I lost 40 pounds and I’ll tell you how, but you’re not going to like it

It’s counting calories and exercise, plus a little intermittent fasting, that’s how.

Ha! Told you you wouldn’t like it. If you want more details, they are below. The good news is, losing weight isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I just had to be ready. 

I am 5’5″ and 46 years old. Here’s my current driver’s license photo, on which I lied through my teeth about being 230 pounds. 

I don’t know how much I actually weighed, but it was more than that! My size 20 jeans cut into my waist and I was breathless all the time. 

I want to make it clear right now that it’s not evil to be fat. There are so, so many worse things in the world than being fat. Furthermore, I am still fat! But on April 14 of this year, I decided to at least try one more time to lose weight, and I thought you might want to hear about how it’s going. 

So, now it’s August, and now I weigh 195 pounds and fit comfortably into a size 16. I’ve lost about 40 pounds and I’m not pushing myself too hard, and I’m still losing about a pound a week. I haven’t really set a goal, but I would like to get down to 145 pounds. 175 would be awesome. Feeling more in control is already very awesome, so that’s really what this post is about. And yes, it’s about looking better.  I’ll also share some of my food strategies with you, but it’s nothing you can’t find anywhere else. 

So as not to be coy, I’ll start with the food part, and then I’ll tell the part about my brain. Here’s a typical day:

-Coffee with half and half when I get up. 
-Go for a run around 11:00
-Lunch at 2:00 (300-400 calories and high in protein)
-A snack or two around 4:00 or 5:00, or sometimes no snack
-A normal person’s dinner at 6:00 or 7:00
-Gin and seltzer with lime around 10:00

Typical lunch: Pita with four slices of turkey, mustard and pickles, and maybe a little cup of Greek yogurt or a piece of fruit; or a big plate of salad with leftover chicken, nuts, cheese, and vinegar; or pita fried with an egg. If I’m out shopping, I often get the Wendy’s strawberry chicken salad or grilled chicken sandwich. Not gonna lie, I eat a lot of turkey and chicken.

Typical dinner: Well, if you read this site, you know how I cook. I’m cooking as I always have, and just eating slightly smaller portions. Maybe I’ll go easy on the part of the meal that looks gooiest. If I’m still hungry after one serving, I’ll go back for a little more of the lowest-calorie element of the meal. If I’m really still hungry after dinner, I’ll have a green apple, and that seems to tell my brain “that’s enough.” 

And I drink plain seltzer all day long. 

I know I said I was counting calories, but I don’t actually know how many calories I eat per day. When I started trying to lose weight, I put my age, weight, and activity level into a calorie calculator and was surprised how many calories it said I could eat and still have a deficit; so at first, I calculated everything meticulously. Then I got sick of it and just started eyeballing everything besides lunch, and I still kept losing weight, so it seemed good enough. When I get stalled out, and stay the same weight for a week, I buckle down and pay more attention for a while. 

There is also a giant asterisk next to all of this that says “WITH SOME EXCEPTIONS.” If I had to name my weight loss plan, it would be the “with some exceptions” plan. More about that in a bit. 

The thing is, I was already doing a lot of things that should have helped me lose weight. I can’t have more than one cup of coffee, or it keeps me up at night, and I don’t like sugar in my coffee. Breakfast in general makes me feel blah. I don’t really like cake or pastries. Sugary foods and drinks give me headaches. I truly enjoy fresh fruits and raw vegetables. Chocolate is a migraine trigger. And I run 4-5 times a week to counteract hereditary heart issues and blood pressure issues, and to manage anxiety, migraines, and PMS. I was even intermittent fasting most of the time. But when I was eating, I was eating a lot. 

So mostly, I had to get smarter about all the ~e~m~o~t~i~o~n~a~l~ e~a~t~i~n~g~ I was doing all day long. I had about 523 different reasons for eating things, and only one of them was hunger. Not exactly groundbreaking info, but what to doooo?

I know some people have luck by addressing overeating as a sin to be corrected, and I’m not saying it’s not, but this doesn’t help me. It just doesn’t. I find the psychological approach much more useful. 

One thing I tell myself pretty often: “Nothing bad is going to happen if you don’t eat that [fistful of Cheezits or whatever].” First I had to acknowledge to myself that some part of me did halfway believe something bad going to happen if I didn’t eat it! That was embarrassing. Who knows where such a fear comes from. Poverty, pregnancy, anxiety, being just plain nuts, whatever. Anyway, I had to firmly tell myself that I was going to be okay, and I could just not eat the thing, and move along. Sometimes I had to tell myself more than once. Sometimes, oops, I didn’t listen, and ate it anyway.

So then the other half of the equation is that I often have to tell myself it’s also going to be okay if I did eat the thing. Because if it’s just food, it’s just food, whether I ate it or not.

A big part of disordered eating is not just the actual overeating; it’s being furious at myself for eating too much, and then punishing myself by eating more, and so on. Boo. Boo!

