Thursday, December 26, 2013

Paleo Pumpkin Bread (Grain, gluten, and sugar-free)

Image credit: Gaia Online
Several days after my last blog post in October, I woke up with my eyes nearly swollen shut and feeling extremely dehydrated.  I managed to drink several glasses of water but the skin around my lids remained pink, almost as if I were a stuffed panda toy made for a little girl with pink rather than black patches around my eyes.

It was a dry fall and I used to have allergies to tree pollen so I assumed that the excessive leaf dust and leaf blowing in the area was aggravating my hypersensitive immune system. I was busy at work and not sleeping very much. I'd experienced unusual eye swelling before throughout my life, usually in the fall, and it always subsided after a day or two.

However, the pink didn't go away.  It remained and the skin around my eyelids grew thick and leathery--like pink plastic pleather.  I was too busy to go to the doctor at the time, plus I am completely petrified of legitimate members of the medical profession (although not, alas, WebMD).  The last time I went to a dermatologist before the Pink Panda incident was when I had to have a mole looked at--the mole was nothing and faded away, but the memory of the blonde Russian doctor with the Betty Boop figure remained fresh.

My eyelids began to take on a character of their own. I tried every home remedy on the Internet--washing with baby shampoo and dandruff shampoo were popular suggestions. Not eating dairy. Taking antihistamines for allergies; taking a decongestant for a cold. But mostly, I just applied hot compresses and hoped for the best.

People began to notice. "Your eyes are REALLY red."  "What the hell happened to you?" Eventually, I began to feel extremely self-conscious about my appearance. I don't consider myself a particularly attractive woman, but at least I aim for a 'normal' and a 'not particularly offensive and scary look.' Weird rashes definitely put someone in the category of 'someone you don't want to get really close to.'

And of course, I played Dr. Google. Even though I know I shouldn't.  Even though I should totally block WebMD from my computer FOREVER AND EVER. Skin cancer?  Blepharitis?  I kept getting pink eye links even though my eyes were fine, it was just the skin around the lids that was giving me hell.  "What is this creeping...crud?"  was the phrase that kept going through my mind. 

So I analyzed this...why DID the words creeping crud seem to pop up in my brain?  I remembered it was the weird skin condition of a girl in a Judy Blume book I loved as a kid.  And I always feared I would have scoliosis like Deenie.  Instead, I ended up the the girl the tragic beauty queen Deenie befriends after Deenie is forced to wear a brace to correct her deformity...the ugly girl with the 'creeping crud' called eczema.

Sometimes my eye skin would exfoliate, shedding repulsive flakes of skin despite my best efforts to moisturize. Sometimes the roughness would seem to go away, only to return.  After a month, I finally made an appointment.  I selected the dermatologist mainly because 1. he took my insurance and 2. he got his medical degree from a school in Israel, which I have heard has some of the finest dermatological treatment in the world (all the burns they deal with over there, you know). I figured he must have seen some pretty crazy shit over there and so he can certainly fix my face.

This dermatologist was a rather odd combination of brusque, efficient, and flamboyant: his lack of interpersonal skills, intelligence, and theatricality struck me as an odd combination of House and Lady Gaga.

"Eyes?"  he said, by way of introduction.
"Yes, I--"
"Eczema."
I smiled.  I felt so vindicated--for once, I diagnosed myself correctly.
He spent about two minutes with me. With laser-like precision he grilled me about possible changes in the products I used and my cosmetics.  Fortunately, the rash afflicted me at a time when I was so busy I hadn't even had time to dye my hair, so there were no obvious culprits and I don't wear makeup.

At first, the doctor seemed a bit suspicious of me, as if I might be 'forgetting' to mention I was using mascara from 1996, but seeing my obvious low-maintenance style, he  prescribed a miracle cream that cost more than a designer handbag but miraculously restored my skin within three days.

The girl at the pharmacy even had the same dermatologist.  "He's great!  He spent like five minutes looking at me and totally cured the acne I had been suffering for YEARS. AWE-SOME"

For a bit, I was confident and hearing angels in the background but then the rash started to return.  I reapplied the cream but I was scared enough when I went back to the dermatologist for the follow-up visit to ask for the 'patch' test he had suggested.

A skin patch test involves wearing three large pieces of tape that are studded with pinpricks of various substances which are common allergens.  It's like wearing a piece of clothing with three, giant itchy labels you can't take off.  When he slapped them on I thought I might have unintentionally found my own, personal version of dermatological hell.

"Does anything seem inflamed?" I asked him when I returned to have the patches removed and 'read.'  A brief beat--he seemed amused by my word choice. Then he told me I was allergic to nickle. More grilling: no, I don't have piercings or use glittery makeup. Which means: 1.it may be a false positive or 2. I am allergic to nickle but it had nothing to do with a rash.

So if I really want to find out what caused the Creeping Crud, I have to go see an allergist.

Desperate times call for crazy desperate measures so right now I'm pretty much avoiding anything even associated with triggering an allergic reaction. Even dairy.

I've made two versions of this bread: both are sugar-free, grain-free, gluten-free and dairy-free and despite that long list of 'freebies,' they are surprisingly good. Both versions also relatively low in calories and carbohydrates.  So even if you haven't been suffering from freakish skin conditions recently and are looking for something a little healthier to 'detox' from your holiday sugar cookie, wine, and cheese consumption, this is a good place to start.

