Thursday, February 3, 2011

For my Gram

My grandmother is the type of lady who lunches. Don't get me wrong: she's not a society queen or a Boston Brahman born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But she definitely frequents cafes for her noon time meal. Gram loves food and company to eat with. She also lives in Orange County, California, and from what I've observed, this seems to be the norm out there for the retired set. My grandmother hosts luncheons for her lady friends as well. She also has my uncle to lunch frequently. For these lunches, she makes things I have only heard about in my Cold War-era history classes and lectures incorporating details about 1950's housewives or what I gleaned from Julia Child's vivid descriptions of food she was privy to before learning to cook in France: a pale yellow pineapple circle, on a piece of wilted iceberg, filled with chunky cottage cheese; shiny jello molds with canned fruit suspended like astronauts within a space dome; powdered raspberry iced tea with lots of ice and a wedge of lemon.

Personally, I love the kitsch of it all. I experienced this first hand about a decade ago, and it's very much become embedded in memories of my Gram. I was completely undecided about anything my life, starting in my senior year of high school. The only exception being I decided I wanted to have an exciting life. I had lived in NYC for a spell, attended Parson's School of Design on scholarship, and got my first taste of freedom. Picture it: 1998, East Village, NYC- new age hippie teen living in apartment five blocks from Washington Square Park, with three teen roommates. My mother just sent me a monthly check to buy art supplies and "rations." I had a fake id and got my groove on at Tunnel, Life and all those 90's clubs I had read about. I was studying "The Ahhhts" at Parson's and was good enough to get a scholarship (booyea). Oh yeah, my head was big. I knew I could never go back home after this and just go to a Massachusetts state school, do my laundry on the weekends at my mom's, perfect my Boston accent. I wanted to stay the heck out of dodge, and college seemed like the reasonable way to peace out.

I didn't think that anymore in Pennsylvania in September. I hated living there, I hated the school, hated it all. Looking back, I don't think I would have loved anywhere at that point in my life, but not going to college was not an option; people where I lived just didn't do that (or at least that's what I was told by my mother). I had viewed freshman year as a continued escape like my time at Parson's; however, going to school in PA was a million light years from living and taking art classes in NYC. Fast forward to Spring semester, finals' week: after my 3-D design final, my last, I skipped to the Registrar's office.

"I'd like to leave the university. Is there something I need to sign?"
" Oh, you'd like to take a leave of absence? We have a form for that. Let me get it for you..."
" No, sorry. You misunderstand me. I want to drop out. I never, ever, EVER want to come back here again. Do you have a form for that? Or can you just, like, delete me now from the system? I would like to keep my grades though- I did pretty awesome this year." <-- big head still intact. And now I was a Dean's List College Drop-out. Who didn't tell her mother she unenrolled in college until the mother asked where the tuition bill was. Or that she was moving to Montana for an internship. Or that said internship was in the middle of the Pintler National Forest, 26 miles (and 4 cattle guards- the 18-year old me didn't know what a cattle guard was) down a logging road on a homestead ranch. For a nonprofit, bipartisan voter education project (You can imagine this was all lost on my East Coast Mother- she thought I was going to work for a militia cum cult because "what else does MT have to offer?"<- direct quote). My mother is normally a very sweet, laid back woman, but after sharing this information, I thought it best to spend some time in Socal with Gram. You know, so my mother could get used to the idea of me living on the West Coast. And also so she had some time to bring down her blood pressure and re hinge my bedroom door after it fell off the frame from her slamming it upon hearing the news of my dropping out.

I had visited my Gram before, but this trip was really fun. And my Gram loves to have me around to shop with, to watch Law and Order with, to iron with, to feed, to dote on. She calls me "#1", and has, like, a billion grandchildren. So fun is my Gram's, that I decided that after my internship, I should come back and live with her and my grandfather, attend community college like all the OC kids, and work at a health food store. This was the way to have an exciting life. Even when I thought of, think of, California, I picture the Santa Monica mountains at night, and instead of the Hollywood sign, California is written in bright white stars. My Gram always tells me I am so visual and creative. She helps keep my big head inflated.

