it doesn’t have to be so hard

A few years ago, on my old blog (which is now published as Sex Tender for Horny Women), I created a school lunch project called Real Food Lunchbox. The basic aim of that project was to make my life & family miserable by dooming every effort at creating wholesome, homemade school lunches to failure right from the outset thanks to impossibly exacting standards. That wasn’t the stated mission but it might as well have been.

I began each week with a menu that included entirely from-scratch ingredients compiled exclusively by me. Each meal & snack was a perfectly balanced, delicious, beautiful work of culinary art that only took 90 minutes or so to create each morning, not including shopping for the most perfect ingredients, running the meals through a nutrition tracker, and generally making myself crazier than I already was.

After a couple of weeks, I gave up on the project. A couple of weeks is probably generous, actually. And the sad thing is that I actually thought this project would make my life easier. I dreaded the process of making and packing lunches every day. Our mornings were frantic, frustrated, rushed affairs, and I wanted to change that dynamic. I thought all I needed was a little planning, a little focus, and everything would fall in place.

After going through the diet recovery process, I began to approach my kids’ school lunches in a different way. I allowed food items into the house that had never theretofore been considered… like flavored yogurt (not plain yogurt with an abstemious dollop of homemade low-sugar jam), packaged granola (not some bullshit “paleo” granola clocking in at $4 a serving), peanut butter (not almond butter, can we please just agree that PB is superior?), out-of-season vegetables (because ferrealz no human being wants to eat raw broccoli even if that’s all that’s available in January), even WHITE BREAD Y’ALL.

And an amazing thing happened… everyone relaxed. The kids had enough to eat, they actually enjoyed eating the things in their lunch, and I didn’t spend the morning screeching like a banshee. Jeremy graciously did not comment on the change.

I still make an effort to choose healthy options, still try to create a balanced meal, still include vegetables and nuts and other things with “staying power.” But I focus above all on them having enough to eat. And most things are now store-bought. For example, I’m not making my own long-fermented unsweetened organic grass-fed yogurt anymore — I just buy the Greek yogurt flavored with honey or lemon because THAT’S WHAT I WANT TO EAT MMMKAY. SHIT’S DELISH. It’s got tons of sugar and also tons of fat and protein. Win, win, win.

The hummus is store-bought, the peanut butter is store-bought, and you betch yer ass the bread is store-bought. And the kids are still alive to this day.

Y’know, things don’t have to be so hard. We just make them that way.

let’s go for a walk

As part of my self-care resolution, I’m trying to fit more movement into my daily life. I stand up all day for work, which is certainly better than sitting, but it’s not the same as actual exercise. I’ve had plantar fasciitis on-again, off-again all my life, and just recently it’s very on, sometimes severe enough to preclude me from working out. Bouncing around or walking on asphalt both tend to make the pain worse, especially first thing in the morning. This week I began kettlebell workouts, which are fairly low-impact but still send my heartrate through the roof and leave me hobbling around the next day (in a good way), and I’m walking Tuna daily or every other day, and slowly rebuilding to a daily yoga practice (probably the best thing I could do for my feet). I’ve realized recently that I really thrive on routine. If I’m knocked out of my routine I tend to tumble into a pit of inertia, especially regarding exercise. So doing something every other day or three times a week is not as good as doing something daily.

Today I packed Tuna into the trunk — he gets car-sick, so he does best in the trunk where he can’t see the road — grabbed Jeremy and the kids from school, and drove to the lake by our house for an evening walk. After kettlebells yesterday, I needed some movement. The best way I’ve found to deal with strung-out hamstrings and tight muscles is to just keep moving. Slowing down seems to be the worst way to compensate. We walked down to the lake, laughing at Tuna who wanted to sniff and pee on everything in the world at once, and talked about the kids and work and the future, which will be changing swiftly soon in ways that I’ll cover in the next few weeks. The kids ran up to the playground while we watched a paddle-boarder cruise around with his fiercely swimming pibble. After an hour or so we went home. Most boring story ever.

