First-time Momming

Having a child has forced me to live in the moment. It has really screwed with my perception of time, and I suspect that this is what parents mean when they say things like, “they’re growing up so fast, ” or “time is going by too quickly”. I feel like I never really caught my breath or wrapped my head around what I was experiencing, so I wrote this as a way to process what has happened in the last 1+ year. It’s long, and probably only interesting to those who are closest to me, but for whatever reason, it feels important to put it out there in the world. ***WARNING: Possible TMI for those who don’t want to know this much about me!***

Pregnancy

A few years ago, I wasn’t sure that I wanted kids. My 34th birthday (last year) gave me a shove, and I admitted to myself that avoiding the decision would eventually become a decision to not get pregnant. Once we made the decision, it happened much faster than I had anticipated, and things were moving along before I could fully wrap my head around it. Pregnancy was a mixed bag. I was fortunate to not have morning sickness, but I had horrendous heartburn throughout the whole pregnancy that me not want to eat much more than crackers, cheese, and cereal. Other than that, things were going pretty smoothly. At 32 weeks, I accidentally stepped onto a treadmill that someone had left running at full speed. I decided to go to the hospital to get checked out “just in case,” and the monitor showed that I was having contractions 2 minutes apart. The ultrasound showed that she was still healthy, but that she was in a breech position. There was talk about injecting me with steroids to mature the baby’s lungs because it was looking like I would need to be transferred to another hospital for a pre-term c-section due to her position. Fortunately, things calmed down, and I was able to go home the next day, but from then on, I was anxious that every Braxton Hicks contraction meant that I was going into preterm labor. This also started the process of trying to get her to flip to a head-down position. I spent weeks going to see a baby-flipping chiropractor, hanging out in various inverted positions, and burning Moxa near my toes. Every time she moved, I got excited that she was flipping. I had tried to be open-minded throughout pregnancy about natural delivery vs. various interventions and c-sections, but when it came down to it, I was tremendously afraid of having a c-section and hugely disappointed that I wouldn’t have a traditional labor experience. In the final few weeks, I finally accepted the situation, and I scheduled my c-section for the Friday before my due date. My plan was to work Monday-Wednesday of that week and have a day to rest and mentally prepare myself as much as I could. Tuesday morning, I woke up around 6:30am to go to the bathroom, and when I stood up, my water broke.

Delivery

We tried to be relaxed as we got ready for the hospital. I showered and ate breakfast, we took some photos and videos, and started making our way to the hospital. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and I was filled with butterflies. Contractions began while I was in the car. I was admitted to L&D around 8am, where they confirmed that she was still, in fact, breech. We waited until they were ready for surgery. Between contractions and anxiety about surgery, I was shivering uncontrollably. They wheeled me into the brightly lit operating room, administered the spinal block, and started the procedure. I was so scared that I would be able to feel them operating. Ira was right by my side, and I vaguely remember the anesthesiologist helping to distract me. It seemed to be only a few minutes before I heard the cry of my brand new baby. The midwife came in, and brought her to me so that we could meet for the first time and have skin-to-skin contact. Ira and I just stared at her with tears in our eyes. It was the most beautiful moment of my life.

 Too soon, they whisked her away, and I was sent to recover. It was the strangest thing to have no feeling in my legs, and no ability to control their movement. Because of the c-section, we had another 4 days in the hospital. On Wednesday, my catheter was removed, and the nurse and midwife helped me to get out of bed. My legs were working again, but the pain from surgery was intense, despite being on pain meds. Getting in and out of bed was an enormous effort for the first couple of days. It turns out that use automatically use your core to stabilize every little movement (who knew?), and my core had a giant slice in it. Either Ira or the nurse had to bring Cadence to me for skin to skin contact and to practice nursing, and Ira was entirely responsible for soothing her when she cried, which was often. There were moments in the hospital where it seemed impossible to calm her down, and sometimes the nurses would take her and work their magic while we wondered how the heck we were going to learn to take care of a baby. Neither of us had any experience with babies, so it was the nurses who taught us about swaddling, soothing, diaper changing, and feeding. Nursing was extremely painful, and because of my incision, I couldn’t hold her without having 5 pillows propped up around me. She was generally healthy at birth, but there was some concern about the shape of her skull. It was elongated front to back, which sometimes happens when a baby has been breech for many months, and there was concern that she would need surgery to rectify premature fusing of her skull plates. I was distraught over it, but fortunately, the bones were shifting quickly enough that doctors were no longer concerned by the time we were discharged.

Those few days were a fog of sleeplessness, pain medication, and the total joy and amazement over the person that we had created. For a brief time, we had no responsibilities outside of getting to know our tiny human. Our friends were amazing, bringing us delicious non-hospital food and sharing in our excitement. Saturday was our “going home” day. We dressed Cadence in her own clothes for the first time, and she screamed bloody murder as we changed her. We wondered how on earth we were going to survive the car ride home with a crying baby, and what we were going to do without the help of the nurses. As soon as we put her in her car seat and started walking with her, she calmed down, and looked around curiously. We got her home, asleep, and asked each other, “so now what?”.

