Saturday, February 26, 2011

Faster than fast food
by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld

I like to cook.

Actually, let me qualify that: I like to cook the way I like to write poems. It isn't about practicality, it's about self-expression, creating something from nothing.

So while I collect recipes that call for madeleine pans, lavender honey, duck fat, and hours and hours of my time, preparing a daily evening meal for myself isn't something that interests me. This presents a bit of a challenge for me since I've committed to cooking all my meals at home this month.

Making dinner is even less interesting after work. I enjoy my job as a bridal consultant. When a couple comes to register for gifts, I get to know them. I get an idea of what their lifestyle is like or what they want it to be. I help them figure out what they'll need to build their new home together. I walk them around the entire store and help them make smart decisions. In between couples, I help people shop from registries and gift wrap their selections. One way or another I'm dealing with happy people all day. But it does take a lot out of me. I'm on my feet all day, up and down ladders sometimes, running from one end of the store to the other. Most of all, as an introvert, connecting with people is something that takes a lot out of me. It's not a difficult job, but I still come home tired.

Over time I've developed two tricks that help me with the chore of feeding myself once I get home. Maybe they'll help you, too.

1. Keep your pants on. Literally.
Usually the first thing I do when I come home is change from my work pants into PJs. My work pants were uncomfortable in October, when they were just a little bit too tight, and they're uncomfortable now because they're so loose they're falling off me. I change into elastic-waisted PJ pants, kick off my shoes and sit down on the couch to relax. I notice I'm hungry, but as time passes I have less energy and less motivation to get up off the couch and do something. So how to avoid this trap? When you get home from work, as tired as you may be, go directly to your kitchen. Don't take off your work clothes, don't turn on the TV, don't sit down. If it isn't time for you to eat, get all your prep work done. If it is time to eat, start cooking. Or cook first and reheat later. However you want to do it—just make sure it's the first thing you do once you get home. (I know a lot of people love to cook once for the entire week, but living with three men makes that impossible for me. In our fridge, food is devoured instantly; ingredients are not.)

2. Collect practical recipes.
Keep an eye out for recipes that appeal to you. Move the efficient ones to the front of the pile. Twenty-minute meals, ten-minute meals, one-pot meals. Try some of those. Experiment. The more you make something, the better and faster you can make it. You can always try new recipes whenever you want, but it's important to have something to fall back on. Here are three of my current go-to recipes:

Sauteed Bell Peppers over Pasta
Adapted from Twinkle. Family friend, culinary genius.
Slice a bell pepper into thin strips. Cook in a pan over medium heat with olive oil and pepper until soft. Serve peppers on top of pasta—I prefer penne—and serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese on top.
Upgrade: Add some sliced sausage links on top. My personal favorite is chicken and apple.

Tomatoes, Tuna, and Couscous
Adapted from Jules from Stonesoup
Boil water in the microwave. Add couscous, cover, and set aside. Slice a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes and one or two cloves of garlic. Add to a pan with a can of tuna in olive oil. (Don't drain it!) Cook until the tomatoes are soft and the sauce comes together. Fluff couscous with a fork and serve with sauce on top. Upgrade: Add a handful of chopped chives and a drizzle of olive oil to the couscous when you fluff it.

Parmesan and Prosciutto Chicken
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Have your butcher butterfly a chicken breast into two pieces. (The original recipe calls for just one chicken breast but American chickens are much larger.) Sandwich chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap and use something heavy to bang it down so the breast is the same thickness all the way around. Peel away the top piece of plastic and sprinkle the chicken with grated Parmesan cheese and ground pepper. Top with a slice of prosciutto. Pick up the chicken from the bottom and slam it face down into a pan over high heat. (The faster you flip it into the pan, the less your prosciutto is going to get out of place.) It takes three to four minutes per side and when it's done, the cheese holds everything together. Upgrade: Add fresh thyme and grate lemon zest on top of the cheese. Before serving, add a small drizzle of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and/or olive oil on top.

3. Keep your successful recipes somewhere easy to find.
I have mine on index cards in the kitchen. If worse comes to worse and I feel a fast food craving, I go to the cards. I can make all of the above meals in fewer than twenty minutes, minus the time it takes to boil water. Ask yourself if it's really worth it to get in your car, drive somewhere, order something, wait for it, pay for it, come all the way home with it and eat it. In the same amount of time or less, you can have a home cooked meal that's much healthier for you. And look at it this way: you've already bought your groceries. Dinner at home has already been paid for. Dinner out has not.

Hopefully one of those recipes will inspire you to go in your kitchen and make yourself something delicious. Tomorrow, maybe? Report back when you do. Extra credit for photos!

