Friday, June 6, 2014

Neighbors Who Help Me Chill Out

Every now and then I come face to face with a reality: I am a tightly wound person.

This surprises me, because, come on. I haven't deleted an email since 2009. I must be pretty laid back, right?


Almost every day, somewhere between 3:30 and 4PM, my dear sweet toddler boy awakens from his afternoon nap. Children either emerge or are picked up from their respective schools. And then it begins. Something that feels like a slow, agonizing death march to bedtime (hashtag firstworldproblems). Everything is hard. Everyone is tired. And possibly, the one person that makes this time way harder than it has to be is me.

Possibly I become a restless monster who can't just be present in the moment.

Possibly I want to just check all the things off the list. Dinner: check. Dishes: check. Bath (maybe): check. Bedtime: check. Sit and stare: check.

This evening two of my neighbors were enjoying a little happy hour, complete with snacks and drinks, on one of their porches. They invited me over, and my initial response was something like, "Uh, no I'm trying to make dinner" (it was, like 4:30 PM. Gettin' stuff done).

Then we started talking a little, and my inner monologue went something like this, "What in the world is your problem, Melissa. Have a drink with your friends. The kids are all playing anyway. YOLO, sucka."

So I ran and made myself a strong gin and tonic, got a little tipsy on my neighbor's porch, went inside with the kids and had pizza at 6:15 instead of 5, and watched part of How to Train Your Dragon -which was awesome. Death march averted. Fun last Friday night of the school year observed.

I am not necessarily advocating solving all of your problems with alcohol, but I do think it doesn't hurt to stray from your death march agenda from time to time - whether or not that involves a cocktail is your prerogative.

Happy Weekend!

Pizza on the Grill

We make a lot of pizza. There are very many ways to make dough, and if you do an internet search, you will find very many ways to make grill pizza, too. This is what works for me.

Preheat your grill to a real high heat. If you have a thermometer, you'll want it at about 500 degrees.
Roll out your pizza dough (any pizza dough will do, there is a recipe below) - a smaller circumference is easier to work with.

Put the crust on the grill for 60-90 seconds.

Using a metal spatula (or a pizza peel if you have one), take the dough off of the grill and put it cooked side up on a cutting board or baking sheet. I don't put any flour or olive oil on the board/baking sheet and don't have any problems. The other pizza maker in the family likes to put flour on everything and swears it helps with sticking.

Reduce the heat of the grill to medium-low - about 350 degrees. Put toppings on your cooked side of the crust while you wait for the grill to cool down a little. If you are working with a charcoal fire - I don't really know what to suggest. I've heard you can do hot side/cooler side, and you can play around with that. Really, I don't know - May the Lord Be With You.

Now, carefully shimmy the pizza, uncooked side down, onto the grill. Put the cover down and cook for 5 minutes, checking occasionally. You want to have the cheese melt and the dough cook through without burning the bottom.

Remove your pizza and enjoy.

*** If you are making several pizzas - the dough amount below will make 3 small thin-crust pizzas - you will want to do the first side of all three first before reducing the temperature of the grill. It's just a smoother process this way.

My crust "recipe" (often I just throw approximate quantities in the bowl and adjust until it has the right consistency - just a little bit sticky)

1 cup warm water
2 tsp. rapid rise yeast
1.5 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cup white flour
1 tbs. olive oil
1.5 tsp salt

I use a dough hook and just through the ingredients into the mixer and let the hook do the work. You could also knead for about 5 minutes by hand. Allow to rise at least 1 hour. Roll out on a floured surface and make pizza!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

How I Am Just Like the World's 5th Most Powerful Woman

I'm about a year late to this party.

I am reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, and I have to say, I am not as disgusted by it as I thought I would be.

About two and a half years ago I read her article in The Atlantic, and I think if I were a cartoon character there would have been smoke shooting out of my ears. I was agitated. Irate, even. Mind you, I had just had my third baby and was spiraling downward, downward, into postpartum depression and anxiety. But still. Side note: I read a (long-ish) magazine article with a newborn? I don't know how that happened, and I'm surprised that I even remember it.

My criticisms for her ideas were similar to others' criticisms: why make women feel so shamed and responsible for the gender disparities in these high-level sectors? Why make me feel bad for not being ambitious enough? Thank for your advice, brilliant, rich white lady, etc. etc.

So I dutifully avoided her book when it came out last year. Of course, I read a lot of other peoples' reviews of it to justify my distaste for anything she had to say and so I could chastise any friends who were reading it or talking about reading it (sorry, I'm a jerk).

And then my book group reconvened and the onus was on me to choose a book. Naturally, I chose this one. I thought, if nothing else, it would be fun to all hate a book together since usually we all love a book together. Or even better: maybe we'd get into an exhilarating yelling match.

I'm only half way through the book, and I'm disappointed to find that it might not actually cause the uncomfortable, angst-ridden debate that I was hoping for. In fact, there are some ways that I can really relate to Sheryl Sandberg, and my guess is that many women - and possibly some men - can too.