Paleo Pumpkin Bread

(adapted from Elana's Pantry)
--makes 1 mini-loaf, approximately 3 generous servings--

Ingredients

1 cup almond flour (approximately 3.5 ounces--I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Elana used a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cloves--I replaced the nutmeg with ginger and the cloves with allspice.  You could also use a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Some of the reviewers found the bread to be too spicy so you might want to 'adjust to taste,' depending on the potency of your spices

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (slightly over 4 ounces)
3 large, beaten eggs

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F

2. Sift  almond flour, salt, baking soda, spices in a bowl.  Mix pumpkin and eggs.

3. Pour into a MINI loaf pan lined with parchment. Bake for 35-45 minutes.

Notes:

*This bread does NOT rise.  Fill the mini pan to the top.

*This is a pretty forgiving (i.e., idiot-proof) recipe.  The second time I made this bread and got nearly identical results using less almond flour  (approximately 2 ounces or slightly over 1/2 a cup) and only 2 eggs

*The bread is best after being allowed to cool for at least an hour or better yet overnight. The first slice of the first version was slightly eggy, but the day after this flavor subsided.  I still liked it in all its incarnations.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Against Weight Watchers (sort of)

When I was eleven or so, my mother had a friend named Debbie.  Debbie was on Weight Watchers and every week Debbie would go to her weekly weigh-in. A pizza place called Pete &  Elda's was located right next to the WW meeting hall.  Debbie would sometimes bring my (skinny) mom for moral support and they'd go out for pizza after Debbie's meeting.  Mom didn't eat sweets, but Debbie would always get some Circle Freeze after the pizza as well, as a reward for eating the micro-portions of food she was allotted from week to week.

Flickr: Foodnut

"But it is ULTRA-thin crust," she'd say.

Flickr:roboppy
I was a chubby, bespectacled prepubescent, so I begged my mom to let me try Weight Watchers.  Really, I wanted the pizza and ice cream afterward.  I took one look at a meeting, though, and realized it wasn't for me.  A Weight Watchers meeting in the 80s was filled with former high school cheerleaders, now faded secretaries donning shoulder pads and stretch pants.  When they were young, they sipped Tab, wore tight jeans, and giggled at boys like it was an aerobic activity. As they grew older and took sedentary desk jobs they mysteriously (in their eyes) put on weight and Weight Watchers was the quick fix. They all measured out their card-sized pieces of boneless, skinless chicken and kept aspartame-laced  hard candy on their desks to fight cravings.

I didn't join Weight Watchers, but with my usual blundering stupidity, I took the WW approach to food as a method of dieting soon after.  Yes, I know they call them 'points' now, but really, points are another word for calories, it's just to conceal the fact that you're spending an awful lot of money to join and basically get someone to tell to to limit your calories.

Weight Watchers and most calorie-counting diets view calories much like a miser views money--it is always better to 'save' than 'spend.'  Thus, a can of Diet Coke is 'better' than a glass of whole milk because it is lower in calories.  A fat-free brownie is better than a full-fat, real brownie because you can 'eat more' of it for 'less calories.'  I realize that WW has changed some of their guidelines over the years to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, but at the time when Debbie was saving up her calories every week before her spending spree for pizza, a hundred calories of gummi bears was pretty much equivalent to 100 calories of broccoli in Weight Watchers terms.

And even though the official party line of WW might be you're better off with the more satiating broccoli, I still feel that a focus on calories uber allies encourages the mindset of seeing food as calories, rather than nutrition: you're still obsessed with the same foods as you ever were, you're just trying to eat tinier portions of them. Even when you're eating vegetables, you're doing so to 'save up' for your cake, rather than actually learning to love vegetables.

I have always disagreed with the idea that 'food is different than alcohol because you have to eat food, you can't just not eat like you can not drink.'  At least, when I was overweight, it wasn't because I loved food or just ate too much of it--I had issues with specific foods, specifically very sugary, highly-processed foods.  And I do think there is a way to eat food that is non-addictive in nature, versus addictive in quality...there is a big difference between satiating yourself with a nice piece of cheese as a snack, versus ripping open an entire bag of Oreos at the end of a bad day and eating them in front of the TV, or worse at the counter.  It is really hard to label them as the same behavior: one is eating, the other is inhaling.

And recent science seems to back me up on this one.

Some foods don't make you full. Just like one hit of cocaine makes you want 'more cocaine,' some foods make you want 'more food'--fast food, processed junk food, and so forth. It doesn't matter if it is 250 calories for a McDonald's small burger versus a 540-calorie Big Mac or 150 calories of a WW ice cream sandwich versus 330 for a full-fat processed ice cream sandwich.  All of these foods just make you want 'more food.'

I have to admit that I HAVE been very thin eating total crap and counting calories. But that just left me cranky, tired, and lethargic, just like being on a diet--and who wants to feel like they are on a diet, especially if they don't need to be?

Which is why I totally disagree with the WW principle that 'you can have anything you want, just control your portions.'  I think there are 'bad foods,' plain and simple, although admittedly my definition of what a 'bad food' is has changed a great deal over the years.