fig & honey oatmeal cookies

fig & honey oatmeal cookies

My kids & dude returned to school & work today, and though I miss them I’m also breathing easier. I’ve become a great deal more introverted over the years, requiring ever-longer and more reclusive chunks of time to recover from being social, so that now I think I’d be borderline-hermit if not for my family. My daughter, especially, LOVES to talk, read aloud, tell jokes, play games, and otherwise DIRECTLY ENGAGE. I set aside my own preference for indefinite periods of absolute silence, because that’s what you do as a parent, you subsume your desires for your child’s needs. More importantly, I know that someday, not long from now, she’ll be grown and gone and I’ll have all the quiet I could ever want, maybe too much. I love her jokes, her lively, friendly presence, her questions, her commentary, her huge heart and limitless love and affection (seriously, she just created a superhero persona named Generous Girl). And I also relish the long daytime hours of not having to open my mouth even once.

For a long time I worried that if people knew this about me, they’d think I must not really love my kids. But I don’t care anymore. I’ve accepted that alone time makes it easier to give more of myself. I’m a huge fan of Whatever Works parenting.

I did hit the introvert jackpot with Jeremy. He’s the only person I can be with for a nearly limitless length of time without feeling like I need to hide in the bathroom after a while. He’s the only person who really knows all of me, and he accepts me so unequivocally that I find it easier to accept myself. He’s just as inward-turning as I am, and this makes for a very comfortable situation for both of us. It’s not uncommon for us to go to great lengths to find sleepovers for both of our kids so we can have a “date night,” only to have this inevitable conversation. What should we do? Go to a movie, out to dinner, live music, hiking? Maybe to the city even? Honestly, I really just want to stay in. We could fry up a couple-a steaks and watch Broad City… Oh thank god you said that. I don’t think I can stand to be around other people right now. Is there something wrong with us? Why don’t we ever want to go out? I don’t even care. I just want my feet rubbed.

I will contend that one of the most wonderful things about being married is the telepathic “let’s escape” glance across a crowded room.

Still, I have to remind myself that it’s healthy to spend time with lots of different people. For whatever reason, I tend to attract highly extroverted people into my life, and those people often become my closest friends. I love these folks, their energy, their openness, how they challenge me to be more spontaneous, more outgoing, but at the end of the day, they’ll never understand my Irish exit strategy. So I appreciate being able to return again and again to this person, this easy relationship, never overbearing, always comforting. And I’m thankful for my children’s gentle adaptations to my quieter self, the way they’ll cuddle up to me and happily read for hours, or chatter on while I just listen and affirm — the dreamy side of parenthood, something I never expected when they were little babes.

Nothing I just said has anything to do with these cookies. I just felt like oversharing.

fig & honey oatmeal cookies

fig & honey oatmeal cookies

fig & honey oatmeal cookies

fig & honey oatmeal cookies

FIG & HONEY OATMEAL COOKIES

1 c. rolled oats (certified gluten-free)

1 c. gluten-free flour blend (I use Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix)

1 t. baking powder (omit if your flour blend includes it)

1/2 t. salt

1/2 c. butter, at room temperature

1/3 c. honey

1/4 c. brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 t. almond extract

1 big handful of dry Mission figs, stemmed and diced

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine the oats, flour blend, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Dice the butter and place in a large mixing bowl with the honey. Beat until smooth and creamy, then beat in the egg and almond extract. Add the dry mix a bit at a time until fully combined. Then fold in the dry figs.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Collect cookie dough in your hands, one tablespoon at a time, and roll 1″ balls. Place the balls on the cookie sheet 2″ apart. Gently flatten with the back of a fork. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden-brown on the bottom. Don’t overbake — err on the side of too-soft or they’ll dry out terribly.

Let the cookies stand for a couple of minutes before removing to a wire rack. Enjoy!

P.S. As I was making these I thought of rolling the cookies in sliced almonds and keeping their ball shape instead of flattening before cooking. Just an idea!

capsule kitchen challenge: the end

In a move that will surprise basically nobody who has followed me for any length of time, I’ve ended my participation in the Capsule Kitchen Challenge.

