Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fun with T-shirts

I have been playing around with designing T-shirts on Spreadshirt.com, and I just added a new one to my fancy store. (Is it just me, or is this the greatest expression ever?)

My T-shirt designing skills are a little weak, I think, but it's really fun, so I'm going to get better at Illustrator and keep cranking them out as I have time. So far I just have shirts I think my kids would like. Let me know if you have any requests or ideas!

Monday, November 28, 2011

What the tasty pie?!

I had no work scheduled today, so I decided to go for a little swim after yoga to see if I still remembered how. I felt a bit off, actually; my shoulders were tired from sun-saluting and whatnot. But since I was there, and since they are so doggone good for me, I decided to throw in some short sprints.

I was just going to do four 25's, and before taking off on my last one, I looked at the pace clock. I was really hoping I could still do a 25 free in 20 seconds, which is about my best sprint pace from when I was training for the Ironman—swimming three days a week. I wasn't too confident, though, since it was only the second time I'd been in the water since June.

But when I touched the wall, I was shocked to see that it had taken me only 15 seconds. I had intended to go right into a cooldown, but suddenly I was extremely interested in what my 50 time might be. I rested for a minute, then sprinted again.

33 seconds! (As my son would say, "What the tasty pie?!") I'm pretty sure that with a dive, and not right after yoga, I could get under 30:00, which is a time I never thought I'd see again.

It seems I've taken about 7 seconds off my wall-start 50 free time in the past five months, with essentially zero swimming. I've had a hunch I've been getting stronger because yoga has felt so much easier—but there are no pace clocks in yoga.

I am, as my other son would say, "totally pumped."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Square One

I think I'm paying for those three days of letting loose. (By "letting loose," of course, I mean "eating exactly the way I did all my life up until three months ago.") I'm back to eating well again, but it's not the same.

Cooking is hard. Choosing Paleo things to cook is hard. Nightly fasting is hard. Caring about what my family eats is hard. Keeping my Health Month commitments is hard. And annoying.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Eating whatever I want

I had three days in a row of eating whatever I wanted (pizza and candy on Wednesday, and everything else on the face of the earth on Thursday and Friday). It all caught up with me last night. My stomach was aching, I was exhausted, I had a headache, and my back hurt from tweaking it in yoga on Friday. Ugh.

So I'm fixing this today by eating…whatever I want. Yeah, that's right. I have a serious craving for vegetables, meat, and healthy fats.

P.S. I added a new link over to the right, which I've called "The whole thing explained." It's kind of long, but it's the best explanation I've ever read about what Paleo means, how it compares to "primal" and "Atkins," why it's not a diet diet, why it's not about actually eating what cavemen ate (looking at you, Kurt), and why my family should stop making jokes at my expense (looking at you, M.H.). Seriously, everyone should read it. Warning: Contains studies (looking at you, Steph).

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Fridgies

Thanksgiving was at my mom's house (as usual), but she sent us home with tons of food (more than usual). So on top of the preexisting leftovers, the fridge was packed with many bowls of extra goodies, and I announced to the family that no one was allowed to cook anything new today. And! Anyone who finished something off and got the bowl or plate into the dishwasher would win a prize! ("What kind of prize?" "It depends on what you finish off." "What if I finish off all the potatoes?" "Then you win the potatoes prize!")

Besides the coveted potatoes prize, today we awarded the stuffing prize, the egg yolks prize, the pico de gallo prize, the cupcakes prize, and the pie prize. Also the vegetable tray prize, but only because I re-sorted all the veggies into their appropriate bags.

I had a share of the pie prize, and since I've temporarily thrown dietary caution into the wind, I might also go for the quinoa salad prize. I need fuel for decorating the Christmas tree.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hey, pizza!

I can't believe I've failed to mention my life-changing pizza crust breakthrough. The recipes I was working with were pretty close, but they were missing one secret ingredient: parchment paper. Like, to bake it on.