I've known literally dozens of people who have been on Weight Watchers and with the exception of some very, very dedicated people (whom I think would have lost weight no matter what 'program' they were on), all of them lost weight and all of them gained the weight back. One woman I work for is very proud that she was a member of the first WW in her area--and is still a member. Every year she loses a bit of weight, keeping strict track of her points, and puts a little bit on.

Note--Weight Watchers friends who read this blog, I know who you are and yes, I do consider you those 'extremely dedicated people' in all facets of your life, not just weight loss :)  I know you have lost weight, I just think it is because 'you are you,' not necessarily the Weight Watchers philosophy.



Personally, until I learned to love vegetables and understand how delicious they are--not things to 'fill you up because they are low in calories'--I never found food sanity.  But I tell some people on WW that I like eating roasted brussels sprouts with butter, and they are all "omg!  Butter has calories and I am totally spending my points on 100 calorie Weight Watchers ice cream and not eating those veggies."

I just don't think that until you stop focusing on trying to find sneaky ways to eat non-nutritious foods (processed foods) and still lose weight and start trying to make nutritious foods (which I consider veggies, unprocessed meat, full-fat dairy, unsweetened nuts) more tasty and rewarding to you, you will never find Food Sanity and a stable weight that is right for you. At least I couldn't.

To say nothing of the fact that scientifically, a calorie isn't always a calorie. Foods lower in carbs and sugar are burned more effectively, and whole foods tend to be processed more efficiently as well.

I feel bad to some extent 'targeting' Weight Watchers, because I have so many friends who love it but it just seems, based upon my experiences, that there is something 'lacking' in its focus on calories and portion sizes that just encourages the spiral of an unhealthy relationship with food to continue.  People say at first, "oh, this is great, I can have 100 calories of Oreos and still lose weight.'  But I think it is almost impossible for ANYONE to stick with 100 calories of Oreos for long because Oreos are engineered by Big Food to make you want to reach for another, and another, and another, and unlike even making your own chocolate chip cookies, it takes so little and effort and expense to rip open the bag...

Flickr: goodiesfirst

For me, the only thing that works is focusing on healthy food and how the food will make me feel, not calories.

Of course, this could simply be a way of totally justifying my almond butter habit because almond butter is a healthy food, right?  And a quarter of a cup of almond butter is totally a normal serving size...

Flickr: Elana's pantry

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What athletes (do and don't) eat

Just like I used to buy a salty and sweet snack as a kid, when I go to the library I usually take out a balance of educational and junky material: most recently, this included a biography of the Tudors (I am a Shakespearean geek); a book on riding; and a trashy tell-all book by former gymnastics star Dominique Moceanu.

Although I always knew that Bela Karolyi was a complete lunatic, the portrait painted of him in the book surpassed even my expectations. While I always assumed gymnast's food was restricted, I did kind of think that they must have to be given some healthy food to sustain 6-8 hours of training in the gym.  Well, apparently, the kids weren't taught anything about protein or carbohydrates and just were flat-out not allowed to eat quite a bit of the time: one time little Dominique was taken to a place called 'the ranch' for a weekend of training only to discover NO food was provided.  She had bought one tiny sandwich as a snack and had to ration it the entire weekend, along with what she was fed by the other girls who had been smarter to stash cases of food with them.  Oh, and in true Dickensian fashion, Dominique was upbraided for smuggling gum, Twizzlers, and Mentos in a teddy bear at another point.


But after watching an equally trashy made-for-TV movie as a kid about Nadia Comaneci I guess I should have known. I loved that film for that reason, despite being a timid, unathletic kid who couldn't even do a cartwheel.
 
It's a stark contrast to read about the austere diet of a female gymnast and contrast it with that of training-level Michael Phelps meals of gargantuan  proportions.

Image credit: Michael Phelps Diet Challenge

However, not all endurance athletes eat with such abandon.  I recently read an article on fruitarianism--a movement led by people who eat ONLY fruit. A competitive distance ultra-marathoner is apparently a convert:

"The name explains what it is...I eat almost only fruit." On a typical day, Arnstein will snack on, say, two dozen bananas. Some health experts say fruitarianism can lead to all sorts of nutrient deficiencies...Arnstein, who takes in between 3,000 and 6,000 calories a day, lost 30 pounds soon after starting the diet and now finds it nearly impossible to gain weight. "

 No shit (no pun intended).

I'm a runner but if I ate nothing but fruit I know my muscles and bones would shrivel up into nothingness.

But then again, Dean Karnazes  who ran 50 marathons in 50 days consumes on a run:

...an extra-large Hawaiian pizza...He'll chase the pizza with cheesecake, cinnamon buns, chocolate ├ęclairs, and all-natural cookies. The high-fat pig-out fuels Karnazes' long jaunts, which can burn more than 9,000 calories a day. What he needs is massive amounts of energy, and fat contains roughly twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates. Hence, pizza and ├ęclairs. When he's not in the midst of some record-breaking exploit, Karnazes maintains a monkish diet, eating grilled salmon five nights a week. He strictly avoids processed sugars and fried foods – no cookies or doughnuts. He even tries to steer clear of too much fruit because it contains a lot of sugar. He believes this approach – which nutritionists call a slow-carb diet – has reshaped him, lowering his body fat and building lean muscle. It also makes him look forward to running a race, because he can eat whatever he wants.

