Not Milk (aka: 80s Girl Meets Lactose Intolerance)

lactose intolerance stomachaches

I consider myself a super-healthy person. But sometime during the past few months, something changed. It started with a few minor tummy-aches, which made me question everything. Was it something I ate? Was I drinking too much coffee? Was it stress? Then, over time, the discomfort increased. Before long, my body was in constant turmoil. No one knew it, but I was walking around feeling as though my stomach was full of Pop Rocks mixed with Coke, constantly on the verge of explosion.

Yeah, I know. Go to the doctor, dummy. And if I had medical insurance, then I totally would have.

Luckily, I had a light bulb moment a couple of weeks ago. What if my chronic stomach-aching had something to do with dairy products? I did some Googling, and learned that lactose intolerance is something that commonly develops during the adult years; not during childhood as I’d thought.

Could I be lactose intolerant?

It was unthinkable.  After all, I was a child of the 80s. From early childhood, we were force-fed the idea that dairy products were the healthiest thing in the world. Milk does a body good! Cheese, glorious cheese! If I just kept ingesting milk (flavored with Nesquick), then my outside would catch up with my inside, and I would grow from an invisible girl with a crush to a strong, confident woman who has outgrown Michael Martin.

dairy products cheese milk butter Still, I had to find out. So for a few days, I cut dairy out of my diet. Or, tried to. I switched to almond milk cream in my coffee, and gave up my beloved cheese (very hard to do when you are an almost-vegetarian). But the war inside my abdomen didn’t cease. Then I learned more — lactose can be hidden inside many non-dairy foods, like breads and cereals. Noooo!! I would rather live with the chronic stomach upset than give up my favorite foods.

Then I remembered something I’d once seen on a TV commercial. There is an over-the-counter drug called Lactaid, which contains an enzyme that helps the body to digest lactose. Could it work for me, too? In desperation, I raced to the drug store and bought a box of Lactaid chewables. Just before my next meal (spinach and mushroom quiche with swiss cheese), I popped one in my mouth. It was like eating a piece of vanilla-flavored chalk. Then I ate my cheesy dinner, and waited.

Ta-daa! The months-long battle in my gassy, bloated stomach came to a screeching halt. All was quiet on the southern front. I couldn’t believe it! The next day, I chewed a Lactaid before each meal, and the seas continued to be smooth and calm. Same for the next day, and the next. In fact, since I began taking Lactaid, I have returned to my usual, 100% healthy self, and it feels wonderful.

Yes, I know. I am starting to sound like a total drug commercial. Even worse, I can’t think of some clever, humorous way to wrap up this post. I’m too busy thinking about the yummy Garlic Alfredo sauce I plan to cook for dinner, and all the cream and parmesan cheese it will require. But thank goodness — I will be able to sit with my kids and enjoy every bite. Because for the lactose intolerant, Lactaid does a body good. Pass it on.

 

 

 

Slow Can Be Mmm Good (aka: Slow Food)

I like a lot of fast things. Running fast. Speeding fast down a deserted stretch of highway. Fast roller coasters (with fast-moving lines). Fast rock songs that leave you breathless after a fast impromptu dance session. The charge of adrenaline, the fast blood pumping through your veins – speed can be quite a rush.

But not always.

slow sunrise heart Sometimes, slow is much, much better than fast. Slow sunrises on a warm summer morning. Slow hikes through a mountain wilderness. And especially, slow food. No, I don’t mean crippled prey that hobbles away as you aim your hunting rifle. I mean sloooow food, as in the opposite of fast food. As in, the slow food movement, which, in case you don’t know, is an entire thing.