The Early Days

 By Sunday night, nursing was so painful that I cried in anticipation of feeding her. I did a variety of things to try to reduce the pain and help my skin heal, but it was still a challenge. Nursing sessions were marathons, and she would still end up screaming inconsolably at various times throughout the day, and neither of us knew what to do. Her weight gain slowed down, and it became a source of stress throughout my maternity leave. The experts said that newborns wake up every 2-3 hours to eat, but she could easily sleep 4-5 hours at night. I had to set my alarm to wake up and feed her every few hours. Every day revolved around trying to feed her, and wondering what I was doing wrong. The crying was so intense, and I was so uncomfortable with nursing that I was afraid to leave the house with her. I felt my loss of independence intensely, and the weight of the responsibility of feeding her felt crushing at times. In July, I ended up with mastitis twice in a row, painful vasospasms, and she still wasn’t gaining enough weight.  She had laser surgery around 7 weeks to resolve a lip and tongue tie, and she had minor torticollis, likely the result of not being able to lay flat with the bump on the back of her head. She also seemed to spit up more than the average baby, but our pediatrician reassured us that it was nothing to be concerned about, and that eventually it would resolve. Meanwhile, most days were spent trying to control her meltdowns. People kept telling us, “All babies cry. It’s normal,” but the intensity of her crying did not seem normal. She would turn red and scream so long that she struggled to catch her breath. We bounced and shushed and used white noise and rocked and brought her for walks, and sometimes those things would work, but other times, it would go on for hours. There were days when Ira would get home from work and find me crying because I couldn’t get her to stop crying. I would practically throw her at him so that he could try to get her to calm down. Perhaps as a result of those first few days in the hospital, he was much better at soothing her than I was. We did not have a meltdown-free day until she was 8 weeks old.

Her first hint of a smile was around 3 weeks old, and by 4 weeks, she had a mischievous gleam in her eyes. She became much more aware of her surroundings, and seemed to be curious about everything that she saw. It was obvious early on that she had a dynamic personality. Around 5 weeks, she started making non-crying sounds, and even her cries became easier to understand. I remember the first time that I recognized her cry as a tired cry. I put her down in the Rock n Play for a nap, she cried a little, and then she stuck her thumb in her mouth and went to sleep. It was life-changing. We started a bedtime routine around 2 months old, which included putting her down to bed much earlier than we were previously. We just had no idea what was a normal amount of sleep or a normal bedtime for a newborn. She went to sleep pretty easily, relying on her thumb for self-soothing, and would wake up a couple of times during the night to be fed. Sometimes she would fall back to sleep, and other times, she would cry until Ira got up to bounce and shush her until she fell asleep. She gradually woke up less and less until she was sleeping through the night.

She started daycare at 3 months old. We were worried that they were going to kick us out because she was too difficult, but they loved her. She became increasingly active, curious, and social, and while evening fussiness was still an issue for another month or so, we had increasingly more non-fussy times. Nursing was finally pain-free by this point, but she continued to spit up large quantities of milk, and as a result, she was solidly in the 9th percentile for weight for quite a few months. We started giving her solid food around 6 months old. It turns out that she LOVES food. By 8 months, the spit up was minimal, and she was easily eating 2-3 large meals along with all of her bottles. She was late with rolling and crawling, but with both skills, it was like things clicked all of a sudden. She became a much happier baby once she was able to control her body to get to what she wanted. Just like Mom and Dad, she likes to move!

1 Year Old!

We made it! Hooray! Cadence has jumped several lines on the growth curve, hovering around the 67th percentile for weight. She is crawling and cruising everywhere, and interested in anything that doesn’t involve sitting still. She’s still a bit of a sensitive kid. She gets freaked out by loud noises, too many new people, and abrupt changes. She’s not really one for routine during the day, but she sleeps and eats well overall. Most of the time, she is the happiest little girl. She smiles at anyone who catches her eye, giggles when we tickle her belly, and beams with pride when she accomplishes something new. Smiles outnumber the cries at this point, and I find myself not wanting to miss a single second with her. She is just the best.

 I had no idea that I could love motherhood this much. It has been the hardest, happiest, most intense, and most amazing year of my life. She makes my heart burst with love.

 Happy first birthday, Cadence!

 

Vacation Meal Planning

 

Vermont in the summertime is glorious. The way that the evening summer light reflects off the mountains is downright magical. I certainly didn’t appreciate it when I was growing up there, but now that my husband and I have lived in the Boston area for almost 10 years, our trips to VT in the summer always feel too short. We were desperate for a vacation this year, but 3 years of my super-part-time income and student loans didn’t exactly set us up for a life of luxury. We decided that a week in VT fit the bill for a peaceful, relaxing, inexpensive getaway. And you know what? It was one of the best vacations that we’ve ever had.

