Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Digital Detox

I recently read this article (see above) in the Washington Post.  According to the article, if you spend a total of two hours a day posting on Facebook or surfing the web, etc…that roughly adds up to 30 days worth of time.    Hmmmm…what could I accomplish with an extra thirty days worth of time?   I decided to compile a list of 20 things I could do with all that extra time on my hands and while my list is mildly anecdotal, it is all undeniably true. 
1.       Get started on my great American novel….or at least get past the title page.
2.       Read a book that doesn’t have Arthur or Curious George on the cover.
3.       Get rid of all the 3T clothing because my son is now six.
4.       Finally get fitted for the right bra size (you know you’re all wearing the wrong one).
5.       Finish washing the never-ending mountain sized laundry heap in my basement.
6.       Put away all the laundry I just finished instead of leaving it on the floor of my bedroom.
7.       Line up a cadre of babysitters so my husband and I can actually eat in a restaurant that doesn’t serve ice cream in dixie cups.
8.       Buy and wrap birthday presents for next year so I don’t have to frantically run out 20 minutes before the party.
9.       Do all my holiday shopping in advance.  Avoid the rush.
10.   Order bathing suits (I still haven’t done this and just went to the pool in workout gear).
11.   Go to a personal trainer and become a bodybuilder in 30 days….okay that one’s a little unrealistic.
12.   Vacuum all the Cheerio debris from my car (this could take a while).
13.   Buy everything for my daughter’s first sleepaway camp experience (even if I had all the time for t his, I think I would still feel stymied by it.
14.   Prepare healthy food for the week so I don’t stick my head in the ice cream container.
15.   Clean up my office/organize my files/throw out cancelled checks from 1999.
16.   Play crazy 8’s with my son eventhough it’s the most mind numbing card game on the planet.
17.    Go to a coffee place, read the paper and salivate over someone’s iPad.
18.   Organize all the loose wedding photos (yes, I ‘ve been married for 15 years…don’t judge me).
19.   Clean out the garage because afterall a garage is supposed to hold cars.
20.   Learn more about what a carbon footprint is so I can reduce it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What’s For Dinner? Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Here is something you may not know about me.  In the shadow of my former life, I was a vegetarian for approximately 15 years.  I won’t bore you with my philosophical reasons from long ago, nor will I regale you with my decision to return to the “dark” side.  The point is that while I am technically a carnivore, I don’t really eat like one.  In fact, now that the summer months are upon us, I rarely eat meat at all.  My husband on the other hand…a very different story.  He isn’t home for many meals, though, so I haven’t really bothered to stock the freezer with meat, which means he is subject to my wily vegetarian ways.
Today, I thought I would share a new recipe that is not a dessert, rather, an inspired vegetarian dinner creation, entitled Quinoa Stuffed Peppers…and it’s actually husband approved.  Now, I have to admit, that I created this on the fly, so, you may want to fine-tune some of your measurements.
In case you have never heard of Quinoa, I will give you a little Quinoa 101. Most people think this is a grain, but really, it’s a seed (which makes it gluten free).  If you are looking for a high quality protein, Quinoa is your substance.  It contains all nine- essential amino acids that are the building blocks of protein.   It’s high in fiber and is super for those dieting individuals who shun rice or other carb-like grains.   It has a chewy rice consistency with a nutty like flavor.  Moreover, it’s available in the grocery store (check the organic or health food aisle).  You can use Quinoa in lieu of rice in any recipe as it’s great for stir-fries, or Mexican Fiesta night (check my April entry about that) with black beans and a little melted cheese. 
Quinoa takes very little time to prepare-approximately 8-10 minutes. This inspired recipe also took very little prep time, and was so delicious.  In fact, the husband asked for leftovers.
Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
4-green or red peppers (I used organic green peppers)
1-cup quinoa (before preparation)
¼- cup fat reduced feta cheese (you can increase the amount)
(If you have a dairy allergy, you can replace the feta cheese with avocado, different flavor but very delicious)
½ -cup chopped broccoli (I microwaved this)
1/4 -1/2 cup black beans (I used leftover from Mexican Fiesta night and it had a little corn mixed in)
2 TBSP wheat germ (you can use bread crumbs, but the wheat germ is super packed with vitamin E)
4 TBSP tomato sauce (again, you can increase this if need be)
Onion powder, salt, oregano (season to your liking, I use a lot of onion powder)
1-2 Tablespoons tomato sauce
1 TBSP wheat germ/2-3 tsp. parmesan cheese (mix these together in a bowl)
1TBSP cheddar cheese (optional)
Again, if you have a dairy allergy-eliminate the cheese or use soy cheese.
Prepare the Quinoa according to the package (there will be some leftover if you are only making 4 peppers).
Once the Quinoa is cooked and cooled a bit, scoop about half the amount into a glass bowl.
Mix in the feta cheese (it may melt a bit which helps bind the whole thing together).
Add the sauce, beans, wheat germ, broccoli, and mix.  The mixture should be able to stick together.
Cut the tops off the green peppers and clear out the seeds.  Stuff each pepper to the top (leave a little space to put sauce and topping).  Place standing up in an 8x8 glass-baking dish.
Spoon the 1-2 TBSP tomato sauce over the mixture. (Tomato sauce is a personal taste, my husband does not like a lot of sauce, but you may, so play with it).
Bake for about 35-40 minutes (depending on your oven) until peppers are soft (but not mushy).
Take them out of the oven, and sprinkle with a little cheddar cheese, followed by wheat germ and parmesan mixture.
Put back into the oven for 30 seconds on broil…be careful they brown really fast!!!
Serve with veggie chicken nuggets.  Try Gardein brand. They are all natural, (no eggs or dairy) and simply one of the best chicken nugget substitutes I have had.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Was a Much Better Mother Before I had Kids

