posts tagged with 'food'

the zeal of a convert

Lijah doesn't eat very many different things. He's not picky in a traditional sense—he'll eat sweet potato, for example, or pickled garlic—but he knows what he likes and doesn't like foods that aren't on his list. Not that the list is static; that would be too easy. A couple years ago he liked his hot dogs without buns; the year after that he only wanted the bun. This week we saw a change in his diet happen.

Yesterday morning I made scrambled eggs for myself, Harvey, and Zion. When he saw them Lijah asked to try some, approved, and asked for more. Well, I wasn't going to cook more eggs so I told him he'd have to wait. Could he have some for lunch, he wanted to know? Remember, this is the child who needed separate breakfast food every time I cooked eggs for the past 18 months.

Well, you can guess what was on the breakfast menu this morning! I admit I felt some pressure as I scrambled today's eggs: what if he didn't like them this time? Would I be doomed to another year of short-order breakfast complexity? Happily, he once again approved. Of course, he also turned down the toast I made him, but I suppose you can't win em all.


reevaluating Subway

One final brief note on last month's trip to Washington. The hardest thing for me there was finding food and water. The sink was bad in the hotel room, and the water fountains in the convention center were warm. We didn't have time to go out for lunch, and by supper time all the restaurants around the hotel were closed. It was pretty stressful. Thank goodness there was a grocery store practically connected to our hotel, but even that could only go so far; we had a fridge the size of a breadbox, and almost no surfaces on which to prepare food (to say nothing of washing up dishes!). In was in these dire straights that Subway came to our rescue.

I'll be the first to admit I've had plenty of bad things to say about Subway in the past. My feeling was that their offerings—especially their bread!—fall far short of what you could expect to find at any middling local sub shop. But we were so hungry that we thought we'd give the one on 7th St NW a try. And that was a good call! As soon as we walked in the three people behind the counter greeted us warmly, and then they waited patiently while we made our slow selection (two of my boys, amazingly, seem not to have ever ordered a sub before). And our turkey subs—one with pickles, one without—were the most delicious food I've ever tasted. Our late-night party on Saturday night, when we ate subs and Giant Food brand chocolate sandwich cookies and watched the Little League World Series, was unironically one of the highlights of the trip. And, AND, we found out later that that same Subway location also has unlimited free cold water on tap. Amazing.

So now my view of Subway has completely changed. Passing that green and yellow sign yesterday in Acton brought not revulsion but a feeling of comfort. Now I'll always have a place in my heart for the chain—and I hope I'll never have to ruin that good feeling by eating there ever again.


new frontiers in cooking

Yesterday a friend brought over some veggies to contribute to lunch, including a big bunch of scallions—which inspired us to try making scallion pancakes! We used this recipe, roughly, and they came out great. The only issue was we started cooking at 11:30, so while we got the rest of the lunch ready by noon we did not have scallion pancakes til much later. Which was bad only because at that point everyone was stuffed with the other delicious food we had made, so for my part at least eating many pieces of scallion pancake on top of that made me feel rather unwell. They're pretty much just flour and water fried in lots of oil, so kind of heavy.

I tend to get in kind of a rut with my cooking, both because I don't want to put a lot of effort into new recipes when there's a good chance the kids won't like the results, and because I tend not to plan very far ahead (like with the pancakes, see). It's not the end of the world—we have more than seven recipes we know we like, so we're not getting the same thing more than once a week unless we do it on purpose—but on the other hand I don't want to miss all the other good things the world might have to offer in the culinary line.

Not quite at the same level, but this evening I made a potato-and-cheese omelet for supper. That was a new one too. Me and Harvey enjoyed it; Lijah liked the bread and the roasted cauliflower, and Zion liked the bread. In his defense, it was just about right out of the oven, so while in no way ground-breaking it was certainly good. Not everything has to be new and exciting.


goodbye October, goodbye farmers market

the boys checking out bright peppers, tomatoes, and gourds

bright bounty

Our home school day Tuesday concluded away from home, at the last regular farmers market of the year. Overall, we did well this year: we didn't miss a single market, and we saved enough food stamp coupons to come away the last few weeks with two gallons of maple syrup and five pounds of honey (that should be enough Leah-grade sweetener to last us through a long winter!). And we enjoyed lots of delicious fresh veggies and fruits, along with a fair amount of ground beef and bacon.

