Monday, March 26, 2012
You remember that song from Cinderella, "So This is Love"? That's what was playing in my head when I walked into the recently opened Whole Foods that is a mere 4 miles from my office. I've known for months that Whole Foods was coming; I even drove around the construction site a couple times to admire the building's facade (Actually THAT might be the low point). But admiring and experiencing are two completely different species of existence.
After living in Portland, I realized that there's a very clear hierarchy of food vendors and it is as follows:
1. Farmer's Markets
3. Whole Foods
4. Trader Joe's
5. (Insert mediocre grocery store chain)
You can argue for Wegman's to be in the #3 spot and that's legit, but I don't live near one so it's a moot point. Nothing will ever compare to actually going to a farmer's market, walking around, and having a conversation with a vendor who most likely made, hunted, foraged, or farmed whatever you're perusing. At the PSU Farmer's Market, I knew the vendors by name and they knew me. I even flirted with a few on occasion, but that's another tale entirely. Co-ops get the #2 spot because, like their title suggests, they're a community based market that makes serious efforts to keep their products local and seasonal. Ranking at #4, I appreciate Trader Joe's for its affordability and healthier options but sometimes, depending on the day, it can be a hit or miss situation. Today we're discussing #3: Whole Foods, or Whole Paycheck as I've heard it often described. The only thing I hate about Whole Foods is my current, pathetic financial status. When I'm in a Whole Foods store, I genuinely want to justify spending $17 on vegan, cruelty-free, UVA-UVB protective sunblock. I want to spend $12 on about 4 ounces of freshly ground organic peanut butter. Sometimes, I even want to buy lamb shanks because of the Jane Austen novel that describes (in chalk lettering, no less)where and how the lamb was raised.
I'll understand if you think I'm violating the Lent(il) Project agreement to not patron any grocery stores, but I honestly didn't go with the intention to purchase anything. In fact, I didn't have a dime on me. I just needed to walk around and admire the beauty that surrounded me. The situation wasn't so different from going to the Met and abstaining from purchasing an overpriced print of yet another one of Monet's watercolor pond scenes. I was there to simply take it all in and score some free samples.
The Lentil Project Loop Hole #2: Free Samples. (The #1 Loop Hole of this Project is having someone offer to buy me a meal.) If a store is going to offer me small bites of free food, I think it's in bad form to refuse such unwarranted generosity. Besides, free samples are a mutually beneficial transaction; the vendors get to pitch their sale and I get to eat food that I didn't have to buy or cook. Win-win! I took my time walking around the aisles and eating the Dixie cup servings of whatever came my way. Today I got lucky and sampled spinach salad with a vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free dressing. The vendor was explaining to me the value of a salad dressing without sugar and a million other ingredients, and I just smiled and nodded gratefully for this bit of knowledge that my sister and Michael Pollan have sledge hammered into my brain for the past four years. I didn't say this out loud though. To be honest, I was so grateful to have even a bite of unfrozen spinach that I would have gladly asked her to explain the concept of veganism to me if it meant scoring another Dixie cup.
Wouldn't you know that I was almost immediately drawn to the bulk beans and grains section? After weeks of eating beans and grains almost exclusively, you'd think I'd sample-steal some wayward grapes from the produce section. Nope. I was about two free samples into Whole Foods before I was like, "Get out of town...Christmas Lima beans?! That's an heirloom variety!"
The crying bit didn't happen until I got to the Frozen Non-Dairy Ice Cream section and saw the Coconut Bliss. Coconut Bliss happens to be the best vegan ice cream ever made. When I lived with my sister Christina in a studio apartment on Belmont, I would find any and every reason to fork out $6 for a pint of this stuff. Then I would find any and every reason to justify eating an entire pint in under an hour (These are the sordid games we crazy kids out in the deep end of the BMI like to play). I loved this ice cream so much that I even wrote a fan letter to Luna and Larry detailing my admiration (New low point?). I've been on the hunt for Coconut Bliss out here on the East Coast but to no avail. Until today. Seeing all the pints lined up in front of me, to look at but not touch, made my heart ache. I missed Portland, I missed my sisters, and I missed the ease of grocery shopping as a vegetarian during my time out West. Walking around Whole Foods and seeing the Coconut Bliss reminded me of a time and place when the vegetarian option was so much more than salad mix and rubbery portobello mushrooms. So really, I was having more of a "Welcome Back" cry. Except that the woman two feet away from me pushing her toddler in a cart, didn't get all that. She saw a crazy, chubby lady having what could only be a psychological meltdown in front of the ice cream section (another sordid game for us fatties). She swerved a good ten feet away from me and all my crazy.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Me: Isaac, I need to take a picture of you eating my gnocchi
(Isaac shakes his head and backs away)
Me: Come on, Zeke, it's good! It's homemade..and has yummy pesto on it, you'll love it! And it's green (mentally remembering that it's Eli, not Isaac, that loves green)!
