was pondering the question, what makes people snarky? I may blog about that one soon. In the meantime, I truly believe that rare–and lucky–is the man or woman who can honestly say they don’t feel jealousy with some frequency in their day-to-day life. And because I am talking true honesty here, I will tell you that I too experience my fair share of jealousy. Ugh.

I am jealous of people who live in Paris, women with easy straight hair or thighs that don’t rub together when they walk, men’s ability to go to the bathroom within a wide and flexible array of contexts, people who can eat certain foods without getting heartburn. The thing is, though, there is only so much I can do about many of these things. And that’s if I even wanted to. I am not going to go out and straighten my hair because–hello!–that would cancel out the easy part. The last time I tried to go to the bathroom standing up (after spending a lot of time around my brother and our male cousins), I was about 4 or 5 years old and it didn’t go very well. But I know I have had, and will have, plenty of other lifetimes for that one, and meanwhile I quite like being a girl in this one. And my thighs are an issue that I take one day at a time.

I stumbled on a new trigger for my jealousy through my tireless online searches for new recipes or tips on reinventing old ones. My love of cooking runs deep and sometimes borders on compulsion. I don’t boast much high-brow sophistication in my cooking (or in anything else I do), but I do like to think that it is healthy and flavorful comfort food. So seeing all the food blogs out there was starting to make me a little jealous. This blog post is simply in the interest of my own happiness: I figure that if I can knock off one of my jealousy triggers, it should make me happy.
Here, then, is my recipe for Mexican lasagna. It is half-vegetarian (for me), with pieces of chicken breast on the other (husband’s) side.
Ingredients:
1  4oz. can of diced green chiles
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
8 oz. shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup dry black beans, cooked (or 1  15oz can)
2 cups corn kernels
6-8 small flour tortillas
vegetable oil (for frying the tortillas)
2 small or one large zucchini or yellow squash, cut into 1-inch half-moons
1 small onion or half of a large onion (about 1/2 cup sliced)
1 bunch cilantro (nothing against haters of cilantro who think it tastes like soap, other than, well, you’re so wrong)
1 pint (=2 cups) half and half
1 chicken breast (2 if using chicken throughout the entire casserole)
1/4 tsp thyme
salt and pepper
Optional: your favorite salsa
Use a 2-Qt rectangular baking dish
Where I cut corners: buying canned chiles. Ideally one would roast poblano peppers, then peel them, remove the seeds, and dice them up. The main reason why I chose not to, aside from time, is that so far I haven’t been very good at it. I also bought salsa rather than making my own (not that I don’t have a fabulous, foolproof salsa recipe) for this particular dish.
Another area for cutting corners was to use frozen corn. I love how fancy it looks to cut the kernels off of ears of corn, and it’s awesome for when fresh corn is in season and you don’t mind having corn flying all over your kitchen. Using (thawed) frozen corn is pretty decent too, that’s all.
Areas where I did not cut corners: I like to start with dry beans and cook my own rather than use a can of beans. Three main reasons. 1) It is a lot cheaper. 2) I have often gagged when opening a can of beans and seeing that slimy goo that they have been sitting in. 3) This way I have a lot more control over the texture and flavor. I just cook about 1/2 cup of dry beans with half an onion, some of the same cilantro I bought for the recipe, and a bay leaf, with salt added toward the end.
I also grate my own cheese. It is significantly cheaper, and I do think there is a difference in freshness.
Cooking instructions:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan, and sauté onions for a few minutes. Add the cooked beans, the chiles, and the zucchini, with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook until the zucchini just starts to get tender.
Melt the other 2 tablespoons of butter in a different pan. Sauté the garlic for about one minute, then add the corn, thyme, and 1/2 salt, plus another pinch of pepper.
When everything is combined, stir in the half and half. Cook the mixture for about 5 minutes. Cool a bit, then transfer to a blender, and puree. Taste for salt and pepper, it may need a bit more. It will appear chunky and not completely smooth, because of the corn; that’s okay, trust me. This garlicky, creamy corn sauce is the key to the unique awesomeness of this dish.
Roast the chicken breast for the meat-eater(s) in your family. Then shred or cube up the chicken.
Fry the tortillas for about 30 seconds on each side. This makes them more manageable. And very importantly, it makes them puff up, which provides an incredibly rich layer in the lasagna that I find similar to pastry. It’s that good. A cumbersome step, to be sure, but so, so worth it.
Begin the layering! First, spread 1/4 of the corn cream sauce on the bottom of the dish (see how it’s lumpy?).
 Add one layer of tortillas. You will need to cut some up to make them fit.
Layer half of the zucchini/bean/chiles mixture across the dish. Add half the chicken on one side of the dish.
Add a third of the shredded cheese, and chopped cilantro (about 2 tablespoons).
Repeat process: 1/4 sauce, tortillas, the 2nd half of the zucchini/beans & chicken*, 1/3 cheese and cilantro.
*Important note: If, like me, you feel strongly about keeping half of it vegetarian, make sure you keep the chicken on the same side of the dish during the second round of layering!
Add another 1/4 of the sauce and one more layer of tortillas. Top with the final 1/4 of the sauce, and the final 1/3 of cheese and cilantro (I added some cheddar at the end because cheddar is my husband’s favorite and it was his birthday.)
As with most of my cooking, I prepare this in the morning, then keep it in the fridge until dinner time. Then, I put it on a sheet pan (in case the cheese and sauce runneth over) and cook in a preheated 375 oven for about 20 minutes covered, 20-30 minutes uncovered until it’s bubbling and browned on top.
Hearty. Spicy. Yum. And dinner for easily two nights in my house. P.S. Yes, I forgot the salsa. It can add nice flavor and moisture, but really isn’t needed. The corn sauce, on the other hand …
Oh and we followed it up with this beauty.
Chocolate cake with pecans–pecans for the birthday boy, but on one side only for the kiddo who dislikes chunky nuts in his dessert; food segregation is quite important in our house!
I had vowed, after the holidays, to not bake a single thing in all of January–this was January. So this blog post could also be filed under “will I never learn?” I had good reason, though. We were snowed in and the man deserved birthday cake.
What’s my takeaway on jealousy? I believe like Iyanla Vanzant: “Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self.” It would be an impossible–and miserable–life if I was always trying to keep up with whatever makes me jealous about the perceived lives of others. But I have to say, writing this has made me very, very happy. Wow! The kind of “jealousy” that propels me to go after something that brings me joy? Yes, please, thank you. As for spending more, longer time in Paris? Timing is everything, and I am prepared to be patient.
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Never! Part 1