Can you remember the person or persona you were prior to having children?  In my twenties, I remember participating in a 3-week volunteer Army program in Israel with a girlfriend.  We lived in an army barrack with one shower and twenty women, then, off to Paris we flew, followed by a train to Amsterdam a few days later.  We didn’t even have a place to stay when we got there, but somehow we managed.   Today, I would never entertain travel without an itinerary, hotel accommodations, or confirmations.
As a former New Yorker (well, I still consider myself a New Yorker at heart) I took the bus and subway everywhere!  I didn’t have a car, in fact, I didn’t even learn how to drive until I moved out of NY at 23. Now, the mere thought of taking the metro makes me break out into hives, and the idea of standing and waiting for a bus is nothing short of plebian.
I used to love driving in my little, zippy, red Plymouth Colt to visit my family in New York.  It was exciting being on the open road, on my own, going home where my family would clamor around me with questions about my independent life.  The ride usually took around 4 hours because I just preferred to keep on driving with minimal stops.  Now, driving to New York in my big, ole, minivan with two kids arguing in the back, and stops every two hours or so because someone has to go to the bathroom…(and it’s usually me), makes me cringe with trepidation.   Moreover, no one clamors around me anymore, because let’s face it, the kids get all the attention.
Do you remember when an older sibling or good friend had their first child and you smugly thought their method of child rearing vastly needed improvement?   Is it even possible to be that sanctimonious in your twenties? The answer is yes.  I think I was a much better mother before I had kids.  I was the aunt “whisperer” who insisted that she possessed the magical touch that could turn any crabby, colicky non-sleeping infant into Rip Van Winkle.  I was the boundless twenty- something with endless energy and patience to play even the most boring and tedious games with my nephew and nieces while their parents took a break.
 None of these skills were even remotely evident when my own daughter didn’t sleep for a year.  My desperate solution back then was to place her in a car seat at 3 a.m. on top of the dryer in the cold, dark basement, or to drive her around the neighborhood in the wee morning hours.  Some baby whisperer. 
 On one family vacation many years ago, I remember my nieces (who were very young at the time), were mercilessly arguing with each other over some ridiculous issue like, who got more ice cream.   It was sibling rivalry 101 and I could tell my very weary looking brother was about to blow…and he did. At that point, I was in my thirties, married and pregnant with my first child and I had very staunch ideas about parenting.  At the time, I was clearly not impressed with my brother’s resolution skills.  I mean, what happened to talking, compromising, or finding a viable solution so that both girls would feel good about the outcome?   I firmly resolved in my head, that I would not handle my children that way…because I knew better. (You see what’s coming, right)?
 Flash forward to my children (ages 6 and 10) sitting at the table this morning needling each other over some ridiculous issue, where one was clearly trying to just annoy the other.  I yelled at them to just, “Cut it out!” and”Why do we have to go through this stuff every morning? “  Then, I angrily reprimanded each one individually.   Now, when I reminisce about that family vacation long ago, I applaud my brother for refraining from killing his kids right there on the spot.
In the course of my writing, I once wrote a children’s story a few years back where a young girl wants to eat her breakfast in bed.  At first, the mother says no, but then she reverses her decision and surprises the daughter by joining her in bed with her cup of coffee.  The little girl is delighted that her mother breaks the rules and they enjoy a lovely morning.
I am also a better mother in my writing because the only thing about that story that would have mimicked real life is that I would be drinking coffee. Before children, I probably would have engaged in such activity without a second thought.  However, my control- freak self (which developed after I had kids) never would have allowed my child to eat cereal in bed risking crumbs, spills, soggy bedding, ants, and just overall pandemonium.  The real mother would have engaged in a morning showdown complete with meltdowns and pathetic pleas followed by the dreaded foot stamp, or the grunt (I would be doing the grunting, by the way).  Hmmm… I don’t think I’m up for any Mother of the Year Awards.
 Clearly, we undergo many changes personally, physically, and philosophically after we have kids to the point where we sometimes become only the shadow of our former selves.  Sure, there are some days where I wistfully sigh for the adventurous, smug individual I used to be, but I don’t know if the twenty- something- me would fit very well into my forty-something- me existence.  
My twenties and even early thirties seemed to focus on trying to be perfect.  I tried to show-up my siblings that I knew more about parenting than they did, eventhough I didn’t have kids.  This just doesn’t fly in my forties, because, clearly, I am NOT perfect.  It’s liberating, actually, to release yourself from the realization that you don’t have to be perfect, and while I may have been a better mother before kids, my children don’t seem to know the difference.      
This excerpt was featured on Martha Stewart's Whole Living website.

