Work-life-food

The semester just started, so my work life has suddenly become quite busy and filled with tasks such as responding to student emails at all times of day, teaching, prepping and reading for the classes themselves, reading and responding to grad student blog posts, conducting staff meetings with tutors at the University Writing Center, planning meetings, sending announcements and alerts to fellow faculty, encouraging former students to submit to this or that conference, and finishing/submitting new academic writings so that my chair won’t tell me again how I need to publish more. Whew. And none of this includes grading, which I have delightfully increased this semester because of the new reading responses I’m requiring, but these should be glance-worthy – either they did it well or they did it half-ass. If thorough, full credit. If half-ass, no credit. I can do the assessment of fifty 300-word reading responses quickly, right? Right?

The deafening silence provides the answer.

Le sigh.

In addition to the normal requirements of my work life, I have a life (much to the surprise of many students). I enjoy spending relaxing downtime with my boyfriend. Playing Scrabble. Going to the movies. Lounging on the sofa watching home improvement shows. Dreaming up plans for new perennial beds in my now-destroyed backyard thanks to Hurricane Sandy and my neighbors’ three giant trees now laying across it. Balancing work life requirements with my non-working life becomes difficult once the semester starts…and food is often the one element that suffers.

Well, more to the point, the nutritional value and healthiness of my food often suffers. Classic conundrum, which I know that ALL of my girls here can understand – how to cook/prepare/have ready healthy, nutritious, low-calorie-yet-filling meals every night when you walk in the door, exhausted, at 7pm? It’s so much easier to just stop at the grocery store on the way home and pick up a hoagie or some deli soup and crackers, or stop at Panera for the You Pick Two…and suddenly, all of my high-fiber, low-calorie, healthy suppers disappear into a haze of my worklife and I’m left ten pounds heavier, wondering why I couldn’t just be better prepared?

Am I alone in this?

I think not.

But these thoughts don’t go away just because you know you aren’t alone. These self-censoring thoughts that I let myself, my heart, and my waistline down, consistently, every semester. That even though I do try to cook and freeze enough food for the week, inevitably, I will run out because there will be a weekend that I won’t have time to cook.

Like this weekend coming up. I’m shooting a bat mitzvah (I’m also a photog) all day Saturday. Sunday will likely involve lots of resting, and perhaps some mastic remover-applying on the laundry-room floor that needs to be re-done. But after working six days, I’ll need a break. And will I want to spend that free time cooking all day?

Ideally, yes.

Most likely? No.

I know I’m not alone in this.

I know that the 5-6 pounds I shed over winter break is a wonderful accomplishment, as is my lowered blood pressure.

I know that I will falter and even fail.

I know that it will be disappointing that I still, after all of these years, can’t seem to find a healthy balance between my work-life and non-working life, and that it is the quality of my food intake that will suffer.

I’ve done well so far, but I’m almost out of frozen healthy, homemade foods. In order to replenish my supply, I will need to spend Sunday cooking. But will I choose to?

Would you?

– AMo

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The Kitchen is the Heart of the Home

…or so I’ve been told. As a little girl, I remember my working mother walking into the house, smelling of rubbing alcohol, soap, children, and medicinal odors I was too young to recognize. As a pediatric nurse, my mother gained experience and expertise in different settings throughout my lifetime–first as a nurse in a pediatric clinic, then as a school nurse in our elementary school clinic, then as a hospital nurse in pediatric pre-op and day surgery, and finally today as a triage nurse for a specialist (pediatric cardiology). She would come home, surely exhausted and sore, and walk straight into the kitchen. I remember the sound of the light on the stove hood popping on, the way she would murmur to herself in order to focus on the names of ingredients rather than on the insistent whines of her young daughters, her confident and steadily quick pace in the kitchen. My mom seemed a magician–how did she know just exactly where everything was all the time? I could barely remember where I last kicked off my shoes. (A question she also knew the answer to, even though she hadn’t been home when I kicked those shoes off.) How could she just reach into the preheated oven the way she did, not flinching or worrying that she would pull back a burned stub? How did she know that things would still taste good, even if she ignored parts of the recipes? (A skill I sadly did not seem to inherit.) If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then our home’s heart was filled to the brim with magic and love. Maybe they are the same things.