After I finished my (first) MT adventure, I meandered around the West in WY and UT for a spell. I landed back at Gram's for the start of the new semester in January. My Gram has lived on the West Coast since I was about 11, so I hadn't spent a lot of time with her, just hanging out. This was when I came to observe her lunching habit and hosting prowess. While I am not a fan of Jello or raspberry iced tea, I do love pineapples and cottage cheese. Gram also concocted this delicious crab salad that I would wolf down should I be lucky enough to not have classes those afternoons she hosted company. She also made a curried chicken salad once that I have not forgotten. I never thought I was one for curry powder until that day, but now, I adore it.

I have mentioned this diet I am on (10 weeks, 10 weeks...), and I need to get creative so as not to suffer through it's duration. My gram has inspired me to create a curried chicken salad that will work with my restrictions. I don't know how she made her's, but I am guessing Miracle Whip and Pepperidge Farm thin-slice bread was involved. I will put mine on a bed of red oak leaf lettuce and frisee. Add an iced tea too- hold the raspberry. And please, no Jello molds (but I will take the canned fruit and cottage cheese). My Gram would be proud that I am sticking to my diet. And she will be pleased as punch I blogged about her- she knows her way around the Internet better than many people I work with in the technology departments of school districts. She'll probably link to this from Facebook. Because that's how cool and great my Gram is.

Curried Chicken Salad

This is a recipe for a wonderful chicken salad (not my diet version). It's great on a bed of salad greens or pocketed in a whole wheat pita. Also, these are my measurements. I am not a huge mayo person, so if you love the stuff, you can leave out the Greek yogurt (but that does give it tang) and use all mayonnaise. These are simply guidelines. Tweak away. I can hear my Gram saying now, "Good job, Jen!"

2/3 cup rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 tablespoon diced celery
1/2 cup halved red or black grapes
2 tablespoons silvered toasted almonds
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon course grain mustard
2 teaspoons curry powder
salt and pepper to taste

Combine mayonnaise,yogurt, mustard and curry powder in a bowl. Add chicken and celery until well drenched in the dressing. Gently fold in grapes and almonds. S&P it up. Serves one. Multiplies like a dream.

If you don't have rotisserie chicken, any cut of chicken would be fine. I am sure green grapes are good too, just not as pretty. Dried cranberries are awesome as well! I guess raisins would be ok, if you like raisins (I don't, unless they are alcohol-soaked, but that's a different post). This salad really needs lettuce and tomato, so if it's not on a bed of greens with cherry tomatoes, add some to the sandwich. And be sure to serve on china with a linen napkin and placemat. Cuz that's what my Gram would do.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Your body is a temple... for buffalo, radishes, cucumbers, sprouts and lettuce

I changed directions on this blog because I heart food. I adore talking about food. I love learning about different cultures through their food. When I travel, I enjoy gorging on the local fare. Herein lies the rub: I travel. A Lot. for work. And gorge I do. Working from home these past few years hasn't helped the situation either. I previously noted that sometimes I forgo trips to the mailbox due to laziness. Having a baby and being the only parent on a day-to-day basis has decreased my free time for exercise. Hence my metabolism has gone on strike. It's all, "Listen lady, we know you have a penchant for the sweeter stuff in life, but we don't have the gumption to keep on keepin' on. Peace!" So here I sit, the day after I was weighed for the first time in... a long time. It's not just my closet that is speaking out, people. That scale screamed at me- LAZY BONES, LET'S GET MOVING AND START TO EAT BETTER. The yell didn't fall on deaf ears.

I joined a team at my gym with six other women who also want to get up and get back into their favorite outfits. We are training together twice a week, and have all kinds of competitions. There are several teams, and we compete against each other- team vs. team. I am uber competitive: I am the person next to you at the light who will slam on her gas (and burn rubber) to beat you on divided highway; I make up pretend speed-walking competitions when I am taking out the trash. I can be a little crazy (see previous posts) when it comes to being the best. Also, because there was a hefty fee associated with the program, as well as daycare costs, new non-stick pans purchased, and a major revamp of the groceries I keep (Melba Toast, anyone?), I am firmly committed to finishing these 10 weeks with (almost) complete devotion and minimal deviance.