Of course, there's always room for improvement. We bought lots of kale, because rabbits, caterpillars, and our own chickens did such a number on ours. Beets, because I didn't manage to plant any. Carrots, because... well, we eat a lot of carrots. My dream is to be able to grow much of our own vegetables and fruits, leaving us with money to stock up on meat for the freezer, honey, and maybe even some cheese. That didn't happen this year. I can assign some blame to Lijah—or really to having three kids!—but I still have to take most of it myself. That we were spending money on tomatoes this September is entirely my fault, and nearly unforgivable.

Still, those are high level worries. All in all the market was great, and we'll be sad to see it go—we'll especially miss chatting with the fine folks from Charlton Orchards, and not only because they responded to our faithful patronage by letting us have the funny-looking donuts from the end of the batch for free! We're looking forward to the special Thanksgiving market on November 24; after that it'll really be winter!


market time again

Today was the opening day of the Lexington Farmers Market, and we were all happy to be there!

the family at the market manager's stall on opening day

here we are again

Especially happy after a long hot bike ride (the boys were wearing their designed-in-winter Tintin and Snowy costumes on the bikes so they were especially hot), and happy despite the absence, this year, of lemonade for the boys and ice coffee for Mama. There's not a lot coming from local farms this time of year, but we picked up some greens, a couple greenhouse tomatoes, and a pound of bacon—and, more importantly, a chocolate croissant and some apple cider donuts.

Zion, Harvey, and Lijah sitting on the grass eating doughnuts

thanks, farmers

The boys were happier still after that. Hey, no pictures!

Lijah smiling and reaching for the camera

he's ready to be behind the camera


Why I'm eating Paleo right now. Spoiler alert: It's because I'm nuts!

I just finished up a bar of Bakers chocolate that I've been working on for the past few days. Bakers chocolate, as you may remember from an unfortunate attempt to sneak sweets that occurred sometime during your childhood, carries no sugar. On its own its a little bitter. But smothered in honey it's eminently palatable.

I'm doing a kind of a sugar fast right now. It's a little like a bar of Bakers chocolate smothered in honey. A little sneaky. A little bitter.

Here's some background.

At times in my life I've been extremely restrictive in my eating. I received medical treatment for this a long time ago, back in the beautiful dark 90s when everyone was so emotional and raw, us punk generation of teenagers with NEEDS. Though I haven't had any medical problems in my adulthood, I get that not eating is sometimes less stressful than eating. I still have moments when for some unknown reason I'm paralyzed with fear over everything I put in my mouth. It's rather unhinging to experience, but a great way to lose 40 pounds of baby weight fast!

Most restrictive behaviors are socially acceptable, since everyone's trying to lose weight all the time. It's when my behaviors get a little odd that I start to look around me, embarrassed. You don't have to be crazy to be on a diet. You do have to be crazy to take one bite of a bagel and spit it back into your hand because you paniked mid-chew.

But if I speak of my restrictive tendencies I speak of my higher self. Anorexia is a disease of angels, and I am not one. More often I am fighting an uglier force, a sinister monster that lurks underneath my tastebuds and silently tells me to EAT EVERYTHING.

I made a vow to my younger self that I would never again vomit recreationally. It's hard to vow not to eat, though, so when things go poorly in my life, when I feel like minor stresses carry the weight of major ones or I when don't get enough sleep, I become a straight up binge eater. There is nothing pure or pretty or Catherine of Siena about eating past the point you feel ill. I know on some level this is a disease we all share, a mass condition infecting America. But in another way, a more truthful way, I think this is a desease I have alone. All by myself, in the isolation of my kitchen, this is me struggling against eternity and my complete loss of control over it.

I could do due dilligence and write down a list of trigger foods. I wish it were only chocolate chip cookies and then the solution could be simple. Unfortunately I seem able to freak out over almost anything in my kitchen. Here, for example, are some things I have eaten to excess in the past few months:

- Bread and butter
- bran cereal
- bananas
- rice cakes
- rice (and anything I make for dinner that goes on rice)
- whole wheat tortillas
- Any manner of baked good. seriously.