So what I’m working on is just calming the hell down about food, whether I’m having a good food day or a bad food day. I don’t want to be one of those people who gets skinny but is still crazy, you know? (Although it’s pretty likely I’ll end up both fat and crazy.) Food is important, and it can give real pleasure, and that’s not a bad thing. But it begins and ends in a certain place, and I’m the one in charge of that. That’s what I really want: To be in charge. That’s a big part of why being fat makes me so unhappy: Because I know I’m not in charge. I’m at the mercy of food and of food feelings. 

How to stay in charge? I have found through sad experience that trying to exert very rigid control doesn’t work with me. I panic and can’t sustain it, especially when something crazy happens and makes my careful plan feel overwhelming. And something crazy always happens. 

What I want is to eat in way that I can live with, no matter what else is going on. I don’t want to have to drag around a food scale or have special powders or say goodbye to entire categories of food forever. If I go to a party and there is baked brie or lobster in drawn butter involved, you bet I would have some — and then I would just cool with calories the next day, or else have a light lunch in preparation. That’s it! Because no single meal or single day is the final word. Even if I gain a few pounds, which definitely has happened, I got time. I can work with this. I can be cool. 

Every once in a while, flexibility or no, I get mad anyway, and feel kind of rebellious about having to think about what I eat, and I will stomp around and stuff unauthorized corn chips in my face, and eat a leftover pop tart I don’t even want, and sit around after dinner polishing off everyone’s leftover kielbasa even though I’m full. This goes on for a couple of days, and then I think, okay. You did that. It’s not the end of the world. But is it making you happy? And of course it is not.

That’s what really flipped the switch in the first place. I was gaining and gaining, and I knew I needed to do something, but I hated the idea of counting calories or joining a program, because I didn’t want to be thinking about food all the time. It seemed so dreary and awful and petty, thinking about food all the time.

Then it hit me: I think about being fat all the time. I think about it every day, every hour, sometimes more. I already think about it constantly, and it makes me unhappy every single time I think about it. So I thought OH WHAT THE HELL, I MIGHT AS WELL COUNT CALORIES. I didn’t even expect it to work! I just figured as long as I was going to be miserable, I might as well be miserable while trying, instead of being miserable while not trying.

And then the scale started to budge, what do you know about that.

So I’ve had to start over more than a few times, and it’s okay. Every time I’ve had to start over again, the scale starts to budge again eventually. 

I have had so many weird things happen to my brain over the last few months. One minute I feel absolutely vast, like an endless piece of obscenely overstuffed furniture. Then I get on the scale and I weigh ten ounces less than I expect, and I look in the mirror and bam, instantly I look slim and willowy and angular. This is bonkers. Completely bonkers. I have just had to learn to accept how bonkers it is and just stick with the program anyway, because what else am I gonna do? 

And what I’ve found is I’m getting this whiplash less and less often. I look the same to myself more and more often. How I look to myself when I look down at my body is more and more similar to what I see in the mirror, and that’s more and more similar to what I see in photographs of myself. This . . . has never happened to me in my whole entire life. I’ve always had half a dozen different conceptions of myself. But I’m starting to feel like just one person. I don’t know how else to explain it. It is some kind of healing and I am grateful for it.

A bit more about flexibility and fasting. If I don’t eat until 2:00, I have the best chance of having a sensible snack and a sensible dinner, for whatever reason. But sometimes I just get ravenous, and I’m not interested in torturing myself to make the numbers come out right; so sometimes I have some nuts in the morning, or sometimes I eat lunch at 1:00, and just try again for 2:00 the next day. On weekends, our schedule is different, and I usually eat a bit more, and earlier. It’s okay, because it’s the weekend and it’s part of the plan for it to be different. I figure if I have a little pie on the weekend, my body won’t get too used to low calories, and it will stay on its toes or something. 

For my afternoon snack, I eat pretty much whatever I want — the key being figuring out what I really want. If I’m feeling like hot stuff, I’ll want baby carrots or sugar snap peas and maybe a rice cake with chili lime powder. If I’m feeling like I just wanna eat something, I’ll have some potato chips or peanut butter crackers or whatever. What I always try to do is eat what I want, and then stop and see how I feel. Just give myself a second to make a choice, rather than bullying myself into rushing into the next thing without thinking about it. 

And then sometimes I blow it, and just snack my head off, and gobble up everything in the house because I’m just so hungry right before dinner time and I want all the stupid corn syrup and salt in the world. And then guess what? I’m not hungry for dinner. So guess what? I don’t eat it! Because my stomach is full, because I already ate, and do not actually wish to eat more food! It turns out there’s not a rule you have to eat the food you made for dinner, just because it’s dinner time, and my stomach has learned what it feels like to be full. Amazing. 

I weigh myself just about every day at the same time of day. There is a three-to-four-pound range that I expect to be in day to day, and what happens is the range, rather than the individual number, gradually shifts down. So if I were graphing my weight loss, I wouldn’t see a straight line down unless I zoomed out. I think daily weigh ins are probably a good idea, because sometimes you have a rogue high number, and if you weigh yourself every day, you’ll recognize it as a blip, and it doesn’t freak you out as much.