Here's the thing I really connected with and that surprised me: she also thinks that one day people might find out that she's a total fraud! Sheryl Sandberg, the 5th most powerful woman in the world (what that means, I have no idea), lacks confidence in her abilities and knowledge from time to time.

I'm not the only one who feels this way? Really?

I was not expecting this book to cause me to do any reflecting or soul-searching, but it has.

It has me thinking about all of my evaluations during nursing school. They were all excellent reviews, but I would wince each time going into them wondering if this would be the one where they would tell me they found me out. "Melissa, we can tell that you really have no idea what you're doing. You're off the island. Goodbye."

It has me remembering a discussion about faith and politics (eek, don't discuss those!) that Tom and I led when we were working together in campus ministry years ago. It went really well - good turnout, good discussion, we did everything in our power to make it go well. Afterwards, Tom asked me how I thought it went, and I had a laundry list of criticisms (mostly of myself) and ways for how we could have done better. He looked at me completely confused - probably a little hurt - and was just like, "Oh. I thought it went really well."

It has me thinking about my parenting. About how I agonize over certain decisions - and sometimes I care a little too much about what others will think. About how I don't actually enjoy playing "make a house" with the Magna-tiles for the fifth time today - and maybe you'll all find out about that and know that I'm not a very good mother.

I don't know why we do this to ourselves - why we are so critical. And while there is something particular about the way women do this to themselves, I don't really think men are completely immune either.

Recently a piece by Rob Lowe about sending his son off to college was excerpted from his memoir and posted various places online. In it he tells his son, "Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides." I think this is really wise advice (thanks, Rob Lowe), especially in our social media saturated world where everyone's outsides can be so smartly edited with Instagram filters and witty status updates. Simple words as they are, I need to repeat them to myself often.

And it was so refreshing to hear that even Sheryl Sandberg has to heed this advice at times.

So, if we know that everyone feels like a fraud on the verge of being found out from time to time, maybe we can all relax a little. I'm ok. You're ok.

And maybe we can try to think of some things that we objectively are good at. I'm going to start with pizza-making. I make really good pizza. Objectively. It's good. I will post a recipe on how to make pizza on the grill later today - and if you haven't tried grilling your pizza yet, you should!

Ok, I'll try to think of more substantive things that I'm good at, and I hope you will too.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Today I Realized That I Don't Care What You Think About My Body

I had an epiphany of sorts today.

See, I finally watched that Upworthy video that has been circulating on Facebook - the before/after one with the woman who became a bodybuilder and discovered that she still was not happy with her body. She is now on a mission to create a documentary that helps women to love their bodies.

I watched it and cried a little (of course). And then I had a thought.

Who cares if my stomach isn’t completely flat? Really, who cares?

A simple thought. An obvious one. 

Taken a little further: I don’t owe it to anyone to look a certain way.

I’m not just talking about a thought that stopped at “this is how I should think,” but more of a visceral, deep knowing that I am not merely something to be looked at. I don’t want to be an object. While this isn’t what losing weight is about for many people, this is what I realized it is largely about for me - becoming more “attractive,” whatever that means.

I’ve been trying to lose “those last 10 pounds” for my whole life. But why? So I can look the way I’m “supposed” to look? Actually, if I were to try to look the way the idealized American woman “should” look I’d have to lose something more like 50 pounds. 

Just this morning with my wonderful running buddy, I was bemoaning my 25.9 BMI. Why can’t I just get it under 25?! Awesome as she is, she set me straight pointing out how ridiculous it is to obsess about such a generalized number based on averages rather than a person’s particular make-up. And besides, the BMI thing is just another one of my smoke-screens for the real issue - that I am trying to make myself more acceptable. I’m so thankful for this deep revelation, and for this loud voice calling out to me, “ACCEPTABLE TO WHOM? TO WHOM? WHO CARES?!”

So I’m going to stop.

I am going to stop the comparing. I’m going to stop the body-part hating. I’m going to stop the calorie counting. I’m even going to stop the weighing. I am most certainly going to stop asking my husband if I look pregnant in certain dresses.

No, I’m not going to stop the running. I like doing that and it has become more about the run, and the running friends, and the challenge, than the weight loss.

I am going to live in my body. I am going to stop at 2 pieces of pizza because 3 makes me feel yucky - not because I’m afraid of gaining weight. I am going to continue to challenge my body because it feels good and helps me believe in myself - not in order to see more muscle definition in my arms. And I am going to thank God for this body that has been with me from the beginning and is good and is me.

This is my body, and it is amazing.
This body grew life and gave birth (with and without pain medication), and then, amazingly, continued to sustain that life.
This body can run really far. And then a little bit further.
This body can carry a sweet, heavy boy, and a tender little girl, and an independent big girl - if she would only let me.
This body is healthy! Cholesterol: awesome. Blood pressure: great. Blood sugar: perfect.
This body has a brain, a heart, a soul - not to be separated, all one, fearfully and wonderfully.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Obligatory "Hey, It's Been a While" Post

Do you ever do that thing where you forget to return someone's call, and because life gets hectic you just keep on forgetting until maybe 3 months have passed? Maybe you thought about that person a lot or kept telling yourself you were going to get in touch, but it just kept not happening. Then, because you took so long you started to feel sort of awkward and guilty and it became all about you and how you felt and not really about your friend at all. So you continued to not call.