Isaac (pouting): But Angie...I don't want to eat the gween stuff...
Me: OK, then can I just take a picture of you pretending to eat it?
Isaac (after a moment of thinking it over): Yeah..sho'!
I'm ashamed to admit the Isaac photo came about after numerous failed attempts of me trying to take a photo of myself eating the gnocchi. I just wanted the blog to have some more personal touches, so I thought I'd throw in a fun picture of me about to eat a gnoccho. Except that each photo I took was more frightening than anything else. The pictures reminded me of still shots of a hippo about to chomp down on an unassuming water buffalo. So I opted for the cute kid instead. Instant improvement!
Because last week felt like it lasted a month, I decided that my Saturday would be a day just for me. Even as I write that statement, I cringe a bit. There's always a smidge of entitlement that accompanies a statement like "I need me time". Or at least I feel that way. I guess it's because I'm not accountable to the responsibilities of a husband, children, or even my parents really. I feel that because I'm single I should be all the more proactive within my community because of my lack of entanglements. On the Saturday in question, however, I pretty much decided to kick the community to the curb. I spent the morning waltzing around Cowtown with my friend Scott. When I came home I made large, lethargic amounts of gnocchi with a homemade pea pesto sauce. Then I made a whole vat of coconut butternut brown rice with an accompanying pot of spicy collard greens and black eyed peas. After eating (just the gnocchi, the greens, beans, and rice were for dinner) I high-tailed it to a park, where I loafed about with a book under a willow tree. At one point I stopped reading and thought, "I am perfectly happy right now and it has nothing to do with food". This is pretty significant for me because usually my meals and emotions go hand-in-hand. In this one moment, however, I was able to find a wholly separate source of personal fulfillment. I was riding such an emotional high that I decided I'd go crazy and attend a yoga class at my gym. When you're feeling really good about yourself, yoga is an ideal way to physically connect with your inner spirit. Except when you have MY history of yoga, and then when you hear someone make that kind of statement, you usually roll your eyes and mentally tell them to go sell their crazy somewhere else.
When I lived in Portland, I joined an amazing 24-hour gym that had everything: pools, hot tubs, saunas, elliptical machines with TVs, and dozens of classes. And because it was open 24-7, I ran out of my usual excuses for not going. So on a Saturday morning not unlike the one I just enjoyed, I ate a nice breakfast, and went to my very first yoga class. My first yoga class which, as it turned out, looked like an open audition for Swan Lake. I had never seen so many ridiculously perfect female figures in my whole life. Their bodies were meant to wear form-fitting yoga pants and cute, snug tank tops. I, however, sauntered in with baggy gym shorts, hairy legs (this didn't bother me so much. I was in Portland, after all. They're pretty loosey goosey about body hair) and a sloppy t-shirt bearing a photo of the male leads from "The Godfather" on it. It also didn't help that most of the yoga goddesses were toting around diaper bags and strollers, a fact which I noted with a most un-yoga-like resentment. If anyone in that class looked as though they just had a ten pound baby ravage all their best body parts for nine months, it was me. Nevertheless I unrolled my sister's mat waaaaay in the back of the studio and was determined to nama-stay.