They gave us food journals and lists of approved foods. Majah adjustment for me. It's not so much that I eat poorly- the biggest part of my grocery bill (pre-slim down) is vegetables, then dairy, then fruits. The problem is in my portion size, when I eat and how I prepare the produce. I eat most meals alone or in the company of a picky four-year old. When I think back to when I was a much healthier weight, I was surrounded by people for nearly every meal. The conversation, back and forth banter, and just general interaction over broken bread gave me time to digest and process my food. I rarely finished my plate at restaurants because I ate slowly and stopped when I felt full. Now, I have next to no routine for meals save dinner, which I eat around 6-7 pm every night. It's also my biggest meal. I usually spend it at the table, chastising and coaxing and bribing my child to consume something, while I myself wolf down the entire plate of whatever delectable thing I made (usually prepared in quantities enough for two despite my being a Singleton). During the day, after I drop off H at school, I may grab a coffee or brew some at home. I had thwarted this habit this fall, but it came back like a sciatica attack. Did I mention I like my coffee the color of me, tan, in the summer? Oh yeah, it gets that way with the help of half'n' half. Then, I will generally forget to eat until 3 pm and/ or when I am so hungry I turn into the Incredible Hulk-cum-Stay-Puft-Marshmallow-Monster-from-Ghostbusters, and consume, while standing up and rummaging counter tops and cupboards, anything that is available: chocolate chip granola bars, pop chips, leftover tuna salad, cold roasted vegetables. See, none of the things I eat are terribly bad for a person; it's the quantity in which I eat them. And the fact that I move very little, save my fingers and mouth, during my work day (I realize this sounds like my job is "interesting"- it's actually very PG).

I also need to have something sweet every night, at about 9 pm. That may consist of hot chocolate or a piece of dark chocolate or some ice cream or one (or three) of whatever baked good I have around the house. Another killer nightly habit. I am a total late-night sweetie, and not in a good way.

I hope I don't sound like a Weight Watchers ad or one of those icky diet pill commercials, but my main motivation for getting back into better shape and a more healthy weight is because I hate the way I look in pictures lately. I don't want my daughter to grow up with few snapshots of her and her mom because her mom is vain, plump lady. My closet full of a-m-a-z-i-n-g items I no longer can fit into is also a huge help in getting my butt off the loveseat to put strictly celery in my mouth (10 weeks... 10 weeks...).

This diet is strict. But it's only 10 weeks. It's only 1o weeks. It's only 10 weeks. Oh sorry, it's become my mantra. I am thinking of this diet as reboot, a hard reset for my body and relationship with eating and exercise. It's a pretty rigid schedule of eating but there are some allowances. Like, I get to eat up to two pounds of protein a day. Um, as previously mentioned, I am not a huge carnal consumer. I much prefer eggs and yogurt to filets and shoulders. I had an 8 oz buffalo burger for lunch, and I am pretty sure it's still chillin' in my stomach. The free foods I can eat whenever I want to are cucumbers, radishes, alfalfa sprouts, and lettuce (if I were more sarcastic, I would end with an exclamation point). Mmmmm, if I were the Velveteen Rabbit, I'd be in 7th heaven. But I am not. I am someone who loves to eat radishes! On buttered toast! Sprouts are delicious! On a cheeseburger with avocado! I am a very visual person; I cannot visualize myself casually grabbing some sprouts growing in a container on my window sill and mowing down. Imagine the flossing I would have to endure!

I received the meal plan blues, I mean, news last night. After the sobs subsided and my vision wasn't so bleary through the tears (just kidding, but I did hyperventilate a little), I scoured the pages of approved foods. At this point, I am grateful I love food so much: I am going to ROCK this list with cool recipes to best showcase these foods. I had a bunch of Kale in the fridge, saved for Caldo Verde soup (linguisa-potato-soup-deliciousness), which is so not going to happen for at least 10 weeks. So, when life leads you to a diet and fridge with kale, make kale chips.

Kale Chips

These taste a bit like seaweed in that delicious Umami way.

1 huge head of kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons course salt
fresh ground pepper to taste (I am a pepper junkie)

Heat the oven to 300F. Rip the kale apart into bite size pieces. Wash, strain and dry well. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with S&P. Toss in a large bowl until well dressed. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread the kale out in a single layer (you may need multiple baking sheets or have several rounds on the same pan). Cook for 25-30 minutes. Kale will look shriveled, dark and tinier. It will feel crunchy. My diet says a half cup is all I get of cooked veg, but go ahead, eat 3/4 cup, people of free will.