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I (heart) Frank Bruni: A Book Review September 9, 2010

I just finished reading Frank Bruni’s memoir, Born Round. When I got to the last page I was a little choked up, feeling like I’d found a real kindred spirit. He’s like another Foodie McBody! Someone who loves and appreciates food, AND who wants to be healthy and fit. I know so many fit people who truly seem unmoved by food, or who see it purely as fuel (and not so much as a source of pleasure) OR as the Enemy. Anybody who knows me knows that I am constantly striving to find ways to have my (cup)cake and eat it too. And of course I also know the foodies who turn a blind eye to fitness or health. Please, can’t I have both?

Enter Frank! OMG. For the first (more than?) half of the book, we follow him through his childhood, where he is a ravenous toddler, and then a huge eater at family feasts orchestrated by his mother and grandmother. The descriptions of the incredible food-a-paloozas were enough to make me faint. Pasta! Italian food! Roast turkey! Frites! (fried stuffed yummy things)

And there’s Frank, simultaneously loving all the food and mortified by his plumpness. And I’m nodding like one of those dashboard bobblehead doggies with its head on a spring. Sigh.

I followed, completely rapt, while Frank joins the swim team and slims down, then joins up with his mother on endless diets (Atkins! I did that one with my dad, back in the 70s), back and forth, back and forth. Ultimately it gets into some pretty dark territory, of bulimia and then bingeing.

It’s a classic tale of Too Much of a Good Thing, when something turns and then doesn’t feel so good anymore. And I feel like I am constantly trying to find that balance. I still want food to be a Good Thing. And it is, until it isn’t. I don’t ever want to fear food or not enjoy it. So it was kind of awe-inspiring and very happy making to read about Frank’s ultimate challenge and job: to be the food critic for the New York Times. How could he manage to eat out 7-8 times a week, at amazing multi-star restaurants, and stay fit and healthy?

Exercise. Of course. Lots of exercise. And portion control. Right? Of course that’s the key. Calories in, calories out. I loved reading about Frank’s bootcampish trainer, Aaron, who sounds like a much meaner version of my own trainer. I was intrigued by his description of Pilates. It was fun following Frank on his transformation from couch-potato-dom to athlete.

The writing in this book is fantastic. Funny, poignant, honest, real. I laughed out loud a LOT, and also cringed and wiped a tear or two. And there was a crazy moment of recognition, much like when I read Kate Moses’ Cakewalk and remembered that I ALSO bit the toes off of rubber alligators from Disneyland (WHAT??? Really!). Maybe not quite as bizarre, but like Frank Bruni, I also had a mad love for cold noodles with sesame paste, something I’d long forgotten (I can’t find this stuff in San Francisco). I used to be obsessssssssssed with those cold noodles when I lived in New York, and my favorite spot was this teeny tiny hole-in-the-wall called OMei in NY’s Chinatown. My friend used to bring me those as a special treat after I moved away. It’s been so many years since I’ve had those noodles, and… sigh. Reading this book brought it all back. (Frank! if you or anybody else knows where I can find these noodles in San Francisco, pleeeeeeeeeease tell me!)

Anyway. Back to the book. I loved it. For someone who loves both Top Chef AND The Biggest Loser, it really spoke to my heart (and my taste buds?).  It made me feel like I had company, in the best way. And after I read it, Frank Bruni joined the ranks of my invisible fit-foodie-community. I finished the book on Monday and in the evening, I was contemplating going out to the cemetery to work out. But it was a Holiday. And I was tired. Suddenly, the voice of Frank’s trainer Aaron popped into my head. “Don’t be a wimpy quitter!” I went out there and did 3.5 miles, and added on 50 pushups and 480 stairs. Then I came home and looked for something really, reallllllllly good to eat.

 

Vacation: Holding the Moon September 1, 2010

Filed under: good things — Susan @ 11:46 pm
Tags: , , , ,

We had a fantastic vacation last week, an extended family reunion (21!) in Yellowstone National Park. Wow what an amazing place. I’d driven through there about 30 years ago for maybe a day or so, but never really took the time to explore it all. Of course, not even in a week could we explore even a fraction of its awesomeness. But we were able to do a significant amount in a week. It was humbling and great to see the bison and elk just roaming about. My kids even saw a grizzly bear (I missed it). There was a lot of hiking, there was absolutely NO internet or cell phone or texting or even room-to-room phones! So if we wanted to make a dinner plan, we had to trek around to 6 other cabins which were spread all over, and do it like I guess they did in the Way Olden Days.