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She's also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shows about big people: step in the right
direction or more jokes about fatness?

Glee's new hot couple: Puck and Lauren.

If you haven’t noticed, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of big people on TV lately. There are still very few medium-sized people (which is a problem), but the rise of big people is worth noting.

We now have numerous shows about obese or overweight people: Mike & Molly, Huge, The Biggest Loser, and Dance Your Ass Off are the most obvious examples.

The question is, are these characters being presented in ways that are helping us a society or hurting us?

My favorite of these shows is Huge, a smart and moving scripted drama about teens at a fat camp, which I've written about before. Not only does this show avoid the usual fat jokes, it also treats each character as a unique and interesting individual, something I’d like to see more often with characters of all sizes. Unfortunately, this might be the only show on television that regular depicts big people as real people.

I don’t watch the reality shows about losing weight, and I’ve only seen one episode of Mike & Molly, and that was enough to turn me off. As Slate's Daniel Engber says in his outstanding photo and video essay, “Tele-Tubbies: The Rise of the Obese Actor on TV,”Each episode [of Mike & Molly] delivers an onslaught of rim-shot-ready, anatomical putdowns. (Hey, this shirt looks like it was made in an awning store, ba-dum-bum!) After [several] months on the air, the scripts still vacillate between sweetness and fat shame. So what should we make of Mike & Molly? Does the show reflect some new phase of size acceptance in America, or just the opposite—a growing appetite for weight-based minstrelsy?”

Engber raises a good point—are shows about big people just a way for us to laugh at fatness? And if they are, is it still good for us to see people of different sizes on television or not?

The answer is ultimately that the jury is still out.

The most recent episodes of Glee have brought an obese character—Lauren, played by Ashley Fink who also has a supporting role on Huge—into the spotlight, but I still haven’t decided if Glee’s treatment of Lauren is good or bad.

Lauren joined the show last fall, but her character has taken center stage since one of the show’s main character’s—Puck—started pursuing her this winter.

On the one hand, it's nice to see someone Lauren’s size being depicted as the object of desire.

On the other hand, it’s disappointing and frustrating that a show as envelope-pushing as Glee still falls back on so many clichés—Lauren eats all the time, she’s loud and a bit crass, she has attitude to spare, etc.

Still, probably the most off-putting thing about the introduction of Lauren as a major character is that Puck sang Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” to her while he was trying to seduce her.

Thankfully, Lauren told him what she thought of that, explaining that though she’d always wanted a boy to sing to her, she never thought it would be a song like that, adequately expressing her—and our—disapproval. And, as some people have suggested, maybe that’s WHY the writers chose to have Puck sing that song, to demonstrate how insensitive and cruel people can be.

So, yes, the show is laughing a little bit at the “fat” thing by including such a song and showing Lauren as a lover of chocolate, but her character isn’t taking the abuse either, and just by doing that, she’s pushing the envelope.

As Lauren explains, “I look like America. Deal with it.” One of my friends called the war between Lauren and Santana (Puck’s on-again-off-again super fit girlfriend) "a fight between ide0logies": raising the question, what makes us happy? Having our bodies worshipped by men or accepting ourselves the way we are?

Ultimately, Lauren is intelligent, mature, and thoughtful, and not just there to make us laugh, and since Huge is the only other show on television with obese characters depicted this way, that makes her characterization a positive to me.

Like I said, the jury is still out on whether the increase in big people on our TVs is a good thing or a bad thing, but I think we can all agree, we’ve got to start somewhere.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

People don't change,
but that doesn't mean you can't

When you’re young, the haters let themselves be known—they toss ugly comments at you in the hallways of junior high and high school like emotional grenades—causing you to cry in the bathroom but also making them easy to identify.

At that age, you’re too immature to understand that these people are not worthy of your tears, but by the time you’re in your twenties, you realize how much time you wasted worrying about what that jackass Tad Hightower said about your pimples in fifth period Spanish class.

But as you get older, the haters become harder to spot.

Like the rest of us, they learn that certain behavior—puking in the bushes, mocking the kid with glasses in the hallway—is not acceptable for adults. At least adults who want to make it in the adult world.

Because of that, it’s easy to think that the haters die out as we age, that people mature and become more kind. That’s why people are always quick to point out that kids are cruel—as if their cruelty can be excused by their age.

The thing is I don’t believe that kids are any more cruel than adults. It’s just that the cruel adults are better at hiding their depravity. No, they can’t call the obese woman in the office a whale like they did in middle school, but they can do other, less obvious–but almost equally hurtful—things.