Friday, May 20, 2011

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make an Egg-Free Lemon Cake

Thanks to all those who shared such wonderful comments regarding my last post.  It was truly from the heart, and I really do believe that we all possess some kind of inner strength that sometimes takes us by surprise when we are put to the test. 
It seems like I have been musing over this for some time because I recently found a personal essay I wrote about a year ago (a bit more anecdotal) that was never published (what’s wrong with these editors)?  Nevertheless, I felt that it would be most appropriate for my blog today.  I am also including a recipe for allergy (egg, nut, dairy) free lemon cupcakes. Who knows…perhaps they will become my signature cake. 
I used to be a terrible baker. My cookies consistently resembled pucks or chew toys, and my cupcakes traumatized the family for months. I disregarded all rules about precision when I made my first banana bread.  I switched the flours, replaced the butter, added honey in lieu of sugar and carelessly threw in some chocolate chips. The results were disastrous. My kids refused to be in the same room with it.  The knife broke when I tried to cut it up; even the ducks at our nearby pond squawked at it in disgust. I vowed to my family (amidst audible sighs of relief) that I was throwing in the oven mitts and leaving baked goods to the experts.

When my son was diagnosed with severe egg and nut allergies three years ago, I was the proverbial deer in the headlights.   Armed with little knowledge, no baking skills, and a supremely fussy, allergic three-year old, I spent many days crying, frustrated and guilt ridden. Between his allergies and my vegetarian daughter, I was completely at a loss. 
My son pitifully begged for his old cereal, he missed the diner pancakes, “Why can’t I just have the stuff I used to eat?” He was desperate and so was I.  I combed through the specialty aisles and health food stores and one thing became very clear.  Many of the allergy free products were just expensive, sugary knock offs.  They weren’t nutritious and frankly, didn’t really taste that good. He deserved better, so I decided to take action.
When the kids saw me armed with an apron and a big mixing bowl, their faces grew pale.  I heard hushed whispers in the other room…”Uh-oh, mom’s baking again, what are we going to do?”  I started out by baking an innocent, egg-free pumpkin muffin and meticulously followed the recipe. I was cautiously optimistic when I pulled them out of the oven, but the kids thought it was a Trojan horse.  It looked good, but it could still be a trick.  “Honestly, just try them!” I said, irritated, while holding out a perfectly formed, golden colored muffin.  They sniffed it, like bloodhounds, and reluctantly tried it. “Wow, these aren’t bad!” They exclaimed.  My confidence soared as I watched my son smile for the first time in weeks.
Over the years, through much trial and error, I learned how to make healthy baked goods that looked and tasted like their egg equivalents…sometimes even better.  Birthday parties and holidays became enjoyable again because I figured out how to make all those specialty items that were previously taboo. Recently, I enjoyed a moment of smugness when I tasted a bakery muffin and thought aloud, “Huh, my muffin blows this away!”
The fact that I could even make such a comment made me pause for thought at how far my family has come with coping with food allergies. It is our new normal, the backdrop of our life, and the driving force in many of our family decisions.  I never thought I would actually get to this place, but one important thing that I have learned is, that when life hands you lemons, make an egg-free lemon cake. 
Lemon Cupcakes
The cupcakes were modified from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  You can alter the type of flour and sugar, and if you don’t like glaze, you can frost or keep them plain.
1-cup soymilk (I have used vanilla soymilk as well)
1 tsp. organic apple cider vinegar
1 ¼ unbleached all purpose flour (you can use ½ whole wheat pastry flour and ¾ unbleached)
2 tbsp.cornstarch (I have also used potato starch in a pinch)
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup canola oil
¾ cup Florida sugar crystals (I would’t use Sucanat for this recipe as it overpowers the lemon flavor and its dark color.  You can try to reduce the sugar to ½ cup).
2 ½ tsp. vanilla (high quality vanilla makes a huge difference…it’s worth the price)
2 tsp. lemon extract
1 tbsp. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line muffin pan with cupcake liners.
1.       Whisk the soymilk and apple cider vinegar in a large bowl and set aside for a few minutes to curdle.
2.       Beat together the soymilk mixture, oil, sugar, vanilla and lemon extracts.
3.       Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until no large lumps.
4.       Fill the cupcake liners two-thirds of the way and bake for 20-22 minutes till done.
5.       Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Frosting suggestions:
Lemon Glaze
Chocolate Ganache
Lemon or vanilla buttercream

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Martha Stewart Whole Living features my blog post

Very excited...yesterdays blog was a featured blog on Martha Stewart's Whole Living Community Website.  It was also today editor's pick on JewishBoston.com

OMG!!! Yesterdays blog post was a featured blog post on Martha Stewart's Whole Living Community website!! Take a look!http://community.wholeliving.com/profiles/blogs/embracing-a-mission-you-didnt