I am all for strong principles and values. I have many of them. Those close to me know that when I feel strongly about something–which is something that happens … all the time–I go on and on about it. Also? I can’t
imagine life without the magic of changing my mind. Here are some things I
vowed I would never do.

When I woke up this morning ready to publish this post, this was the message on my Louise Hay calendar.
 Wear Crocs. Sure, I still think there has never been an uglier shoe, but oh, how my feet love them! Own an iPhone; this one is still a very
new experience for me, and it’s growing on me, folks. Get married. Ha! I thought I could never live with a
boy; now I live with two.
Give up meat. Okay, I still eat fish and sometimes require bacon. Otherwise, no meat for me. I was the biggest eater of red meat you ever met. I make a mean chili and I am certain—sorry, West coast folks—that Five Guys makes a superior burger than In-N-Out. Trust me, I have sampled plenty of both. One of my favorite food quotes was by Julia Child: “I just hate health food.” During my one pregnancy, I developed a strong aversion to red meat, and I never
fully got over it later on. Added to that, it dawned on me that it’s up to me to set an example of health habits for my son. I also got this goofy idea that my body is worthy of reverence, and that treating it well entails being mindful of the foods I put in it, and living in harmony with the planet and all living things. It’s been a year and a half of yoga, meditation, and exercise, and now my favorite food quotes are by Michael Pollan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” (Not that I don’t still love Julia Child … although, did you know she was a hater of cilantro?!)
Case in point, I had made it 38 years on this bountiful
Earth without putting a single brussel sprout in my mouth, let alone trying to make one edible. Then I went and did this last week: a pound of brussel sprouts, and not a clue of what I was going to do with it. Oh, and my husband has always made it clear that he does not care for brussel sprouts. He blamed the impulse purchase on me watching too much Food Network; he’s probably right. But hey, I made this salad, and even he had seconds. Yum. Who knew. And the point is, never say never!
Perhaps my favorite lesson of this lifetime is the unlikely friendships I have found through simply being more open. I have met people whom I’ve rushed to write off as “too different.” And I have loved being wrong about them. Sure, I’ve been wrong about people in reverse, too. And that is perfectly okay. Because few things have made me happier in this life than my so-called “unlikely” friendships, or rediscovering old ones.On the subject of friendships, how can I not talk about Facebook? I swore left and right, never, ever. Ever! Some friends who knew of my reluctance now like to point out my newfound status as an avid user. I get it, it is funny. In fact, I’m still ambivalent about a lot of it. But I am also grateful for the chance to
keep in touch with people I care about through this most ubiquitous medium. It’s not going anywhere, and if I can’t beat ‘em …Some of my nevers remain pretty firm. I doubt that I will ever eat red meat again. Or that I will learn to ski or ice skate. Ever. It’s my firm belief that no self-respecting Puerto Rican has any business enjoying anything outdoors when it is cold and snowy. And I am pretty sure I will never see a Quentin Tarantino movie. Or anything like the movie The Departed, even though I actually love Martin Scorsese. Next time he makes a movie based on a
book by Edith Wharton, I’m the first one there.

All the things that fall in our I-vow-to-NEVER! category are an ultimate “other.” That so much of my life now consists of embracing so many things I once swore off is a joy I can’t quite articulate. It also makes thoughts of the future very, very exciting.

Because it’s Christmas Eve morning, here’s another first for me, which only happened yesterday: making English toffee. Me making English toffee? Please. I still haven’t found a proper Spanish translation for it. Where I come from, if there’s no coconut in it, a food can hardly qualify as a Christmas sweet. But my husband loves toffee and he loves pecans. And I love him! The best shot would probably have been one of my face of panic as it started to boil hard, and I kept stirring furiously while trying to read the temperature. Finally, I relaxed, after ditching the annoying thermometer and relying on my sense of getting the color right. I’ll tell you, folks, I think I nailed it! Happy Christmas Eve!

 

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