January 10, 2018

The Guest Story

Coming home from a long day, I noticed four children playing in my yard just after the school bus dropped them off.
"Children, y'all are tresspassin' and that's totally not cool." I told them.
They seemed reluctant to go home even though they were my next-door neighbors. "It's just, that our guests are active and we just don't like them." I thought I heard one of them say.
It didn't take long before their parents also returned home from work. They looked at me rather strangely and then proceeded to scold the children for wandering around.
We all walked to their house - it seemed to me that it was a former church or some other public building that had been remodeled for private use. All I could see from the outside was a vague hint of an old sign with a name on it - but the stone exterior was exquisite.
"I see you like our humble abode. It took some getting used to at first - but now, it's a very special place to live." The husband said. "Would you like to take a tour?"
"Your kids told me that your guests are a handful, are you certain you wouldn't mind one more?" I asked.
"Our guests won't mind ... they probably won't even notice; well, some of them anyway. I'd imagine some would enjoy the company." He answered, slowly emphasizing the word guests.
I went inside first. I was expecting something like a living room, perhaps a tad spacious because of the remodel. Instead, I saw dozens of people - so many that I couldn't tell you what the floor or the furniture in the room was like. Then I realized that some of them were floating ... others phasing right through apparently solid objects.
I burst outside screaming: "They're ghosts!"
The wife said, "Well of course they are. There is something about this old building that seems to draw them here. Sometimes they like to stay in the area and they'll wander over next door, too. Perhaps that's the reason why our neighbors moved out so suddenly and you got a great deal on their old place. It wouldn't be the first time. Sometimes they do scare our little ones, but they can't harm us. In fact, to the ghosts - it's the living that are truly ghosts; most of them think that they're still alive."
The husband suggested. "Why not just say hello to one of them and get to know them? Perhaps you'll see that our ghosts are our guests and aren't so bad after all."
I caught my breath and tried to calm down my nerves. This sort of thing - it's a Twilight Zone episode and something I'd never imagine myself doing in a million years.
Then I walked back inside. It seems nobody was paying me any attention. Most were going about their own business, no differently than you or me. Others were having rather typical conversations, the weather, sports, their jobs. Then this little boy came up to me and said hello. You have to hand it to children for their fearlessness ... even ghost children are unafraid. He showed me his favorite spot in the whole building, a small loft you could reach by a little ladder, from there you could see just how full of ghosts the building was. He showed me what he was working on - he had a blue piece of paper that he had colored in with a crayon. He had glued to it a green piece of paper that had been cut to resemble the grass. Now he was working with a darker green piece and a brown piece in order to make an evergreen tree. This kid had the soul of an artist. At least he would get to enjoy an eternity of doing arts and crafts to his hearts content. Oh, and his name is Tyler. He is a good kid.
After awhile, i wandered back outside and told them about the ghost that I had met.
"Do you know what happened to him?" I asked - something about him having died so young bothered me.
The wife shook her head, "No, some of these are really old ghosts, there are no records about who they are or what happened to them. How about some tea? We have a cottage in the back where we stay. It's technically the guest house, but it just seemed fitting that we take up residence there so that our ghosts aren't bothered. Some of them, I think, are afraid of us."
So all of us started walking around the building to the back. By the time we all reached the backdoor, a tall figure loomed out of the door and grabbed one of the children and pulled him back inside. We were all alarmed.
"This ... this has never happened before! We have to do something!" The wife panic.
"What do you expect us to do, call the police? They'd never believe us! They're dead!" The husband said.
Then I realized that Tyler wasn't the only ghost child, but all the kids were, too. The tenseness in the air made me think that he had just committed the worst faux pas possible. It also occurred to me that if the living could hurt the living, then surely the dead could find ways to hurt the dead and that child who had been taken was in very real danger.
"You mean to say that he's as good as dead if we don't do something, right?" I corrected. "If the ghosts thing that the living are ghosts, then the thing to do would be to scare the dead to handing him back over, right?"
"The ghosts all know my husband and I very well ... we'd never fool them. But you ... you might have a chance." The wife said.
"I fear that we don't have a lot of time; trust your gut instincts and you'll do great." The husband told me.
"You told me that some of these ghosts are old ones - so we'll draw on all the oldest legends of ghosts for inspiration. It's times like this I wouldn't mine if it if America had a singularly popular ghost story - someone I could impersonate - but I guess we'll have to aim for something close enough. Scaring ghosts to death - how hard can it be?"