They can casually mention the fact that they don’t eat sweets after three in the afternoon while everyone else is noshing on the snickerdoodle cookies your best friend brought to work for your birthday. There’s nothing obviously wrong with turning down the cookies, but deep down, the comment hurts—you and everyone. And you think, “maybe I wouldn’t be ten pounds overweight if I didn’t eat sugar after three either.” And for years, you let comments like these eat away at your self-confidence, like a twenty-four-hour buffet of your soul.

But eventually you grow wiser, and you see that even though they are veiled under a screen of politeness, comments such as these are meant to wound. They’re not coincidental. They’re meant to undermine and destroy—without you even knowing that you’re being attacked.

And when you finally figure this out, it’s as if someone has just turned on all the lights in the room. You can finally see things clearly. These are the same people who beat up the boy in the glasses after school, the same ones who wrote the word “slut” on your best friend’s locker after she lost her virginity. These are the haters. Only they’re smarter now and much more sly.

And when you figure this out, you remind yourself again what you’ve known for years . . .

The haters don’t matter.

All that matters is you. And what you think of yourself. The fact that you know you look beautiful—with or with those ten pounds—and that you are intelligent and funny and a hard worker and successful and a good friend, a good person even.

And the next time the haters start to spew their venom-filled crap, you won’t even hear them because you’ll be too busy listening to your internal monologue: you are amazing, you are amazing, you are amazing, you are amazing . . .

A few years ago, almost everyone I knew from grade school and high school got on Facebook and started friending each other. Since I moved away from my hometown in high school, the experience was incredibly cathartic for me—finally, I was able to find out what happened to all of my old friends, finally I had the connection to my childhood I had lacked for so many years.

But after a few months, I noticed that one of my “friends” had unfriended me. This wasn’t someone I barely knew. This was one of my closest childhood friends—I say this despite the fact that it was also someone who hurt me on a regular basis. Still, it wasn’t something I ever said anything about when we were kids—like so many people, I just put up with the cruelty, and we remained friends as long as we knew each other. So I couldn’t figure out why she had unfriended me on Facebook and stayed “friends” with the rest of our classmates.

It was so confusing to me that I emailed another good friend from grade school and asked her opinion about it. I will never forget what she said to me.

“Molly,” she said, “People don’t change.”

She didn’t explain much more than that, but I knew what she was saying—that it may seem like people are mature, responsible adults, that it may seem like they are good people, but that deep down, a person’s character is somewhat set in stone, that someone who hurt you then will hurt you now, and that all we can do is accept that, move on, and focus on ourselves.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Woe is me

I hate to admit it, but I’m feeling a little angry these days.

I’ve been sick for ten—yes, ten—days now. Not only does that mean I feel like crap all the time and am behind on everything in my life, it also means that I haven’t been working out. And haven’t been cooking.

Sure, Dave cooks too, but it’s a much bigger job if only one person is in the kitchen, so we’ve been cutting corners—eating more frozen and prepared foods, which I know is awful for both of us.

And even after I recover, things won't be that much better for me. After all, what do I have to face? A body that has barely moved for a week and a half? Great! That means it’s going to hurt like hell when I get back out on the walking trail, and I really don’t want to face that nightmare.

On top of that, I find myself feeling a bit of resentment about my exercise history because of what I see happening to others. Over the past year or so, a number of people I know have caught the fitness bug. And when say they’ve caught the fitness but, I don’t mean they’ve come back to it. I mean, I know a handful of people right now who have just started working out FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME in their lives.

Sure, that’s a good thing, right?

It should give me reason to celebrate—More people are healthy! Hurray!

Well, you'll have to excuse me if I'm not jumping for joy.

Yes, I should feel happy about these converts, but for selfish reasons I don’t, and here’s why—all these people who have just started working out are seeing results MUCH faster than me.

If you’ve been sitting on your butt for thirty-five years and suddenly hit the gym, your body is going to notice and notice big.

But except for the six months after I got married, I’ve been working out my ENTIRE life, which is why I think I’m entitled to feel a little jealous when the newbies start dropping pounds faster than the stock market crashed in 2006.

I’m also jealous of the fact that the newbies have no injuries to hold them back. Since they’ve spent their whole lives couch surfing, they haven’t had any opportunities to get injured. And their bodies have been cushioned for so long that they don’t have as much wear and tear as mine.

The result is that the newbies can still do the kind of intense exercise—like running—that really burns the calories, things I had to give up years ago because of the knee I blew out skiing, the shoulder I wasted hitting backhands, and the elbow I destroyed returning 90-mph serves.

So, yeah, I’m jealous. I’m even a little pissed. And I think I have the right to be.