In short, restriction is restriction is restriction.

I thought it would be about simplification and minimalism but in no time at all it became about rules. I-can’t and I-shouldn’t and what-if. And anxiety about eating the “wrong” thing which led to many skipped meals. Which led to bingeing.

Yesterday Jeremy pointed out that, in this week alone, I’ve made cookies twice, ordered pizza once, and also purchased a food-adjacent product that, were I not intentionally avoiding it, would otherwise not be consumed but once or twice a year. There’s nothing wrong with making cookies, ordering in, or eating Cheetos, but for me, to pack them all into one week is a good sign of compensatory eating.

So what happened? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the constant diet-talk in the Facebook group, or just the triggering effect of Deliberately Not Eating This Thing For Completely Arbitrary Reasons.

Actually, the problem probably started during our trip to Utah, where I was accidentally gluten-exposed and henceforth vacillated between feeling afraid to eat and being embarrassed to have it pointed out that I wasn’t eating or was eating a separate meal, which triggers all kinds of shame around being “needy” and having a food “issue,” and resulted in solitary eating on several occasions. It’s most likely not unrelated that I found this challenge on the drive home and decided to do it without really thinking it through.

Just to clarify, there’s nothing wrong with this challenge. People with normal eating habits should handle it just fine. It’s just that disordered eating is stupid, irrational, relentless, and not very particular about what sort of habits it can parasitize.

Luckily for me, I decided to announce that I was doing this thing, so now I get to publicly embarrass myself by dropping out! So: back to the usual things. Enough water, enough sleep, enough calories, no restrictions, NO SKIPPED MEALS FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

Back to your regularly-scheduled whatever comes next. I don’t have anything scheduled actually. Probably cookies.

Have a wonderful weekend.

rolled omelet with spinach & goat cheese

The Capsule Kitchen Challenge has been underway for three days and so far it’s really not much of a challenge. Maybe I’m more boring about food than I thought.

Little things have popped up — like Jeremy asking if I want a drink (there’s no alcohol on my list) or having to skip over super-great sales on beloved items…

…but for the most part, things feel normal.

We spent a week in Utah visiting Jeremy’s family and the weather was painfully, painfully cold. How this Arizona girl lasted in that environment for years I will never know. I couldn’t even take out the trash without a sweater, heavy coat, hat, scarf, and mittens, and I realized quickly that my “motorcycle boots” were really California boots, which is to say, pretty but worthless.

When we got home to NorCal, everything was green and soft and mild, like ya do in California winter. I keep trying to wear the new heavy coat that I helplessly committed to buying while we were in Utah, but now it’s, well, ugly and worthless. People in the grocery store are looking at me like, Flats with no socks I understand, but what’s with the giant blue marshmallow on top? Are you perhaps visiting from Utah?

And winter being what it is here, holy hell, our hens are laying like bonkers. Thus, an omelet. Or is it omelette? Omelette looks so much nicer, but I can’t find any definitive statement from a French person on the subject. Anyway, a rolled omelette is just what it sounds like, except less complicated, because you bake the thing instead of fussing with it in a pan. Based on Martha’s recipe, a little flour is incorporated for stiffness, and I added spinach and goat cheese from my list.

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ROLLED OMELET WITH SPINACH & GOAT CHEESE

8 eggs

1 c. half & half

1/4 c. gluten-free flour blend (without leavening agent; I used this one)

1 T. Dijon mustard

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. black pepper

2 handfuls of baby spinach

4 oz. goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil a rimmed cookie sheet, then line with parchment paper, leaving an inch of overhang on the short sides for lifting out the omelet later. Brush the paper with oil.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, flour, salt, and pepper. Pour into the prepared pan. Spread the spinach evenly on top. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are set. Spread the cheese on top in dollops — does not need to be perfect. Return the pan to the oven for another 3-4 minutes, until cheese is softened.