I do not encourage behavior such as this, but I do admit that I fall into this pattern from time to time. I was definitely doing this with my dear friend, freezer blog.

Oh, freezer blog, I've thought about you a lot. I've missed you. I've brainstormed ideas for you. And then Sam started pulling all of the keys off of the computer and we started hiding the computer and vacation happened and school started and marathon training got for serious and... it just got awkward. But we should really get together soon... I'll call you. Ok?

So what I never really communicated to you, mom and uncle loyal readers, was that I actually mostly filled my freezer over the summer. And then I mostly emptied it over the past 3 months of chaotic Tuesdays and Wednesdays. My two thumbs up go to the slow cooker salsa verde chicken and to the three meatloaves I made in August but never told you about. Oh, and the granola bites -those things are a life-saver. Oddly, what is still literally chillin' in the deep freeze is that triple-batch of pancakes that I had a premature mid-life crisis over. I can't even bring myself to look at them. Just kidding. I think I'll bring them upstairs to the fridge-freezer for use during the final push of the semester and finals week.

By the way, meatloaf is really easy to make ahead and freeze. I just make a triple batch of some variation (usually I replace 1/2 pound of the beef with chopped veggies) of the Quaker Oat meatloaf recipe. Instead of baking, I shape into loaves and put on a cookie sheet to freeze. After about an hour of freezing, I wrap them up and put them in the chest freezer. The night before I want to make it, I put it in the fridge. Then in the morning I stick it in the crock-pot with 1/4 cup of water and let it cook all day. Steam some veggies. Dinner.

Here's the plan - I have about a month off in December and I plan to use it wisely. I will re-stock this month and maybe even write some posts about it. And maybe about some other things too. We'll see. I am hesitant to recommit to you, freezer blog. I just don't trust myself...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I made a smoothie...

I made this smoothie today, and I liked it.

Here is what is in it:

2/3 cup frozen blueberries (that you picked in early July, washed, dried on several layers of paper      towel, froze in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet, then put in several quart size bags before      placing them in the chest freezer - because this is a freezer blog)
1 frozen banana (a fresh banana will work, but again, freezer blog)
6-10 large basil leaves
1/2 cup coconut milk (Trader Joe's Light - leftover from making Chana Masala earlier in the week)

Blend the first three ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add coconut milk and pulse a few times. Enjoy.

I am in no way a smoothie master. This one was a shot in the dark made with what I had, but it turned out just sweet enough with a bit of a tropical flair. I feel strongly enough about it that I am recommending it to you!

Are there any favorite smoothie combinations out there?

Nutrition Information: Calories - 220; Fat - 6.7g; Potassium - 417 mg; Fiber - 6g; Protein - 2g; Vitamin A - 10%; Vitamin C - 18%

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cookies for breakfast

Hello?! Cookies for breakfast!?

Why haven't I thought about this until now? I mean, I've thought about it in the sense that I've definitely eaten cookies for breakfast before, but to bake cookies with the expressed intent to eat in the morning? Genius. Paired with a piece of fruit, this actually isn't the most unhealthy breakfast in the world.

I can't wait to feed these to my kids. I wonder if they will sing my praises like Bill Cosby's kids did.
Which gives me another ingenious idea. Breakfast chocolate cake. I'll have to think about that one.

I don't recommend eating three. One will definitely suffice but just looks so sad and lonely all by itself on a plate.

Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from the King Arthur flour website with many substitutions

1/2 cup butter,
1 cup almond butter (can use peanut butter or any other nut butter)
2/3 cup honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 1/4 cup flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/3 cup oat bran
1/3 cup flax meal
2 scoops Whole Foods vanilla soy protein powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
add ins: you can use any combination of nuts, oats, dried fruit, etc, totalling 3-4 cups
 1 cup rolled oats
 1 cup chocolate chips
 1/2 cup dried cranberries
 1/2 cup dried coconut

Preheat oven to 350. In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer beat together honey, butter and almond butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and mix until combined. Next add dry ingredients - flour, oat bran, flax, protein powder, salt and cinnamon - and mix until combined. Fold in whatever add-ins you are using.

Drop by scant 1/4 cup spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Allow to cool for 3-4 minutes on the cookie sheet then transfer to cooling rack.

If you are freezing: to defrost just microwave for about 20 seconds and enjoy. I ate a frozen one this morning and it was the best. I'm going to have to bury these deep if they are going to last more than a few days!

Nutrition Information per 2.5 inch cookie (1/22 of recipe): Calories - 240, Fat - 13g, Fiber - 4g, Sugar - 14g, Protein - 7.6g, Iron - 9.2%