I'm still tweaking the recipe, but this one works pretty well:

Pizza crust
1 egg
2 egg whites
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese 
4 Tbsp ground flaxseed
2 cups fresh spinach, wilted in a skillet and then dried with a paper towel and chopped

Mix everything and spread it onto your parchment-paper-covered pizza pan with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, and then flip over and bake for 15 more. Add (pre-cooked) toppings and cheese and put under a broiler for 4-5 minutes until cheese is just melted. (Yes, I put cheese on the top even though the crust is basically made of cheese.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Health Month

I was reading a while back about how people will modify their behavior for "points"—even if the points are actually meaningless—and it intrigued me. I started Googling the topic and came across this site called Health Month that lets you create rules for your life and then awards you points if you follow them. There's a bit more to it than that, but frankly I don't really understand it all yet, which is why I've never mentioned the thing, even through I've been using it since November 1.

Health Month is supposed to be a cross between a game and a social networking site, but the game part isn't actually fun, and the social networking aspect is a little bizarre, since I don't know anyone there. On the other hand, it's been a handy way for me to stay accountable to my little rules and to keep track of my complex new system of eating. The free version of the game allows you to create three rules for yourself, and mine are "no more than three primal meals a week," "no more than three 'whatever' meals a week," and "no more than seven hours of total Internet time-wasting per week."

The food rules are pretty easy to follow. The Internet rule, on the other hand, is driving me crazy—first, because I can't wrap my head around how difficult it is for me limit myself to an hour a day of goofing off. But secondly, and mostly, because I really, really love all that Facebook and blog reading and Scrabble.

I'm going to have to get used to cutting back, though, because my New Life Plan is to keep playing Health Month, adding one new rule each month and consolidating all my old rules into a "follow all old rules" rule. I'm thinking two years of that, and my life will be just about perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weight-loss update

I heard several status reports today: Since the first of September, my mom has lost 19 pounds, my sister has lost 29, and my dad has lost 49! I don't know how strict they're all still being about eating Paleo or primal or whatever, but I'm thrilled for them and glad that my experiment was at least what got everyone started.

I've lost around 15 pounds, which might seem kind of paltry compared to all the overachievers, but I'm pretty sure I'm now the lightest I've been in about 15 years, so you will not hear me sneezing at it.

When I was working up to the Ironman, I was warned repeatedly that endurance training is not a good weight-loss tool, but it's been interesting to see that firsthand. Eating well, even with very little exercise (and quite a lot of desk-sitting), has been much more effective. If I could just lighten my workload a bit, I'd love to see what eating well with an optimal amount of exercise would do.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Still going strong with the fasting

Of all the things I've done to try to improve my health in the past few years (and there are many) 16 hours of daily fasting is by far the easiest. It makes sense, right? It takes no time, no planning, and no effort. I don't have to put on any special clothes, learn any skills, or buy any equipment. All I have to do is…nothing. Just don't eat in the evenings.

Actually, I guess there is one thing I have to do: Eat a slightly bigger breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Oh, please don't throw me into the briar patch.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The first word is "Paul"

A woman stood up in church last Sunday and invited everyone to a small group that's been meeting at her house for a few weeks now. They're memorizing the book of Romans—every word of all 16 chapters—for fun.

I'm fully aware that that sounds crazy, but it sounded like my kind of crazy, so I joined up.

Most of the group has already pretty much memorized the first chapter, so I'm way behind—and yet not way behind, because that's only a tiny fraction of what we're ultimately going to do. Apparently it takes an hour to recite the whole thing.

I'm a little surprised at myself. I didn't think I'd be taking on another ridiculously difficult challenge until I turned 50 (which is obviously the perfect year to run 50 miles barefoot).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Approximate recipes

I just made the best lunch ever, and I'm going to write down the approximate recipes before I forget. (Starred ingredients are VERY approximate. This is not a recipe blog; sorry. You'll just have to wing it.)

2 pounds ground pork
1 pound ground beef
5 or 6 grated baby carrots
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, minced
*fist full of cilantro, minced (maybe an eighth of the bunch?)
*1 tsp fennel
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp onion powder
*1 Tbsp coconut aminos
*1/8 cup coconut milk
*1/4 cup ground almonds (aka almond flour)
Mix well and form into about 24 large meatballs. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes on foil-lined cookie sheets.