The food situation was less than ideal: either a 7-11 type store, a high school cafeteria-ish place, or a fancy expensive restaurant. Except for the fancy restaurant it was very very low on fresh produce. Ugh. I ate a lot of meat and other stuff that I had not touched in years (bologna! M & Ms!)

Meanwhile, we hiked miles and miles, and saw some beautiful terrain. I was very curious about how it was all going to turn out. I had decided I’d be okay with gained a couple of pounds, which I usually do on vacation, and that I’d settle back down.

But it was the same! (my weight) Imagine my surprise. And it was another little period of exhalation, of really understand that I have this down, pretty much. It’s internalized. I make good choices. I stay active. I relaxed. It’s all good. As a vacation should be. Wheeeewwwwwwww.

Here’s a couple fun shots.

ma, it's a bison!

bull elk

a little close

boiling blue water

rainbow over Lower Falls

 

Pressure Cooker July 13, 2010

Filed under: emotions,food,friendship,Mindful Eating,overeating — Susan @ 12:31 am
Tags: , ,


Steaming cooker

Originally uploaded by Intrudēr

The next three weeks are going to be the most pressurized, intense weeks of my entire year. I run a camp, that takes all year to prepare for, and it takes place the last week in July.

I’ve been doing this for six years now. For the first several years, I viewed this period of time (actually, all summer) as an opportunity to completely throw in the towel and give up on any remnants of fitness or healthy eating. It was really just an excuse. I’d cancel my trainer, eat like there was no tomorrow, and it was just stress piled on stress. It felt inevitable. When camp itself came, I would literally inhale the crazy carbs they served: sloppy joes and mac and cheese and tacos and hotdogs and french toast and ALL OF IT, and I believed the more I ate, the calmer (read: more anesthetized) I’d feel.

Last year was the first year that I tried to get through the summer without my customary meltdown. It went pretty well and I managed to get to my Lifetime status at WW in the summer. But the ghosts of past camp seasons are always around to haunt, and it’s so easy to just succumb to the pressures and just say “I give up!” for now.

I really don’t want that to happen this year. This year is the biggest camp in our whole history. We’re in a brand-new site that is giving me HIVES with their incomprehensible difficulties and insane little rules. So I am just prime for all sorts of falling down.

Today we had a staff powwow to assess all we need to do in the next 2 weeks. It is a LOT. And either it will get done, or it won’t. But just making that list almost put us all over the top.

One of my co-workers ordered a sandwich with extra bacon. I suddenly thought, what can *I* have?? I deserve this! I need something extra-special!! All the old song and dance. I spied a triple-decker Havarti grilled cheese on the menu of my favorite takeout place. THAT’S what I want! I thought. But I was deep in a task which kept me busy for a while longer. During which time I got to really think about what it was that I wanted.

I wanted to eat something that would not stress me even further, or put me to sleep, or make me feel bad about myself. I thought. I needed PROTEIN. So I went to the Thai place and got a cup of chicken coconut soup, and some chicken satay skewers. I didn’t touch even a grain of rice. I had the cucumber salad and a little dollop of peanut sauce. Then I was able to go back and face the rest of my afternoon (and evening, as it turns out) of work.

It’s going to take EVERYTHING I HAVE to remain conscious, and present, and healthy, during these next weeks. If I can emerge August 1 in a good place, I will be very grateful. Cross your fingers for me. Or leave me lots of comments for strength. <3

 

Food Bloggers at Work! July 6, 2010


A little excessive

Originally uploaded by pkingDesign

Ha ha. Pretty soon this will be me.

OKAY! Now it IS ME! I’m officially a food blogger who totes camera to every meal!! Follow it here…..

 

Book Review: Cakewalk May 31, 2010

What business does a diabetic Weight Watchers leader have reading a book that is so filled with butter and chocolate and sugar that it almosts wafts from the pages? I don’t know, but I do know that I could barely put this book down. Thank goodness for the ankle injury and the 3-day weekend that allowed me to finish  it this morning.

I loved this book, Cakewalk, by Kate Moses. I LOVED THIS BOOK so much. It’s going on my Top Ten list. And for people who have seen my house and my miles of bookshelves, you’ll know this is saying a lot.

Where do I begin? Well, for one I loved it because it brought my childhood back to me, and in the sensual food-memory way that the madeleine brought Proust back to his. Only it wasn’t anything as delicate and refined as a fancy French cookie, it was her unabashed love for 1960s junk food that made my heart beat faster. And it was the way that she described the Ding Dongs and the Baby Ruths without an ounce of embarrassment or remorse: just, this is what we ate, and it gave us pleasure. She loved the badger Frances books like I did, and especially for the food descriptions: not only the bread and jam, but also ode she sings to Lorna Doone cookies.