As a couple of foodie, health-conscious vegetarians, meal planning is a consideration from the start of the vacation-planning process. Here are our priorities:

  1. Budget: This is the least negotiable, so it’s the most significant in driving our decisions.
  2. Health: A week of overconsumption is unlikely to cause irreversible damage, but vacation is a good opportunity to practice a moderation mindset instead of treating it as a free-for-all. This makes it easier to have a balanced approach to food when returning to regular life. Not only that, but my body usually doesn’t feel great if I overdo it on foods that aren’t part of my usual diet.
  3.  Enjoyment: Good food is one of the things that we both love about vacation. This can mean seeking out an exceptional restaurant, buying local produce, or tracking down speciality treats.

It’s tough to find vegetarian options at restaurants that make it worth the money. As a result, we usually try to find lodging that allows us to prepare at least some of our own meals. This can shift depending on where we go, but we research our options in advance so that we know how we want to prioritize our money and calories to make the best use of what the location has to offer.

The Setup

We were fortunate to have free lodging with a view of Lake Champlain, thanks to my in-laws. As far as RVs go, this one was pretty nice. We had a full stove, refrigerator,  microwave, charcoal grill, and most importantly, a coffee maker. The kitchen was stocked with all of the pots, pans, and utensils that we could need. My mother-in-law even got us set up with some staples, like eggs, bread, and milk. The plan was to stay there for 4 nights before moving on to another part of the state for the rest of the week.

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The Plan

The original plan was to have eat out for 2 dinners, and to make the rest of our meals at the RV. We had approximately 8,000 tomatoes to use up, as well as Swiss chard, zucchini, and cucumbers from the CSA, so we brought them with us in a cooler (everyone brings produce on vacation, right?). We made a loose meal plan, and then made a grocery run before heading to the islands. We stopped at farm stands along the way for produce that I knew would be in season.

Meal Ideas

Caprese salad

Omelets

Veggie burgers with beans and veggies

Tofu and veggie kebabs with quinoa

PB&J sandwiches

Snacks and Treats

Local blueberries

Bananas

Apples

Oranges

Cucumbers, carrots, and hummus

Chips and salsa

Popcorn

Brie and crackers

S’mores

Wine from a local winery

We revised the plan as we went along, adding or subtracting meals out, and enjoying local treats as we discovered them, like the maple creamees at Allenholm Farm, and the chocolate chip cookies at the organic market in the middle of our 70-mile bike ride. Yum! Here are some of the meals that we ended up with:

Was this a “perfect” nutrition plan? No, of course not, but it was better than what it could have been. We enjoyed plenty of treats that we don’t typically have at home, but by having a plan and cooking for ourselves, we weren’t subject to the excessive amounts of fat and sodium found in many restaurant meals, and we were more likely to consume reasonable portions. We were also able to make sure that we got at least some protein at every meal, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. I recognize that not everyone is into cooking while on vacation, but planning can be as simple as keeping some fruit and yogurt in the refrigerator to ensure a strong start to the day, or researching restaurants in advance to make sure that healthy options are available.

And lastly, you should take a vacation in Vermont. It’s beautiful.

 

Chipotle tempeh tacos with kohlrabi slaw

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Our CSA pickup is one of my favorite things about summer. Due to some scheduling issues with the pickup time, we made a switch this year to First Root Farm, and we’ve been really happy with the quality and variety so far. After years of participating in a CSA, I’ve discovered that our vegetable intake is much higher when we have it than when we don’t, and it also pushes me to be more creative with meal planning.

With this recipe, I was able to use kohlrabi, beets, carrots, and cilantro from the CSA share, and a chili pepper from my garden. The fresh, cool slaw nicely offsets the savory, spicy tempeh, and let me tell you, this tempeh is SPICY. If your tolerance for spice is in the non-masochistic category, you can dial back on the heat by removing the seeds from the chili pepper in the slaw, and by using chipotle powder in place of canned chipotle chilis.

Chipotle tempeh tacos with kohlrabi slaw

Makes 4-6 tacos

The slaw

2 small kohlrabi bulbs, peeled

1 medium beet, peeled

2 carrots, peeled

Juice from 1/2 lime

1 serrano chili pepper, finely diced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt, to taste

The tempeh

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 tsp vegetable oil

14.5 oz can tomato sauce (plain)

2-3 chipotle chili peppers in Adobo sauce

2 tbsp white vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tbsp maple syrup (or honey), add more to taste

1 package tempeh

Other

Whole wheat tortillas (taco or fajita-sized)

Fresh avocado or guacamole

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 scallion, sliced

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Prepare the slaw by shredding the kohlrabi, beet, and carrots. If you have a food processor with a shredding disc, this goes very quickly. If you only have a box grater, you may want to delegate to a friend or family member while you get started on the tempeh. Once everything is shredded, place into a large bowl, add the chili, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Toss to combine, and set aside.