Where does exercise fit in? You can’t exercise fat away, but there’s still a link between exercise and weight loss. How it works for me is that I don’t feel hungry for a long time after I work out, and it seems to keep my blood sugar more stable throughout the day; and when I work out regularly, it sets in motion all kinds of good things that lead to eating better. I feel more confident, which makes me feel more capable of taking care of myself. I’m more energetic, so I’m more likely to get stuff done, rather than moping around the kitchen scrounging for snacks. I sleep better, so I’m less likely to go chasing after sugar and caffeine to give me an energy boost the next day. And so on.

I still highly recommend the Couch to 5K program, which has no end of free apps you can download to get you started. If running is no good for whatever reason, I also really like Jenny Ford’s marching workouts.  I have also somewhat grimly purchased a digital copy of Jane Fonda’s Complete Workout for those days when it’s too cold to run but I feel the need to suffer somehow.

I was also lifting weights and using a planks app for a long while. I ferkin HATED it, but I had to admit, I liked the results, and I know old bags like me need the bone density work. For a while I was running 3-5 miles a day, up to fifty miles a month. But I’m fundamentally lazy, and it’s gross and muggy and buggy out, so right now I’m just running a mile and a half most days and calling it good enough. 

The one thing I haven’t mentioned is my husband. He started this endeavor on his own over a year ago, and has lost an astonishing 70+ pounds, and at one point he was running over 100 miles a month. He’s a private guy and doesn’t like me blabbing about all his stuff, but I’m very proud of him, and he’s very handsome, and he’s got some pretty bitchin cheekbones, too, so there. I truly don’t think I could have done it without his example and companionship. At the same time, he never pushed me or made me feel like I was anything but beautiful to him, 235+ pounds and all.

If you are going to start overhauling your food life, I highly recommend having someone you can do it with, or at least someone you can talk about it with, someone who will reassure and encourage you and maybe occasionally gently tell you when you’re being crazy. 

There is a little part of me that is protesting: Why is it that the thing making me so happy is that there’s less of me? But truly, it’s not about diminishment. I’m starting to see my cheekbones again, too, and I feel like I look like myself again. Sometimes shifting calories around is like a little game: I’ll skip having french fries now, and maybe I’ll have a little fancy cheese later. Exercising self control feels like flexing muscles. It’s fun. It’s fun being able to zip my pants without it being a whole production. And you know, I pick up a dress I could barely zip up last time I tried it on, and now it just floats down over my head. It’s the best feeling.And that’s my story. 

Happy to answer questions if you have them. As you can see, I have zero training or professional information of any kind. All I have is a few months of some hopeful-looking success after a long string of failures in my past, brought on mainly by emotional immaturity, I suppose. And as I said, I’ve probably doomed myself for making this public, and now I’m going to swell up like a diaper in a kiddie pool, and now this essay will turn up in my Facebook memories every year to haunt and and taunt my fat ass forever, and then we’ll see who’s body positive and who’s just another yogurt-eating bitch. The truth is, I don’t have anything else to write about, so I’m writing about the forty pounds. You didn’t really want another essay about covid anyway, right? 

 

Four tasty recipes for your (small, safe, family) Superbowl party

I guess the Superbowl is coming? You know what that means: FOOD. Everything means food! Here are a few recipes to console you if your team loses, to reward you if your team won, or to help you pass the time if you have no idea what is happening and are too old to learn. 

SAUSAGE ROLLS

These are savory little pastries stuffed with sausage and onions, brushed with egg and topped with “everything” seasoning. Simple to make, very tasty and chompable.

5 from 1 vote
Print

Sausage rolls

Servings 36 rolls

Ingredients

  • 2.5 lbs sausage, loose or squeezed out of casings
  • 1 lg onion
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil for cooking
  • 1.5 lbs puff pastry dough (1.5 packages)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • "Everything" seasoning, if you like

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400.

  2. Dice the onion and sauté in the olive oil until it's slightly browned

  3. Put the raw, loose sausage in a bowl. Beat two of the eggs and add them to the bowl along with the cooked onions. Mix thoroughly.

  4. Cut the puff pastry into six long strips. On a floured surface, roll them out until they're somewhat thinner.

  5. Divide the sausage mixture into six portions and spoon it out into a long rows down the middle of each strip of puff pastry

  6. Form the sausage mixture into a tidier strip, leaving a margin of dough on each side.

  7. With a pastry brush, paint the dough margins on both sides.

  8. Fold the pastry up over the sausage on both sides, to form a long roll.

  9. Flip the roll over and lay it in a greased pan with the creased side down.

  10. Cut each roll into six smaller sections. (You can make them whatever size you like, really.) Leave a little space in between rolls on the pan.

  11. Brush each little roll with the rest of the beaten egg. Sprinkle with "everything" seasoning if you like.

  12. Bake for 20 minutes until the sausage is cooked and the rolls are golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

HOT WINGS with BLUE CHEESE DIP

If you can do basic frying, these are easy and delicious. The measurements in the recipe are a little vague because you can adjust the hot sauce and cheese sauce to your tastes. 