Image credit: Tumblr
It's pretty amazing to me how such accomplished athletes can eat such weird and different diets and thrive--or how athletes in body-conscious sports with crazy coaches can eat next to nothing and compete at an elite level (although many gymnast's bodies often break down very quickly after a few years and the fact that ultra-marathoners' bodies seem LESS likely to do so is a tribute in part to the value of consuming enough calories).  I suppose this is all testimony to the durability of the human mind and will. 

Given my total lack of athletic talent, to be even moderately competent at sports I have to be very careful what I eat (granted, I'm not running as much as an ultramarathoner).  I think every person has to listen to their own body yet respect that many athletes seem to do well on a variety of different diets (although my diet is closer to Karnazes' 'normal' diet).

To be honest, even if I could burn that much fuel during exercise, I'm not quite sure if I would want to eat THAT much: I would probably pass out in pain if I ate an entire Hawaiian pizza and eclair in the middle of a run. But I'm also glad I don't have Bela Karolyi in my kitchen, much as I would like to get up the courage to get into a handstand at some point in my life.
 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sometimes yoga just gets all weird...

I walked into a Friday night yoga class and saw what I often see when I stroll in--a tall, thin blonde woman with a belly ring doing a handstand while the instructor says "good job" and "nice." Kind of like a yoga coach!

It had been a long day so I lay down on my mat to rest up before we began to practice.  One of the nice things about yoga is that if you lay down with your eyes closed, it is technically considered a pose, so people don't bother you (unlike NJ Transit or airplanes, for example).  But soon I felt someone tap my shoulder.  I opened my eyes and saw the blonde woman standing above me.

"I wanted to invite you to something, Mary," she said, "but I don't have your email address."  She gave me a piece of folded paper.

I don't know why, but my first thought was "oh, a party for yoga people."  A party! Like I am seven years old!

Clearly I had been reading too much Hyperbole and a Half, though, because after she left when I opened up the paper it said: "Join K.G.'s Enlightenment Workshop to transform your life from mediocre to brilliant.  Achieve all you desire: abundance, great well-being, optimism, creativity, a career you love, meaningful relationships, improved intuitive ability. K.G. presents an ongoing dialogue between us and the energy realm where questions posed to non-physical sources are answered on a continual basis, creating a growing volume of information.  This pathway allows for continuing communication between the two realms thus enabling the human realm to expand in awareness." 

The workshop was being given at the yoga student's house and was $35 for admission.

My mom once attended a Tupperware party (only to be polite, she hated Tupperware) and I was invited to a 'handcrafted jewelry' party by one of my neighbors. She made it clear that feathers, beads, and lots of jade were involved. I didn't attend and I worried because my neighbor was a bit cool to me for several weeks afterward.

After practicing, another student tapped me on the shoulder as I rolled up my mat.  I hadn't seen this woman in a long time.  She is one of those waif-like creatures who weighs about 15 pounds less than me, I'd estimate, yet can easily bike 40 miles a day before heading off to work in a manner that makes my 6-7 miles running seem wimpy. She has struggled with tremendous physical challenges that would break the average person--knee surgery, a terrible biking accident, back pain--and bounced back in half the anticipated recovery time, thanks to her dedication to rehabilitating her body.

She can also do pretty much every advanced yoga posture in Light on Yoga.  One of the teachers is always like, "X is PERFECT" whenever she does something (even though supposedly there is no perfect in yoga, only practice) and references her for all of his information on Buddhism and philosophy.  But I only have a M.T.S in Religion from HDS from a million years ago so whatever.

We greeted each other and somehow the conversation turned to food.  When she heard that I was eating meat again (it had been a long time since we spoke), her little face crumpled like a prune.  She held her thin hands to her bony chest in a very worried way.  "Meat!" she gasped. She took a good look at me and I guess she was looking for some visible signs of ill health and disease from eating salmon and chicken. But I guess she couldn't find them because then her face relaxed.  "What is your blood type?"

"O."  I said. She explained to me that Type Os are the hunter-gatherer types and can eat meat.  "But I'm Type A positive!  I remember when we all got our blood types tested in school, everyone joked that I even got straight As as a blood type.  Type A blood types shouldn't eat meat," she said, since according to the blood type diet Type A dates back to the beginnings of agriculture and thus should be vegetarians.

I'd heard about the blood type diet before. While it has pretty much been scientifically debunked at least it allowed us to end the conversation in a friendly way (I guess I am just a less evolved hunter-gatherer type, that's all).  

Which I have come to realize, partially from doing yoga, is really the most important thing: not arguing.  And I can't criticize, since blood type or not, she is doing something that is working for her although it didn't seem to work for me.


Sometimes you just have to breathe and let things go, even in yoga.  Well, unless your yoga is Yoga Booty Ballet, because then I will judge the hell out of you.

Image credit: Amazon.com

Friday, September 6, 2013

What type of college eater were you?