From my blog lifeisgoodlickthebowl.blogspot.com-This entry is dedicated to all those who are participating in walks, fun runs, 5k's, and all other missions tha…

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Embracing a Mission You Didn’t Ask For

I have been thinking a lot lately about what influences our “missions” in life.  I think this philosophical deliberation stems from the slew of 5k’s, fun runs, and walks that are occuring over the next few weeks in our neighborhood.  I also have a close cadre of friends whose children successfully triumphed over life threatening disease and are embracing it as their mission.
 I often wonder how these parents and countless others handle such scary situations with such ferocity, dignity and grace.   I marvel at their courageousness, and their relentless advocacy whether it’s with insurance companies, doctors, races, walks, and community programs all while trying to provide some semblance of normalcy to their family’s lives.  Moreover, I am amazed at their inner strength to embrace these issues as their life missions.   I always used to think, that if faced with such terrifying adversity, I would simply crumble.  Where would I find the inner strength to take on my child’s illness and then make it a part of my life’s mission? A mission I clearly didn’t ask for.
Of course, it’s selfishly easier to not focus on such things.  These aren’t the missions we set out for when we have children.  I readily admit that while I always supported my friends with donations, or particpation, I was secretly relieved that I didn’t have to take on any of these missions personally. 
Sometimes, we don’t go looking for a mission, rather, it finds us. It seems like food allergies have become my mission, even though it wasn’t a part of my life’s blueprint (then again, I never expected to be a stay home mom either).  My “mission” doesn’t include philanthropy or races per se, rather, my tools of advocacy are the written word.  If I can inform, educate, provide awareness, or just comfort, not to mention viscerally protect my child, then, life takes on more meaning.  
Here’s what I learned about myself over the last three years.  While I don’t consider myself the bravest, or even the most resourceful, I have nonetheless tapped into an inner strength I never knew I had.  It took a while, along with a lot of crying, guilt, and resistance, but I emerged with a stronger sense of purpose.   It’s a strange feeling when your life shifts course due to a set of circumstances you never expected or even wanted.   Suddenly, it becomes the backdrop of your life, the new normal and you have two choices; concede or unleash your dormant inner strength that can make a difference to not just you, but many others as well. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Victoria’s Secret and the Blueberry Muffins

Well, the anxiety is over…I feel more at Namaste as I finally ordered the dreaded bathing suit…or suits I should say.  It was difficult, but I persevered.  I got them from none other than… Victoria Secret.  Ah, I can almost feel my sisters cringing out there.  I hear your cries of indignation.  “How could you do that? With all of your anxiety about bathing suits, how could you sit there, viewing all those bodacious, size 0, 36D, bombshells without breaking down and plunging your head in a mountainous bowl of ice cream?”  I hear you and I agree.  It was rather daunting looking at all those lascivious women, which is why I methodically and rationally switched over to ER mode.
I experienced ER mode three years ago when Ari tripped and fell on the concrete at the pool.  He gashed his forehead and had a huge egg sized, hematoma like bump.  Off to the ER we went, blood spurting all over my clothes, a howling child and a very green-looking husband.   Ultimately, I knew Ari was safe, and that his gash was repairable and it’s not that I wasn’t worried, but I needed to be in control since my husband seriously looked like he was going to throw up.
Going into ER mode is like having an out of body experience.  It feels as if you’re floating above the surface and becoming completely detached, which ultimately allows you to focus on the detail of the situation, rather than the emotional.  It took approximately four people to hold Ari down for stitches.  I commanded the front end where all the action was taking place while my husband handled the waist down.   Throughout Ari’s sad and pathetic howling, I stayed the course and focused on the process with laser beam attention. I watched the doctor, calmed my child, as I became very transfixed on needle and thread going through my kids forehead.  It’s defense mode. It kept me from becoming unhinged.  
The ER phenomenon is how I managed to order bathing suits.  I became completely detached from non-dimpled, size 22- inch waists, and other perky thing-like goddesses.  I focused on the bathing suits at hand and really forced myself to find an array of seemingly realistic styles. 
Now, here is how I know I have grown as a person with body issues.   Some of the colors/styles were on back order and wouldn’t be shipped until the end of June.  The old me would have just thrown my hands up and said…”Oh well, woe is me, guess I won’t be ordering a suit today.”  But  the new and improved, baby step me decided to stop the insanity. No more excuses.  It was now or never and if they didn’t have the suit in Eggplant, well, Wild Blueberry would have to suffice.    
Speaking of wild blueberry, (I'm switiching gears now and this is a great segue) today is the last day of Food Allergy Awareness Week.  Yesterday, I brought in some treats to the teachers in honor of FAAW.  I decided that it was my responsibility to communicate and educate…again, baby steps.  I left a basket of some amazing blueberry muffins along with a note informing the staff that these were in honor of FAAW, and that they were nut, egg and dairy free.
The best thing someone can say to you is either, “Wow, you look awesome and skinny in that suit,” or I can’t believe these are allergy free!”  Let’s review the latter because it actually happened.   I guess part of my long-term awareness plan is to eradicate stigma associated with food allergies. When an item that is allergy free tastes equivalent too, or is even better than its allergy counterpart, it slowly changes the way non-allergy people think about it and allergies in general.  It’s my way of being proactive, along with this blog, to help shape a new awareness/attitude in the long run.
 I was at the farmers market last week, and asked one of the bakery vendors if they made anything without eggs.  He sort of turned his nose up disdainfully and said…”No, not really, the stuff just doesn’t taste as good without it.”  “Well, you obviously haven’t tried my stuff.” I replied.  He laughed.   Glad he thought I was being funny.  I was actually being serious that time. I do have my moments afterall.
Therefore, in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, I am posting my blueberry muffin recipe along with some notes to help you tailor them to your needs.  I wish I could say I created this recipe by myself, but, alas, I modified it from the Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book by Kelly Rudnicki.  Apparently, they were quite a hit with the teachers at Ari’s school.
 Maybe-I should send some to the models at Victoria’s Secret (haaaa, hahaa hahaha,she maniacally laughs).
 Have a great weekend; the muffins are a great Sunday morning crowd pleaser.
 Blueberry Muffins-Yields 12 muffins
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour (to make it healthier you can use  Whole Wheat Pastry Flour entirely but the texture may be a bit grainier, or use 1 cup per flour)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar (I use Florida crystals and cut the sugar to ½.  Sometimes I use ¼ Sucanat ¼ crystals).
  • 1 TBSP wheat germ (totally optional- not in original recipe, but boosts nutrition factor.  If you do use wheat germ, then make sure to use half-half flours otherwise it becomes really dense…unless you like it that way).
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt ( I use sea salt)
  • 2/3 cup rice or soy milk (unsweetened)
  • ¼ canola oil
  • ½ tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP water
  • 2 tsp. vanilla (she uses ½) make sure it good quality vanilla-makes an incredible difference
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners
In a medium bowl sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together and then use whisk to combine. In another medium bowl, combine the milk, canola oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, water and vanilla with a spatula.  Add the flour mixture to the milk mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined.  DO NOT OVERMIX OR THEY WILL BECOME RUBBERY.
Lightly fold in berries with a rubber spatula.  Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners.  Sprinkle the tops with granulated Florida Crystals (or not, but they add a nice crunchy topping) and bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool for 3-4 minutes and remove onto a wire rack.