Fun fact about yoga: You shouldn't eat or drink anything for several hours before or after a class. A couple of lotuses and awkward pigeon positions later, I was feeling every bite of scrambled tofu that I had eaten that morning. The instructor kept saying, "This yoga workout is giving your organs a much-needed massage" while I kept thinking "Dear God, please don't let me be 'Fat Hairy Vomit Girl' in this yoga class..." But as I transitioned to downward dog, the tofu began to upward heave. Do you have any idea how hard it is to quickly (and quietly) make your way through three dozen mats full of yoga goddess freak of nature mothers doing tree poses? I was like a rhinoceros barreling through a forest of perfectly-bodied trees, to soothing background music of Enya. I just barely made it out the door before I shoved my head into the nearest trash can and released all of my inner piece...s. I never did go to another yoga class in Portland and yoga was quickly placed in that category of "Exercises That Only Skinny People Do (like Running, Spin and Pilates)"
But then last September I felt compelled to make exercising a habit and one of the first things I was given (well, lent, but I have little intention of giving it back yet...) was a copy of "The Biggest Loser Yoga Workout". It took me a very long time to muster up the motivation to give it a go, but then, wonder of wonders, it turned out to be an amazing workout video. While I despise the Biggest Loser show itself, I truly loved the yoga video. It actually had fat people on it bending, sweating, huffing, and puffing to Bob's firm but gentle, Southern-style instructions. It didn't even matter that I almost always fell over during the first three weeks of doing the DVD because I kept thinking "If those fatties can do this, then so can I". There's no question that that DVD, in conjunction with regular walking, helped me shave off my first fifteen pounds.
So with a renewed faith in yoga, last Saturday I went to my very first group yoga class since Vomitfest 2008. I braced myself for being the lone short, hairy, Italian with baggy clothes on amidst the Jersey-style collection of the yoga goddesses (they come with spray tan). What I did not prepare myself for was being half of the female population in that class. I was greeted warmly by six older gentleman in their late fifties to early sixties. One of them in particular, Jim, said "Wonderful, we have another girl! I hope you ladies don't mind if I just stick my mat in between you two! (Wink)" Jim was attired in a tie-dyed Rita's Italian Ice t-shirt and baggy jeans. I was slightly perplexed at the thought of this older man doing yoga poses in jeans, but my concerns were immediately rendered unnecessary. Within what I can only describe as a striptease second, the jeans were whipped off, leaving behind the tightest and shortest of spandex biker shorts. It took every ounce of newly acquired inner yoga strength to NOT shake with laughter at that very moment.
Fun Fact #2 about yoga: You shouldn't wear baggy shirts, especially when your entire class is doing all of their movements directly in front of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. After my first plank, I looked up to see most of my chest waving its salutations to anyone looking my way through the mirrors. From then on, I spent most of the class with my shirt collar yanked up and clenched between my teeth so as to avoid anymore National Geographic-worthy flashing. Jim, I found, was not nearly concerned with his body parts, which were quite clearly displayed through his skin-tight biker shorts. I wasn't trying to look, honest. Yoga is a lot like the game of Twister; sometimes you end up in positions where you're involuntarily looking upon random bits of another person. Jim breathed, bent, stretched, and twisted with the most astounding inner peace and personal confidence that I've ever seen in a man whose shorts could make Richard Simmons blush. At one point during the cool down, we were instructed to lie on our right side and only allow our minds to fixate on a single word (ideally it would be love, peace, God, hope). I was staring at the back of Jim's tye-dyed Rita's shirt thinking "Rita's....Rita's...heeeey, they have free water ice this Tuesday. That might be a loop-hole to my Lent(il) Project because technically I'm not buying any food. It would be free. Crap, I have to focus on one word. Hmm..Free. Free....water ice. Maybe I'll get mango..GAH! Focus! (Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeep) Was that...did one of the guys just fart? How the HECK can I focus now? I can't even stop shaking. Oh dear Lord in Heaven please don't let ME fart because I'm laughing too hard."
In the end, I managed to keep it together. And I think I will be returning to this class, after all. Aside from the lack of vomiting (always a plus) I actually felt happy and safe amongst the old guys. They were kind, welcoming, and incredibly focused (I didn't catch one of them gawking at my accidental peep show). Also, at the end of the day it's almost impossible to feel self-conscious when you're surrounded by old farts. Literally. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
This is a picture of my mother's pasta e fagioli, although we Americanized Italians call it Pasta Fazool. I was over at my parents' house for dinner this past Sunday and this soup was like a bowl o'childhood for me. I can't speak for other families, but for mine, Sundays usually meant two things: 1.) "Dinner" would be served around 1 or 2 depending on when church ended and 2.) The meal would be very large and very Italian. My mother grew up on a farm spending her Sundays like this. My great-grandmother Carmella, a formidable Sicilian woman, would have enormous dinners for all of the children and grandchildren; imagine, if you will a whole table full of assorted Marys, Josephs, and Freds. Great-grandmom would spend all day making soups, salads, bread, pasta dishes, assorted meats; she would cook and you, in turn, were expected to show up and eat everything on your plate. My grandmother (one of several Marys) once told me that great-grandmom (her mother-in-law) advised her to never tell her own children "I love you". The children were supposed to assume they were loved by how you took care of them and fed them. Thankfully, my grandmother completely ignored her mother-in-law's advice, but the tradition of expressing love through service and cooking has definitely stuck with us.
