It’s been more than two years since I’ve written here; not because I haven’t had thoughts that wanted to be shared, but because nothing seemed quite significant enough to break the silence of the grief that accompanied our departure from Uganda. It seems a bit ironic, then, for this “first” post to be about food. Perhaps this indicates a problem in my priorities :-). Actually, it was sort of an accident that led me back to this space full of memories. I happened to mention on Facebook earlier this week that, though I have long been a health-conscience eater–whole grains, whole foods, fruits and veggies, low sugar– I have still struggled with frequent blood sugar lows that left me unable to function without a snack every 2 hours. I joked that I fed myself like a newborn baby. This began somewhere around the time of the births of my first two children (late 20’s), and I thought that it would just be my way for the rest of my life. I regretted the fact that I could no longer fast, but since my occupation is in the home (and most often in the kitchen), it is not difficult to plan frequent snacks into my schedule. Recently, though, I decided to cut out almost all sugar. I did this for two reasons: 1) As I have entered my 40’s, my weight keeps creeping up, and I wanted to stop it before it became too difficult. And 2) The more I read about sugar, the more I became convinced that the outrageous levels at which we are consuming it as a society are doing great damage to our health. I say that I cut out “almost all sugar,” because I do not want to be controlled by dietary restrictions. I still eat fresh fruit and other naturally occurring sugars. I still drink my homemade kefir soda with the whatever sugar that is left after the three-day fermentation process. I still have a couple of dark chocolate covered almonds several afternoons a week. That small indulgence is very powerful in keeping rebellion at bay ;). And I still allow myself an occasional treat for socially/emotionally significant reasons — like yesterday, when I ate half of a homemade apple cider doughnut at Mulberry Orchard with my kiddos. It just seemed like a moment to share. I was going to eat the whole thing, but it turned out that half was enough. And like on my birthday when my friend, Nancy, made cherry pie with cherries from a local farm that she had canned the previous summer. It actually, amazingly, had no added sugar. It did have white flour, which I generally avoid, but it was so wonderful, so homemade and such an incredibly sweet gift that I not only had a generous piece, but ate it for breakfast for the next 2 days. I have no regrets :). So, you see, I am not a total sugar Nazi.
I also ruined my chances of receiving any scientific awards by changing another variable at the same time. I began to focus my meals on protein and limit my consumption of even the whole grains that I love so much. All this, as I said before, was about long-term health and weight control, not about blood sugar. It took me completely by surprise, then, when I began to notice that I no longer woke up hungry. My body didn’t ask for breakfast until 9 or 9:30 (I get up at 6:30, and used to eat almost right away.). My typical 10 a.m. snack (“second breakfast”) was completely forgotten. I did not notice hunger until – what do ‘ya know – lunch time. You would have to have lived with me for the last 10 years to understand how radical a departure from the norm this is. Around here, Mama doesn’t skip her morning snack! As the homeschooling mother-of-four, I could not afford to get fuzzy-headed and grouchy just when everyone needed my attention. If I feel need of the snack, I still eat it (usually sliced apples with almonds or natural peanut butter), but more often than not I don’t even think about food again until about 11:45 when it’s time to make lunch. I still usually do have an afternoon snack, because it’s just a long time between noon and 6 p.m., but I am generally eating less, even at meals, than I used to.
Back to my original point (yes, I actually had one), I posted about this surprising (to me) change on Facebook, and several moms in similar positions of balancing the needs of multiple kiddos, housework, farm work, and less than infinite budgets asked for specific advice about meals, foods and how to make it all work. I decided to write out my day in food. I knew this would be way too long for FaceBook, and that brought me back to this trusty old blog, which, like a faithful friend, was always ready to listen.
So, here goes… I start my day with a cup of coffee, because I am not Superwoman and I just love it. I make it the slow way, by boiling water and pouring it into a French press, and I treasure every step of the routine in the quiet dark. In the five minutes that it takes the coffee to steep, I put in my first load of laundry and lay all my books out for the day. I don’t have a baby right now, and if I did, some of the gentle indulgences of this routine would be sacrificed for a time for a different kind of joy. I use half and half, but no sugar.
Around 9:30, after I have planned my school day, spent some time in reading or prayer and gathered with my children for hymn singing, prayer and scripture memory, I eat my breakfast. I feel like I’ve earned it by then :-). For breakfast I alternate between a few options depending on when I have been to the store, what was in the budget for that week and what I feel like. Option 1 – Cabot Creamery plain Greek yogurt with blueberries. I like this brand because it is so creamy (I do not fear natural fats) that it requires no sweetening other than berries. Option 2 – the same Greek yogurt with a few drops of liquid stevia and 1/3 cup of Ezekiel 4:9 cereal mixed in. I know this cereal is crazy expensive, but eating one third cup at a time it lasts. Unless, of course, the children start asking for it, and, because it is such good stuff, you can’t say “no.” Option 3 – steel cut oats (which I often make anyway for my children) with a pat of butter and a boatload of slivered almonds (about 1/3 c.). I find no sweetener is needed, but my thirteen-year-old adds a few drops of stevia. The rest of the family uses maple syrup which (I can’t even believe I am saying this) I really don’t miss. If I am out of my yogurt and for some reason haven’t made the steel cut oats, I will cook up a couple of eggs with onions and whatever veggies I can quickly dice in. That is option 4, and I tend to do it only about once a week because it is more time consuming and, for reasons unknown to me, just not satisfied as long. Also, eggs everyday overwhelm me.