My husband and I each had four of those served over…

Saucy vegetables
Just a big skillet full of vegetables (I used a frozen mix but would have added some broccoli slaw if we'd had it), cooked in some coconut oil. When mostly done, add this completely addictive Paleo Pad Thai sauce and cook for several more minutes or you can no longer stand the saucy goodness:
*1/4 cup almond butter
*1/4 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp coconut aminos
1 tsp salt
*1 tsp garlic powder (but minced garlic would have been better, probably)
*1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (shake them on to taste; they're very spicy)

I remembered that we had an older blender in the house that we retired when we got our fancy new one, so I dug that out, finished grinding up my almonds, and made apple muffins for dessert as well. They were good, but next time I'll use less coconut oil and add some salt. The old blender actually seems more suited for grinding up nuts, so maybe I won't have to spend $200 on kitchen appliances just yet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Smoke and sauce

I got some more Paleo dessert aspirations and set out to make apple muffins. But I'm too cheap to buy pre-made almond flour, and when I was grinding sliced almonds in the blender, it started making funny noises and then started smoking. I ran it outside, fearing it might burst into flames, and opened all the windows in the kitchen so the fumes wouldn't claim a second victim.

Lesson learned: React faster to funny noises.

Or buy a food processor. (And a new blender.)

So instead I got out the bag of cranberries I'd bought—I just can't help myself when they're in every store, so Thanksgivingy and full of promise—and set about trying to make them sweet enough to be edible without sugar. I cooked them in pineapple juice and also added a bit of orange juice, but it was not even close. Then I got the brainstorm to mix in a bunch of frozen blueberries, and that finally got it to the point where I could stand to eat it. Of course, by then it was more blueberry sauce than cranberry sauce.

Then, with my characteristic optimism, I served it to the kids. Their reviews ranged from "I hate it" to "I tried a bite and made the choice not to eat any more."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stuff I've learned

To answer some questions I raised in my previous posts:

1. Yes, actually, everyone is pretty much in agreement that short fasts are good for you. Sorry, "conventional wisdom"! I guess I'm just a bit behind the times. When I started digging into intermittent fasting (this is a good starting place), I found out that not only is it hugely popular, but the benefits are all right there on Wikipedia for anyone to see. And if that's not conventional wisdom, I don't know what is.

2. Yes, apparently you ARE supposed to maintain an eight-hour eating window every day, forever. Fasts that last a bit longer are good, too, but "8/16" is considered a very mild, easy, maintainable way of fasting. And do you know what? It is really easy. I set out to try it for just one day, but once I started, I didn't want to stop, and I've been doing it for almost a week straight now. It makes me feel fantastic, not to mention free from the tyranny of trying to think of a fourth meal to cook in the evenings. And it is much more satisfying to have three (or even two) larger meals than a bunch of snacks. (In case you're worried, I would never push fasting of any kind on the kids. They just fend for themselves in the evenings.)

So now you're updated on the latest New Life Plan. (The exercise stuff, sprinting in particular, has kind of fallen by the wayside for now, although I am still doing a lot of yoga.) The only downside is that if I'm going to eat three meals a day instead of four, I need to reduce the number of cheat meals I get each week to stay 90% primal (because all that stuff is still part of the NLP). Bummer.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Food that hurts

We were out of town for a swim meet today, and I didn't even try to make healthy choices for my non-Paleo meal: I just went right for the giant muffin. My kids were like, "Mom, you're going to regret this later!" and of course they were right. Because apparently the punishment for eating healthy stuff most of the time is an insta-headache whenever you go back to your old ways.

I am learning, though, to drink lots of water whenever I have bread or sugar, which does—

Wait, is it counterproductive to offer "tips" for how to eat crap without excessive suffering? Forget I mentioned it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A new obsession

This idea of getting all my work done during daylight hours just has a huge appeal to me. I suppose it's because over the past few years, I've been so focused on building this freelance business that I've let work spill over into almost every of the day—getting up for an assignment arriving at 5 a.m., for example, or staying up till 2 a.m. to finish something by deadline. And there have been some days I've literally rolled out of bed, gotten on the computer, and worked every waking moment, while my husband delivers food to my desk.