I have always loved hearing the great-grandmom stories that my mother and aunts will indulge in around our kitchen table during parties and holidays. They'll argue over how long great-grandmom's bakala fish soup would sit, soaking and stinking, in the basement before she cooked it on Sunday. My mom even told me about the plate-sized ravioli she used to make, with each person getting about 1/2 lb of ricotta cheese filling per ravioli. The conversation usually shifts towards how mean Great-grandmom was to everyone, with each aunt arguing over who got it the worst. Sprinkled throughout each of these stories is one of my favorite phrases,"That's a sin". I love this phrase, love knowing that anything from dressing your child in ugly clothes to not being a good cook could be met with a "Awww that's a sin".
Even though Sundays have changed drastically (which happens when families grow up and out) since the Great-grandmom days, I felt like my recent bowl of Pasta Fazool was a small reminder of my heritage, much like the stories, the big family dinners, and my mom and aunt's wheezy cackling that brings them to tears and bathrooms. I love having my own traditions and my own time and freedom, but it is rather nice to go back home now and then, even if it's through a bowl of soup.
I must confess that the Pasta Fazool was also one of maaaany meals that I haven't had to make for myself these past couple of weeks, hence the lack of blogging. Part of that is because I've been babysitting quite a lot and, well, indulging in other people's pantries is all part of the "You're 27, you have a decade of babysitting experience...so the least I can do is let you eat whatever you want while I leave my children in your over-qualified hands" deal. Also, my community of loved ones are well acquainted with my 'food=love' ethos because they're usually on the receiving end of it. They know that by giving me eggs, tomatoes, quiche, burritos, and barley risotto, they're just reminding me that they love me too; however, I think my mom has interpreted the project as me not having enough food to eat. Whenever I come over to the house, she encourages me to take whole bags of chips and huge containers of leftovers with me. That could just be a mom thing, though...
So no, I don't think that this outpouring of food gifts undermines the purpose of the Lent(il) Project. I'm about three weeks away from the celebration of Passover, a day in which Jesus Himself went to an upper room and enjoyed his final meal, a meal that someone else prepared for Him. I don't think that this fact should slip from our minds. Passover is an incredibly symbolic meal full of songs, traditions, wine and foods that weave a story of redemption; but most importantly it is a meal meant to be shared with others. I had this Bible professor who theorized (and I am inclined to agree with him) that Jesus and His disciples went to the Essene commune in Jerusalem to have the Last Supper. The Essenes, aside from being a strict monastic community, were incredibly hospitable. The Essenes believed that you should always welcome strangers for you never know when you could be entertaining the angels of God Himself.
I think that being embraced and fed some of my meals by my friends and family is quite befitting the holiday season of Lent. It is undoubtedly a time of sacrifice, but it's also an acknowledgement of one's place within their community, global or otherwise. But I will conclude this post by saying that I promise to be more diligent in posting blogs and putting up more meals that I've made for myself. In fact, I plan to dedicate the entire weekend to cooking outlandishly creative meals for myself and not just gorging on homemade yogurt.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
I wanted to provide ya'll (sorry, I picked up this linguistic foible during my travels through Kentucky) with an artsier picture of my vegan red bean and quinoa chili, but I opted for this interpretation of my “canned soup" instead.
The Lentil Project faced (and conquered) its very first challenge: a weekend youth leadership conference in Louisville, Kentucky. My limited resources and I had to quickly figure out a balanced, sustainable meal plan for three whole days in a hotel. I was incredibly lucky, though, because amongst my traveling companions there was Bill and Lorraine, who were also determined to bring prepared food to the conference. In fact, they're seasoned pros at organizing and providing meals for dozens of people during a week-long music festival every summer. For this trip, they brought coolers, a toaster oven, snacks, and tons of food for everyone's breakfast and lunch. But most of all, they brought companionship during my meals. Don't get me wrong, I’m not the kind of single girl who cannot be alone, but I only ever enjoy meals when I’m in the company of others. Food is a shared experience for me, plain and simple. Bill and Lorraine, who support the Lentil Project whole-heartedly, were that very crucial accountability system that a girl like me, a food addict who is surrounded by a city's worth of decent restaurants, needs like the air itself.
