A “Lowe’s” Kind of Saturday

This Saturday was one of the best Saturdays in a long while.

I woke up entirely too late but, when I did, it was to a room suffused with bright sunshine and a breeze blowing the scent of warm grass and peonies in through my windows. Bali, my tortoiseshell cat was languishing next to me, eyes closed against the light, breathing tiny puffs of air onto my cheek.

Bali really enjoys lounging in the sink if you’re taking a bath

It was the kind of day you want to bottle so that you can take it out of the closet in the winter to be reminded that, yes! there are better days ahead. I am grateful for such days in the Northeast as we have had great amounts of rain lately and our summers are usually characterized by sleep-inducing heat and humidity.

I felt bouyant and energized. Strangely, those Lowe’s and Home Depot commericals that try to motivate you to get out and re-landscape your yard or build a treehouse make me feel the same way, so I told my mom that it felt like a “Lowe’s” kind of day.

I pulled out two bunches of kale from the latest CSA delivery that I had stashed in the fridge and set to work making kale chips. I completely forgot that I am not quite to the “eating kale chips” part of the post-surgery diet. I had perused several recipes from the Food Network and Smitten Kitchen and others before deciding to combine a few ideas.

Kale chips are unbelievably easy. Fool-proof even. Here are the guidelines that I followed:

  • Procure kale – wash – dry thoroughly
  • Remove stems and spines (I used a knife for this so as not to end up with lots of stringy bits)
  • Tear kale into large pieces (they really shrink in the oven)
  • Toss with enough oilve oil to coat but do not saturate
  • Toss in a few pinches of salt (I used grey sea salt)
  • Arrange on a cookie sheet
  • Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesean cheese (easy on the salt if you add cheese or you might end up with some very salty snacks)
  • Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.

You want the chips to be good and dry when you remove them from the oven so that they are flaky like dried seaweed. Otherwise, they become a soggy mess when you store them. I stored mine in an airtight container and others in the house have been happily snacking.

Into the oven they go!

Feeling confident, I decided that the rhubarb in the fridge wasn’t going to become a pie due to my current dietary restrictions. I flipped through my brand new copy of Food in Jars by Philadelphia native Marisa McClellan and set about making her Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam with Earl Grey.

I love this new preserving book because it focuses on small-batch canning. I do not have a 40-acre farm nor do I need to put up dozens of jars to weather a lean winter on the prairie. I am often frustrated wtih recipes that call for pounds upon pounds of fruit. Marisa’s recipes tend to make 4-5 pints which is perfect for a modern gal.

{I LOVE rhubarb. And as Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and the Spilled Milk Podcast will tell you – it is fun to learn to tame the “wild rhubarb stallion”. It’s a tart, intimidating vegetable for some. }

The Rhubarb-Vanilla jam receipe was easy, fairly quick, and an interesting twist on the conventional jam. I do recommend peeling the rhubarb as it is just easier to chop into small pieces that way. The earl grey tea really does add a little something unqiue to the flavor composition of the jam. I topped my greek yogurt this morning with the bit I had left in the pan after filling my jars (I actually got 4 jars just as Marisa denotes in the recipe!). If you attempt this recipe, trust yourself. You’re going to want to cook the jam a bit longer than 4 minutes because it will appear to be very drippy when you implement the “sheet test”, but take heart! the jam firms up very nicely as it cools in the jars. I wouldn’t go much longer than 6 minutes or you might end up with a brick of jam.

I LOVE this Mauviel copper preserving pan. It has enough surface area to allow the water to evaporate quickly. It’s definitely an investment, though.

As my jars were cooling I attacked two items on my “to do” list that have been bugging me for months. This is primarily because I like to keep my “to do” list prominently displayed as a digital “sticky note” on my iMac where it is often added to and not subtracted from.

  1. Clean out a particular kitchen cabinet that has been home to an ancient ice cream maker, two coffee grinders, and other doo-dads that are useless in 2012. Now I am able to store the pannini press, the electric tea kettle, food processor, coffee machine and other things to free up valuable counter space!
  2. Get rid of any number of the dozens of vases, collected over the years, that are cluttering the shelves of our back porch. Now my mom can see what she has on hand when we bring flowers into the house AND the shelves can be utilized for other storage needs, too!

It was wodnerful to go to sleep feeling utterly content, productive, and ready to greet another day.

A Bit of Earth

 

It sounds ridiculous but…gardening saved me.

I have a fuzzy memory of my mother reading “A Secret Garden” to me as a child. She also took me to see the theater production and the movie. At some point, I read the story again, by myself. I had a quiet fascination with Mary and the way she brought that little piece of land back to life. Somewhere along the way, though, I grew up and tucked Mary in my back pocket with a whole lot of other childhood memories.

My father died in April of 2009. Just as spring was peeking it’s head around a cold winter corner. The day of his funeral was glorious – warm with lots of golden sunshine. We at thai takeout with family on our deck that overlooks a white Dogwood tree whose leaves were crisp and green. Later that spring, I joined my mother on her annual trip to the garden center for the usual annuals – pansies, petunias, marigolds. Besides volunteering to tend her tomato and pepper plants from my grammar school’s yearly plant sale, I never expressed much interest in spending my time with a garden. On a whim, I picked out several vegetable seedlings and flowers. It was a slippery slope downhill from there.