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Look how gorgeous it is!

Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat, add the shallots, and saute until they begin to brown. Stir in the tomato sauce, chipotles, vinegar, lime juice, garlic powder, and maple syrup. Taste, and add an additional 1-2 tbsp maple syrup if needed. Cook for 2 minutes to combine flavors. Chop the tempeh into cubes, and add to the sauce. Bring to a boil very briefly, then lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until sauce has thickened (about 10 minutes).

Assemble by filling the tortillas with tempeh, slaw, fresh avocado or guacamole, and garnish with some sliced scallion and cilantro leaves. If you try this recipe, feel free to leave me a comment with feedback!

*Note: Your tempeh should look a bit saucier than what is pictured below. I made some tweaks to the recipe, but didn’t get a good picture.

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Edamame-avocado toast with blistered garlicky tomatoes and spicy sauteed greens

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One of the reasons that I was initially drawn to a career in nutrition is because I enjoyed creating meals that were delicious while still being relatively healthy, and I wanted to inspire others to do the same. Ironically, this was one of the first things to go when life got crazy with nutrition school and my job as a personal trainer. Now that I have finished my dietetic internship and found myself unexpectedly unemployed, I am finding my cooking spark again.

Last week, I made avocado toast with an egg on top, and while it was delicious, the richness of it screamed out for some acidity and freshness. This time around, I blended the avocado with edamame for a protein boost, and topped it with sautéed greens and tomatoes for fiber, micronutrient variety, and flavor. A blood orange on the side added sweetness to my meal, and a sunny side up egg was perfect to round out each bite, and to increase the protein content of the meal. I prioritize protein at every meal because:

  1. As a vegetarian, it is too easy to be protein-deficient and carb-excessive. Vegetarian protein sources typically aren’t as simple to make or as protein-dense as meat sources. Adequate protein intake for many vegetarians requires some intention.
  2. Satiety: A meal that is lacking in protein will set me up to feel hungry all day long. Protein is essential to not overdoing it on other foods.
  3. I want a bigger deadlift.

Edamame-avocado toast with blistered garlicky tomatoes and spicy sautéed greens:

Makes 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

1 avocado

1 cup frozen shelled edamame

1/4 cup cilantro

Juice of 1 lemon

 

Salt & Pepper (to taste)

1 pint tiny tomatoes (grape, cherry, etc.)

3 cloves garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

5 cups greens of your choice (I used baby spinach and arugula)

Water (as needed)

Red pepper flakes (to taste)

6-8 slices of your favorite bread (I used When Pigs Fly sliced sourdough)

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Instructions:

Cook edamame according to package instructions. Transfer into a food processor, add lemon juice and cilantro, and pulse until desired texture is achieved. Transfer to a medium bowl. Slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into the bowl. Use a potato masher or fork to blend together the avocado and edamame mixture *(see note). Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside. You should have 1.5-2 cups of mixture.

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Slice tomatoes into halves, and thinly slice the garlic cloves. Add tomatoes and garlic to the skillet and cook until tomatoes start to brown, tossing frequently. This should only take a couple of minutes. Remove tomatoes and garlic to a plate.

Prepare your greens as needed. I use pre-washed baby greens to reduce prep time. Add the greens to the skillet, add a bit of water to help them cook down, and cook over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes as desired, toss greens, and remove from heat when the greens are wilted. The amount of water needed and total cook time will depend on the greens that you use, so keep an eye on it.IMG_0424

*Note: Alternately, you can reduce the number of steps by adding the avocado to the food processor with the edamame. I like a bit of texture, so I prefer to hand-mash when possible.

Assembly:

  1. Toast your slices of bread. Spread about 1/4 cup edamame-avocado mixture on each slice.

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2. Arrange the greens on top of the edamame-avocado mixture.

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3. Top with tomatoes and garlic.

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4. Add a cooked egg or other protein source, and a side of fruit for a complete meal.

5. Enjoy!

A diabetic what? An overview of the Dietetic Internship Process

This is a conversation that I have almost every day:

Other Person: “What do you do?”

Me: “I’m a dietetic intern.”

Other Person: “A what?”

Me: “A dietetic intern.”

Other Person: “A diabetic what?”

Me: “Nutrition. I’m a nutrition student.”

Other Person: “Oh. I eat McDonald’s every day, but I put butter in my coffee, so that’s healthy, right?”

Most people in my life know that I’ve been a teensy bit preoccupied for the past 8ish months, in addition to the 4 years prior that I was in school. The people who really know me understand all of the things that went into the process. My best friend in Boston teared up when I told her that I matched to an internship last year, and my sister calls me and sings me songs about how many days I have left until I’m done. Most other people probably just know that I’ve been pretty unavailable, and it has something to do with nutrition, so here’s a comprehensive explanation.

