So, I've been thinking about food a lot lately. I've been looking for recipes of stuff to make because I'm really bored with the 6.5 things I know how to cook off the top of my head on auto-pilot without thinking about it, and I want to cook more, because I really do enjoy the making & the eating of food. I want to train myself to cook healthier and more balanced meals. I drink skim milk because it's what I'm used to and the other stuff doesn't taste good to me anymore, but I'm not scared of fat in my food anymore. I understand that oil and fat and butter and bacon and sugar have their place in the stuff I eat, but that place isn't front and center. Neither is it banished to a corner feeling guilty. I think that's my health goal--to remove guilt from food in general. And to cook food that I'm happy with because I like creating meals out of stuff that I bought. I don't enjoy the cleaning up afterwards, but I'll cross that bridge when I get there.
Also, lots of my friends are redefining their relationship with food, and telling me about it in their blogs. My sister PaleoJo is treating her whole body in a new way--she's joined CrossFit and is doing things I've never heard of, and completely reworked the way she eats. No grains, no diary, no sugar, in an oversimplified nutshell. While that sounds like torture to me, she's thriving, not starving or feeling deprived. The meals she's photographing look beautiful and colorful and delicious. And here's the important part--she's happy! She's feeding herself well, treating her body well, and she's happy. That's really great. That makes me happy to hear.
My sister B has been working hard for years to follow her passion, which is Highland Games--yeah, that Scottish thing where they throw big rocks and weights and try to flip things that look like telephone poles. And she's good at it. Really good. She travels all around the country to compete, and when she's home, she's working hard to get better--and she does. I hear she & Jo talk about breaking personal records all the time, and that's a milestone that I really love in every way--while B competes against a lot of other women, she's also always competing against herself, and that's the big deal to me. She gets better and better every time she competes, breaking PRs and raising the bar for herself every time. She can also dead lift... well, me! Or the equivalent of a me that is shaped like weights. Which isn't about food, but I got sidetracked & it fits in with the other stuff, so just go with it, ok?
I have 2 friends (Jenn & Jennie, though I'm sure that's just a coincidence) who are runners training for longer runs. Well, Jenn has run lots of half marathons, and I think a full one, and Jennie is training for a half marathon, and I don't know if you know this or not, but marathons are long! Half ones are long too. And running is hard. I have friends doing the Couch to 5k challenge and this paragraph is also about fitness, not food, but it's a health thing and that seems to be the real point of all this.
I have some friends who are exploring the concept of Health at Every Size--focusing on doing healthy things like eating better and being more aware of what they put in their body, moving more and training their bodies to do the things they love-move, walk, dance, without tying themselves to a scale and making it about looking a certain way in or out of their clothes. I mean, B & Jo aren't slaves to the scale either--they have goals that aren't related to looking like a runway model. They are focused on being strong, not skinny. I say all this because I'm hearing about it and it sounds good to me. Appealing. Like most things I want to sort of hodge-podge things together in a way that fits me, who I am, what I like to do, and eat and my goals, but I don't think it's a coincidence that so many of my friends are working on treating and feeding their bodies better.
Several years ago, my friend Andrea, a practicing Catholic, gave up frozen foods for Lent. Well, she gave up frozen lunches/meals/pockets etc. as a way to focus more on eating well. Not because she had a burning desire to suddenly get skinny, but because she was convicted that if her body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, then she wanted to treat her temple well. After Lent was over, she kept it up, eventually getting rid of a lot of processed food from her diet and over the course of a couple of years she lost many dress sizes. That wasn't the ultimate goal, but it was a side-effect of eating better and moving more. She feels like a better, healthier, happier person now. That's the theme that I see echoed across so many of my friends, though not all expressed the same way, but the desire to feed their bodies well, to be kind to their bodies by getting out and running and swimming and lifting weights and jumping up on high boxes. Those things may not seem kind on the surface--this isn't about pampering, it's about nurturing. Sweat and bruises and blisters and aches that come from hard work are GOOD for us. It's inspiring.
Now, I'm not running any marathons, or portions there of, but I am walking & dancing more. I say "dance" in the very loose sense of DDR, which is more aerobics than dancing, but it's set to music and I call it dancing because that motivates me to do it. I take the stairs to work (4th floor). I can't dead lift more than about a gallon of milk, but I am focusing on adding strength and stamina training into the things I like to do, because I want to be stronger.