A fuschia plant with it’s pink and purple flowers

 

After watching cancer change the shape of our lives for 3 years, I needed to focus my attention elsewhere. I also wanted that spring to feature something more than death. I have since learned that it is quite a good idea to have something to do with your mind and body after a tragedy so that you don’t spend every waking moment replaying it in your brain.

So I gardened. Not successfully at first. There were casualties from weather and my own inexperienced hand. There was one whole summer where I didn’t get any tomatoes at all! Bugs ravaged my squash one season and I have never been able to grow great cucumbers. I read dozens of books on gardening and my collection (from Barbara Damrosch to Alice Waters to Barbara Kingsolver) has failed to fit in the confines of my bookshelf. In the years since, I have learned to start things from seed, I joined a community garden, I taught myself new recipes to accommodate the abundance of produce filling the kitchen, I purchased more cubic feet of soil (I garden in containers) than I care to admit, I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and I own an amazing Japanese knife called a Hori Hori which I wield quite impressively when slicing fruit off a vine. I poured a great deal of sweat and even more heart into each growing season.

Containers of flowers and vegetables on the patio

 

That first summer, gardening saved me from falling into perpetual grief. It brought new life. It deepened my sense of wonder for the majesty of nature. It brought food which meant meals savored with those closest to us. What my mother initially thought might be a phase has turned into a passion. A passion for: the earth – whole, organic, clean, seasonal food, cooking/baking/preserving, supporting local agriculture and farmers, picking my own fruit, and teaching others about the simple joys of a garden.

A garden is whatever you want it to be. For me (and maybe for Mary), it is a magical place where happiness springs from a single seed to bloom before your very eyes.

This anemone popped up from last season!

Post-Op Day 6

Being that I am a nurse, I am a terrible patient.

“What do you mean I can reset my own IV pump?!”

“Do you think you could have the doctor check x,y and z on my morning labs to make sure my kidneys are alright?”

“I’m pretty sure they could discontinue the heart monitor now.”

Yes. That was me.

I was blessed to have an amazing nurse overnight after surgery who withstood me freaking out about my low blood pressure and increase heart rate while in a morphine-induced phase. I’d be surprised if she got to see her other patients.

It’s hard not to micro-manage.

It’s hard to be a patient. I had an inkling of this having been the family member of a patient, but it’s hard to really know anything until you’ve lived the experience.

Truths about being a patient:

…sleeping for more than an few hours at a stretch is impossible.

…narcotic pain medications really do work wonders.

…it is possible for your lips to become so dry from lack of fluid intake than they cave into your mouth as if you forgot to put your dentures in.

…you will want to brush your teeth at least 4 times a day. See above.

…tape residue will remain with you for days. Maybe even weeks. You will find it in hard to reach places in the middle of your back.

…some doctor, without a doubt, will place an IV in a very awkward spot.

…you will, at some point, question your judgement about the decision to have surgery in the first place. Especially, if it is an elective procedure.

…you will definitely want your mom.

Overall, the procedure went smoothly. I remember being in the OR on the very narrow table with people flitting around me to prepare for the case. I could see the robot they use for laparascopic procedures as the scrub-tech prepared a variety of instruments that would soon be poking around my insides. I kept staring at those huge, bright lights that they would use to illuminate my nakedness and flaws in all their flourescent glory. I heard the anesthesiologist tell me she was administering propofol (MJ’s drug of choice) which left a big blank wall in my time-space continuum between sedation and consciousness several hours later when I awake mumbling about how I was going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro once I have shed numerous pounds.

Six days after the procedure, I am sore and a bit cranky about the lack of fruits and vegetables I can consume while on a liquid diet. I really don’t have any regrets at this point about my choice to use a gastric band as tool for weight loss. If anything, I feel relieved – like “I think I can actually do this now!” I have never felt optimistic about my success before because I have so much weight to lose. The mountain was always looming before me in the distance and I could barely make it to base camp.

Bariatric surgery has its supporters and its detractors, but it is by no means a magic bullet or an “easy way out” of a life-long struggle. It does give me hope, though. And hope is a very powerful tool in and of itself. It is the “thing with feathers”.

The 1st of 1000 Miles

I tend to wince when I hear those hackneyed sayings like “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step” and “Today is the beginning of the rest of your life” or “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. I’ve sat through many a speech where someone, failing to find the words to communicate what they actually wanted to say, relied on a cliche.

Sometimes, though, those cliches really do seem appropriate. Tomorrow is the day that I start a completely new way of existing on this planet. This change has involved two years of contemplation and research and 10 months of planning, testing, and therapy to completely change the way I think about food. In a sense, it will be the beginning of the rest of my life – the beginning of a life that I am really excited to start living. And while my preparative journey ends, I now have to start putting everything that I have learned into practice. One step at a time.