My eating in college was a metaphor for my life: chaotic, undisciplined, largely solitary, with occasional flashes of insight. I discovered some new foods like falafel, New England pizza, turtle pie, and spicy fries.  But college also involved excessive amounts of carbohydrates eaten in lieu of regular meals. Of course, I wasn't the only unhealthy eater in college--in fact, I would go so far to say that ANYONE who says they ate normally in college is a liar, at least if they went the conventional, residential undergraduate route.

The Different Types of College Eaters

The Freshman Fifteen-er

Flickr: TheSpaceQueen87
This person was slim or normal weight in high school and never had to count calories because he was undergoing a growth spurt and/or played sports.  His parents also were probably subtly healthy but not crazy-healthy eaters, the kind of people who would serve green beans with meatloaf instead of mac & cheese and insist on family mealtime four nights a week. When presented with tasty food in the past, this college eater would simply eat it until it was gone.  This strategy worked until the student came to college and was presented with an unlimited buffet. For the first month, the freshman fifteen-er can't believe the luck of having hot pancakes with butter and syrup every morning, fries at every meal, and an unlimited toppings sundae bar. Then, suddenly he can't button his jeans.  Spends the rest of the year trying to cut back and wearing a baggy sweatshirt.

The jock

This is the one type of eater who is ecstatic about the unlimited cafeteria food and worries he won't get enough calories.  He gets up much earlier than his friends for practice and hammers down an egg and bacon biscuit from the fast food joint on campus that opens at 6am before he rows for crew or goes running. Then he heads to the dining hall and eats a full breakfast. You can always spot the jock at every meal because he is the only student who actually gets glasses of milk to drink with his food.  He also has a stock of protein bars and shakes in his dorm room, because his muscle mass might atrophy if he skips lunch.

The OCD student

Pasta, cake, and coke: it is what's for dinner but the Sweet & Low in coffee makes it all okay
Much like the OCD kid in elementary school, this person eats the same thing.  Every. Single. Day.  Only it is worse because it is college, which means EVERY meal is the same routine. Colleges, with their infinite wisdom, offer predictable meal alternatives to the main course for picky eaters and this person ALWAYS takes one of those options.  I knew someone in college who ate a bowl of nondescript cereal (I think Cheerios) for breakfast, a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and a plate of pasta for dinner ALL freshman year. I guess the school pasta sauce had some veggies in it to prevent scurvy.

The junk food junkie

I'm not sure you have enough ketchup for your onion rings, there...
JFJ never got to eat much junk food growing up, except on the sly.  Now the restrictive parents are gone. Can easily be spotted as the student with a pile of curly fries for a meal and two desserts in the cafeteria line.

The artist

Not sure there are enough carbs here
She gazes at the multicolored array of juices and sodas and her inner Julia Child is inspired.  After mixing 7-Up and grapefruit juice and throwing in some Mountain Dew as well, suddenly she becomes a 'school cafeteria artist.'  Mixing cereals with chocolate milk (or orange juice) is next.  Then she gets even more creative, using the fro-yo bar to top her French toast or she puts leftover breakfast granola on her pudding or slathers salad dressing on plain pasta to make her own 'pasta salad.'  She tries all the food hacks listed here. She makes grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches using the conveyor belt toaster. At first, you admire her creativity but after a certain point it just kind of gets gross.

The thief

This person has more Tupperware than a 1950s housewife. Technically, you aren't supposed to take any food from the school cafeteria, but most people will grab the occasional apple, banana, or orange to snack on between classes. Others, however, more out of an urge to get their parents' money's worth out of the price of the meal plan than hunger, will go much further.  They begin with taking containers of cereal from the cereal bar. Then bread, crackers, dried fruits and nuts.  The Rubbermaid carafes of milk for said cereal follow (which can be kept cold on a windowsill). Even salad components like cheese cubes and nuts are fair game. The only thing that the thief doesn't steal is meat or hot food.  Oddly enough, this person, despite all the stocking up, still goes to regular meals...though his attitude would seem to suggest an attempt to only darken the door of the cafeteria on a weekly basis.

The best heist I ever saw took place my freshman year when a group of kids on my dorm room floor stole an entire industrial drum-sized container of ice cream for the birthday party of a friend. We were all so impressed but it was still pretty crappy ice cream. But we were stickin' it to the MoConn Man (the name of the school cafeteria) so that made it all worth it.

The critic

This person's mother was a great cook and so he spends the entire meal time complaining about the food and saying how it isn't as good as what he ate at home, or just looking silently horrified at other people's meals. He is likely from a European family that valued food or a non-Western food culture, which makes lurid cafeteria food appear even more alien to his eyes. This also means that the junky staples that get other kids through the day like French fries don't appeal to him.  He eats lots of rice or pasta (depending on his ethnicity) and lives for the care packages his grandmother sends him so he doesn't starve.

 Missing in action

After the first week of orientation, this person often lapses into a totally nocturnal schedule. She might show up for coffee at breakfast (or lunch) if she is so unfortunate as to have morning classes but is usually too tired to eat.  She keeps bags of junk food in the dorm like Oreos and Pop Tarts and orders in pizza or hoagies.  Her parents cry when they see the food bill she runs up and the fact that the meal plan they purchased has gone totally to waste.