To become a Registered Dietitian, a person must complete a Didactic Program in Dietetics, complete 1200 hours of supervised practice (dietetic internship), pass the national registration exam, and maintain registration with continuing education. The only people who can apply for a dietetic internship are those who have a bachelor’s degree and have completed ACEND-accredited coursework through a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD). Some people do an undergrad nutrition program that includes the DPD requirements, while others earn a bachelor’s degree in another field, and then return to school to complete a DPD program, which is what I did. Someone who earns a master’s degree in nutrition without completing a DPD program cannot apply to an internship. Anyone who has not completed a dietetic internship cannot become a Registered Dietitian (excluding ISPPs). DPD coursework varies slightly across programs, but follows the same general ACEND guidelines. If anyone is interested, you can see the Simmons curriculum here. Basically, I took a bunch of lab sciences and a bunch of nutrition courses in different areas of nutrition (food service, community, and clinical).

Simmons requires a C- or better in the science courses, and a B- or better in all DPD nutrition courses, but of course, getting by with the bare minimum does not make a student competitive for dietetic internships. This is what we are told throughout the program. The match rate is approximately 50% for dietetic internships. There are WAY more students applying for internships than there are places for them. The internship thing is tricky. You have to be willing to put other things in your life on hold, spend a bunch of money on tuition, and work full-time for free for 9-12 months. Once you make the decision to do an internship, you have to decide which programs to apply to. Dietetic internships are primarily accredited through hospitals and colleges, with a handful of exceptions. All internships must include rotations for clinical, community, and food service, but they can emphasize different aspects of nutrition by having interns spend more time in certain rotations. Once an applicant decides what they’re interested in, they fill out 58 million forms, acquire all of their transcripts, and beg professors and employers for recommendations to submit to a computerized database for the big event of them all. MATCH DAY. After submitting the required materials, applicants rate their internship choices. The internship programs then rate the applicants. Applicants bite their nails, cry to their loved ones, and generally freak out while waiting for match day. If it’s a match, well, then a dietetic intern is born.

I knew that I would want to do individual counseling, so I chose to apply to the Simmons internship program and the UMass Amherst program because (a) I wanted to do a community nutrition-based program vs. a clinical program, and (b) I didn’t want to uproot my life by leaving Boston. Most students apply to 5 or more programs. I took a risk by only applying to 2 programs because I wasn’t willing to compromise on what I wanted. Had I not matched, I would have either waited another year and reapplied to internships, or pursued something else and not become an RD.

The internship has been interesting/stressful/frustrating/exhilerating. I have (almost) completed 6 rotations:

  1. Government/non-profit: Executive Office of Elder Affairs (Elderly Nutrition Program for state of Massachusetts)
  2. Counseling/Education: Harvard University, sports nutrition/eating disorder counseling w/student athletes.
  3. Food service: New England Conservatory
  4. MA Dept. of Public Health- WIC Program
  5. Community Health Center- Cambridge Health Centers, outpatient counseling
  6. Acute Care Hospital- Melrose-Wakefield Hospital
  7. Will complete: Intern’s choice week, shadowing 3 different private practice/outpatient RDs who do ED counseling.

I certainly did not expect that I would be writing this, 2 weeks away from the completion of this 5-year journey. I didn’t expect any of this to happen when I started out with Intro to Nutrition, thinking that I would just explore some career options and take advantage of free tuition. I was convinced that I would fail every single exam and every class along the way. Even if I passed, I wasn’t sure that the internship would be worth the sacrifices, but I have learned something new every single day for the last 8 months,  and the perspective that I’ve gained cannot be acquired through any other experience. I am grateful for the opportunity.

Health and the Pursuit of Joyfulness

I am only a few months from earning the title of “Registered Dietitian,” and I spent the weekend debating whether to make chocolates or croissants. I was out of butter, and it was cold and snowy out, so chocolates were the logical choice.

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Being the worrier that I am, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about whether I should be making such decadent treats as a personal trainer and dietitian-to-be. “Should” is such an innocent little word, yet it shapes our thoughts and behaviors in the most negative ways. What will my colleagues think of me? Is it a conflict of interest? Am I really capable of helping people if this is what I do in my free time? And then of course, the heartbreaking thought, if I were thinner/leaner/prettier, would people still judge me for my hobby? This hobby that I love, that is my creative outlet, that makes me feel accomplished, that brings me joy….I contemplated giving up because of perceived judgment from others.

Well, I think you know what conclusion I came to. Sugary treats are often demonized in the health and fitness worlds, but to me, there is a huge difference between mindlessly scarfing down a tasteless commercial baked good to fill some emotional or physiological need, and savoring a food that has been created with love and joy, and allowing oneself to derive pleasure from the experience. I often make these things with the intention of sharing with others. My hope is always that they will slow down enough to appreciate what went into it, being present enough to notice the textures and flavors that I worked so hard to achieve.