For the most part, I am a person who has enjoyed change. I like traveling to new places and not knowing a soul. I relish the challenge that comes with learning to adapt to a new school, a new job, a crowded room full of strangers. Sometimes the changes have been frought with sorrow and upheaval – like when my father died – and sometimes, they have felt like a breath of fresh air – starting nursing school. Be they tragic or not, each change I have weathered has led me to a good place where I have been able to derive joy from those who were along for the ride and pleasure at knowing I survived.

Changing my body has been a much harder challenge, though. It seems to have wanted to keep the same doughy shape since I was in grammar school. Even after changing many behaviors, I have still had a great deal of trouble seeing the results I want. Tomorrow, though, I’m going to receive a really fantastic tool to better help me make the change from a doughy frame to something that’s a bit more athletic and capable of doing some serious hiking.

This, below, is Point A. I’m excited about the journey to Point B.

 

Fresh

This week was the first for deliveries from Lancaster Farm Fresh, the CSA I signed up for this year. I am about to embark on a whole new life come this Thursday and I needed a kick in the pants to inspire my food choices. Often, when I go to the grocery store, I feel overwhelmed. There is so much variety and choice and my brain shuts down. What do I buy? What do I make? Can’t I just eat ice cream forever? I tend to end up overbuying and overspending with much of what I purchased going to waste.

I’ve been contemplating joining a CSA for several years now as my neighbor is a site host (pick-up/drop off point for the food) and you can’t get more convenient that walking up the street. A CSA share is expensive but I felt it couldn’t be any more damaging to my wallet than Whole Foods. So I gathered up my nerve and signed up for a share of fruit and eggs and a half share of veggies. The total cost ran me about $700 for 25 deliveries of vegetables, 22 deliveries of fruit, and 12 deliveries of eggs. Everything is local (from about 25 family farms in Lancaster County, PA) and organic and will supplement what I am growing myself in my own modest garden.

 

 

Look at all that green! It’s hard to tell from this photograph, but you’re looking at white Easter Egg radishes, Red French Breakfast radishes, Red scallions, spinach, green leaf lettuce, and bok choy. When I first peeked into the box, I felt a bit overwhelmed – “What am I going to do with all of this!?” Then I remembered that I had quite a few resources hiding in my bookshelf. Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables and Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets among them. I admit to being a cookbook collector. I buy them because they are pretty or because I adore Jamie Oliver or because I want to be the kind of person that eats quinoa 5 days a week. I rarely take the time to crack them open and learn what they have to offer.

I bought Chez Panisse Vegetables because I wanted a sort of bible about preparing a wide variety of produce. I mean, what exactly are radishes good for besides a salad garnish. I love Alice Waters’ simple style – her well-written and timeless recipes feature food that is clean and delicious. There are no fancy herbs and spices to hunt for because she relies on the flavors inherent in each ingredient. She also does a wonderful job of teaching you the basics. Trust me, you’re not going to figure out how to prepare that artichoke on your own. The illustrations in her books are also lovely. Local Flavors was an impulse purchase via Amazon after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as many of Deborah Madison’s recipes were Kingsolver favorites. Madison tells beautiful stories about our nation’s farmers’ markets, what we stand to gain from them, and what we risk if we lose them. It’s the perfect companion for the timid farmers’ market shopper as she gives great tips on how to navigate the stalls and purchase just what you need. She advocates for grabbing radishes by the bunch, adding a pinch of salt, and taking a big bite. And so I did. I stood at my counter, chopped off the green tops, ran them under some cool water, spilled some salt into my hand, dipped and bit. Marvelous! Crunchy, sweet and spicy all at once. I devoured three more before adding them to the salad I was preparing with the scallions, spinach, and lettuce.

Tonight, per Madison’s advice, I wilted two heads of spinach in a frying pan with nothing but the water that clung to the leaves after washing and a bit of coarse grey sea salt. They wilted into a soft, dark green puddle that I garnished with lemon and served under a turkey burger for dinner. See? It really is that easy to prepare fresh, tasty food quickly. Now I’m down to two heads of spinach, the Easter Egg radishes and bok choy. I’m thinking the bok choy will go into homemade miso soup tomorrow with carrots and tofu.

As of this Thursday, I will be having surgery to place a laparascopic gastric band (a form of bariatric surgery that does not involve rerouting the intestines). It is a decision that was difficult and two-years in the making. At 27, I just can’t stand to attempt Weight Watchers again or take another diet pill or obssess about the latest fad diet. I’ve been overweight all of my life and this procedure offers me the best tool for success. So does learning a new way of cooking and eating. Giving up processed foods can be scary as it means giving up convenience. Joining a CSA is a challenge – a challenge to try new things, to incorporate more fresh and nutritious foods into my life every day (not just a few times per week), to become more familiar with what I put into my body. Being a more self-aware person is just another step in becoming more conscious of the world I live in and how my own choices affect other individuals and communities. When I support a CSA, I support myself and my own committment to wellness and entire web of people I am now connected to.