The anorexic

The anorexic often eats alone, usually some sort of meal cobbled together from the salad bar that can be calorie-controlled like celery and cottage cheese.  Maybe a container of fat free yogurt, if available. The fact that she can't be sure if the cottage cheese is fat free and the absence of controlled portions worries her.  Usually this only lasts for one semester and then she discovers beer which leads to drunk, compensation binge eating rather than drunk sex like most of her classmates.

The frat boy

Knows all of the inexpensive food joints to eat at around campus not because he is cheap, but to allow more money in the beer budget.

The special diet

Vegan, vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free, allergic. Regardless of what this kid's obsession of choice might be, he is really, really annoying about it and talks about it all the time because 'how' he eats is such a crucial part of his identity as a teen or young adult.  Don't worry.  This phase will pass.

One note: no one, and I mean, no one goes low-carb in college. Maybe low-calorie.  Alcohol contains carbs as does pizza and vending machine food.  So no one does low-carb.

The foodie

This type is relatively new and did not exist when I was in college. This person critiques his or her cafeteria food, lobbies for more healthy and vegan options, dines out around campus at interesting ethnic restaurants, and has a food blog which showcases pictures of food. They are barely twenty years old and don't own a toaster but can talk with great authority about the locavore movement, the secret menu at In-And-Out, and why you should use room temperature butter when baking.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What was/is your school lunch profile?


What was/is your school lunch profile--or your child's?

1. The OCD

Flickr: Cross Duck
This kid eats the same lunch every day for years, probably peanut butter, some kind of a fruit or vegetable (apple or carrot sticks), and juice or milk.  Maybe a cookie, although the kid probably isn't much of an eater.  Always eats it in the same way, which may mean eating down to the crusts, rolling the crusts into balls, and then folding up the tinfoil or plastic of the sandwich into a specific shape and stuffing it into the drink carton.  Mom worries that the kid is malnourished although is secretly also relieved that she doesn't have to put too much thought into what her child consumes every day.

2. The Princess Lunch

Flickr: Carol Brown
Little heart-shaped sandwiches, grapes with the stems removed, teeny crackers and cookies, and a love note from mom. Maybe a toy. And of course a pink lunch box. The actual foods themselves are pretty ordinary (for example, mom may have made adorable sandwich 'rolls' with bologna and American cheese) but the overall aesthetic says "I have no problem at all instilling unhealthy gender stereotypes in my child.  Even lunch must say she is an uber-girl."

3. The Bento

Flickr: Pretty daisies
Slightly more exotic, the true bento mama-san rises every morning to sculpt rice into intricate shapes for her child or, at very least, uses more Westernized substances to fill one of those cute little Japanese boxes.  The ingredients tend to be more wholesome or more exotic than the Princess Lunch and indicate some frustrated artistic or competitive tendencies on the part of the parent.

4. The Functional Lunch

Flickr: bradlauster
The lunch box is cute but the lunch is uninspired.  More varied than the OCD, lunch consists of the same kind of sandwich on the same kind of bread day after day.  One day is tuna (with never enough mayo for fear of spoilage). The next day, turkey and Swiss cheese.  Then ham and Swiss cheese.  Then peanut butter and grape jelly.  Apple or banana.  Repeat.  Repeat. To make it 'healthy' it will be stuffed with iceberg lettuce hunks and flabby tomatoes, leaving the bread slightly wet and icy. This lunch says: "food is supposed to fill you up and be nutritious, it is not something that should be fun or entertaining or yummy at all."  Full disclosure: this was how my 'brought' lunches were until I shifted to...

5. The Throw-Away Lunch

Screw the starving kids in Africa/China/The Island of Lost Toys.  This lunch indicates a total communication disconnect between mom and kid.  Usually, the lunch is too drab to trade, so it ends up getting thrown out and the kid uses pocket change to buy an ice cream sandwich (hey, it is a sandwich, so it must be good for you, right)?  This was me for many years, but fortunately my elementary school had many order-out options and my mother eventually discovered the wonders of kaiser rolls and mayo on turkey sandwiches, fun-sized bags of potato chips, granola bars, and even desserts.

6. The Bad-Ass Dad Lunch

Flickr: Peter
There is always one kid who lives with his dad--alone--which means he gets to come to school with stuff like bagels, cream cheese, and lox (leftover from breakfast), cold leftover pizza, or stinky leftovers in a Tupperware tin (guy food like meatballs and garlic bread). There is always a can of coke in silver paper.  Never a lunch box, always a lunch bag.  One kid like this in my grammar school often bought onion and cream cheese on a bagel and made me feel kind of sad because when I offered my box of raisins (my hated 'healthy snack') for free, he always took them and ate them because he said he loved raisins and never got them at home.

7. The Totally Non-Parented Lunch

The parent of this child allows him or her to pack lunch completely unsupervised, which means that lunch often consists of a bag of corn chips (not necessarily a fun-size container), a Snickers bar, and maybe a little packet of fruit gummis.  Not necessarily a bad or a progressive parent, just based on the philosophy that "as long as the kid is eating something, it is all good."

8. The Un-apologetically Fat Kid (or Football Player's) Lunch

Flickr: Pabo76
Meatball or salami and provolone cheese hero sandwiches...or simply enough money to buy two lunches and several containers of milk from the cafeteria.  Usually no dessert, but at least twice enough food to make sure the child grows up 'big and strong.'  Or at least big.