Bathing Suit Phobias, Baby Steps and Food Allergies

The weather is finally getting warmer (yeah!) which only means that we are mere weeks away from the dreaded bathing suit season.  Last year, I wound up wearing my workout gear (waterproof shorts and a Lycra tank) to the pool.  People weren’t sure if I was there to do bicep curls or swim.  It was either that, or the same black suit that I have worn since my nursing days with Ari.  Just for the record, Ari is six-years old now.  Needless to say, I don’t quite fill it out the way I used to, and it’s pretty stretched and saggy at this point (yes, I could say, just like me…but I am trying to be positive).
In my bathing suit museum, there is the bikini I bought thinking I could pull it off, and that’s what I did, I pulled it off and never wore it again. There is a reason why one shouldn’t buy a $20 dollar bathing suit from T.J. Maxx; they just don’t last.  This one stretched out within three wearings and since clothing malfunctions aren’t pretty in your 40’s, I gave it the ole heave ho.  After that, I was done with department stores and their bad lighting along with cheap suits that claim to do all sorts of things and don’t live up to their promises.  I didn’t want to wear a suit in general.  In fact, I was ready to never step foot in a pool again, EVER! Obviously, this is a bit unrealistic since kids love and most definitely live for the pool.  Of all the anxious phobias Ari has about things…water isn’t one of them, just my luck.
 I readily admit that I have a bathing suit phobia, which is probably why I can’t even bring myself to order one online.  However, today is a new day.  I have been feeling better since I stepped on the scale during Passover and have decided that it’s now or never.  Therefore, as soon as I finish this entry, clean up the dishes, vacuum, pick up the kids, work on homework, car pool to karate, make dinner and possibly work out, I am going to entertain the idea of ordering a suit!  Hopefully.  It’s a baby step in a positive direction and I will let you know how it turns out.  Wish me luck.
Along the theme of baby steps, I have to mention that this week is Food Allergy Awareness  Week, and since food allergies affects my entire family (not to mention 12 million people in the US) allow me to tell you about my baby steps in that direction.  I need to preface this by saying (and perhaps you have assumed this already), I am not an in your face kind of person. Sure, I  engage in loud, sardonic repartee, but I don’t look for a fight, I hate conflict, and I don’t enter situations with guns blazing (though as I originally hail from  New York, I probably did all these things in the past). Perhaps age and parenting have softened me over the years, but I find that I don’t do well in adversarial confrontations.   Nevertheless, when it comes to my child’s well being, I do advocate.  It’s just a matter of how I approach the situation.
Ari is vigilant when it comes to his food allergies, and usually errs on the side of caution.  However, he is six and is subject to temptation.   As we near the end of the school year, I have to say that when he was faced with food challenges, i.e. special snacks handed out as rewards (don’t get me started), or birthday or holiday parties where he couldn’t eat what everyone else did, he was a pretty good sport.  The rule of the house is, whatever he can’t eat at school, there is a safe equivalent at home for him to have (which means I had to learn how to make or find allergy safe equivalents).
I never mentioned anything to the administration/principal because frankly, she has a lot to deal with in a given day.  The more I thought however, the more concerned I became. He had a right to a safe environment just like anyone else and there had been some occasions where school policy really needed some fine-tuning.
After a few emails, and some discussion with the principal, we agreed to some new “practices” that would lend to a safer environment.  I did not expect a complete overhaul, nor was I asking for one, because at the end of the day, it’s not worth my time fighting for something that clearly is not going to happen.  Rather, use my energies for other things that I can actually change.  Baby steps are sometimes the way to go in these situations.  For example, they aren’t going to stop providing food for classroom birthdays, holidays, or rewards.  However, they can send out an administrative letter expressing tolerance and understanding regarding food allergies.  So, I am happy to say, that I will be the creator of such a letter for next year to be signed by the principal…I hope these baby steps will yield positive parental support.
 I further suggested that kids in Ari’s class wash their hands after lunch.  I didn’t’ ask for it to be standard school policy, just his class, and any others that may have kids with similar allergies.  All it takes is for one child to eat peanut butter at lunch and then pass a crayon to Ari with nut protein on it to send him to the hospital.  Washing hands is a small measure with a big payoff.  Finally, I will provide a food referral list to the principal regarding safe snacks and locations in which to find them. 
Small baby steps do not entirely quell the fear in my heart that I feel as I watch Ari trot off to school everyday, though, when we are proactive, we tend to deal with our anxiousness a little better.  You can apply this philosophy to many things in life whether its food allergies…and yes, even bathing suits.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