Let the omelet stand for 5-10 minutes, then carefully lift one short edge of the parchment paper and roll up the omelet, unpeeling the paper as you go. Slice the omelet to serve. Enjoy!

just one thing*

2014 was a transitional year for me. I quit my job, started a business, and shifted my whole identity toward balance & moderation. I made a sincere effort to approach my life with less fear, and sketched out a plan to shape the year. Of those 30 things I completed 20 of them, which seems pretty good since some of them were fairly ambitious (for me).

Some crappy things happened in 2014, most of which did not appear on the blog. Sometimes I wished fervently for a counselor of some sort, not a therapist per se because I don’t think I need the ongoing support — just someone who can walk me through occasional dilemmas and challenges with an objective eye. At one point this year I fully intended to find a counselor for a particular issue, the money be damned, but in the end it didn’t happen, I suppose for the usual reasons.

I intended to create another list for this year, maybe not 30 things but a few. Instead I decided to focus on just one thing*, which is to put myself first more often. I know this sounds terribly selfish, but let me explain.

Starting a small business is generally accepted to be a horrible idea. Money is lost, talent is wasted, time is gobbled up, stress skyrockets, and in the end most businesses fail. Like most people I knew these things only intellectually and believed that my situation would be different because I would do things correctly. And I must give myself some credit that I did handle some things well. I started small, with just a few hundred dollars of my own money to invest. I did not advertise but allowed my business to grow organically based on referrals from happy clients. Though I set the goal of one year, I reached my baseline net income after just two months, and I point to these choices as the source of that small success.

However, I made a lot of mistakes as well. I set my initial prices way too low. I underestimated how much physical space I would require, and didn’t anticipate how quickly my kitchen devices would crumble (or explode) under the pressure of heavy daily use. I didn’t expect that delivery would be more of a complication and limitation on my business than the food itself. I didn’t know that even a business as small as mine still needs a “public face.” Or how scary it would be in general to sell my product, to stand behind my work and say that it deserves to cost something, that I should be able to make a living doing something anyone could do.

Perhaps most of all, I didn’t realize how my life would be eaten up by my business. I thought I could fit it neatly between the hours of 8am and 4pm with perhaps an hour or two on the weekend. Instead the work bleeds way into the rest of my life, not only the actual work but the mental energy required to maintain it.

I quit my desk job because the worst fear of my (admittedly privileged) life was coming true: I sat on my ass under fluorescent lights doing meaningless work on a computer all day, then came home to stare at the TV all night. I had nothing left for the real work of my life. I didn’t read, write, create, think, grow, move, play, meditate, or connect. My lunches often came from the taco truck, and I downed eight to ten cups of coffee a day, suppressed anger and resentment with the glow from various screens.

More than anything else, I desire to be fully present for my life, and I found that goal incompatible with uncreative office work. I started this small business with a plan to shape my work around my life and not the other way around. I see now that this is a naive expectation and that it’s wiser to find a middle way through the two, because sadly I do require actual cash money to do all those meaningful things, though I suppose homelessness is always an option.

Last week, while visiting family in Utah for the holidays, relieved to be mostly free of cooking requirements, I stumbled upon this article. Although problematic from a HAES perspective, I must say that it strongly resonated. In particular, “Seven steps to guarantee that you will gain weight while building your company (or your career). Additionally, these are great for eliminating healthfulness, happiness, and joy from your life.” These steps include…

1. Put yourself dead last. “…[D]o not — I repeat do not — carve out time for your health, any outside-of-work interests, sleep, or proper and consistent nutrition.”

2. Do not prioritize sleep. “Wear this ‘superhuman power’ like a badge of honor, and make sure to let people know that you will ‘sleep when you are dead’ and that ‘sleep is for quitters.'”

3. Stop any personal care activities. “This includes, but is not limited to: showering only when absolutely necessary (working from home does not constitute necessity); don’t drink enough water, keep your stress levels high, and don’t get enough sleep (#2 above) so your skin goes to hell; miss haircuts for months, years even… wear sweats (if you even elect to put pants on), and stay “focused” (a.k.a. sedentary) for as many hours as you can; and do not, I repeat DO NOT participate in any sort of physical activity.”