9. The Neurotic Anorexic Mom's Lunch

Ms. Shepley
A very pretty lunch in a clear, nondescript container or bag (remember, food shouldn't be something you care about) containing fat-free string cheese, celery, a tiny apple, and maybe some sugar-free Jell-O or pudding.  The lunch requires minimal contact with mom's hands and while healthy eating is a good thing...it is important to remember that your six-year-old child is SUPPOSED to be gaining weight.

10. The Neurotic Dieting Teenage Girl's Lunch

Usually involves not eating anything at all and just a haughty stare at her friends while they consume food.  Sometimes she will gladly eat anything you can't finish because that doesn't count as eating.

11. The Carb-o-Holic

Usually a girl (okay, me, in high school), her lunch will be completely devoid of protein and consist of ice cream as the 'main' and some form of snack cupcake or salty treat as the 'side.' Then she'll fall asleep in geometry class and confirm all stereotypes that women can't do math in the eyes of the sexist teacher.

12. The Creative

Flickr: amanky
As a kid, I was always jealous of students who brought Spaghetti-O in their thermos (a processed food my partially Italian-American mother declared verboten).  Or salads with little bottles of dressing and bacon bits.  Or cereal in a container and a banana, so the kid could have 'breakfast for lunch.'

13. The Fad Eater

Flickr: amanky

The trend-setter--the first kid to bring that new kind of Tastycake to school, or hard-boiled eggs, cold pop tarts, an odd flavor of Snapple or Combos. 

14. The Sharer

Flickr: Scarlatti2004
I remember one girl bringing a whole Entenmann's golden chocolate cake to the lunch table for her birthday, to share with all of us.  That was just the best. lunch. ever.

15. The Ethnic Lunch

Flickr: flakyredhead
This kid comes from a recently-arrived non-Caucasian family that has no concept of what a 'typical' American kid's lunch is supposed to look like. The kid becomes emotionally scarred because of the teasing he receives by racist, peanut-butter sandwich-toting white kids but grows up to write a best-selling memoir about his life in the food industry and has the last laugh.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Foods of the 90s: I was an 80s kid but a 90s chick

For a long time, I've assumed that the foods of the 80s and 90s were pretty similar, but upon further reflection I've decided that is not the case.

I was a kid in the 80s but many of my formative years of schooling (part of high school and all of undergraduate and graduate school) were spent in the 90s.  So I asked myself, what trends were UNIQUE to the 90s....

1. Fat-free desserts
Image credit: Babble

In previous eras, it was assumed that desserts contained butter and sugar and weren't particularly healthy. The 90s brought forth the idea that you could have your cake and fit into your fashionably tattered grunge jeans, too.  Of course I ate Snackwell's.  The boxes of these fat-free treats, amped up with artificial sweeteners to compensate for the lack of fat, were always curiously light. I loved the rubbery texture of the frosting. You could eat the entire box (500 calories) and still have room for a (400 calorie) pint of fat-free ice cream. Snackwell's vanilla sandwich cookies tasted stale, but I kind of liked slightly stale foods. I even ate those Weight Watcher TV dinner desserts that you had to nuke at low power for a few seconds in the microwave.

2. French bread pizza

Image credit: Brand Eating
I lived in New Jersey, which was densely-populated with Italian-Americans.  And yet I ate these things. Because of the convenience?  Because The Scarlet Pimpernel was a really cool mini-series and set in France?  My favorites were Stouffer's but you had to actually finish those off in the oven to brown the top, so usually I just said fuck that and got Healthy Choice because you could nuke 'em and have 'dinner' in minutes. 

3. Muffins
Image credit: Triad couponing

Muffins were everywhere.  Maybe because they could so easily be made low-fat: the diet brownie cheesecake muffin epitomizes 90s cuisine.   Maybe because they could be stuffed with oatmeal.  Regardless, long before Red Velvet doughnuts and bacon chocolate chip cookies became mainstream, muffins were everywhere.  I loved senior year AP Biology because on non-lab days in the study hall after class I could buy molten hot chocolate chocolate chip muffins or cheese danish-stuffed muffins oozing under the heat lamp for breakfast in the cafeteria. I had a peanut butter and jelly muffin and Tasti-D-Lite from the 7-11 after nearly every swim practice in high school. I loved the buttery corn muffins and sweet oatmeal muffins from my college dining hall.  I even liked the rubbery fat-free muffins which were made with applesauce and no fat, no fat at all because fat was the very devil in the 90s.

4. Ice cream with weird shit in it

Image credit: Favorite Copycat Recipes
Despite the low-fat frenzy, the 90s was the decade of throwing shit in ice cream.  Before, ice cream came in three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry and your topping options were hot fudge, caramel, or sprinkles.  Ben & Jerry's changed all that.  In the 90s, the quality of the ice cream wasn't the point (because more often than not, it was fat-free), the point was that you could throw a brownie, a candy bar, and half a pound of nuts in a container, eat it all, and say "I just had a dish of ice cream."