There’s some political stuff, too, but to keep it simple, the slow food movement is about three things:

  • Avoiding fast food and processed foods with long lists of ingredients
  • Buying whole foods, then cooking and eating them
  • Making efforts to buy organic, sustainably grown foods from local growers, and even growing your own

There are so many good reasons to avoid fast food, that I could write an entire blog about it. Or, I can point you toward eye-opening books, such as Fast Food Nation or Food, Inc. I try to very rarely eat fast food. Yes, it can be very challenging in today’s fast-paced culture to make meals a slow-paced affair. Believe me – as a single mom of three kids who just happens to be a college student with a job, I get the whole time-crunch defense. Still, I try to find ways to cook healthy meals from scratch for my family on a regular basis. With a little effort, advanced planning, and some help from the kids, I manage to produce homemade soups and stews, veggie-loaded quiches, and pots of thick, spicy chili. We plant a small, organic garden plot each spring, and by summer, enjoy a harvest of juicy cucumbers, crisp green beans, and plump, colorful tomatoes.

more good slow food

Do we ever take shortcuts? Sure! Schedules can get pretty hectic some days, and there is just no time to wait for a casserole to bake. During times like these, we try to turn toward not-so-fast foods – foods that cook quickly, but are still minimally processed, like grilled cheese sandwiches, veggie omelettes, or homemade bean burritos. Foods like these are nutritious and packed with flavor, and can often be prepared faster than a trip to a drive-thru window.

veggies are the best

There’s one more component of the slow food movement which really appeals to me. It is about slowing down and savoring food. Sitting with family and engaging in conversation while eating meals (something I need to work on). Taking a moment out of our busy lives to enjoy the flavors of good, well-prepared foods, and taking comfort in knowing exactly where they came from and how they were produced. There are plenty of moments in our lives when faster is better. Food, however, is much better in the slow lane.

Wine, food and great friends

 

 

Sriracha Everything! (aka: A Spicy Food Experiment)

Sriracha is the key Yesterday, I discovered an amazing new sandwich combination: two slices of white bread spread thick with avocado, plus mayo, a few leftover fish sticks, and plenty of Sriracha sauce. Mmm…my mouth is still watering, just remembering how it tasted.

What’s that? Ew? Okay, I know…maybe most people would have tossed the leftover fish sticks. But I didn’t want to see them go to waste. And anyway, who cares what the rest of the sandwich consisted of? It was all about the Sriracha sauce.

First of all, let me just say that I am not a Sriracha newbie. I’ve been happily dousing my Asian food dishes with the delectable, spicy red sauce for years. But recently, I decided that maybe it was time to experiment a little. After all, I am not a big fan of bland American food, like hamburgers or mac ‘n cheese. So why not try spicing it up a little?

So I did. I poured Sriracha onto my pizza. Squeezed some onto my scrambled eggs. Slathered it onto my cheese sandwiches and painted it onto my black bean burgers. And know what I discovered? That Sriracha makes just about everything taste better. Sriracha is the key. Sriracha is like edible poetry. Sriracha food pyramid

My kids have been amused, watching me worship at the church of Sriracha during meals. “How do you manage to keep a straight face while you eat that?” they ask. “Isn’t it super spicy?” Sure, I say. But that is the great thing about it – the blaze of fire that gives way to flavor. The calculated risk, like the sudden, shocking drop of a roller coaster that leads to a thrilling joy ride.

Sriracha everything!

Sriracha fire bear

I thought about making that my new motto, but my kids kind of ruined that by creating a list of foods they think I should try with the sauce: Peanut butter and Sriracha sandwiches. Sriracha pancakes. Sriracha ice cream. Ugh…grody. So maybe there are a few limits — Sriracha can’t make everything taste better.    But for the most part, it has been a fun experiment. Sometimes we need to try new things to put a little spice in our lives.

I Love Sriracha Sauce

To Meat or not to Meat (aka: Going Mostly Meatless with Kids)

Just for the record, I am not a vegetarian. Although I am far more likely to choose a meatless alternative than not, I do eat meat on occasion. My children, however, are crazy about meat. They love big, homemade meatballs, grilled salmon or chicken, and sausage pizza. Unfortunately, anyone who has walked into a supermarket lately has probably noticed the outrageously high meat prices. If not, you can read more about it here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/04/16/cpi-shows-food-prices-rising/7742669/ and here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/meat-prices-are-skyrocketing/371383/ .

greasy hamburger

greasy hamburgers are what the kids crave

Veggie Burgers are the best

Now the kids are eating more veggie burgers, just like me.