January 1, 2018

Trail Mix Trail Mix

I'd been wanting to make some trail mix lately, but I tend to find the proportions daunting. But as far as I can tell, there's no rule against using a trail mix as a basis upon which to make trail mix. So I started off with a can of Planters Nut-rition Wholesome Nut Mix - it contains roasted almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts. I added in there some unsweetened coconut flakes and semi-sweet chocolate morsels ... the two elements I thought it was missing. How'd it turn out? Really good. I can already tell it's not going to last very long at all around me.

September 3, 2017

Meal One: Breaking the Fast

French toast, waffles with lots of syrup, pancakes with lots of syrup, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, Pop-Tarts, Cocoa Pebbles, Strawberry Nutra-Grain Bars, Nature Valley Fruit and Nut Trail Mix Bars, NV Protein Bars with Peanut and Chocolate, NV Sweet and Salty Peanut and Almond Bars, these are some of the breakfast foods I tended to enjoy, leaning more heavily on the prepared foods so I wouldn't have to cook as much unless I really, really felt like cooking. Thinking back through them, there's really no way that just the toast, pancakes or waffles alone were going to get me through my day, and for the most part - they didn't. That's where the granola bars and protein bars and nut bars kicked in to pick up the slack.

They say it's sometime easier to plan menus around "meal one, meal two, and meal three" than its as "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" because we're preconditioned to expect certain foods at certain times of the day. Everyone knows that Breakfast for Dinner is amazing. Why wait the whole day to go without? But I'm also learning to re-think what makes breakfast, well, meal one.

For me, time is always iffy. Some mornings I can invest in however long it takes to get everything made. Others - I pretty much have to eat on the fly, so having already prepared food is a must. On those mornings, I need protein. I have a long day ahead of me and that's the only thing that'll fuel me through it all. But it's important to get in fruits and veggies - proper nutrition is about the vitamins and nutrients that come from the real deal. So whatever I make - on the days I can make it - I have to make enough of it to last for the days where I can't make much of anything.

I'm going to have to learn to give up the idea of a waffles, pancakes, doughnuts, pastries, and most cereals for breakfast - they're not nutritious enough. So Meal one might be more of a lunch or a dinner in the future - but I'll find a way to make it work.

August 28, 2017

The Deliciousness

So I have a favorite dish - if you ever spot me at a restaurant, the odds are good I'll order this dish. I love how you can hear it still sizzling as it leaves the kitchen and all eyes turn to the server as he or she brings you your fajita. It's almost as if everyone else wishes they had ordered one, too. Give me a fajita and I'll tell you if a restaurant is any good.

Going out to eat - well, it's just something that we haven't really done for years. Eating around our various food allergies is a hassle that we find too frustrating to deal with. You never know whether or not their kitchens are sources of cross-contamination or straight up contamination because of how they prepare their recipes. Between dairy and gluten-containing foods, that makes a significant portion of restaurant fare too risky.

 Needless to say, it's been awhile since I've had the deliciousness, so I decided to make one. I thought I had all the necessary spices on hand, but turns out we had no parsley. So I had to peruse the internet for a fajita spice mix that didn't have parsley or cayenne. Savory is tasty, hot and spicy ... not so much for me anyway. Once the spice team was assembled, I set it aside and got to work on my onion. I had stashed it in the freezer for fifteen minutes and then opted to cut it under a vent - the theory was that this would keep my eyes from the misery. It didn't work as well as I would have liked and cutting the onion was a little agonizing. Fortunately, both of the peppers were easy enough to cut up. I opted to cut the onions and the peppers (red and yellow, for color) in long strips. That's just how I like my fajita. I set them aside.

I whacked the chicken with a kitchen hammer for a few minutes and proceed to cut it into strips as well. I put them in a pan with coconut oil and doused them with half of the spice mix. I had the heat up fairly high to make sure everything was sizzling and kept stirring them to get them cooked through and covered with those spices. Then I put them aside and brought back the onions and the peppers with the rest of the spices and kept stirring them to get them cooked through. I might have eaten a bit of pepper and a bit of onion to test  for done-ness towards the end there. I kept the plating simple, putting a pile of the peppers and onions and topping them with the chicken.

Then came the test - eating the deliciousness ... and I was not disappointed. I made a fajita and it was good. I can do this.

August 22, 2017

How should I be eating?

I looked at the empty potato chip bag in front of me. I chose to eat them even though they were off of the menu. And I think I had a few cookies as well. Now I was agonizing about the need to start over or whether or not I should just give up now.

Then I woke up.

Week two is over - which puts me at just about the halfway point. I'm no stranger to food dreams, being lactose intolerant, I know what it's like to dream that I've eaten dairy even though I generally avoid them and sometimes enjoy dairy-free alternatives ... but still, the thing that bothered me was how I rationalized my junk food by the same principle I'm trying to learn: to be mindful about what I eat. Perhaps that's because I know that on the other side, I'll have to incorporate them back into what I eat - hopefully with me in control and not my sweet tooth.