When I think about the path that led me to a career in fitness and dietetics, this candy-making hobby is not incongruent with the rest of the picture. A lifetime of disordered eating eventually led to an unhealthy obsession with health and fitness, which is a pattern that I have observed to be common in both fitness and dietetics. I have worked my ass off to build a healthier relationship with food and exercise so that I have the best chance of helping others to make healthy changes.

The thing is, behaviors that are deemed “healthy” are also capable of providing joy and pleasure. When I sit down to a dish that is full of vegetables, I relish in the beauty of its colors. When I take a bite, I derive pleasure from the contrasting textures, and the way that the bitterness of one vegetable can offset the sweetness of another. Creating a meal that is rich with flavor complexity and balanced components can be as satisfying as a perfectly-executed salted caramel. Exercise, which I used to treat as punishment for eating too many cookies, or for not seeing a change on the scale, is something that I now get excited about. Movement offers so many benefits outside of weight loss and disease prevention goals. These days, lifting weights is primarily what I’m into, but put some kind of cardio dance class in front of me, and my heart will race with joyful anticipation. Walking or biking to where I need to go gives me a sense of self-sufficiency, helps me to appreciate my city, and either serves to wake me up before a long day, or help me decompress when the day is over. An early morning run with my best friend gives us a chance to catch up when our lives are otherwise hectic. A yoga class helps to work out some cranky bits from too much sitting, and brings some calm to my otherwise restless brain.

Find joyfulness by relishing in the things that bring you pleasure. Now, please excuse me while I get outside for a short run so that I can enjoy the sunshine, and be more focused for the day ahead of me.

Bicycles and Kindness

Last week, my bicycle was towed by the city of Boston. I am mostly able to laugh about it, but the whole thing brought up a few points worth talking about.

The story

It was the second day of my dietetic internship. I navigated my way through Beacon Hill to arrive near the MA State House with time to spare. Not seeing any bike racks around, I locked my bike to a street sign in front of the building, thinking that it was unlikely to be stolen with so many people around. My bike was there when I left for lunch, and when I returned half an hour later, it was gone. State police officers in front of the building informed me that Boston Transportation removed the bike, and that I would need to call them. I returned to my cubicle, and called to ask about my bike. Danny, the transportation department worker who answered the phone, told me that someone had complained about my bike being in the way, so they removed it, and that I could go pick it up whenever I wanted. After work, my husband and I trekked through Southie to the municipal wasteland that runs adjacent to the highway. I found my bike, safe and sound, and made my way home with nothing lost, other than time, mental energy, and my U-lock.

The aftermath

Having something dramatic happen is a great way to make friends at a new job. My current internship rotation is in a land of cubicles, which means that a handful of people could hear my phone conversation with Danny, the transportation guy. Word spread through the office within minutes. 3pm Stretch and Smile (how adorable is that?) took an extra 10 minutes because everyone wanted to know what happened. I had people coming up to me who I had never met, expressing disbelief and concern. One week later, people are still checking in on my bike status. It’s really nice to feel like people care. Or maybe it was just a slow news day in the office. I’m going to assume the former.

I since have learned that the building has bike racks in the garage, which I do not have access to as an intern. After emailing the city to inquire about my parking options, I was informed that the area near the State House is state property, so the city is not allowed to install bike racks. The only option that I’ve been able to find is a public bike rack down the hill. It’s not super convenient to schlep my overstuffed pannier with me up the hill each morning, but it’s certainly better than paying another visit to Sketchville to retrieve my poor bicycle.

I’ve been biking in the Boston area for the past 6 years. I’ve always been proud and grateful to live in a place that puts energy and resources into creating a bike-friendly environment. I could drive, but I choose to bike. I have to admit that my view is a bit tarnished now, although it certainly doesn’t dissuade me from continuing to commute by bike. I tried to find information online regarding bike parking laws that would result in bike removal, but I could only find vague statements about not blocking sidewalks. Maybe the information is out there, but I didn’t find it. I may have been in the wrong, but it would have been nice if they had given me a warning first. Cutting my lock, taking my bike, and not leaving me any information on how to find it seems like overkill. I wonder how many bikes they end up with because people assume that their bikes were stolen. So, I guess my advice to my fellow cyclists is to avoid locking your bike to a sign post…? Or maybe just some sign posts? Or maybe just not in that neighborhood? Or maybe it’s actually fine, and this was just a fluke thing? I still don’t know. Sorry.

On kindness

My apologies for sounding self-righteous, but I truly think that the world would be a better place if compassion for others was practiced on a more regular basis. One of the women in the office who overheard me on the phone told me that she couldn’t believe how nice I was to the person, and that she would have been livid. I realized that my many years in customer service jobs, dealing with the stressful topic of finances, taught me to have compassion for the people that I interact with. I suspect that the transportation department workers are required to carry out policies set by people who have no contact with the public, and that they are just doing their best to get through the day. I would imagine that they deal with a whole lot of bullshit on a daily basis. I am not going to be another person who adds to their stress, regardless of what I am experiencing. I knew that I could still get the information that I needed while treating Danny with respect, especially because he likely had nothing to do with the decision to tow my bike. In return, he took the time to help me problem-solve how I was going to get my bike home, and he gave me very detailed directions to a place that would have been nearly impossible to find otherwise. We probably both had a better afternoon than if I had entered the conversation with demands and accusations.