Hot chicken wings with blue cheese dip (after Deadspin)

Basic, tasty hot wings with blue cheese sauce

Ingredients

  • chicken wingettes
  • oil for frying

For the hot sauce:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/8 cup tabasco sauce
  • 1/8 cup sriracha sauce
  • salt
  • vinegar (optional)

Blue cheese sauce:

  • sour cream
  • blue cheese
  • optional: lemon juice, mayonnaise
  • celery sticks for serving

Instructions

  1. Fry the wingettes in several inches of oil until they are lightly browned. Do a few at a time so they don't stick together. Set them on paper towels to cool.

  2. Melt the butter and mix together wit the rest of the hot sauce ingredients. Toss the wings in the hot sauce.

  3. Mix together the sour cream and crumbled blue cheese. Use a food processor or whisk vigorously to break up the blue cheese. You can add lemon juice or a little mayonnaise to thin it.

  4. Serve with blue cheese dip and celery sticks.

DORITO POTATO TORNADOS

A completely ridiculous recipe if you’re looking for something to do in the kitchen while people watch football. I made these with an entire potato on each stick, but you can make more sensible portions. 

5 from 1 vote
Print

Dorito fried potato sticks

Ingredients

  • 12 small-to-medium potatoes, scrubbed, peel on
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 11 oz Doritos or your favorite chips, crushed into crumbs
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • salt

Instructions

  1. Slice each potato into as thin slices as possible, and thread the slices onto skewers.

    If you're not going to cook them right away, you can keep them in water to keep the potatoes from turning brown. Try to fan the potatoes out so there is a little space in between but don't forget to leave enough room on the skewer so there's something to hold onto.

  2. Start heating the oil in a heavy pot. Prepare a pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

  3. In a shallow dish, mix together the flour, water, and crushed chips. It should be thin and drippy.

  4. Dip the potato skewers into the batter and spoon more batter over them, so the slices are thoroughly coated.

  5. When the oil is hot enough (you will see bubbles form steadily if you dip a wooden spoon in), dip the skewers into the hot oil. Cook for several minutes until they are crisp.

  6. Remove to a pan lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

DELI SANDWICH BAKE

The meats and cheese in this recipe are just suggestions. Just layer in whatever looks yummy to you. Don’t worry if the crescent roll dough gets mangled when you stretch it over the top. It all bakes up nicely. You can make giant pans of this stuff and people can carve off however much they like. 

5 from 1 vote
Print

Deli brunch sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 6 8-oz. tubes crescent rolls
  • 3/4 lb sliced ham
  • 1/2 lb sliced Genoa salami
  • 3 oz Serrano (dry cured) ham
  • 33 slices Swiss cheese
  • any other meats and cheese that seem yummy
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 2 tsp garlic powder, minced onions, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.

Unroll 3 of the tubes of crescent rolls without separating the triangles, and fit the dough to cover an 11 x 25-inch pan.

  1. Layer the meat and cheese, making it go all the way to the edges of the pan. This part is subject to any kind of variation you like. 

  2. Unroll the remaining 3 tubes of crescent rolls and spread the dough to cover the meat and cheese. It's okay if you have to stretch and piece it together. 

Beat 2-3 eggs and brush it over the top of the dough, and sprinkle with garlic powder, onions, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc.

  1. Cover pan loosely and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until dough is slightly browned and egg is completely cooked. 

Lent movie review Vol. 4: BABETTE’S FEAST

Last week’s Lent film party pick was a change of pace from . . . pretty much everything else we ever watch, especially the kids. It’s the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast.

Heres the trailer:

Here’s a synopsis, which I lifted from Google:

Beautiful but pious sisters Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer) grow to spinsterhood under the wrathful eye of their strict pastor father on the forbidding and desolate coast of Jutland, until one day, Philippa’s former suitor sends a Parisian refugee named Babette (Stéphane Audran) to serve as the family cook. Babette’s lavish celebratory banquet tempts the family’s dwindling congregation, who abjure such fleshly pleasures as fine foods and wines. 

One would-be suitor would have made one sister a diva; the other would have abandoned his own wealth and status and lived a simple life. Both end up wondering if their chosen path was right. But the sisters’ pious lives are also lacking, it turns out. Simply abjuring their tiny, puritan congregation to love one another isn’t working, and even in their old age, the people are full of spite, wrath, jealousy, and regret. But they think the real danger is exterior, in the wine, rich sauces, and strange meats offered to them by Babette in the feast she insists on cooking to celebrate their father’s anniversary. Despite their misgivings, they accept it out of an unwillingness to hurt Babette, who, she points out, has never asked anything of them in all the years she’s lived among them.

The food and especially the wine opens their hearts in spite of them, and there’s a wonderfully sweet scene where the white-haired flock, newly reconciled, join hands and dance and sing around the well under the light of the stars. Notably, the song they sing is the same song they have always sung, longing for Jerusalem. 

Many reviewers have compared Babette’s transformative and sacrificial feast to a Eucharistic meal, with Babette as a sort of servant-God who gives everything she has, trading her wealth and near-divine culinary genius for voluntary exile among sinners, and saving them from their error and woe. But it’s a mistake to see the story as a condemnation of asceticism and praise of Catholic sensuous excess, and it’s definitely a mistake to see it as some kind of allegory or lesson. It is a very Catholic story, but it’s a story about the bewilderment of free will, and the forthright, uncomplicated graciousness of love.