I stayed out of the kitchen most of the time when my mom would cook dinner. She would constantly invite me to stay and help, encouraging me to try out an age-appropriate task here and there. But, inevitably, when I finished stirring those ingredients together, or cracking those eggs, or watching that pot of water come to a boil…I would end up sliding away to return to the television that beckoned or that book I was reading. My sister, on the other hand, would stay and help. I was often jealous when I heard them laughing or talking deeply to one another, certain that I was missing out on something. And I was–I was not part of the family heartbeat when I faded away into voluntary isolation.

As a new mom, I am attempting to overcome my apparent innate discomfort in the kitchen. When I first met my husband, I would prepare an occasional meal for him (usually the only meal I would properly cook in my tiny kitchen would feed the two of us–otherwise, it was all about the microwave for my meals). Generally, I felt at ease with the casserole. The casserole is a lot like baking–you mix all these specific ingredients together, pop it in a preheated oven for a certain amount of time, and voila! Dinner is served. But stovetop cooking? It causes me much stress.

This week I discovered that I will be earning 2/3 the paycheck I had been earning and that we had budgeted. One of my classes was cancelled because enrollment is low. I haven’t wrapped my mind around what this means for our monthly budget, but so far we have started to make little cuts back here and there. Right after our daughter was born, and for most of her little life, we ate out. Almost for every meal. We were both out of our minds with exhaustion, so feeding ourselves nutritious, balanced, home-cooked meals thrice daily was not on our radar. My only care in the world was getting the baby fed, a task in and of itself that turned out to be much more difficult than I ever anticipated. To this day, I am fixated on helping my daughter gain weight, despite her consistent healthy reports from the pediatrician. But I am also fixated on the budgetary bottom line. What is our monthly take-home pay? What can go? What must stay? How can we trim up the “must stay” list?

So, we’ve been cooking more. Eating in more. Which means that our home, whose heart has essentially been fairly dormant recently, is starting to wake up. This past week I have cooked all but one dinner–I will be preparing this coming week’s menu today as well. The recipes have all been new to me. And on those days when I cooked (except Wednesday), my husband has marveled at my culinary confidence. “The Amanda I married wouldn’t have wanted to cook ___________.” “The Amanda I married would have really gotten nervous when she realized she didn’t have enough of ___________.” Yes, indeed my confidence has begun to climb, but I have certainly not reached the summit.

On Wednesday night, I prepared to make chicken schnitzel. I pounded the chicken breasts, watched my butter melt across my hot frying pan, and managed to cook only one breast at a time because of space. The first breast was okay…I had to keep it in the pan a bit longer than the directions suggested because the edges weren’t cooked thoroughly. The second breast…was a disaster. As I prepared that breast (dipping it in the breading, etc.), I hadn’t noticed my butter burning on my pan. I didn’t notice the smoke when I cooked the breast. It wasn’t until my husband asked me to turn on the exhaust fan that I started to suspect something was going on. (Why do I never see or smell the smoke first, when I’m the one standing over the burning food?) I lifted the breast up just to take a peek–despite its pink and juicy interior (having been on the pan for all of three minutes), the breading was completely black. Panicked, I removed the smoking pan from the burner and laid it aside. I turned to put something in the sink…and upon turning around, that’s when I noticed all the smoke billowing from our kitchen into the dining room where our daughter was eating her dinner and into the living room. I cursed. I said unkind things about my culinary abilities. I freaked out. Once the burner was slightly cooler, I pulled out a new frying pan and cooked the third chicken breast. While that breast cooked on much lower heat (and therefore took longer), I shooed our four animals into the bedroom, opened our front and back doors, and held a box fan pointed toward the ceiling while it attempted to move the smoke toward the exits.

My eyes were pink and stung. I thought I still saw smoke for the rest of the night. My husband’s chicken breast wasn’t fully cooked, so he ended up microwaving it a bit longer. My plate was cold by the time I had regained my appetite. (Something about standing in a smoky kitchen will just destroy my interest in eating whatever was burning.) I felt like an utter failure.

But Thursday night, I went back into that kitchen. I made ground chicken stroganoff (recipe courtesy of Mo), and managed to feed myself and my husband in a timely manner (even before the baby had her dinner!). The meal was delicious, as well.