Kate Moses is roughly the same age as I am, so reading this book was like a tantalizing time-travel through my own life. It was shocking to squeak out, as I was reading, “Me too!” even down to a bizarre coincidence involving rubber alligator toes. Reading this book was in so many ways like a channeling of my own life.

Each chapter of the book chronicles a different era of Moses’ life, her annual moves to yet another new state, new town, new school. Early on she learns to use her baking skills as a way of making friends, or of comforting herself through some new familial trauma (and there are some doozies). Every chapter ends with some amazingly droolworthy recipe: Chocolate cake, homemade It’s-Its, homemade pink and white animal shortbread cookies (which she brought in a basket to her reading: SO delicious! and exquisite), pecan birthday cake and jam tarts. I swooned and sighed over all of these recipes. (um, except the moose turd “candies”)

Although she mentions being called “fat” by her classmates in a particularly poignant fourth-grade chapter, she doesn’t dwell on this. It’s not about that.  So many memoirs of overweight childhoods are drenched in shame and guilt, and this book was refreshingly free of guilt. Which I appreciated so much.  It’s about an often terribly painful and confusing, chaotic childhood and youth that is sweetened and soothed by the pleasure of food. It’s about food as a means of connection and community. It’s about becoming a writer, which made my heart pound as much as the cake recipes. It’s a moving chronicle of family and how people change and don’t change, about forgiveness and honesty and redemption. The writing is so, so, good, and I found myself sighing over individual sentences and paragraphs. Like this:

…we bought boxes and boxes of donuts, baker’s dozens, all different flavors. Then we drove up and down the empty streets for hours, fast past the houses of everyone we knew, past our own, all night long, in our high heels and our new high-school graduate outfits, the convertible top down and our hair flying loose and tangling across our faces, eating just one bite of each donut before flinging the rest out of the car. When there were no more donuts, we reached for our silky blue graduation gowns, pulling them out from where we’d tucked them, and we threw them out, too, letting them catch in the wind we were speeding through, sailing them out into the bright lasting night, the northern lights spraying ribbons of color above us, waving like handkerchiefs as the ship leaves its anchorage.

 

Does This Vacation Make Me Look Fat? April 6, 2010

I’m home!! I got home from Costa Rica around 1am and if I don’t write a post now, I think it will be weeks before I have time to sit and do it. Things are crazy (again!) just as they were pre-vacation. Tonight is my solo performance show, and next week I begin a brand new job. Whewwwwww. So much for laying back in the slow tempo of Central America – I’m back in the USA again and back to the insane pace of life.

Being on vacation was wonderful, and relaxing, and rejuvenating. But it was a totally different environment and pace than I was used to. For one, I did not have my scale with me (thank goodness!) which gives me constant feedback. I use it to stay on track here at home, and without it, how would I know what was what? I wasn’t super worried about it, because I knew that even if I came out of the vacation a few pounds up, I could get back to it quickly enough. Still, I was curious.

One one hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if I lost weight because:

  • I was sweating buckets every day. Without even moving.
  • I was getting SOME exercise – walking to the beach, to waterfalls and the like.
  • I was not eating a single thing between meals.
  • The meals were what I would consider very healthy – protein, beans, vegetables, a lot of fresh fruit. Our host was an amazing chef!

BUT I wouldn’t be surprised to gain weight because:

  • I wasn’t doing ANYthing near my regular workouts. At one point I ran about 4 steps and then quickly gave that up. It’s like running in a steam bath. I couldn’t deal.
  • I didn’t swim at all like I’d hoped because the ocean was, although gorgeous, brutally rough.
  • The food was incredibly delicious and I often went back for seconds.

It was really, really hard to gage where I was. I couldn’t really use my clothing as a monitor because all my summerweight clothing, I bought last year before I got to my goal weight. So it was all pretty much hanging loose on me anyway. I couldn’t tell by looking at the mirror. I really had no clue at all. And you know, normally it wouldn’t MATTER so much but I do have this WW job you know, and I didn’t want to come home and have to battle back down to my range. So I would’ve preferred to not gain a whole bunch. I felt healthy. I felt good.

One measure I was able to take was my blood sugars. In the first part of the week they continued to be up because I think I was still dehydrated. I wasn’t able to drink as much as I would’ve liked to, so it took a few days for that to stabilize, but by the end of the week I was in a good place. I have to say it gave me a small bit of comfort to be able to measure SOMEthing objectively.

