Thursday, July 28, 2011

Listening to your body and Mollie Katzen's Roasted Apples with Reduced Balsamic Vinegar

'Listening to your body' is a phrase I often hear in my yoga classes.  It usually means one of two things: "Listen to your body and don't try to pull your arm out of its socket to get into a really challenging pose." Or "listen to your body and don't try to hide underneath the yoga mat when you're supposed to be attempting to do a handstand and mentally psych yourself out of trying something new."

I also hear people joke about listening to their bodies.  Saying: "I'm going to listen to my body, and my body says I want chocolate!" However, sadly these types of jokes really reflect quite the opposite understanding of the body.  If your knees hurt and you're pre-diabetic, your head might be saying chocolate, but your body is saying no thank you.  If you have trouble breathing when going up stairs and your pants are tight, your body is probably telling you to go outside and have a lighter diner rather than to turn up the A/C on a sunny day and order in some pepperoni pizza.

 Although the phrase 'listening to your body' sounds quite gentle and loving, to actually listen to your body often really sucks. For example, a good online friend of mine recently discovered that his throat has a nasty habit of closing up when he eats too much dairy or products containing flour. While he tried to tell his body that cheese is an extremely tasty substance and muscle through its protests at first, eventually he decided that breathing and changing his diet was easier. Another friend of mine has a body that tells him in no uncertain terms that eating cheese, ice cream, or any foods containing lactose are not appreciated, thank you very much. This requires lots of annoying planning and questioning of waitstaff, which he'd actually rather not do, although his body insists upon it.

For most of my life, I chose to pretty much ignore my body when food was concerned. I have a good memory, and have fragmented images of in my mind eating real food with pleasure, like sharing a slice of liverwurst under the table with my aunt's very deaf white cat. But most of my linear, later memories involve dinners that were great Stand-Offs between myself and my mother and father. The day would start with an argument about drinking orange juice (I hated the stuff, and cunningly tried to pretend to hate pulpy orange juice when that kind was in the house, and then, alternately hate the smooth, strained type when mom had bought a different variety). It would end with a stand-off over 'eating my greens' at dinner.  Even my parents regarded 'green' as a punishment (given that it was usually Green Giant boiled in a bag) but one which was a necessary part of becoming an adult.

So, the usual conversations I had between myself and my body were as follows:

Flickr: lotusutol
Body: I've really had enough sugar.
Me: No you haven't!  This is your favorite kind of cake!  I'm going to have a bigger slice.


Body: Some protein would be nice at some point today.
Me: I'm sorry, but I've decided that, since no one is supervising me, we'll be having some Hostess Cupcakes and Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles.

Later, some of my conversations with my body would sound like this.

Me: I can have cereal breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It's totally low in calories and I'm totally full!
Body: Um...
Me:  The label says it's full of nutrients!
Body: What about a sandwich?
Me: What about a Weight Watchers ice cream sandwich?

This left me puffy and unhappy, particularly since most of my conversations with my body regarding exercise often took this form.

Body: Trying that sport looks fun!  Or let's climb a tree.
Me: I'm going to die.

Mom, grandmother: You're going to hurt your head and die!  Stay inside in the healthy A/C and watch TV!
Me: Wait, how did mom and grandmom get in my head?

Even after I went vegetarian, I pretty much neatly transitioned from highly processed junk food (pizza, fried stuff, sugar) to vegetarian junk food.  It says a great deal about my eating habits that what I most regretted giving up was Oreos, which at the time contained lard. I consoled myself with Hydrox, but found their crumbly texture to be vastly inferior to the greatness of the O-R-E-O.
Flickr: Chazz Layne

After flirting briefly with veganism last year, I began to finally admit something to myself--I'd been working for years, riding on and off, getting slower running times, and even after adding yoga to my 'fitness prescription' for myself, I wasn't seeing much in the way of results, and hadn't for years.

This fitted neatly with my doomed, adversarial relationship with my body, which I had been told by family, friends, and teachers was doomed to be out-of-shape--first because I was small and pudgy, then because I was small and slim, sometimes because I was female, other times because I was nerd and not a jock...all sorts of little stories imposed upon my body.

The moral of this tale is that I started listening to my body, rather than telling stuff to my body, and added fish back into my diet, cut out all of the processed foods I was eating (including vegan 'veggie burgers') and I feel much better.  I still eat dessert (this is, after all, mostly a baking blog) but only a small portion, and not every day.

The bulk of my diet for the last few months has been fruit, veggies, fish, and lots of nuts (which I still prefer heavily salted--my only vice) and I feel better. I guess you could call this a 'Mediterranean diet.'  That is, before the 'Mediterranean diet' became represented by John Belushi's "Cheezeburger Cheezeburger' sketch on Saturday Night Live. 

In some ways, I would rather 'be' a vegetarian or vegan, and perhaps if I hadn't eaten so crappily for thirty-six years, I wouldn't need the fish.  I realize that there are nine million websites out there about 'vegan athletes' but the truth is, I tried to convince myself for many years I didn't need the protein to improve my athletic performance and I have found that I do.

Me: You can get all of your nutrients from vegetables sources! Just read that article on this vegan triathlete online!
Body: Protein....Protein...not getting the right balance of macronutrients from beans and grains...