BACOS, Post Traumatic Salad Disorder and the Strawberry Crunkle

Since my caffeine overdose a few weeks ago, I am happy to report that my stomach has finally recovered.  Now, you would think that after my little java incident, I would swear coffee off entirely. Alas, I am still drinking coffee, (I couldn’t take the headaches without it) though I am way more cautious and even a bit wary regarding the amount I consume.  For example, I no longer finish what’s in the pot, and sometimes not even in my cup.  This is a monumental breakthrough for a coffee hound like me in that it has taught me restraint and self-control, unlike my previous BACOS addiction.
That’s right; I was in fact a hard-core BACOS addict back in the day.  I put them on EVERYTHING, and since I was a vegetarian at the time, I convinced myself that these imitation, dehydrated morsels were actually a viable source of protein to my already lacking diet.   I sprinkled it on soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta, stir- fries, enchiladas, and the list goes on.  If it had been socially acceptable, I probably would have put them on ice cream for a true salty/sweet experience.  There were many times when I would just pop them straight into my mouth from the jar and revel in their crunchy, chemicalized, salty goodness.  If they were on sale, I hoarded and squirreled them away in case of nuclear fallout (BACOS has an incredibly long shelf life).  I even kept them in my desk at work for a quick, late morning fix.  It didn’t matter that my permanently puckered lips were always stinging, or that I spewed artificial BACOS breath, or that I was unquenchably thirsty, nothing could break me of my addiction…until that fateful day. 
I had a particularly bad day at work, and needed my BACOS bad (I had already consumed the stash in my car). I staggered into the apartment like a junky and proceeded straight toward the kitchen cupboard where my BACOS “crack” was located.  When I grabbed the jar, I noticed that the lid wasn’t properly snapped into place.  That’s when I saw it …a shiny, baby roach sitting right on top of my all time favorite sustenance.
It was a day of realization.  I needed to get my life back.  I went cold turkey on BACOS.  While I am a healthier human being physically, I am still scarred emotionally.  In fact, every time I see BACOS at a salad bar, I experience PTSD.  Post Traumatic Salad Disorder.   I get flashes of me happily eating my salad/BACOS creation and then WHAM, that roach pops into my head…I think I need therapy.
Life really does change you at every turn.  When I look back on those years of complete disregard for my body and health, I realize how far I have truly come.  Throw in parenting,  a few personal health scares, a son with severe food allergies,  and a general distrust for anything remotely processed and you have the makings of a new age health food aficionada…or as we used to call my mother, a health food nut.  In her defense, her tactics were well intentioned, but the health food movement was only in its infancy in the early 70’s and most people just didn’t get it.
I don’t like the word “nut” because it connotes that you are crazy and completely unrealistic.  . I don’t think I am any of those things, (regarding food anyway) though some people who don’t understand food allergies and all of its implications may think otherwise.   Frankly, I am strict about certain things, and prefer to make items from scratch because a seemingly innocent cookie could be lethal to Ari from an allergy standpoint.  The bonus of these efforts is that I am contributing to the overall health of my family by making recipes that aren’t processed or sugar laden.
In a recent effort  to bolster everyone’s immunity, support local growers and reduce my carbon footprint on this world, I also stopped buying  the twelve most contaminated  conventional produce items such as peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes, and swapped them out for organic. When the produce is stellar, I can justify the cost, but when it’s not, I’m usually filled with doubt since I am relatively new to the organic world and its assumed benefits.   
 For example, this past weekend, I went to the local farmers market to buy local, organic produce.  The strawberries looked awesome, smelled great, and I paid a fortune for them.  I walked out of there feeling like I had a made a difference in some small way.  The heady strawberry smell in the car was intoxicating and I could hardly wait to give them to the kids.  I made a really big deal about them as they clamored around the bowl like bloodhounds.  We all took a big, juicy bite and had the same reaction….UGH, UGH, UGH!!!!  They had to be the worst, sour tasting, expensive strawberries I had ever bought in the history of produce.  I had just spent $10 on 2 quarts of strawberries that were non- returnable and boy was I mad, not to mention disappointed.
So, what’s a mom to do when she is handed sour strawberries?  She makes a Strawberry Crunkle, of course.  What’s a Crunkle? Well it’s sort of a combination of a cake, crumble, and a buckle, hence, the Crunkle.   This Crunkle was so amazingly good, that I had to share the recipe with you.  The strawberries don’t have to be sour, but they actually lended to the overall balance, so you may want to add a little lemon juice if your strawberries are very sweet.  Play with it; change it around, but at the end of the day you are going to make the Crunkle part of your regular baking vocabulary. This recipe is so simple, and as far as desserts go, you won’t mind your children eating it.  Enjoy!