I guess that explains, more than any sort of "primal" philosophy, why I've gotten a little caught up the past few days in trying to get everything done within a reasonable window of time. There's still more work than I can fit into the daylight hours, but last night I actually took a few hours off and sat down in a comfy chair to knit (and yes, as a matter of fact, it was with jasmine tea). I like that it brings a sense of urgency to get things done while it's still light out, so I end up not wasting those working hours.

I've also been darkness-fasting the past two days. I eat my last meal for the day around 4 p.m. (the sun goes down around 5). I do feel a bit hungry in the evening, but I've tried not to worry about it. It's a new concept, because until two days ago, I had never intentionally skipped a meal in my entire life, but it's not hurting me, and I'm not going to die. In the morning, I'm raring to go and not hungry at all. The sun comes up around 7, but I have breakfast after the kids are off to school, a little after 8. So I get an eight-hour window to eat out of every twenty-four.

I honestly don't know if there's any point to fasting the way I am. There was something about a sixteen-hour fast in the article I linked to, but I'm not sure if you're supposed to do it every day forever or what. It kind of seems right, though. I really like the way I've been feeling in the mornings. And if I can't rest my muscles and brain every evening, I guess I can at least rest my digestive system.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

While the sun shines

I had to listen to a General Mills investor conference for work yesterday, and it gave me the same icky feeling I get when I have to listen to R.J. Reynolds talk about how they're "improving demographics" by spreading to new markets.

In General Mills' case, they're "educating healthcare professionals and consumers about the benefit of whole grain" because they see "terrific opportunities for continued growth in global cereal." In other words, people in Japan are having fish and vegetables for breakfast! We need to get them eating Trix!

I can't do anything about cereal companies trying to make the whole world fat, but I figured I could at least reduce the cereal consumption in my own house. So I got up early this morning and made the kids hash browns, bacon, and fruit for breakfast. Then I did the dishes, made some tea, made breakfast for my husband and me, got several things ready for an easy lunch, and got straight down to work.

See, I'm embracing my whole "make hay while the sun shines" philosophy. Except not hay, because those grains will kill ya.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This fasting thing

My husband wisely pointed out that, if you look at it in Paleolithic terms, chances are that hunter-gatherers did their eating during the daylight hours and spent the darkness sleeping and just generally hunkering down. That makes sense, right? And there's a certain appeal to the idea of eating only during daylight hours.

In fact, wouldn't it be great to get all your working, cooking, eating, cleaning, exercising, EVERYTHING done during the daylight hours, and then just spend the evenings in quiet retirement, reading and quilting and knitting, sipping a cup of jasmine green tea?

Overseeing beginning trombone practice? Watching the boys leap over furniture as they chase each other all over the house? Listening to the teen-a-ma-phone ring every five minutes? Serenely getting fired from all your freelance jobs because you couldn't meet deadlines?

Dream on, Ironmom. Even if your life permitted serenity, you live in Montana, and in the winter, you'll get nine hours of daylight, tops.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Conventional Wisdom

I'm really getting tired of reading about all the ways that Conventional Wisdom for healthy eating is wrong. I mean, everybody is reading the same studies, right? Isn't there anything that's universally accepted to be true? (Vegetables are healthy? Except not corn? Can we all agree on that one?)

We've all been hearing for years about how it's best not to let yourself get too hungry—to space out your meals and snacks so that you're eating a mini-meal every two to three hours. That's supposed to keep your blood sugar nice and steady and keep your body from switching into "starvation mode." It sounded logical to me, and we rearranged our mealtimes several years ago so that we serve four meals a day (breakfast, lunch, "meal," and dinner) instead of three.

So what's with this intermittent fasting stuff? Who am I supposed to believe?

Actually, don't worry about it. I'm going to go ahead and believe the primal guy, because he supports his arguments with links to lots of studies—many of which I actually clicked through—because he's always upfront about what he doesn't know, and because my experience tells me that he's been right about everything else so far. But darn it, Conventional Wisdom. This is getting ridiculous.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mr. Coke, in the Taco Del Mar, with the sugar

It's not fair that when you eat well for several weeks, the good things that happen are sneaky and gradual, and you barely realize that anything has changed (except the comforting knowledge that 10 pounds are gone)—but when you eat crap for ONE DAY, you feel like you got run over by a truck.