“We get back even what we have rejected,” says the aging general. He is the only one who has tasted these fine foods and wines before and recognizes what they are, but even though Babette remembers that she used to make people happy for a short time when she fed them back in Paris, it’s hard to imagine her brilliance would have had the transcendent, transformative effect on the Parisian elite as it did on the stolid, fearful Danes. Even the fearsome patriarch, who imposed the congregation’s austerity and selfishly kept his daughters from blossoming, is clearly not simply a villain, but actually walked across the water to bring the word of God to his people, at least as he saw it. Everyone in the movie has rejected something, even Babette — some for good reasons, some for bad reasons, some for only a faint ghost of a reason. Everyone has erred; and God is good to everyone, according to their need.

The general stands up and makes a speech with the final glass of wine:

“Man in his weakness and short-sightedness believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risks he takes. We do know fear. But no, our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when your eyes are opened and we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions. And lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us and everything we have rejected has also been granted. Yes, we get back even what we have rejected. For mercy and truth have met together and righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.”

It stands out as an oddly specific and articulate monologue in a story that’s told mostly through long shots of people walking, working with their hands, singing, spooning out soup. It’s hard to resist pouncing on this passage and analyzing it to pieces; but really all he’s saying is that goodness is real, and we’ll receive it when we’re ready. (I love the fact that many of the people at the feast don’t even know the wine is wine, but it works its magic anyway.) That’s the best way to watch the movie: Just sit and receive it. 

The whole family watched it, and the only one who didn’t enjoy it to some degree was the five-year-old, who couldn’t read the subtitles. It’s quiet and slow, but not dull. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, strange, gentle, and very funny, too, and the individual characters are drawn so deftly. So many wonderful faces. Just a joy to receive. 

We streamed this movie through Amazon for $3.99. Other movie reviews in this series:
I Confess
The Robe
The Trouble With Angels
Next up: probably The Keys of the Kingdom or Lilies of the Field

 

The Catechesis of Diabetes

Catholics ought, by rights, to be prepared to have things turned on their heads. Christ Himself is the great breaker of categories, up-ender of comfortable rules, the disrupter of plans. Sooner or later, Christ will toss you in the air to be sifted, your wheat from your chaff, and it is terrifying.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Hans Splinter via Flickr (Creative Commons)

6 Life lessons from cooking for kids

1. Sometimes, when you open a package of pork, it stinks like rotten eggs. You will think at first that it’s gone bad, but just let it sit for several minutes while the gas dissipates, and then smell it again. If it smells fine, then you’ve just witnessed “off-gassing,” which you get when pork is vacuum packed. You can also rinse the pork off, and that should get rid of the smell so you can go ahead and cook your dinner.

Lesson: Sometimes, all it takes for a crisis to become manageable is a little time …

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Area Woman Pinning An Awful Lot On That One Run

Area woman Simcha Fisher rebounded from her Christmas and New Year’s slump with a brisk one-mile run this week.

“It’s so good to get moving again,” Fisher said, toweling off her neck with a mitten. “Whew, it’s been too long!” Fisher didn’t say so out loud, but she privately believed her hips had actually already gotten a little bit smaller even in that one run, probably because the fat was just temporary silly holiday fat, and not actual regular fat.

All through December, Fisher had allowed countless phalanxes of cookies and cake, various smoked meats and soft cheeses, sugared nuts, candied fruit, and cream-filled alcoholic beverages to parade down her gullet like a conquering army marching down the streets of an occupied city. But she did go for that one run, and is going to run some more at some point soon, so.

“It’s actually a huge relief to be back in the routine of working out again,” Fisher continued, mentally scoffing at her former bad habits that may have crept up a bit over the course of the last few weeks, during which her only physical activities were cooking, baking, shopping for more food, and cutting mammoth wedges off panettone sweet bread, which is just bread, and not really cake.

Fisher slenderly untied her virtuous running shoes, saying, “I’m going to take tomorrow off and then bump it up to two miles the next day.” She laughed quietly to herself as her abdomen bulged over the waist of her leggings.

“That belly doesn’t even bother me, because I know I’m already working on it,” she said. “I even started running again!” She then rolled her eyes derisively some of those poor suckers who were just starting out at the gym this year, and who were actually fat, instead of just temporarily silly fat.

Fisher than sat on a stool and ate some quick granola, just a little bit to keep the energy up, and then, ooh, there is some of that smoked gouda left, while making her schedule for the coming week. She noted that January was going to be really busy, and it would be hard to find time to get to the gym.

“Well, I’ll fit it in when I can,” she said. “It just feels so good to be active again.”

Actually, that run was last week.