Strawberry Crunkle
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray an 8x8 baking (I used a disposable one)

1-cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1-cup quick cooking oats
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup Sucanat (sugar cane natural), you can reduce the sugar to ¼ cup if your strawberries are already sweet
1 tbsp brown sugar (optional, but adds a little moisture to the crust)
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla

2- 2 1/2 cups strawberries sliced lengthwise
2 tbsp pure maple syrup (the real stuff-no Aunt Jemimah)
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch or potato starch (I used potato, but think cornstarch may work better)
2-3 tsp apple cider or orange juice
1 TBSP. pure vanilla (many vanillas are watered down with corn syrup, use the good stuff)
2 tsp. lemon juice (optional)
1 TBSP chocolate chips

  • Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix them together (I use my hands).
  • Drizzle oil over the dry ingredients and using a fork, mash the oil and dry ingredients together until it resembles crumbs.  Add the vanilla. Use your hands to combine. The pieces should stick together when squeezed.  If it’s too dry, then add a drop or two of soymilk, or regular milk to wet the dough.
  • Reserve ¼ cup of the dough.
  • Press the dough evenly into an 8x8 baking pan, make sure it is evenly distributed on the bottom and up the sides.
  • Dilute the starch with apple cider or orange juice and whisk until thoroughly combined.
  • Combine all of the liquid ingredients (including starch) in a large bowl and mix well.
  • Pour filling ingredients over the crust and evenly distribute.
  • Sprinkle reserve dough over the filling.
  • Dot with chocolate chips (don’t use too many, it may add to much moisture and overwhelm the strawberry taste).
  • Bake for approximately 40-50 minutes.  Start checking around 35 minutes depending on your oven.
  • Cool completely.

You can top it off with whip cream, but honestly, it really doesn’t need it!  Again, I am still experimenting with this recipe, so if you try it and find something that works better, please share!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fainting, Puking and Coffee…It’s Not Just for Dating Anymore