We were out of town all day for my son's rock climbing competition, and I had two fast-food meals, a sub sandwich and a burrito. I threw in a fountain Coke at the last minute since I wanted one for the drive home and since it was a "whatever" meal. I'm still within my self-imposed limits for non-Paleo for the week, but now I feel woozy and headachy and thirsty and like I'm coming down with something (not that I will; I never get sick). It's that gluten/sugar hangover!

I'm kind of looking forward to cooking tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Banana-based desserts

I found myself with five nearly-overripe bananas, so I decided to exploit all that natural sugar and create a couple of desserts. And they turned out so well that I'm recording them here for posterity:

Banana bread
2 cups slivered almonds
1 cup walnuts
½ cup ground flax
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
4 ripe bananas
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
Grind the dry ingredients in a food processor or blender until powdery. Then mix everything in a mixer until combined. Pour into a bread pan greased with coconut oil, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Chocolate ice cream
1 can coconut milk
1 ripe banana
4 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
Mix well in a blender, and then pour into a container and freeze. Check and stir every 30 minutes until it's the consistency of soft serve. The leftovers will freeze rock hard, but you can always put them in the refrigerator for a few hours before trying to eat them. I would have added nuts to this if it was just for me, but I was hoping my 13-year-old would like it (which he did).

Both of these were awesome. And so filling. I had a couple of slices of banana bread and a couple of spoonfuls of ice cream around dinnertime, and I was too stuffed to eat anything else. My favorite dinner so far this week!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bold lead-ins

Blatant self-pity: I simply cannot believe how much time I've spent in this office chair today*. I always think it's just a "busy week," but I'm coming to realize it's been a couple of years since I had a week that wasn't pretty much like this. (And I usually work on the weekends, too.)

Sobering perspective: When you're supporting your family on a freelance income, the only thing worse than having too much to do is having too little.

Healthy goal: Still, it would be great if I could find a way to swing Sundays off on a regular basis.

Perpetual stumper: Where did the time to train for the Ironman even come from?

* Self-pitying footnote: 14 hours and counting, minus food and bathroom breaks.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Oil and vinegar

Just heading downstairs to make me some cilantro vinaigrette. Except I'll be using apple cider vinegar instead of rice wine vinegar. And grapeseed oil instead of canola oil. And a lot less orange juice. And no honey. And no ginger. And lemon juice instead of lime juice.

In other words, I'll be winging it, as usual.

But I have been going crazy trying to figure out a decent non-dairy salad dressing so I can keep more of my meals Paleo, and it suddenly dawned on me that "dressing" does not necessarily have to equal "ranch." Like, when you go to a restaurant, there's usually a whole list of them or something, right?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Clean slate

The past three days were pretty much what I expected. I ate, let's see…pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza, cake and ice cream, and infinite miniature Snickers, in that order. And yes, pizza on four separate occasions. At least the cheating wasn't wasted on foods I don't really enjoy.

So basically, the primal experiment I was supposed to be doing in October was completely sabotaged, some of it in a well-reasoned, mature way, and some of it with an out-of-control Snickers binge on the floor of the living room with my husband and costumed kids. But I weighed in this morning anyway and had lost a pound for the month.

I have (surprise) a New Life Plan for November, and hopefully onward. With what I've learned in the past two months, I'm confident it's realistic. I want to be 80% Paleo and 90% primal. So the plan is to have no more than six non-Paleo meals per week. And no more than three of those can be non-primal. The last three can be whatever I want. (Paleo is just meats, vegetables, healthy fats, and some fruits and nuts. My version of primal allows dairy, dark chocolate, potatoes, and quinoa as well. "Whatever I want" is probably pizza.)

I made quinoa salad yesterday and therefore have already blown two of my three primal meals for the week, but that's okay. I'll cook something hardcore Paleo next.

I'm glad it's November. This is why the year is divided up into months. Twelve opportunities to start fresh and pretend THAT didn't just happen.