One thing that I noticed was that I felt more comfortable in my body than I ever have in a hot climate. Before, when I’d gone on a beach vacation, I’d felt awful in a bathing suit, disgusting when I sweated, and extremely unfit. On this vacation, I took a 5 mile trek through the jungle (to get to the waterfall, yay) and it was like… piece of cake. I took one hike to this eco-lodge up a very very steep hill, and it was like… no problem. I felt comfortable clambering around and never got huffy puffy or anything. That felt GOOD. And sweat didn’t bother me like it used to.

I used to be one of those people who was completely sweatophobic. It made me sick. But now it’s just…. water. And it doesn’t bother me. It’s really OK. Maybe because sweat during my workouts is a good thing – a very very good thing. I’ve made friends with sweat! Yahoo!

So when I left on my vacation I was 5 lbs “down” because of my dumb dehydration problem at the marathon. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to maintain THAT because it was mostly water weight anyway. In fact it was ALL water weight. This morning when I weighed myself I was 2 lbs up from that weight, so 3 lbs down from the day before the marathon. OK! I’ll take that! I hope I’ll be able to maintain that because it’s a number I can be very happy at.

So that’s that. Interesting, huh? It’s funny how things change when we don’t have our regular landmarks and ways of checking in. But I felt good about what I was doing overall. I’m eager to get back to my regular workouts. I’m glad it’s not 90 million degrees here. But it was also good to get out of routine and realize there are ways of staying healthy that look and feel different.

 

Loved/Love/Hate Food March 1, 2010

Mary over at a Merry Life and Karen at Why Weight? just answered a foodie meme question posed by Mish at Eating Journey. I am following suit, partly because I am procrastinating going for my run today (:-)).

The question is: Name five foods you used to love, now love, and still can’t stand.

Foods I Used to Love:

  • Macaroni & Cheese: I don’t care if it’s gourmet with aged cheddar and truffles, or it’s Kraft out of the box (I’m not kidding). I love ANY combo of pasta and cheese. Or I did. But it doesn’t love me back. Or isn’t so good for me. So I will still eat it, but instead of craving it like a heat-seeking missile, I will now only eat it once in a very, very blue moon. So. I still love it, but from afar.
  • Hotdogs. Again, I’m not kidding. Please don’t disown me. But I adore hotdogs, and have ever since I’ve been little. I’ve pretty much taken them out of my repertoire. I know they’re made of rat toenails and snot and dye, but I couldn’t help it. I love(d) hotdogs.
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken: I haven’t had this in over a year, and I am not going to allow myself to taste it to see if I still love it. Probably ever. It’s one of those things.
  • Snack Chips. Cheetos (my favorite), Pringles, etc. I’m done with those now. Done.
  • Cheap Packaged Cookies. Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Pecan Sandies. If I’m going to do cookies now, I want the really really good stuff.

Food I Now Love: (and presumably didn’t before)

  • Cauliflower. I am now obseessssssssed with cauliflower! I love it pureed (a la mashed potatoes), in soup, roasted, curried, ANY way (but not raw. I am not yet a raw cauliflower fan).
  • Nonfat, unflavored Greek yogurt. Fage! Oh yum! It tastes like whipped cream to me now. Really thick, perfect whipped cream.
  • Blueberries. Yum! I eat about a quart of these a week. I used to be rather “meh” about blueberries but now… cannot get enough. WITH the Greek yogurt, and also by the handful. I used to only like blueberries cooked (ha, like in MUFFINS) but now love them just plain.
  • Portobello mushrooms. Yes, they are the vegetarian’s meat. I am not a vegetarian, but I am just as (if not more) satisfied with a Portobello burger than a meat burger. I do not think I can ever travel the tempeh-seitan route, but Portobellos? YES.
  • Dark chocolate with sea salt. Dark chocolate is good for you, right? RIGHT? LOL. I never said this list was supposed to be, like, all health food. The reason I love it now and not before, is that it had not been invented before. Ha!
  • HONORABLE MENTION: Brussels Sprouts. I used to avoid these like the plague, and I do not say I LOVE them now, but I LIKE them. Especially with bacon. :-)

Foods I Still Can’t Stand:

  • Beets. I try. I try about once a year. Slimy. Icky. No. And don’t even mention the pee.
  • Bananas. No. Never. Gross. Gag. ACK. Not in bread, not in cake or muffins, not with ice cream, not raw, not ANY FORM. NO.
  • Oatmeal. Again, I try. Often. But there’s something so… lumpy and ugh about it. Only edible with large amounts of cream, butter, brown sugar and walnuts, which I pretty much think mitigates any health value.
  • Sardines. Shudder. I’ll eat a raw tuna belly with gusto, but those little.. tiny… bony.. oily? NOOOOOOOOOOOO!
  • Licorice. Especially black licorice. No thank you!

So… what’s on YOUR lists?

 

 
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