I think I am learning something about the heart of my home. It is prone to bouts of extremism, just like my own emotions. It is vulnerable and insecure. But, it is also a place of reassurance and trust. It is a place where mistakes can be made, unkindnesses uttered, and all sins forgiven by the end of the day. If this kitchen is the heart of my home, then it is still an immature one. But it is learning and growing through all these attempts and failures and successes.

This heartbeat is strong. It is palpable. And I will nurture it into something magical.

~A.Hab.

Life and Pie

In early February of last year, an ultrasound showed that my then 18-week-old little baby had a rare and lethal condition that guaranteed he wouldn’t live past delivery. My husband and I decided to carry to term, and on June 22, our baby was delivered, blinked, then passed away. He was beautiful.

As hard as it was for me to understand knowing the severity of my baby’s condition, our doctors confirmed over and over that our baby was happy and comfortable in utero. In one ultrasound we even saw him yawn. Our doctors also assured us that the problem was not genetic, chromosomal, or caused by any issue with me or my body. In fact, several times my doctors commented that I was “remarkably healthy.”

I had been trying to stay healthy during the pregnancy up to that point. I tried to remind myself that everything I ate or drank went to my baby first, and I wanted my baby to eat well. Thankfully, I was blessed with very little nausea, so eating a variety of foods was no problem. After getting the diagnosis, I became even more committed to giving my baby as pleasant a life as possible. I couldn’t save him outside of the womb, but I could control much of what might cause him stress in the womb.

I had already limited caffeine, eliminated alcohol, and I never was a smoker, so I concentrated my attention on food. I kept notes of what I ate, counting protein intake, fiber, micronutrients, vitamins. I’d already spent a couple of years learning more about nutrition and was introduced through research to several foods with high nutritional value, some even considered “super foods,” like chia seeds, spirulina, quinoa, and goji berries. I still occasionally ate cheese dip or cookies or frozen yogurt, but I tried to make sure that I hit necessary nutritional marks every day.

For several weeks after our baby was born, friends and people from our church brought us meals. One woman who is close with my mom brought us a lovely meal made with many of the ingredients and foods I’d been trying to consume regularly during pregnancy. The main course was a quinoa, vegetable dish, and for dessert, she brought what she calls “Spunky Pie.” It’s a dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, delicious (trust me) chocolate pie. The crust has almond flour, coconut flour, coconut oil, chia seeds, and flax meal. The filling is made with avocados, raw cocoa powder, and liquid stevia for sweetness. The recipe is available in the Recipes We Love page of this blog.

After saying good-bye to our baby, I fell away somewhat from the healthier approach to food I had taken during the pregnancy. Food became, instead, a source of comfort in the form of sugar and carbs rather than fuel. But I’m using the new year to recommit to eating healthily and for nutrition as well as taste. I’m planning on making a “Spunky Pie” soon to inaugurate this renewed approach to food, and also because the pie is so stinkin’ tasty. This pie is proof that a healthy, nutrition-dense recipe can be comfort food.

Food was a tool during my pregnancy, but my friends (particularly including the wonderful women on this blog) and family were lifelines. I thank them, not often or well enough, but I thank them for their continued support and love. As a token of gratitude, I offer them a pie, a weird, healthy, and chocolatey pie.

~V

2013: New food adventures

Here at Flavorbombs, we are looking forward to the potential inherent in a new year. The past year had its share of hurts and troubles, mixed with joys and delicious moments, but we look forward to 2013 as a year (hopefully) filled with new food adventures shared with each other, with family, and with friends (new and old). Here are a few of our favorites (not so much resolutions as hopes):

– With my amazing new Kitchenaid stand mixer (a generous Christmas gift from my sweetie), I hope to start making healthy whole grain bread for nutrition and to save money. – AMo

-With my large kitchen in my new house, I hope to start baking/creating/designing delicious sweets again. I miss it. -Adele

– I’d like try more new recipes and have my family eat dinner at the table together, like we used to. -Mo

– This year, I hope to eat “cleaner,” to use food as an ally in efforts to lower health risks…while still enjoying food, of course. -V

– In 2013, I hope to help my husband and myself introduce ourselves to food as a delicious resource rather than as a reward or emotional comfort.  I hope my toddling daughter will learn these good habits from our example. -A.Hab.

-In the upcoming year, I’d like to entertain family and friends more. I envision lots of laughter and good food around the table. ~Robin