4. Do not exercise. “If you think you can get in a workout at some point, start checking and responding to email so that this urge passes. Remember: there will always be one more thing you can do that can keep you from the gym, a run, or a pickup game of soccer with friends.”

5. Do not make uninterrupted time for friends, family, or loved ones. “Be so busy that you aren’t there for them when they need you. When you do happen to get to get together or talk on the phone, make sure you are multitasking so as not to miss a beat with your work… incessantly checking / being on your phone; taking calls that interrupt your time with them; thinking about your work while they are talking; and talking about your work issues in a one-sided way.”

6. Be too busy to eat. “…[R]each for some sort of caffeinated beverage before any water or food. This will ensure that you surprise your appetite, throw off your metabolism, and delay hunger for a few hours. If you do in fact get hungry again in the morning or early afternoon, just go for more caffeine… [B]y the time you head into the afternoon / early evening, you will start to notice symptoms of hunger that can range from drawing a blank when trying to think or recall, to being irritable or “hangry”…. Finally, once the food is delivered, consume it by inhalation and avoid chewing too much. Also when you start to feel full, keep going. Who knows when you will eat again?!”

7. Cease all extracurricular activities. “This includes, but is not limited to: reading books… learning about non-work-related things that interest you, reading the news, keeping up any hobbies like writing or knitting or playing an instrument, meditation…”

Though operating on a MUCH smaller scale than Leslie Bradshaw, I’m still guilty of all seven of these. I haven’t gained weight (small miracle considering I’m literally surrounded by food all day), but my family connections, friendships, extracurricular activities, sleep habits, creativity, meditation, exercise routine, and moderation regarding caffeine intake have all taken a major hit. I read all the small business warnings so I knew to expect this. What concerns me right now, in facing the year ahead, is that there’s no end in sight, because I’ve done nothing to shift the dynamics of my work-life balance.

Leslie Bradshaw dipped into hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to hire an executive coach, personal trainer, nutritionist, and meal delivery service to take control of her life. None of those are an option for me, and I no longer believe in meticulously controlling my diet as a proxy for the rest of my life. But I still intend to take her suggestions to heart because after all, this is not only my life. In placing my needs first — putting on the oxygen mask of exercise, water, regular meals, meditation, enough sleep, and creative pursuits — I expect everyone in my life to benefit, including my clients.

From time to time I will share the exact process by which I bring about this shift. If you have any habits you hope to build in the new year, please share!

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*Oh, did I really say just one thing? Of course I have more.

Replace my broken prime lens and return to using my DSLR at least occasionally. Last year I switched to using a high-quality camera phone for most of my photography, for several reasons but first and foremost because I was tired of lugging around my Canon with its huge zoom lens. Intrigued by this post, I spent some time paging through old photographs recently and the difference in quality between that expensive zoom and the cheap kit lens that broke a few years ago is rather stark. The fixed lens took beautiful photos by comparison, and I can get a new one for around $100.

Cook with my children at least once a month. My kids love to cook, but I vacillate between a) cooking for my clients (so they can’t participate) and b) cooking for my family under exhausted duress (so I don’t want them to participate). It’s important to me that my children both know how to cook and enjoy cooking, so it’s a constant source of guilt for me that I rarely allow them to help. I plan to find at least one cooking project a month for us to do together.

Kayak through the caves off the Mendocino coast. This was on my 30 Things list in 2014, but we didn’t make it. Let’s give it another try!

Learn to hunt for wild mushrooms. Inspired, obviously, by this.

Be a better blogger. D’awwwww. No but seriously.

the capsule kitchen challenge

I guess I’m a casual minimalist. I don’t define my life by the minimalist philosophy, but it does play a major part in my lifestyle. I’m generally anti-storage and the phrase “but what if we need it someday?” makes my jaw clench. I drop off bags at Goodwill monthly. Clutter is the bane of my existence.