But back to the food part, because that's where I started, and I'm hungry, so I'm looping back around. These are all pictures taken with my phone in the few seconds before we devoured this amazing food.
Bread & Cup. Kevin had a dream of feeding people for... well as long as I've known him, which is 10ish years now. He taught me to love pesto and once made chocolate pasta that he served with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar. I loved sitting on his porch, and hearing the stories of what inspired him to make whatever we were eating. He grows vegetables & herbs, and food is just so much better when you can cook with stuff you've grown yourself. That same idea is what makes me love his restaurant. I've only gotten to eat there once, but I read the daily specials a lot. There is drooling. Anyway, when I ate there, it was what he calls the Market Meal. He goes to the farmers market in the morning, picks up whatever looks good, and the evening's menu is entirely based on that. Local produce. He buys local meat and does everything he can himself. Makes their own bread every morning. He's learning how to cure meat, so now they make their own bacon & sausage & head cheese...
But that's only half the point. His amazing food is only half of what is so amazing about his restaurant. He really focuses on more than just putting food in front of people. He wrote once about what our eating focus was, and a lot of times it's about fuel-a necessity we need to keep our bodies from crashing. But Kevin didn't want to make a restaurant that was essentially a fill-up station. He wanted to focus on good food. That doesn't mean low fat or low anything actually. For him, good food is food that's grown near to where you're eating it, so you can get it at the best and ripest moment, and eat it moments later. It's about flavor and comfort and having a relationship with the people you're eating with--the food is there to facilitate conversation, to fill more than just your stomach, to satisfy more than just hunger pains.
I agree that food should be more than just fuel. It should be good fuel too, but it's more than that. We celebrate and comfort with food, and that's good. I'm not saying we should use food to anesthetize ourselves and eat when we're sad or angry or frustrated or tired, but I do believe in celebrating achievements with a special dinner. I do believe in comfort foods when you're sick. There's moderation to be had in all of it--fuel and comfort. And all of those foods can be good. Taste good and be good for you. I know lots of folks who have taken their favorite 2-sticks-of-butter recipes and tweaked them so they're healthier. That's great. I also think there is a time and place for 2 sticks of butter. Twice a year in the giant vat of mashed potatoes made for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Everything in moderation, including moderation--so said my father quite often growing up. A little splurge, a little rest, a little treat, when done carefully and wisely, is good for you. So says me.
And I've been thinking about all this lately because I realized the other day, that my tastes had expanded in the past few years to include flavors that I didn't like before. I won't say that I'm a fan of Indian food just because I fell in love with Tikka Masala, but I didn't think there was ANY Indian food that I enjoyed. All curries had me running for the hills with thoughts of fiery mouth pains & intestinal distress. Now I sing ABBA songs to my lunch. I've also been cooking for my niecephews more often lately, and with their dairy-soy-gluten free menu, I was at first completely baffled as to what to feed them. All my food has dairy & wheat in it. Those are my staples. It took some research and a few substitutions, but now I know that I have several easy options for the kids (and their mom) when they come over. That research really opened my eyes to a whole world of other foods that I had never considered before. Now my favorite pasta is made from artichoke flour.
Also, in rereading Traveling Mercies, I had forgotten how much I loved the chapter on Hunger. Anne Lamott was bulimic for a very long time, and in talking with her therapist, she discovers that she has no idea how to feed herself. She knows how to eat, but not how to feed herself. She has to rediscover hunger and learn how to listen to her body to know not only when she's hungry, but what she's hungry for, and then--and this is crazy--she lets herself eat it. She lets herself have Cheetos and chocolate and rice and squash and fruit and all the things that taste good. She listens as she's eating so she knows when enough is enough--which is usually always a lot earlier than we think it will be. That's that whole portion control thing and how our stomach is full 20 minutes before our brain knows it, which is just one more reason to slow down and enjoy your food because you probably don't need as many bites of whatever it is as you think you do. Anyway, she lets herself eat again and learns how to feed herself, and then she calls her thighs "the Aunties" and takes them out to the beach and is kind to them and thus kind to herself, and I love it. I try to be kinder to The Hudge while eating the food that sounds good, tastes good, and is good for me. Then dancing and walking and moving about so my arms and legs and whatnot get some energy out. Like taking the dog for a walk to keep him happy and keeping him out of the chocolate so he doesn't poison himself.
I should be at least as kind to myself as to my dog.