I say to myself "this has got to stop." I can't be running 16 miles every Saturday just to maintain my bread and butter habit. So I cringe and ask myself what these foods have in common, it's obvious that they are all high on the glycemic index. Even if I'm not eating sugar. I'm drawn to foods that quickly metabolize into sugar.

So I said, okay, let's do a sugar fast. Let's stay away from grains too, if I can. Let's see if I can push the reset button on my internal appetite.

Over the past ten days I did just that. I stopped all sugar. (okay, except the honey.) I limited myself to one real piece of bread a day, and nixed anything that came from a package. Did it work? Well, I didn't eat anything that immediately made me regret that vomiting vow. But I didn't feel a wave of heath and sanity wash over my life either. And I went through three tubs of almond butter in a week. Even just financially speaking that's not sustainable.

Plus I don't digest nuts super well. Thus bread made out of almond butter is not so much bread, as it is a recipe for a stomach ache. Then again, a piece of almond bread isn't binging, whereas three pieces of toast might be. Which is worse: moral or physical discomfort?

In the end, it's the cycle of wanting food and then fulfilling that desire that really turns my stomach. The thing that makes me human - that's what I can't stand. I don't mind having a body when I can push it to superhuman accomplishments - long runs and ten minute births and pumping breastmilk while blogging like some kind of cyborg cow. It's the bald face of my need that scares me. The thought that beneath my mature veneer I am terrifyingly animalistic. Desirous. So incredibly HUNGRY.

It would be nice if a diet could solve all this. I assume cavemen didn't experience existential crises. But I could be underestimating them.


(strawberry) field work

some of the berries I picked

strawberry season!

The fields at Parlee finally opened after a cold spring, so we took our first picking trip of the year this morning. Well, most of us did; Leah and Lijah stayed home. She says she has too many bad memories of trying to do pick-your-own with an infant, which is more then fair. But the bigger boys were excited for the adventure!

Harvey and Zion, with backpacks on, heading towards the strawberries

ready for anything, including picking strawberries

They brought their backpacks so they could carry their own lunches, water, and, in one case, diapers. Harvey showed his seriousness by getting right down to picking berries, not all of which ended up in his mouth.

Harvey's head peaking up above the strawberry plants

the plants are big and healthy

Zion was only serious about eating. The only berry he put in his basket was almost entirely white; a little of it was green. But he enjoyed himself!

Zion studiously eating a strawberry, among the plants

just one more

We met the Stevenses there, and I was very impressed at how well elementary-aged children can contribute to the family welfare through their labor. The younger boys, working together, chipped in a tiny bit.

Harvey, Ollie, and Eliot in the strawberry patch

sort of helping

But the best part of the whole trip was that Grandma Judy came along. After she picked her own four quarts and helped Harvey with some of his one, she gave the little ones something else to do while we finished up the harvest.

Grandma Judy reading to Zion, Ollie, Harvey, and Eliot

alternate entertainment

Between all of us we ended up with 32 overflowing quarts: besides Grandma's we took home 12 and Bridget and co. had 16. It was a true team effort, and we were all proud and tired.

Harvey and Zion posing with the strawberry haul

they're meant to be smiling

Now I suppose I have to make some jam!


the easiest homemade

freshly-brewed mint tea in a jar and a pitcher

free and sugar-free

We make a lot of things from scratch around here, like bread and deodorant (two projects from yesterday). The ones we do over an over again aren't hard for us (though they are sometimes tedious), but I totally recognize that they might be hard to approach for the first time. But some homemade projects are so easy that I really don't know why everyone doesn't do them, and probably the easiest one is mint tea.

There's actually one bit of the process that's a little tough for me, and it's the reason that "MINT TEA" features prominently on my part of the to-do chalkboard: to make mint tea my way you have to start the day before. But once you remember to start, you've got it made, because all you have to do is boil a pot of water and turn off the heat, then put some stems from your mint plant in there—preferably washed, unless you like a more buggy or dirt-infused flavor. Then in the morning strain the tea into a pitcher or jar and stick it in the fridge, and drink it when it's cold. That's it!