 

***

Dancing Venus by Nina Paley

Making poor people pray

Many years ago, despite hard work, thrift, and a small family, we were poor.  As in no-heat-no-car-no-food poor.  And so I started traveling to a church which hosted weekly grocery nights, when needy people could browse over tables of expired dry goods, wilted produce, and drippy ice cream at cut-rate prices.  I remember the thrill of putting a true luxury, a box of crackers, into my bag, and feverishly calculating how many meals I could squeeze out of a single chicken breast.

That part of it was great.  But the part I didn’t like was in the beginning:  Before they opened the auditorium, they made us pray.

I hated that part.

Let me explain.  I pray.  I did pray at the time, I will always pray, and I will always be in favor of people praying, and in favor of encouraging other people to pray and to become closer to God.

But I am vehemently opposed to insisting that people suddenly start praying aloud, or giving intimate details about their spiritual life to a stranger, just because they happen to be vulnerable or in need.  Too many Christian ministries, including food pantries, crisis pregnancy centers, and homeless shelters, include mandatory prayer in their good works, and I think it ought to stop.

Well!  You may say.  Those who are vulnerable or in need are exactly the ones who need to hear about God!  Should we leave these poor souls in their misery?  Man does not live by bread alone.  Should we feed only the bodies of those in need, but leave their souls hungry?

Also:  what, should we be ashamed of our faith?  Should we hide our light under a bushel, cover over the name of Christ like those weasly Georgetown Jesuits?

The Good News is never out of place or inappropriate.  It’s always a good time to pray, and anyone who suggests otherwise is denying our Lord.

Okay, then.  How come you never insist that rich people pray?  When’s the last time you made it very clear to someone in a nice suit that he needs to start being thankful, out loud, right this minute?  Why is this on-command spirituality only standard practice for a guest who’s already on the ropes?

I know these good Christian folks had kind intentions.  They meant it like this:  we have a chance to do a corporal work of mercy—and while they’re here, we have the chance to share his glorious Good News with people.  So let’s be like the early Christians—let’s pray!  That’s all they meant.  And I was truly grateful for the food, and for the time they volunteered.

But let me tell you what messages I, as a bona fide wretched poor person, actually received:

1.  “We can see that you’re poor because of some spiritual failing, so let’s take care of that.”

2.  “Don’t you forget for a moment that we’re doing you a favor.  So before you get your dented box of Special K, let me see you bow your head.”

Now, there may have been someone at that grocery night who was smitten to the core—who needed to be there, needed to be forced to pray.  Maybe his life was changed forever by those mandatory prayers.

But I was there.  I guarantee you that thirty more people in that auditorium learned to connect the name of God with humiliation and intrusion.

Being poor means you never have a choice in anything.  Even while you’re grateful for bags of free clothes, boxes of food, and rides from volunteers, never having a choice about what to wear, what to eat, or when to come and go—it stings.  It makes you feel like crap.  Whether you’re poor because of bad luck and tough circumstances, or because of laziness and stupidity, being poor doesn’t make you sub-human.  It shouldn’t give other people an excuse to treat you like a child, even if they’re helping you.

So here is my suggestion to people who, God bless them, want to help the poor, and want to evangelize at the same time:  be quiet.  Put up lots of crosses and statues and Bible verses on the wall, wear T-shirts and medals—go nuts.  But don’t say a word, unless someone asks.  At the very most, extend an invitation:  “We are available to tell you about our faith—just let us know!” or “Don’t forget to check out our lending library, if you’re wondering why we’re here.”  Poor isn’t the same as stupid:  people notice when help always comes from someone who believes in God.

So please, never require someone to have a spiritual experience in exchange for your help.  The first thing about personal relationship, with God or with anyone else?  It’s not a quid pro quo.  It’s never mandatory.

***
Photo: Steven Depolo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Feeding time in the Father’s nest

Sometimes we’ve developed such a strong taste for unhealthy, unnatural foods that good, plain ingredients taste bland and pointless to us. We have to retrain our palates before we can enjoy or even tolerate the things our tongues were designed to delight in.

And the same is true for the words of God. If the Gospel sounds dull, if the laws of God seem stodgy and arbitrary, if prayer always feels tiresome — well, there could be many reasons for this, but one common reason is that maybe you’ve ruined your spiritual palate by training it only to respond to cheap thrills and passing pleasures. Time to retrain.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Robert Lynch via Public Domain Pictures

What’s for supper? Vol, 77: Fish tacos are real, man.

In which we have an awful lot of cake for the home stretch of Lent.

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and pepper jack cheese sandwiches, roast asparagus with butter and lemon

I’m trying to wean the family off expecting some kind of potato-based side dish with every meal. That’s one Saturday under our belts. No one has died of chip deficiency, yet.

***

SUNDAY
Just pretty much all the food in the world

Sunday, we had two confirmations

and a birthday

The confirmandi requested red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and tiramisu, respectively, and the birthday girl asked for ice cream sodas for her special dessert.
I like this picture because you can see everyone spring into action when I put the food out:


Damien made the tiramisu with this excellent recipe the night before, and added chocolate shavings right before serving. This time, I bought him ladyfingers fresh from the bakery, and guess what? They sop up a lot more rum than stale, pre-packaged ladyfingers. The party got pretty hot for a while there.