As an English major back in college, I was required to take a course on the writings of Shakespeare.  The teacher was an eccentric sort, a bit annoying, but nonetheless expressed a viable passion for the works of good ole William.  One of the class requirements was to see a performance of The Twelfth Night at a hole in the wall, delapdated theatre located in the bowels of Manhattan, otherwise knows as…The Bowery. 
Now, I know that the Bowery has been greatly rehabilitated over the years, boasting a Whole Foods and multi million-dollar condos, however, back in the 80’s, it was gross, dirty, and full of “eccentric” and unsavory individuals drinking out of brown paper bags.  Thus, my sordid tale begins.
It wasn’t a date per se, as we were friends and classmates.   It seemed, however, that I had been coming down with the flu as it hit me out of nowhere during the middle of the first act. I stole away to the bathroom and remained there for the remainder of the play.   I was dizzy, faint, hot, feverish, and very nauseous, praying that relief would engulf me, but it didn’t, at least not in the bathroom. 
I found my friend, told him I wasn’t feeling well and would have to skip the after play repast in Chinatown.  “Okay, let’s get to the car, and I will get you home.”  He seemed sympathetic.  All of a sudden, a huge wave inside me needed to get out.  I found the nearest garbage pail and proceeded to let my inner inhibitions free.  My friend stood by and asked if I was okay.  He was such a good sport and so truly patient as I wretched and released in a most un-Shakespeare like manner.   Here’s the ironic thing though.  I was a twenty something, nicely dressed, seemingly normal individual barfing into a garbage can, and yet, no one stopped, cared, or seemed to think this wasn’t normal.  Apparently, this was a regular occurrence down on The Bowery.  People threw up in garbage cans all the time and I guess I was just part of the general milieu.  Moreover, I didn’t care.  I was sick and that garbage can was my friend, a receptacle in waiting.  It was my metal beacon in the night.
It’s like childbirth.  You just don’t care at a certain point who’s in the labor room.  I had 18 hours of non-medicated childbirth, and when the emergency team swooped in to get the baby out (she was stuck) I didn’t even care.  It could have been the janitor delivering my baby, I just didn’t care.  Oh, Oprah wants to interview me, now?  “Sure, Oprah, don’t mind my screaming.”   Shape magazine wants a picture of me for their cover, entitled, Don’t Let This Happen to You?  Yeah, you can let them in too.  I DON’T CARE, GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT!  
Truly, throwing up on a date wasn’t my best moment, which is why it’s funny that it happened again…on a date.  Seems like I can’t hold my dairy too well and as he pulled up to my house, I couldn’t even wait, I opened the door and let myself go in the street sparing the seat of the car.  In retrospect, I wish I had aimed at the seat, in the trunk, the steering wheel and the glove compartment as that boyfriend cheated on me numerous times during our relationship.
Then there was the time, I fainted on an AMTRAK train.  Now, I was out of college and on my own.  On a trip to NY to visit my parents, we wound up having an argument over my current beau.  I holed myself up in my bedroom, and didn’t eat for 24 hours because I didn’t want to engage in any more conversation with my parents downstairs.  I left for the train station super early without saying goodbye, or as much as a banana to eat and proceeded to head home.  Nothing was open that time of the morning, so I still had not eaten. Lack of food combined with hypoglycemia (which I didn’t know I had at the time) put me in the embarrassing predicament of passing out on the woman next to me (who by the way was on her way home from her honeymoon with her new husband).  
The train made an emergency stop in Metro Park, NJ.  If you look closely, there is a sign that hangs at the station that reads…Metro Park, Home of the Emergency Stop.  They wheeled me off in a gurney, and the EMT’s took me to the hospital for tests and I.V’s.   This time, people gaped, pressed up against the window of the train but not because they cared, rather, annoyed that they were going to be delayed…I knew how they felt. 
After that occurrence, I broke up with the guy my parents didn’t like (don’t you hate when they’re right)?   But my little fainting spell happened again a few weeks later on –you guessed it, another date.   He said that he never had that affect on a girl before, which only made him cuter.
Ah….so now here I am, hypoglycemia under control, and no longer on the dating circuit.  What could befall me now? 
This past weekend, I made an unusually large pot of coffee.  My husband usually helps me finish it, though we had some things going on and left the remainder in the pot.  When we came home I decided to have some more, and then ultimately finished it. I wasn’t really paying attention to how much I had actually consumed (6 cups).  About an hour later, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful springlike weather and go for a power walk.  About midway, I was doubled over.  Of course, I had forgotten my phone, and I was about 2 miles from home. 
I managed to walk a ¼ mile to the Emergency room at the local hospital.  I was about 15 feet from the ER, and about to lose it on a lovely grassy knoll, and I just didn’t care.  I felt horrible.  I actually made it to the ER in time and guess what? They didn’t seem to care either, it was like the Bowery all over again.  I walked in pale, shaking, and hunched over and asked for the ladies room and he detachedly pointed to it.  Do I need to make the irony clear here, that I was in an ER???  No, “Mam are you okay?” Of course, I would have stood on ceremony if he had called me “mam” because I absolutely hate being called, “mam.”
When I emerged (probably 5 lbs lighter) I called my husband to pick me up.  My knight in shining armor arrived in our misty blue Sienna minivan, (which is far less bumpy than a white horse), and pajama pants. No questions or lectures, just sympathy and speed, and my parents like him..bonus.
The next day, I swore off coffee as my stomach acids tried to neutralize themselves, but then I developed a headache of migraine proportion.  I thought I had a virus, but then I reared in horror…OMG I was totally addicted to caffeine.  My husband was right (don’t you just hate that)?  “I can kick it.”  I said, a little shakily.  Truth is, I remember when he went cold turkey on coffee and it wasn’t pretty.  It was seriously like watching drug detox, complete with shakes, headaches and severe moodiness.   I liked him much better on caffeine.
This morning, I desperately tried again to avoid it.  I made wimpy vanilla chamomile tea which by the way tastes nothing like vanilla.  I asked my husband what to do.  He sarcastically suggested I find a new addiction.  Maybe I will take up smoking.  I needed coffee.   I scooped it out, breathing in its heady aroma, and when I finally succumbed to the rich, dark elixir, presto, my headache instantly disappeared. 
I always find it funny when my girlfriend tells me I am one of the most grounded people she knows.  When I write these stories from my past, or even my present, it’s a reminder that I am a work in progress.  It’s all part of the Lick the Bowl experience where you begin to understand that each occurrence makes you a little bit wiser and brings you to a point of understanding and appreciation for the little things in life.   This latest scenario not only makes me appreciate the narcotic effects of coffee, but the wisdom that emerges from stupidity and a husband who stands by and doesn’t judge.