5. Frozen yogurt

Image credit: Mrs. Fields
I worked for TCBY and nearly got assassinated when I gave a woman sugar-free vanilla fro-yo rather than fat-free fro-yo. I was obviously trying to spackle fat to her thighs (even though the sugar-free had fewer calories).  Dude, why did they put the two vanillas in the same machine to confuse me? The yogurt was low-calorie but we had enough toppings (again, weird shit in the ice cream) to compensate for that.  We even had a SLIM FAST frozen yogurt milkshake.

6. Really unhealthy cafeteria food

Image credit: Fabulous Chick Gets Fit
At my 80s elementary school, there was no cafeteria and while I realize this would give Jamie Oliver a heart attack, the homeroom mothers would bring in food we could buy from the outside.  The choices were limited--one day was hot dog day (plain, mustard, or ketchup),  one day pizza day (just plain, no choice of toppings by the slice), one day was sub day (1/4 or 1/2) and my favorite was McDonald's day (choice of small burger, cheeseburger, or 6-pack nuggets).  And ice cream and milk were available for a quarter.  Was this health food?  No, but it was portion-controlled for the normal kid's appetite. Just like the mystery meatloaf of my mom's childhood or her brown bag peanut butter sandwiches were pretty modest.

In the 90s cafeteria, not only were their ginormous muffins, but also breakfast sandwiches oozing with cheese, square mystery pizza every day, snack cakes like Chocodiles and Linden's Buttercrunch Cookies I could ONLY get in school (thus motivating me to eat them more frequently).  French fries and bagels, bagels galore.  There were even processed foods I have NEVER have seen outside of a school cafeteria like breaded cinnamon sticks.

My typical high school day often involved a heat lamp-melted cafeteria muffin, a bagel with low-fat cream cheese and some kind of snack pastry. And go home and have a Lean Cuisine TV dinner.

7. Bagels

Image credit: Piggy's Deli
Along with muffins, bagels were everywhere.  Student council meeting?  Mock trial meeting? Study break in the dorm?  Lecture by famous Professor X? Debate team breakfast?  THERE WILL BE BAGELS. PILES AND PILES OF BAGELS.  With little white knives and very thick un-spreadable whipped butter and cream cheese. They were perfect because they were cheap, filling for about an hour, and took lots of time to eat (and thus you could discuss your teen angst over them and all the dieting girls could 'peel' them, eating the skin and then the soft innards to make them last longer).

Once, I brought bagels to a class for breakfast and took the unconsumed bagels to my next study hall.  I still remember how a group of freshman boys took up my offer to finish them off.  They ate the bagels with butter and cream cheese AND THEN ATE THE BUTTER AND LICKED THE CREAM CHEESE CONTAINER CLEAN.

It was then I understood the appetite of teenage boys: I hasten to add they did thank me profusely even though they ate the cream cheese with their hands.

8. Snapple

Image credit: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group
Snapple was great because you could wrap your hair scrunchie around the top of the bottle. It really wasn't very healthy, despite the label, but thanks to Snapple, no scrunchies were lost in the 90s.  Now you find hair ties all over the ground because people have water bottles.

9. 'Character' kid food

Image credit: Blue Buddies
Teddy Grahams were all the rage and while sugary cereals had been in style for a long time, the 90s oversaw the rise of Teenage Mutant Ninja and Smurfberry cereal, taking food-as-entertainment to a new level.  At least the Flintstones cereal was inspired by a classic show...

10.  Food so sweet and processed that only children can eat it

Image credit: Calorie Count
I also think this was the decade when French toast 'sticks' and pull-apart frozen waffles became in vogue (because it is so hard to make French toast or to cut your own damn waffles). And yes, Lunchables.  Fortunately, I was too old for these things when they came out. I can't fathom eating them any more than I could eating the leg of a Barbie doll. They are that natural.

10. Incredibly unhealthy 'healthy' yogurt

Image credit: Crazy Food Dude
Say what you will about the 80s, but there was pretty much five flavors of yogurt in the supermarket and all were whole milk. In the 90s, this changed and everything became fat free. Other than Fage, today it is almost impossible to find real yogurt in the supermarket.  In the 90s, plain yogurt almost disappeared and was replaced by flavors like Key Lime Pie and Strawberry Cheesecake.  Extra bonus points if the yogurt came with stir-in Oreo crumbles. And don't get me started on Gogurt.

11. The Extra Value Meal at McDonald's



Image credit: McDonald's
Before Supersize Me, the ability to order a super-sized meal by number with minimal interaction at the drive-through was seen as a great asset.  I went on countless road trips in college during which we rewarded ourselves for sitting in a car for six hours by getting our special 'value' meals.  I usually went for the healthier option of the grilled, mayo-laden chicken sandwich, fries (of course), and a vanilla milkshake.  Diet Coke if feeling virtuous.

12. Funky-ass pizza

Image credit: Tumblr
Ham and pineapple like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Buffalo chicken. Because if you put enough toppings on a Domino's pizza, you forget how awful and cheap and SWEET the tomato sauce and bread are...

Hmm...in reviewing these 90s trends...all of which involve 'diet' food that is not really diet, immense portion sizes, and food that is designed to minimize the effort of eating and thus encourage you to eat more...I may have found the solution to the 80s paradox of why kids were so skinny in the 80s and we all got so fat in the 90s...