Of course, you may be protesting that you don't tend to have mint lying around, which is fair. But you'll be happy to know that, as mint tea is the easiest thing to make, mint itself is the easiest plant to grow. It's actually pretty much a weed, so if you don't want it to take over everything you should grow it in a pot, where it'll do fine with no more water than it gets from the rain. As an easy rule of thumb, I'd estimate you need one five-gallon-sized pot of mint for each day of the week you'd like to make your tea (and I should mention that I make it a gallon at a time). Or if you have the space, let it roam: when it starts to spread too far outside its bounds pull up the plants you want for your tea instead of clipping off just the top half of each stem with scissors, as you should in cases when you want more mint to grow.

mint plants

the source

As you may have guessed from the paragraph above, we have plenty of healthy mint plants to give away, so if any of this sounds good stop by next time you're in the neighborhood and I'll hook you up. Or just come in for the tea; I try to always have some in the fridge this time of year.


spring eating

the tip of an asparagus spear in the garden

springing up

It's spring, and there's things to eat outside. I always like it when the garden starts to produce edibles, since it helps to justify my hobby to the world. Two and a half pounds of asparagus so far, over the first three days of the harvest, and it's still as exciting as the first time lo these many years ago now. Asparagus is definitely one of the embodiments of spring, culinarily speaking, so it pairs well with that other symbol of the season, the egg.

poached egg, asparagus, and corn bread on a plate

the freshest

Something is going right when we can enjoy, as we did Saturday supper, eggs a few hours old and asparagus picked 20 minutes before it hits the plate. Plus leftover cornbread, but that doesn't signify anything.

And it's not just asparagus around here either. The woods are full of garlic mustard, a tiny bit of which I made into pesto on Friday (with almonds, cheap parmesan, and olive oil). And today's couscous (made to accompany more asparagus) was livened up with a generous handful of chopped spring onions.

The best thing about all these delicious ingredients is that I barely have to do any work for them. Sure the asparagus was a bit of work to set up, and I suppose I must have planted the first bunching onions at some point, but now the food just rolls in every spring with no added work from any of us besides bending down to pick it. Since there's plenty to do in the garden otherwise this time of year, some easy payback is very well appreciated.

Do you think we'll get tired of asparagus?


the imaginary sandwich

Yesterday the kids were having a hard time getting into the car. I don't mean physically having a hard time getting in the car; they do that quite well. In fact, while I was trying to get their clothes and shoes on for a trip to Drumlin farm, they walked out the door shoe-less and hid from me inside the car. It's not that they didn't want to go to the farm, it's just that they had a very vivid imaginary game going on that I was interrupting. Whatever I wanted to do they did not want to do. They were trying to get away from me. I was the dragon.

Now look. I appreciate imaginative play and all, but we had friends to meet at Drumlin at nine oclock. And after packing all their snacks into the car, and the stroller and the birthday present and the diapers and the baby-carrier, and THEN having to find Zion's shoes and socks which he'd left on the living room floor, I was pretty peeved. I got into the car with a pretty big lecture. "Things are going to be different around here next time," I said. "We are NOT going to have another morning like this, do you hear me? I do not run myself around ragged just so you can meet your friends for fun outings. Next time you want to go to the farm YOU get your socks and shoes on, mister."

Rather than pouting or yelling back, Zion just smiled up at me. "You still the dragon!" he exclaimed.


Children's imaginative play serves a lot of functions for them. One of these functions is that, in a world where children have very little power or self-determination, imaginative play lets them process the million slights they receive daily. If we are hell-bent on putting them in their place, they will come up with ways to save face that do not strictly belong to our reality. It's almost genius.

As an adult I have outgrown explicit imagination games. But there are still lots of ways I play pretend.

Right now my favorite game is, "Let's pretend I'm dieting!" This is where I spend 99% of my time analyzing the nutritional/moral content of dozens of different food options, along axes of fat, calories, fiber, sugar, gluten, mouth feel, and availability to my kitchen. This game is very engaging, so much so that I can make it stretch juuuust until the power of hunger becomes so overwhelming that I run to the kitchen and throw into my mouth the nearest thing possible. For losing weight it works about as well as not dieting at all.

When I wake up, when I read to my kids, when I am driving in the car I am probably thinking about food. When I DO ANYTHING I am probably thinking about food. Except when I'm exercising or nursing. There is a magic state of calm that rests upon activities that I've labeled 'Calories Out.'