During the school morning, I hydrate myself with water, kefir soda and/or ginger tea (with a little milk it feels almost like having another cup of coffee). Kefir soda is probiotic and sparklingly wonderful, and tea makes me happy.
While the little ones have morning recess, I sneak in 20 minutes on the elliptical machine and maybe a shower. Then I drink more water.
Around noon we all eat lunch. In my ideal world I will have roasted vegetables, quinoa and chickpeas ready to toss together, warm and add a lemon herb sauce for an amazing and satisfying “power bowl” lunch. I nabbed this idea from a local restaurant. In reality, I don’t always find time to have these things ready. In that case, while making sandwiches for little people, I look for some sort of low-carb leftovers – a piece of chicken, bowl of soup, etc. If that fails I just roll together a piece or two of my kiddos lunch – meat and a slice of cheddar cheese. When I have greens on hand, I also fill a bowl with them and call it salad. In a real pinch, carrots dipped right into the peanut butter jar will keep you going.
Afternoons get a little crazy. I usually have about an hour of school work left to finish with my second grader, sometimes a Spanish class to teach, older kids to run to lessons, practices, classes, etc. Afternoon snack (still a necessity) often gets thrown in a bag and taken on the road. Fruit and nuts are my go-to. Very hunter-gathererish of me. Trader Joe’s sells 50% less salt roasted peanuts and almonds for a reasonable price. The kids like the peanuts and I like the almonds. The less salt makes a huge difference. I know I should be eating them soaked, rather than roasted, but, that is just not my reality right now. Maybe someday.
Suppers are a simple attempt to balance my convictions about healthy eating, budget keeping and pleasing everyone. Typically I plan our weeks’ dinners on Monday before I do my grocery shopping (while my kiddos are at Cottage School – a luxury I realize not everyone has). Monday evenings I get home late and exhausted from running errands and picking up younguns. Also, my older kids play volleyball at the community center at 6:15, so I have to be quick. I t’s my “cheat night,” when I do something like whip together a re-fried beans and salsa, melt cheddar cheese on top and serve with Trader Joe’s black bean and quinoa tortilla chips. Also a salad or berry / yogurt smoothie (I do add honey). Sometimes I even just get Trader Joe’s taquitos (can you tell I am obsessed?) to serve with guacamole and salad or smoothie. It’s a compromise, but it gets us through.
The rest of the week is fairly predictable. One beef or pork-centric supper–such as whole-grain pasta with meat sauce (onions, garlic, pepper, meat, tomatoes), my mama’s beef stew, roast w/veggies, or, this time of year, “pumpkin stuffed with everything good.” Often there is also a bean-y meal like Puerto Rican rice and beans in honor of my daddy (though I still can’t make it like my Titi Sarita 😦 ), or something more daring from my favorite cookbook, “Simply in Season.”. Usually once a week I roast a chicken and serve with brown rice and roasted green beans. This is so easy, but looks rather impressive and satisfies everyone. I use the chicken carcass to make broth for soup later in the week. I don’t believe in “soup season.” Every season is soup season. It is the best meal because you can make it slowly or quickly at any point in the day and all in one pot. can chop loads of vegetables while listening to “All Things Considered,” or just dump in the broth with a few cans of tomatoes garlic and basil when I’m in a super hurry. Homemade sourdough bread (King Arthur’s Rustic Sourdough made with 1/2 sprouted whole spelt flour) and sliced fruit make for a luxuriant meal. At least every other week, I try to work in a meal of pan-seared salmon–typically with whole grain couscous and roasted broccoli. Sometimes I make pizza with the “amazing whole wheat pizza dough” recipe that I Googled 10 years ago. If it’s Garden time I spend lots of time dicing and simmering tomatoes for the sauce. Most of the year, though, I just snazzy up plain tomato sauce with onions, garlic, basil and oregano. Those are my go-to is. Usually for one meal I get a little creative or desperate and look up something new or less familiar. The new plan this school year is for Micaiah, my 15-year-old son, to cook dinner as part of an “Eating and Cooking for Wellness” class that, as you might have guessed I invented to satisfy a “Health” credit. He can make whatever he wants, but the catch is that he has to follow the principles outlined in Michael Pollan’s great, little book “In Defense of Food“. Sometimes Greg offers to cook, and I stop thinking and just enjoy :-). Sunday nights we usually do what I call the “leftover smorgasbord,” and try to eat up all the bits of things left in the fridge to clear it out for Monday shopping.
I meant to say this at the beginning, but I will add it now – I am not an expert in food, nutrition, cooking or anything else – just a real and very busy mama who believes that what we eat now will still be affecting us in decades to come. My whole family does not follow all these guidelines. They do eat what I serve them, but also still get a lot more sugar than I wish they did. On that topic, my 13-year-old has some advice for cutting out sugar. She says, “Peanut butter is your life. Also make sure you have stevia.” It seems she’s a bit more concise than I am :).