And so, thanks to inflation, my kids are now half-vegetarians, like me. I’ve cut the amount of meat in many of our usual recipes by half, and I’ve been serving meatless meals 3-4 nights per week. If the kids have noticed a difference, they haven’t said a thing. I’m hoping that it’s due to my mad cooking skills. J

It isn’t really that hard to cut out meat-based meals, or to adjust them to use less meat or no meat at all. And thanks to the internet, there are about a bazillion great vegetarian recipes available to choose from. I’ve finally begun to organize them on my Pinterest page, to make them easier to find. Of course, I’m not bothering to include the super easy meat-free standbys that we eat so often, like grilled cheese sandwiches, frozen black bean burgers, or egg salad. (And as I write this, my teen is cooking a huge bowl of oatmeal with raisins and walnuts).

Will I ever take the leap to become a full vegetarian? Probably not. I have a genetic tendency to develop iron-deficiency anemia and already must take iron pills twice a day. So my health really does benefit from meat. Besides, I love seafood too much, and occasionally crave a good juicy piece of meat. As for my kids, I like to give them the freedom to choose what they enjoy eating, meat or no meat. But unless the prices come back down, they will have to enjoy meat a little less often.

 

Grilled-Meats

What the rich people may be grilling this summer.

grilled veggies

What the rest of us will be grilling this summer.

The Bread of Life (aka: The Joy of Baking Bread)

So here I was, baking fresh sweet rolls to go with dinner, and totally thinking about writing something profound and creative about the way yeast causes bread dough to rise could be a metaphor for life. But instead, I was overwhelmed with hunger pangs as the smell of baking bread began to drift throughout the house. So if this post is a little lacking in depth, well, blame it on the bread. 😉

Bad Bad Baking Bread

Okay, I’ll admit it. I cheat. I’m a big cheatery-cheater-head. I use a bread machine.

I know — shocking. Right about now, all the purists out there are judging me, because surely homemade food should be prepared without relying on modern aids and shortcuts. Well, I don’t care. My trusty bread machine has been faithfully helping my dough to rise since 1997, and I am not ashamed.

Baking Bread

I adore baking bread. Hot, buttery rolls; flaky croissants, and crusty French baguettes. Challah bread beside a bowl of winter stew, and sweet, spicy Finnish Pulla bread with Christmas dinner every year. I can think of no baked item quite as special as fresh, home-baked bread. Now you can talk science all you want, but to me, there is something almost magical about the process, and the way a plain, gooey blob of dough undergoes a metamorphosis, growing, rising, and changing during each step.

Christmas bread

After I have punched, pushed, and twisted the dough into submission, it at last goes into the oven to bake. And then comes my favorite part — the aroma. That delicious, mouth-watering aroma of fresh bread baking. That amazing fragrance that fills the kitchen and wafts into every corner of your home, until at last, you are so overwhelmed with hunger, that you rush to pull those shining, golden-brown loaves from the oven. In your mad impatience, you tear into the hot crust to expose the soft, white interior. Although it is still steaming, you pop your first bite of fresh bread into your mouth.

You burn your tongue of course. But it is worth it. It is always worth the burn to get that first taste of bread while it is still piping hot and perfect. Just as I am going to do right now.

 

 

My Favorite Challah Recipe (Makes 2 Loaves)

Challah bread recipe

2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast

6 cups bread flour

5 eggs

1 cup warm water (110 degrees)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Instructions (without bread machine):

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 4 of the eggs and beat well. Mix in oil, sugar, and salt. Beat in flour to make a firm dough. (You may not need at 6 cups). Turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (between 5-10 minutes should do it). Place dough in greased bowl and turn once. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place 1 hr. or until double in size.

Punch down dough and turn onto floured surface. Divide into two portions (each will make a loaf). Divide each portion into three. Roll each section into a rope of around 15 in. Place the three ropes side by side and braid, then pinch the ends together to seal and tuck them under the loaf. Places braided loaves on greased baking sheets, cover, and let rise 1 hr.

Beat together last egg with 1 Tbsp. cold water. Use pastry brush to paint loaves with egg mixture. Sprinkle on poppy seeds or sesame seeds, if desired. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. Remove and cool before eating. (Or not).