For someone who thinks about food nearly all my waking hours, I'm noticing how little I pay attention when I'm actually eating. How can this be? When I've taken an hour of hungry time, internally debating the merits of one sandwich filling versus another? Will greens detract from the experience more than they enhance the health of the final product? Which will make it feel more filling: a wrap, or two slices of bread (only 50 calories different)? Will the whole thing can hang together without mayo? With just a dab of mayo? After literally AN HOUR of doing other things, PRETENTING like I'm not obsessing about that sandwich, what happens when I'm finally sitting down actually eating the sandwich? I'm reading a magazine? I'm opening the computer? I'm looking for something to distract myself from the thing that distracts me from everything else.

Like Zion, I prefer to experience reality through the lens of my imagination. I don't want to focus on the actual sandwich. The hazy, changeable, imaginary sandwich was safer than the sandwich itself. Not just because I want to eat no calories, but because the real food is too wonderful and frightening in its every bit of REALNESS.

You see, when I force myself to focus on the sandwich, this happens:

First of all, I notice how GOOD the sandwich is. It's not only good, it's the BEST thing I've EVER eaten. Perhaps it's the best food ever created in the history of the world. When I put it in my mouth it explodes with salt and fat and melty bready goodness (I'm imagining a cheese sandwich here, but a chicken sandwich would work equally as well). As soon as I take a bite the complex carbohydrates shoot serotonin straight into my brain. The protein tells my mind it is alright to function again. The salt and the fat and the pepper tell my tastebuds: "here you go — you are no longer wanting." And all this happens in the same instant. The instant that I put food in my mouth, my body is transformed from outside in.

I am no longer just a brain, free-floating, imaging pleasures that may or may not come to pass. I am actually biting something and chewing it. That bite is an real interaction between the inside of my body and the outside world. What was external becomes internal. It's holy and crazy and amazing and baffling. It's the physical experience of God's creation, its taste and its fullness. It bursts at the seams with EXPERIENCE and LIFE!

At the same time, it's just a sandwich.

And if I really focus on it, I know no matter how GOOD it is, it's just a friggin sandwich. It's really good, don't get me wrong. But is this all that life has to offer? In its fullness? The whole wide world of possibilities? The outside world and me, connecting magically? A sandwich?

I mean, it's pretty good but then it's over. In a few hours I have to come up with another thing to eat.

If eating generates an existential crisis, then you could see how a magazine might help.

The thing about a sandwich, or a sunset, or holding your newborn baby on your chest, is that they are inescapably beautiful expressions of life, IN THAT as you enjoy them you are aware that they will soon be gone. Eating a sandwich only takes two minutes. The sunset maybe a few minutes more, depending on where you are in the season. A newborn baby takes hours upon hours and days upon days of holding, but when he is grown I will shed a tear and wonder, "How did the time go by so fast?"

The reality of this life is it is so painfully beautiful, but the beautiful bits we can't hold onto. This is the reality that faces me three times a day, or five counting snacks. Every time I open the fridge, I am up against nothing less than the realization of my own mortality.

Do you think maybe I need more of Jesus?

We were having a discussion in our church group about keeping our eyes on Jesus. When hard times come, just fix your eyes on Jesus. And I thought: I keep my eyes on Jesus like he is a sandwich I'm not eating. I am perfectly happy to think ABOUT Jesus. I think about him all the time in fact, either theologically, or how I'll explain him to my kids, or in relation to my friends who I'm trying to help. But when it actually comes to ENJOYING Jesus? I'm not so sure I know how to do that. I know how to get a quick little taste of Jesus, like a hundred-calorie-snack-pack, but then I'm running in the other direction chatting up everyone else: "Hey, have you heard about Jesus? You should really try him! He's so fulfilling!"

Maybe I don't believe Jesus really has time for me. Or maybe I'm scared that I've mostly made him up in my mind, that if I look at him, REALLY look at him, I'll say like the sandwich "Is that all there is?"

I know that's not true. I know it's really much worse. I'll meet the real Jesus, the one I didn't manufacture to be safe and portion-controlled and healthy. And I'll be so satisfied in a way I've never experienced before that I won't immediately launch into planning my next craving. And then what will I do with myself? How will I spend the next hour of housework? How will I face my life if I'm not so focused on imagining it away?