I met the challenge of this conference with all the excitement and energy of a 5-year old on Christmas morning. Like I've mentioned before, my sisters and I have a pretty adventurous spirit when it comes to cooking challenges. In fact, when I became a vegetarian, I didn't dwell on what I "lost" by not eating meat; I made a mental checklist of all that there was left to enjoy in the world of food and said "Yeah. I can work with that". Three days in a hotel eating food that I made/brought from my pantry? The race is on, Louisville.
I brought protein shakes, PB&J ingredients, a quart of homemade yogurt, and a quart of vegan dumpling stew. I was actually a little OVERLY zealous in my personal meal plan because, as I said, there was already a ton of food. Don't get me wrong, I worked my way through the yogurt and vegan dumpling stew, but for the most part I grazed on cookies, candy, cereal, chocolate, and chips. These were the five C's of my downward gluttonous spiral of binge eating. The diamond industry uses a different set of ‘five C’s’ to convince people to spend thousands of dollars on small, pressurized chunks of coal. In both sets of the ‘five C’s’, mine and the diamond industry’s, what you have is a deceptive, destructive system involving a large supply of processed crap* that comes at great, personal cost. Because I am fully aware that my devoutly vegan sister Kim is going to read this blog, I will leave out the nitty-gritty details involving me plowing through whole bags of potato chips. Let’s just say that there isn't enough quinoa in the world to undo the damage I did to my system at this conference. All I know is that through the haze of crunching oily chips, I kept pushing away the “Why?” that crept up to the front of my brain. In all my years of destructive eating patterns, there was always a “Why?” But then again, there was always enough food to make me forget the answer, too.
On the last day of the conference itself, I attended a lecture that focused upon “Girls’ Ministry”. This particular session was all about the psychology of mean girls. Our speaker asked all of us to go around at our tables and say if we were a girl who bullied or a girl who was bullied. As she spoke, a flash of vivid memories came to my mind: My 7 year-old self sitting down at a lunch table and watching in horror as the entire table's worth of kids immediately got up and tried to cram onto another table; sitting in 5th grade math and listening as one of the students stood up to tell the whole class a joke about killer whales with my name being the punchline; my 11 year-old self walking home from school and having my face covered in spit by a handful of boys riding by me on their bikes; my 13 year-old self walking home from school, bawling, as some kid called me every horrible name you could think of for the duration of that walk; my 15 year-old self participating in Spanish class and having my butt and back fat grabbed repeatedly by a boy in the class. When it came for my turn at the table to say that I was a bullied girl, my throat was constricted and it took every ounce of personal restraint to not become completely unhinged.
I’m sorry I couldn’t provide yous (back in Jersey mode) with a funnier anecdote here, but these are my stories for better or worse. I wish I could give you a legitimate reason for why I felt the need to eat my way through the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness that hit me like a ton of bricks during a conference where I was surrounded by close friends, several thousand Christian youth leaders, and the numerous songs and sermons declaring the love of God. All I can say is that it happened and it's over.
Yeesh, Debbie Downer, right? Wan Wannn Waaaaaannnnnn
Alright, well despite my destructive emotional eating patterns at the hotel, I didn’t buy any food! I even sat in several restaurants, drinking as much free water as I could get into my system, without so much as glancing at the menus. I know that this small victory doesn’t quite undo the Prozac-worthy spit-in-the-face story, but it’s something at least. Also, from the recent binge debacle I have learned something quite valuable: For skin reasons alone, I will not be eating any sugar in the near future. I’ve had Mt. Vesuvius on my chin all weekend long and let me tell you that nothing is more attractive to the hot, single Christian youth leader guys quite like a scabby zit with a top layer of flaked, plastered skin that one can only attain through multiple dabs of cheap concealer. Oh yeah, I'm keeping the message of abstinence strong and loud.
*When I refer to the processed crap, I want to point out that this is not a reflection upon the people who made or brought that food; this is about me. There were a lot of amazing snack foods, with the emphasis being on the word 'snack'. If my proverbial angel on the shoulder could have spoken, it would have probably said, 'Hey, Ang, sure you can have a small cookie...or...oh wow, ok, 12. They're not meal supplement cookies, you know but...oh...and now you're chasing them with Sun Chips? That's...different. And now you've discovered the fun-sized Snickers. Eating the whole bag is not what makes them fun, Angie. Um, stop. Seriously."