Over the years I’ve relaxed my standards around ownership and storage because I don’t live alone. My partner and kids have a wide range of hobbies and different ideas around accumulation of physical goods. Over time I’ve learned to be more respectful of how others handle their “stuff.” But recently I’ve felt that old pressure of TOO MUCH STUFF creeping in, especially as we contemplate moving to a different house in the next year. I look around our living room, kitchen, bedroom and fight the urge to grab boxes and bags and just start hauling. To me, few sensations are as satisfying as that of purging physical space. I have taken some steps, like downsizing my kitchen supplies, emptying bathroom drawers, separating clothes that don’t fit or feel comfortable, and organizing spaces that drive me nuts (the laundry room…). But I still feel out of sorts.

The Capsule Kitchen Challenge from Be More With Less mimics the Capsule Wardrobe in that just a few interchangeable, truly loved items are maintained while allowing clutter to fall away. I’ve been maintaining a tiny wardrobe for years without realizing it was a thing (I’m really just lazy and not fashion-conscious), but a capsule kitchen? Hoooooooo boy. You mean I shouldn’t have four open bags of different dried chiles? It’s not necessary to have twelve different types of flour? Well you can kindly fuck off.

Yep, as soon as I felt that resistance I knew I had to try it.

The rules (via Be More With Less):

1. Choose 33 ingredients counting food and drink (water doesn’t count).

2. Add spices, condiments, and anything you like to pump up the flavor (less than 1 tablespoon at a time) and don’t count them in your 33.

3. Be specific when choosing your ingredients. “Crackers” is not specific, Triscuits is specific. beans = not specific. Lentils = specific. Cheese/meat/veggies = not specific. Swiss/chicken/asparagus = specific. Pasta = not specific. Whole-wheat penne = specific.

4. This is not a project in suffering. If you need a cheat day once a month, take it. If you need to redo your list because you can’t make a meal from yours, change it. If you spend a week in Paris, eat a macaron. Don’t let one excuse derail the entire challenge. Work around it.

5. Eliminate a crutch or trigger food for 3 months. Examples may include sugar, flour, salt, alcohol, meat, dairy, animal products.

My inclination is always to take a thing to its most illogical extreme, so I’m fighting the inclination to count every condiment, and I’ve also decided that it makes no sense to limit vegetable variety, so my list is a bit broader there. And finally, I don’t consider food to be “toxic” or “poison” and will not be eliminating anything in particular. I suppose I’m trying to take the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

How will this process work with my business? This is mostly a concern because my family typically has leftovers for dinner. I’m planning to incorporate these foods into my work menu (it’s a seasonal, whole-foods list anyway), with some allowance for customer variety — different cheeses and grains, for example. But mostly I’ll try to stick to the list.

Here’s my list!

PRODUCE
Carrots
Celery
Potatoes (including sweet potatoes)
Broccoli (or cauliflower)
Lettuce (any variety)
Cabbage (or Brussels sprouts, or kale)
Winter squash (any variety)
Cremini mushrooms
Citrus fruits (any variety)
Pomegranates
Tomatoes (canned)

GRAINS, NUTS & LEGUMES
Brown basmati rice
Brown rice penne
Pinto beans
Garbanzo beans
Puy lentils
Almonds
Pamela’s Baking & Pancake mix
Corn tortillas
Coconut milk

DAIRY
Jack cheese
Goat cheese
Eggs
Yogurt
Half & half

MEAT
Whole chicken
Beef roast
Pork butt
Ground beef
Bacon ends

OTHER
Coffee!!!

FLAVOR BOOSTERS (not included in the 33)
Alliums (onion, garlic, shallots)
Fats (olive, coconut, toasted sesame, butter)
Fresh & dry herbs & spices
Bone broth
Vinegars
Lemon or lime juice
Nutritional yeast
Salt

The challenge begins today. I’ll be posting with the hashtag #capsulechallenge over at Instagram if you’d like to follow along! and posting recipes here occasionally. Lemme know if you’ll be participating as well!