So the moral of this story is that I have incorporated fish into my diet. I still often eat vegan and I certainly don't see myself going back to eating meat, although I have always maintained I'm not opposed to meat-eating, just the way that 99.9% of the meat is raised today.

I think it's awesome if you're a meat-eater and doing your best to support ethically-raised livestock, and truly the 'sustainability movement' needs meat-eaters just as much as it does vegan and vegetarians. I've always felt much more of a sense of kindred sympathy with people who support farming than the largely urban, very militant cadre of vegans who have very little knowledge of animals, and seem to regard them in a very sentimental fashion.  And whether people like it or not, I think that as a society, we're going to have to eat much less meat, much less frequently, if we want to eat meat that is worth eating--ethically raised, and not addled with lots of artificial hormones and antibiotics.

Of course, I have many non-sentimental fantastic blogging vegan friends who I turn to for inspiration and advice when preparing my vegan meals like my evil vegan Californian twin and former college buddy Grass Fed Duck.  But for my readers, I just wanted to be honest (because all a blogger has is her honesty) about what I eat everyday, so you have no illusions.  I eat mostly vegan and vegetarian, but yes, sometimes I do eat fish.  I'm still a basketcase, and still suck in my middle-aged crisis hobbies, but I suck much less at them.

This is a wonderful dessert that is actually healthy, pungent, and vegan from Mollie Katzen.  Apples are a fall fruit, but few summer dinners are better than fruit, nuts, and cheese (if you desire to or can eat it) so hopefully you'll pardon me at least this offense, by offering what might seem a less-than-summery recipe. I had it with some broiled salmon.

Mollie Katzen's Roasted Apples with Reduced Balsamic Vinegar


2 large Fuji apples

1 cup of balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 425F

2. Cut two apples (I used Fuji) roughly, leave the skin on.  Place as a single layer in a large baking dish.

3. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until they can be easily pieced with a fork.

4. While the apples are baking, bring 1 cup of balsamic vinegar to a boil.  Reduce temperature and simmer for 30 minutes, until reduced to 2/3 a cup (approximately). The vinegar with have a slightly earthy, smoky taste to it.

5. Toss the vinegar in the roasted apples and serve. It can be eaten over ice cream or yogurt, with nuts and cheddar or blue cheese, or as an accompaniment to your protein of choice.


  1. Ha ha! I will agree with the evil part! I was just listening to Ruth Reichl's "Garlic and Sapphires" including her descriptions of reviewing sushi joints and thinking that if I were forced at gunpoint to eat an animal product it would definitely be fatty tuna! Unlike some vegans I will openly admit that some meats and cheeses tasted kinda good and sometimes I try to re-create that with gluten and tofu. If gluten chorizo is wrong than I don't want to be right.

  2. @MD--yes, I am not making fish the only 'protein staple' of my diet, so vegan sausages are welcome, and I'm definitely not going back to eating pig.

    I loves "Garlic and Sapphires"--I am not sure if being a restaurant critic is a dream job, though, since it could play havoc with the waistline, as well as making it difficult to avoid foods of questionable origin (meat and otherwise).

  3. You're quite right: I ignored my body for much longer than I care to admit and now, like you, I have to eat what it wants and suffer my fate.

    Aside from my desires for lasagne bolognese, something made with chicken broth, and a really good corned beef sandwich, I really don't care that much about meat. But again, like you, years of eating the wrong way (starch, vegetables, fruits, dairy and chocolate) means I now have to eat meat whether I want to or not. My body thinks lentils are just not enough.

  4. @Catboy--The idea of 'one diet for all' has always kind of baffled me--clearly, it seems that for some people sugar is more of a negative issue than for others (diabetics), that some people need special diets for medical reasons (epileptics, people with Celiac and Crohn's and so forth).

    I do think that, despite the advertising efforts of Big Food, it is pretty clear from anecdotal and statistical evidence that highly- processed food is the worst and most inefficient way to fuel the human body. I also think that 'more veggies, less meat' will have to be the way for us to go as a society in general, but on the other hand eating fish seems to 'repair' my body in a way that non-animal proteins cannot. And given your other dietary restrictions, doing without meat would be virtually impossible.

    The goal has to be ethically and humanely-raised food that heals rather than harms the human body and tastes reasonably good too. 'Going local' has been the best way for me to achieve that aim, and hopefully we as a society can make it easier for people all over to find local and affordable produce and farm-raised meat without antibiotics and hormones. At least we have to agree that is the goal...

  5. I know. I realize that despite living in a suburban area where 90% of the restaurants are chains and franchises, I actually have an exceptionally good farmers market in walking distance every Sunday. And while I have to go somewhat out of my way, I can find organic (or at the very least higher quality) meat without a great deal of effort. And I do think given the state of my uninspired little 'burb, that if people here will embrace a green market, people anywhere would.

  6. @Catboy--I am similarly blessed. My suburb is far from perfect, but perhaps because of the fact that NYC is pretty near, many trends in good food have caught on--Wegmans' stocks local produce (and grass-fed beef), and there are farmer's markets, fishmongers near the Jersey shore, and even a poultry farm that sells eggs and chicken that get to live like chickens while they are alive.

    If I lived elsewhere (ie one of those places where Wal-Mart is the main grocery store), I think now I could struggle to eat like I do now, but it would be harder and much less 'fun' to eat healthfully, and that does make a difference.