I made a recipe for Chocolate Chili last night and it's already half gone. I made some Prosciutto-wrapped Fritata Muffins a few days ago and have been eating them steadily. And I had Sweet Potato Chili before that. I did discover that my co-workers can't stand the smell of roasted brocolli or garlic and herb chicken, so I've had to try to get creative about my work lunches.

I keep on thinking about the reintroduction part - most people who do a Whole30 do so to figure out which foods are messing with them in which ways - what's causing this issue or that. I already knew that I was lactose intolerant and I don't eat dairy. I know that awhile ago, I bought some coconut bars thinking they were a non-dairy product, but it turns out I was wrong and they didn't make me feel good. So there's no need to reintroduce those into my diet. I'm not worried about other food groups at the moment.

It's just - I was never a really big fan of eating my vegetables, I'd often choose rice. And when choosing sweets, I'd never go for the healthiest ones out there - I'd go for the sugariest of them all. When it comes down to it - I'm not really sure what a balanced nutritional meal looks like when all the food groups are on the menu. How should I be eating? I think I'll do some research and try to come out of this by learning to make better choices about what I eat.

But I saw this food documentary awhile ago that claimed that the old nutritional pyramid wasn't really based on any true scientific research about what constitutes a healthy diet, so it was replaced with a MyPlate diagram. Harvard also offers a Healthy Eating Plate idea - which is pretty similar, it just tweaks the proportions of what we should be eating.

August 19, 2017

I'll Have What You're Having

I can't believe it occurred to me just now, but one of my areas of weaknesses with food is my tendency to mirror what I see other people eating. On days when I end up selling marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, I can't help but want to eat s'mores.

At the moment Rice Crispy Treats sound really yummy. Probably because I remember selling marshmallows and crispy rice cereal the other day. Nutritionally speaking, they don't have very much to offer. And to be honest, if I were back to eating sweets regularly, then I'd probably opt for chocolate instead.

But I think I do have some sense of restraint, I don't drink pop and when people buy it all the time and drink it around me, all I have to do is to remember the havoc carbonation will wreak on my system and choose not to drink it - though I might miss the taste of a nice cool Vanilla Pepsi. I guess I luck out in that some of my favorite treats are very hard to find, like Coconut M&Ms. So it's not a real sense of restraint in that if somehow Vanilla Pepsi and Coconut M&Ms landed on my front doorstep I'd be able to resist eating them. Then again, I forgot that caffeine gives me terrible headaches when I don't drink tea consistently - and bought some anyway. But decaf tea is something I do drink a lot of.

It does go to highlight that I live in an area not know for particularly healthy foods, healthy portions, or culture of foods. It's a pretty rural diet - lots of fresh veggies, cheaper meats, eggs aplenty, some fruit, and whatever junk food people can get easily and cheaply. I see it take it's biggest toll on the youngest children who are obese.

I kind of wish it'll work the other way, people will see what I'm eating and then they'll want to eat healthy, but I highly doubt it. These junk foods are designed to be highly addicting. Given the choice between S'mores and some fresh fruit - odds are S'mores will win.

August 11, 2017

I Need Recipes

Every success story I've seen so far feature whole menus of what people ate for a month. I've never really done that. For the most part, we figure out and fix what we want to eat maybe an hour or so ahead of time - giving us just enough time to cook it and eat it. 

Plans succeed when you know your schedule. So I thought - well, at least I can plan around my work schedule. I drafted up a simple weekly plan and set it beside the schedule I had just gotten from work to see what I was up against.

It didn't look good. One day I didn't know when I'd be working, I had a closing shift followed by an opening shift - so no involved cooking on those occasions, and I had just two days off where I could be called in - I'd have to cross my fingers and set aside one of those days as meal prep days. So I'd need to make a meal that I could stand eat for three or four meals in a row and cross my fingers and hope that I don't get burnt out in the process.

But what will I make? I know how to boil water for tea - you stick it in a pan and wait for it to whistle. Simmering and boiling water - are just different. I'll have to learn to cook as I go - I just don't know where to start.Stuff I do know how to make really just don't make the meal plan.

So far, I have Egg Drop Soup - I made some the other day. It was really easy that there's no way I could mess it up. Heat up chicken broth, scramble an egg, pour the egg slowly into the hot chicken broth so that it forms gentle ribbons. Now ideally, they'd want you to make the chicken broth from scratch so that you can be sure it's compliant from start to finish. Right now that's on my to-do list: learn how to make chicken broth.

If I'm to succeed, then I'm going to have to build up a library of recipes that I can cook and can't possibly mess up. I just have to figure out what they are - and how to make them.