The red velvet cake was from a box. Actually, because I don’t know my colors yet, it turned out to be one box of red velvet cake and one box of yellow cake; so I swirled them together and attempted to pass it off as a flame pattern for the descent of the Holy Spirit or something.

I used this basic recipe for cream cheese frosting.

So we had cake and fruit salad and fruit punch and cookies and cheese and crackers at the reception after the confirmation, then went home and had pizzas, veggies and hummus, cake with strawberries and cream cheese frosting and tiramisu for lunch, and then for dinner, cheeseburgers and chips, and ice cream sodas for dessert.

***

MONDAY
Fish tacos, corn chips

For reasons I don’t fully understand, several of the children felt unwell on Monday and stayed home from school. Something about their stomachs not feeling great.

They recovered in time for dinner.

I’ve heard a lot of grousing about how there is no such thing as fish tacos, or fish tacos aren’t a thing. But (a) they are delicious and (b) here is a picture, so I guess we’ll keep eating them.

Just regular old cheapo fish sticks, with nice, crunchy shredded cabbage, sliced avocados, salsa, cilantro, sour cream, and a personal lime on a tortilla. Best imaginary meal ever.

***

TUESDAY
Gochujang bulgoki, white rice, nori

Normally, I prep this dish the night before, so it can marinate overnight. But I forgot, and made it in the morning, and it was still great by evening. I also grated the carrots, since I didn’t feel like cutting matchsticks, and that was great, too. I sliced a hunk of pork thin and mixed it up with the carrots and a couple of sliced onions, along with a triple recipe of this sauce:

5 Tbs gochujang
2 Tbs honey
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbs soy sauce
5 cloves minced garlic

So then you let it marinate as long as you can, and then fry it up in a little oil while the rice is cooking.
It’s a wonderful meal, very warming and peppy. You can, no, you must use the nori (or Romaine lettuce) to scoop up little bundles of meat and rice for gobbling purposes.

(This is an old picture. We ate zero string beans.)

That reminds me, time to order some more gochujang. It’s very handy to have around. Try it with tuna instead of mayo. Ha cha cha!

***

WEDNESDAY
Quesadillas, raw veggies

I think this was the day we suddenly remembered we hadn’t brought in a school treat for the aforementioned birthday kid. Her teacher requests treats of fruit or veggies, and that’s fine, that’s fine, it’s not communist or anything. We subverted it by making these alarming little disembodied apple grins with peanut butter and mini marshmallows.

They were well-received.

***

THURSDAY
Pepperoncini beef sandwiches, potato puffs, salad, German chocolate cake

Another birthday! My oldest requested this wonderfully easy meal:  Throw a chuck roast in a slow cooker with a jar of pepperoncini with the tops cut off and the juice, and off you go.

At 11 a.m., I suddenly remembered to pull the meat out of the freezer. So this situation, along with the risotto situation, is where the Instant Pot really shines: In less than two hours, a rock-hard roast was cooked all the way through. It actually finished cooking too soon, so I kept it on “keep warm” for several hours, and ended up overcooking it. Oops. Still yummy.

We sliced it up and served it on rolls with pepper jack cheese and horseradish sauce.

I’m counting on your Friday meat deprivation to make this horrible cell phone picture look good.

Birthday girl also had her heart set on a German chocolate cake. Know why it’s called that? Because the guy who invented it was named “German.” Now you know something! This cake is a tremendous pain in the neck, but so good. We went with this recipe from food.com. The cake was good, but I had to fight the urge to just sort of swim around in that coconut pecan frosting.

Here’s the birthday girl getting some help with her birthday candles:

Sigh, oldest and youngest, 19 and 2. SIGH SIGH SIGH. I’m fine. We’re all fine.

***

FRIDAY
French toast casserole, mangoes

This is where I get back at the kids for leaving the bread bags open all week, so the bread gets all stale and crushed. It’s not really very good revenge, because it’s delicious.

***
OKAY, we have our seder on Holy Saturday, so all next week is when the schmaltz hits the road. Stay tuned. . .  if you dare. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 71: Your feta has given me wings!

Another week has come and gone and kicked my butt. Here’s what we had to eat:

SATURDAY
Aldi pizza 

All of Saturday was consumed with the installation of our new couch from Craigslist. Sometimes, living in a 5/8ths-scale house is just stupid, especially if you just got a swell deal on a truly enormous overstuffed sectional.

If you think Valentine’s Day is romantic, you should see my husband obligingly sweating his way through an absurd, five-hour, perpetually escalating “if you give a mouse a cookie” situation, and not even swearing.

Here, we see the old, faithful couch cast out after years of service, and the new one being broken in with My Little Pony and cheese sticks.

That’s how it goes. It’s a hard knock life for couch.

***

SUNDAY
Chicken shawarma

Shawarma is one of the greatest contributions the east has ever made to the west. Almost makes up for algebra. It’s even better if you marinate it starting the night before, but marinating all day is good, too.

Like a maniac, I bought sixteen pounds of chicken thighs, and by the time I skinned and trimmed them all, I was pretty much over the raw chicken experience, so I left the bones in and marinated and cooked them that way, rather than de-boning.