(Note: There’s more than one way to braid a challah. Try braiding all six ropes together, like in this recipe: http://www.chow.com/recipes/29091-challah )

Weight Loss is a Piece of (Low-Calorie) Cake. Plus Exercise.

Healthy weight lossWeight loss is not that hard. Okay, well, if you already have the body of an almost-anorexic fashion model, and you are trying to lose ten more pounds, that is probably hard. But most Americans – especially we women, do not have the bodies of fashion models. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of overweight adults in this country (determined by a Body Mass Index, or BMI of 25 or greater) is 69.2%, and the percentage of those considered obese (A BMI of 30 or greater) is 35.9%.

We have so many excuses for our unhealthy weight. I have big bones. I inherited a slow metabolism. Many people have simply given up on weight loss and chosen to embrace their excess weight. Now, I am not saying that this is a bad thing. If a person is in good health, does not suffer from weight-related health issues, and has a positive self-image, then that is a wonderful thing and should be commended. But for those who are unhappy with their figures, who complain about problems with their aching joints or bad backs, or who have weight-related health concerns, then here is my question: why haven’t you lost the weight?

I come from a family with many overweight and obese people (not very unusual for Black American families). And I, at one time, was also quite overweight. At my highest non-pregnant weight, my BMI was 29.9 – teetering dangerously on the edge of obesity. I, too, had excuses. Children. Lack of time for the gym. Genes. I refused to go jogging, because I was certain that my top-heavy body was not built for it. But it was not until I decided that it was important enough that I really began to shed pounds. And you know what? It really was not that hard to do. Sure, it took discipline, but can you name one good accomplishment in life that does not take discipline? Eventually, after two years of lifestyle changes, I lost 70 pounds. And now, around four years after I began the journey, I have still managed to keep my weight in a healthy, normal BMI range. I am no super hero. I do not have an eating disorder. I just try my best to make regular healthy decisions about food and exercise. Almost anyone can do it successfully, and here’s how:

  1. KNOW YOUR CALORIES

Calories count. Eat more calories than you burn off, and you will gain weight. Eat fewer than you burn off, and you will lose weight. It is really that simple. It does not matter if those calories come from carbs or protein. Eat whatever the hell makes your taste buds happy and leaves you healthy and satisfied. But make it a point to know how many calories are in each food that you eat. Stuffed yourself with a huge, 700-calorie breakfast? Balance it with a lower calorie lunch and dinner. My goal is to keep my daily caloric intake somewhere between 1,200 to 1,500. Most days I do just fine. Every now and then, I go crazy and eat a dozen homemade cookies. And that’s okay.

My favorite source for calorie tracking? http://caloriecount.about.com/ It is free, easy to use, and has a great app for mobile calorie counting.

healthy weight success

  1. MOVE YOUR BODY

It is not all about the diet sodas and low-cal salad dressing. It is not all about the smaller serving sizes. Unless you plan to starve yourself, it is pretty much impossible to maintain a healthy body weight without exercise. Oh, I know, I know. Your knees hurt. Your back hurts. You’re not built for running. You have cholinergic urticaria. Oh wait – these were my excuses, remember? Unless you are a paraplegic, you can exercise. Don’t like running? Then walk for an hour every day. Swim. Do yoga. Try a Zumba class. Ride your bike to the store. Play a sport in an adult league. Jump rope. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you do it regularly. Aim for no less than 3 times per week. And do not “reward” your hard work with treats.

  1. MEET YOUR OTHER NEEDS

Many people tend to overeat or skip exercise due to some other need not being met. Give your body and spirit what it needs to maintain balance. Get enough sleep. Find healthy outlets to help you manage your stress. Stay busy with work, playing with your kids, cleaning house, or volunteering in your community. When your other physical and emotional needs are met, then you may find yourself naturally eating less food and moving your body more.