The moral of the story: stretch, smile, be kind to others, and be careful where you lock your bike.

Moroccan Spiced Vegetables and Lemon Tofu

Things are busy around here. Hubs has been job hunting for the past couple of months, which has involved lots of meet-ups and networking events.  I’ve had regular evening clients at the gym, along with work to do for my dietetics program. To ensure that we have reasonably nutritious dinners, it has become even more important to plan our meals, stock up on groceries, and make dinners that will last more than one night. Combinations of protein, vegetables, and whole grains tend to fit the bill, providing a variety of nutrients, and acting as a palette for herbs and spices. I’m going to explain the thought process in case anyone out there is trying to figure out how to develop a recipe.

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When planning a meal, I usually start with a general idea, and then decide on the specifics as I go along. In this case, I decided on tofu, wild rice, and roasted vegetables. I then decided on cauliflower and carrots, based on textures, flavors, and nutrients. Carrots and cumin are often paired together, which evolved into the decision to use Moroccan spices with the vegetables. I turned to Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty for ideas, and I ended up adapting the flavors used in his “Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad.” I was dry-frying the tofu while the vegetables were roasting, and I decided that some acidity was needed to balance out the sweet, spicy flavors of the vegetables, so I went with fresh lemon juice on the tofu. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but it totally did. Sure, I could have done more with the tofu, but I was trying to keep it simple for a weeknight. I tried to find a decent photo of the meal, but I couldn’t. I’m a terrible photographer. You will just have to take my word for it that it is delicious.

Moroccan Spiced Vegetables and Lemon Tofu

14 oz. firm or extra-firm tofu (I use Nasoya Lite Firm Tofu)

1 lemon

1 head of cauliflower

3 large carrots

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

Red bell pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of ground cloves

1/8 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare wild rice, or grain of your choice, according to the package directions. While the rice is cooking, drain the water from the tofu, wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, and place a bowl or other weight on top to gently squeeze out excess water. While the tofu is pressing, begin preparing the vegetables. Combine the dried spices in a small bowl. Chop the vegetables (excluding cilantro) into bite-sized pieces and place into a shallow baking pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables, mix to combine, add the spices, and mix again. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, stirring the vegetables halfway through. 10 minutes before the vegetables are done, heat a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. It is VERY important to use a nonstick pan for this cooking method since you are not using any oil. Remove the towels from the tofu,  slice the tofu into small triangles or rectangles, and place into the frying pan in a single layer. Cook on one side for about 5 minutes, gently pressing down on each piece with a spatula. Once the tofu is golden brown on the bottom, flip over, and cook on the other side for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Lower the heat to “low,” and squeeze lemon juice over the tofu, stirring to coat. Serve with wild rice and vegetables, and garnish vegetables with fresh cilantro.

It’s a new life, and I’m feeling good

Let’s just start by discussing how fabulous Michael Bublé’s version of “Feeling Good” is. I’m not a regular Michael Bublé fan, but this song makes me wants to dance and leap and frolick. Here you go. You’re welcome.

I figured that now would be an appropriate time to express my gratitude to the people who have changed my life. That’s one of those throwaway phrases that doesn’t have a lot of impact, but I REALLY mean it. Really. Let me explain why.

For those who don’t already know, here is a quick recap. There are plenty of people who can treat their work as a means to an end, and still feel happy and fulfilled in life. I am not one of those people. I have always wanted to feel passionate and personally connected to my work. For 9 years, I lacked that connection, and I was miserable. My self-esteem steadily declined, and I struggled with some pretty serious bouts of depression. My husband is probably the only person who ever saw how bad it was. When it came to taking action to find direction and make changes, I was so anxious about the steps that were required that I felt paralyzed, and my mental health just got worse. I wrote more in depth about it a few months ago.

I quit my job a few months ago to become a personal trainer and a part-time nutrition student. I had no experience with personal training aside from my own workouts and reading various books and blog posts about fitness. It was terrifying. It still is. For my entire adult life, I have told myself every self-hating message that there is to tell. I’m not smart enough. I’m too shy. People will judge me. People won’t like me. I’m not thin enough. I’m not creative enough. I can’t figure things out.  I can’t adapt. People will be disappointed in me. I will be the cause of someone else’s unhappiness.

In less than 3 months, I have confronted and conquered a lifetime of fears. I am doing new things, and I might fail, but I am gradually learning that I will still be ok. I’m not so fragile that a mistake here and there will shatter me. All of those terrible things that I told myself are probably only as true as the degree to which I believe them.