It wasn’t a mistake, exactly, but it definitely detracted from the delectability of this dish (NYT recipe here). This is a meal that you want to be able to gather up with eager fingers and pop into your mouth with glee, while mumbling insincere resolves to stop eating soon. Bones just slow you down.

We served it with pita bread, cucumbers, feta cheese, red pepper hummus, olives, parsley, and yogurt mixed with fresh garlic and lemon juice.

I also fried up some eggplant, but that did not turn out great. I couldn’t get enough of that cool, sharp yogurt sauce, though. Man.

I give this meal a A for content, B+ for execution. Wish I had gotten some tomatoes.

***

MONDAY
Penne with sausage sauce, salad

Snow day! Again! A good day for hearty pasta. Damien took the kids sledding, while I bravely stayed home and fried up diced onions and loose sausage, basil, and oregano, added a few jars of spaghetti sauce, and some red wine, and let it cook for a while, then served the sauce over penne with parmesan.

I also made hot chocolate again, which is why, this morning, I had to stop at the minimart and buy a gallon of milk for $4.79 to get us through the day. Humph.

***

TUESDAY
Corn dogs, chips

I have no memory of Tuesday. Oh, wait: I remember seeing a plate holding a pile of tattered and discarded corn dog batter. Animals.

Oh, wait, I remember more. It was Valentine’s Day, which I like, so there. I made a cheesecake using this basic Philly cheesecake recipe, and it turned out just fine. (It did crack, but I don’t care.) I made a chocolate ganache which turned out garbage, so we just had strawberries on top. I also made some fudge using Skaarup’s Lunatic Fudge recipe, which is fast and easy, no candy thermometer required. I made it in a heart-shaped pan, because I like that.

***

WEDNESDAY
Panic omelettes, biscuits, leftover chicken, salad

Because supper was going to be easy, I thought I’d go lie down for ten minutes and surf through Facebook until it was time to get things going. Next thing you know, I’ve accidentally made the acquaintance of some extraordinarily imaginative folks who, when they open their eyeballs in the morning, see nothing but a menacing horde of their fellow Catholics who are using NFP for the wrong reasons.

You know and I know that there is no worse use of one’s time than trying to make sense of a conversation like this, but I did it anyway. And so, suddenly, it’s half an hour after we should be sitting down to eat, and I’m just now staggering into the kitchen, wondering what would in the world would motivate someone to try and make marriage harder, and also where all the friggin eggs went.

(They went into the cheesecake, and also everyone has to make eggs on a snow day. It’s the rule.)

I usually make omelettes to order; but since I could only find eleven eggs, that seemed futile. So I made a six-egg omelette with pepper jack cheese, turned it too soon, got mad, and burned the rest. Then I ripped up some ham and did the same thing with the rest of the eggs. I divvied them up, and then discovered that my 12-year-old son was waiting for the next batch, which there warn’t none. SADNESS. Good thing I had made sixteen pounds of chicken not long ago.

We also had biscuits, which I made with Benny. Come to think of it, we made them before supper, so I can’t have been arguing about the scourge of wild, unrestrained Humanae Vitae parties at the same time. I guess that was a different day. Well, we used this recipe, anyway.

***

THURSDAY
Japanese-style beef stew, rice, rice rolls

This seemed like a really swell dish — chunks of beef and sweet potatoes and fresh ginger slices in chicken stock with soy sauce, pepper, honey, and lemon juice —  but it turned out no better than adequate. I don’t know what I did wrong, but it must have been more than one thing.

There weren’t any clean bowls, so I served it angrily over rice.

You know what’s going to make my cooking a lot better? Spring. So I can have some natural light to take food pictures with.

I also managed to cook it in a skillet, transfer it to a dutch oven, put it in the fridge, take it out of the fridge, transfer it into the crock of a crock pot, and heat it up in the microwave. Thank goodness for all these labor-saving devices. Next, I plan to pour the leftovers into one of those plastic bags that you seal up with a vacuum cleaner, then store it under my bed, sell the house at a stunning loss, and move into a wood-panelled van in Martha Stewart’s back yard.

Also on Thursday, I made 53 stained glass heart cookies, and Damien dipped sixty strawberries in chocolate, because I signed up to bring treats in for three separate classrooms for a belated Valentine’s Day party.

The cookies are not hard to make, but they take forehhhhhhhhver. You use this basic, no chill sugar cookie recipe, and cut out large cookies with a cookie cutter. Lay them on the baking sheet on parchment paper or silicone baking mats, cut out a smaller shape inside each cookie, and fill up the cut-out with crushed hard candies; then bake as usual, or a tiny bit longer. The candy melts and makes a little colored window, very pretty.

They turned out fine, if a little bleary. But they took forehhhhhhhhver.

***

FRIDAY
Shakshuka 

Here’s a pic from last time I made it:

There are many things to love about shakshuka, and not least is that you can sing it to the tune of “Volare” and really bother the children. If I have time, I want to try this pita recipe. I have until 3:45 to come up with an irritating pita song.

Oh, Dean. Just shut up.