  1. MAKE IT SOCIAL

I realize that not everyone in the world lives in social isolation like me. Lots of people have more success meeting their personal goals with the encouragement of a partner or group. If that is you, then give it a try. Sign up for a local Weight Watchers group. Join a group aerobics class. Go walking or jogging with a partner. Chime in on a weight-loss forum. Many people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off have done it with the support and motivation of like-minded peers.

That’s it. Four tips. Four easy steps to consider when you are finally ready to make the change to a healthier way of living. Notice – I did not say “go on a diet.” A diet is temporary. But true healthy weight management is the result of permanent changes to your lifestyle that result in a healthier (and smaller) you.

Losing pounds

The Power of 3 (aka: Finding Balance for a Healthy Life)

I think that the number 3 is the key to a balanced life. I know, I know, it is an odd number, which makes it seem counterintuitive. However, I have found that my life is most fulfilling when I strike a balance of nurturing the three parts that make up my whole person: Mind, Body, and Spirit. Each part is equally essential for a balanced, healthy life. Here are some examples of ways to nurture your entire self:

Mind Body Spirit

MIND

  • Read Literature – This is different from merely reading for pleasure. Read the classics, the Great Books, the time-tested literature that will expand your mind and stretch your imagination. Don’t have time to read? Listen to an audiobook during your daily commute.
  • Learn a Foreign Language
  • Puzzles and Word Games – Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, or my personal favorite, Scrabble.
  • Learn about another culture – This world is such a huge and interesting place. Pick a country and learn all that you can about its history, its culture, and its people.
  • Take a college course – College classes are not only to advance one’s career. There are many online courses available, including free courses for anyone who is interested.  YogaBalance1

BODY

  • Commit to an exercise routine three days of each week (There’s that number 3 again).  — Stick to it.
  • Learn a new sport or physical activity. — Not a runner? Try yoga, or swimming, or an adult drop-in soccer or volleyball league.
  • Eat less meat. – You don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian to enjoy meatless meals. There are huge health benefits to cutting out meat even on an occasional basis. Try making a goal of eating a meatless lunch or dinner three days per week. This doesn’t mean you have to eat like a rabbit. Explore the internet or your local library for healthy and delicious meal ideas.
  • Move your body as much as possible. – Avoid shortcuts. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk. Skip the elevator and take the stairs. Walk in place while watching television. Just keep moving.
  • Sex – (No advice here, but some would say that regular sex nurtures the body, mind, AND spirit) Nourishing relationships feeds the spirit

SPIRIT

  • Keep a journal – More than just a record of your daily activities, a journal is a way to express your personal thoughts and ideas as you travel down the path of life. Or you can do as I do – write a blog. Just be cautious — remember that the rest of the world can read your journal, too.
  • Read what makes you happy – This is a different type of reading. Whether you enjoy reading children’s novels, humor books, or just plain smut, read what makes you smile. A little book candy every now and then is good for the spirit.
  • Give back to your community – Get involved in a community service project, plant flowers along the roadways, pick up litter in the local park, or visit with the elderly in a neighborhood care home. You may be surprised at how altruism nurtures your own spirit while improving the lives of other people.
  • Become an encourager. Smile at strangers and wish them a good day. Give your neighbors a basket of homemade muffins. Write thank you notes and send get well cards to people. Make friendly comments to other people or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, or whichever online social community you prefer.
  • Surround yourself with beauty – Display beautiful artwork in your home or office. Take time to look at other people’s beautiful photography on Flickr. Go for hikes out in nature. Listen to beautiful music that feeds your spirit.
  • Find religion – Dedicate yourself to the belief system that brings you the greatest sense of peace and belonging to something greater than yourself.
  • Develop friendships – Get together regularly to talk, laugh, and enjoy life with other people. That way, you not only nurture your own spirit, but you will also nurture the spirits of other people in your life.

Balance and Happiness in Life

I am most certainly not an expert in achieving a balanced life. In truth, I often fail in several of these ideas – especially the ones which involve other people. But just because something is difficult to do, it does not mean it is not worth trying. Perhaps striving for balance is like climbing a mountain. In order to climb, you must have a sturdy anchor, a rope, and the strength or your own body. When you put these three together, you can keep climbing; keep advancing inch by inch toward the summit.