It has been a long and arduous journey over the years, which is where the gratitude part comes in. So many people in my life believed in me when I thought that I had nothing to offer. They listened, challenged, and encouraged me when I couldn’t do it for myself. My husband told me numerous times that my happiness was worth any sacrifices that we would have to make. He has supported me in more ways than I can put into words. My closest friends have helped me problem-solve time and time again, whether it was during a workout, standing on the sidewalk corner after the gym, dinner parties, road trips, or vacations together. My family members let me vent about my crappy job, helped me with my resume, and let me know that I just had to pick up the phone if I needed them. My former coworkers commiserated with me, and helped me talk through my options. My new co-workers are the ones who made the change happen when I was finally ready. They gave me the initial push to start thinking about it. They listened patiently when I explained how afraid I was. They answered my many questions the best that they could. They worked awfully hard to convince someone they barely knew that she had something to offer. I think that I’m finally starting to believe them. It’s still a work in progress, but I am so much happier than I was just a few months ago. Thank you to all of the people who have been part of my journey. You have changed my life.

Meal Planning: Yes You Can!

Vegetable gyoza

We were having dinner with friends a few months ago, including another 30-something-year-old couple. At some point in the conversation, I said something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, when I plan our dinners for the week…” They looked at me like I had three heads. The looks of confusion on their faces led me to believe that maybe not everyone does this? Is that true? Well, in the event that others out there are just as befuddled as our friends were, I thought that I would share our meal planning process.

But why? Well, chances are that you will save money, be healthier, and still be able to eat delicious food if you put in a little time and effort. Your health and your bank account are worth it. Really. For me, it started in 2004, when we were broke. I had just graduated college, and I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) into a ridiculously low-ceilinged attic apartment in Burlington, VT. It’s good that we aren’t very tall. Anyway, our post-college jobs were less-than-awesome, and we were on a very tight budget, especially with student loan payments starting a few months later. We simply couldn’t afford to buy groceries that were going to go unused and end up rotting in the fridge. So, once a week (usually on Sunday), we put together a meal plan with budget as the main priority, made a grocery list, and went grocery shopping. The priorities have evolved over the years. When I did Weight Watchers, I started planning WW-friendly meals. When I started lifting weights, I planned meals around macronutrient goals. When I was in class 3 nights a week, I tried to plan quick and easy meals.

The process:

1. Decide what your priorities are. This will give you a framework for planning. Budget? Dietary requirements? Time? Schedule?

2. Choose a starting point for recipe-finding.

Ideas:

  • Skim sale flyers to choose foods that will be on sale.
  • Try a new ingredient. Curious about pomegranate? Never had quinoa? Go for it!
  • Choose a cuisine ethnicity. Maybe you have a favorite Thai dish that you would like to replicate, or maybe you’re really in the mood for comforting flavors of Italian food.
  • Pick a protein. As vegetarians, our main proteins are eggs, tofu, legumes, tempeh, and seitan. If you are an omnivore, you obviously have many more choices. I don’t like to repeat proteins in a given week.  It’s mostly because I get bored easily, but it’s also to maintain a balanced diet. For example, we might have one meal with tofu, one meal with eggs, and a meal with legumes.
  • If you’re part of a CSA, prioritize your fresh produce and base your meals around it.

You may have noticed that there are only  three meals planned for a whole week. This is because we typically choose dishes with enough servings to last two nights so that we don’t have to cook every night. We do a quick check-in about our schedules for the week to determine how many nights we will be cooking, since at least one of us usually has something going on that takes us away from home for dinner.

3. Choose your meals. Some people don’t like following recipes and prefer to wing it. I find winging it to be a bit stressful at the end of a long day, so I typically go with recipes. I discovered that cookinglight.com and vegetariantimes.com both list the nutritional information for their recipes, so they were great resources when I was trying to hit specific nutritional goals. I have a collection of cookbooks full of tried-and-true recipes that I always go back to. When I have a certain ingredient in mind, or an idea for a dish, I love going to Foodgawker.com to search through the food blogger photo gallery.

4. Ok, so now you’ve figured out how many nights you need meals for, how often you will be cooking, how many meals you need, and what those meals will be. Now it’s time to make your grocery list. I use the ShopShop app on my IPhone, but any list will do. When I’m REALLY on top of things, I sort my list based on the layout of the store. This happens approximately once a year.

5. Go grocery shopping. Your store should probably be in line with your priorities if possible. We go to the budget-friendly store nearby, but we meet our healthy-living goals by being part of a CSA, and occasionally supplementing with items from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

6. Start cooking! If you’re going to make meals for multiple nights, make sure that you have adequate storage containers, and room in the fridge for your leftovers.

And one final tip: It gets easier. I promise. It may feel overwhelming at first if you aren’t used to it, but over time, you will find resources and methods that work for you and your lifestyle.