But if you think that means I’m giving up, you’re wrong.

And as soon as I stop hacking up lungs and my nose stops running, I'm going to prove it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Don't even think about Lunchables
by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld

Guest blogger Emily Threlkeld continues telling us about the challenge she has given herself: cooking every single thing she eats for the entire month of February. This week she explains how she handles homemade lunches at work. (Also included are photos of Emily's actual lunches for a week!)

So before we get to the hardest part about this month—dinner, in case you were wondering, although breakfast comes in at a close second—let's do the fun part: lunch.

There is no place more depressing to have lunch than in the employee break room of a retail store. You're surrounded by lockers, cleaning supplies, vending machines, and, in the middle of winter, other people's coats hung over all the chairs. It's not pretty, and yet lunch is my favorite part of the day. Not just because it's half an hour of quiet away from the needs of all the couples I try to pick out housewares with, but because I have become an expert lunch packer. So much so that my co-workers, who usually bring a Lean Cuisine or the remains of last night's pizza, always want to know what I'm having.

When I first started working, I invested $25 in a lunchbox. It felt like an unreasonable sum to me at the time, but it was really just the equivalent of two or three lunches out. I wanted to pack my lunch mostly to save money. Also, because we have such a short lunch break, I didn't want to spend my lunch break running out to my car, ordering something, shoving it in my face, and rushing back to work.

The problem is that I work in a shopping center. In less than one mile there is a great crepes place, a Chick-fil-a, Jason's Deli, a noodle place, and a fantastic Greek restaurant. There are probably even more awesome eateries that I don't know about. So if I was going to pack myself a lunch, it had to be good enough for me to resist temptation that surrounded me.

Here's the good news about making a lunch for yourself: No matter what memories you have of brown bagging it as a kid, you're a grown-up now. You know what you like.

I usually try to think of my main dish first. Some recent favorites include egg fried rice, curry chicken salad, stir fry, half a baked potato covered in cheese and bacon, and, because sometimes I'm in a hurry and don't feel like reinventing the wheel, a turkey sandwich.

Then I try to fill my lunchbox with fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh ones. Not only is this healthy, but it makes your lunch pretty to look at. Sometimes I even make myself a side salad.

Finally, make it nice. Pack a napkin, real cutlery. I usually throw in a piece of candy as a small treat. When I can, I throw something in the tiniest container in my lunch box. Sour cream, fruit dip. Partially because it's fun to interact with my food and partly because I love hearing, "Oh my God, she brought parmesan cheese to sprinkle on her pasta."

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She's also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fat and happy? Or thin and sick?
You make the choice.

As I mentioned last Tuesday, my father-in-law, Herb Bell, died about ten days ago.

Though it may sound strange to talk about the positive aspects of losing someone you love, I have to admit that one of the most heartwarming aspects of the experience was looking at all the old pictures—pictures of my father-in-law, my husband, and the entire family. Over the years, I’ve seen numerous photos of my husband and his parents from his childhood, but last week I think I saw every single photo taken during his childhood—and his parents’ childhoods before him.

It was fascinating on many levels.

Some of things that fascinated me were obvious—how different my father-in-law looked as a child and young man. In one picture, from around the time he was twenty, he is leaning against a brick wall, his knee folded against the wall in an pretty close replica of the famous James Dean photo. I saw that photo, and a man who always looked like a grandfather to me actually appeared hot.

Yes, I said it.

Back in the day, my father-in-law was smoking hot.

But the most interesting part of looking at these photos was that we were all searching for a picture in which Herb looked . . . well . . . I guess the only way to say it is heavy.

Why heavy? Because that’s the way we all remember him—with big glasses, a cigar in house mouth, and a bit of a belly. Like Santa Claus without the hair.

So even though we were tickled to find Herb’s James Dean photo and formal Air Force portrait, we were even happier when we put our hands on a picture of Herb the way we remember him—before he was sick, before he weighed 119 pounds as he did in the days leading up to his death. We desperately wanted to remember him as the happy and healthy man we all loved.

And the whole time we were searching for evidence of his healthier, happier self, I kept thinking about how ironic it was—after Herb got sick, he was initially thrilled by his weight loss and would often brag about how many pounds he’d lost. But at some point, the novelty of being thin wore off, and we were all left with the fact that no matter how svelte and dapper the new Herb looked, we all wanted the old one back. In the end, we longed for the healthy and plump Herb and broke down at the sight of sick, gaunt Herb.

It made me wonder why we are all so obsessed with thinness when, for some of us, being plump means we’re healthy. I even had to ask myself, what would you rather be? Thin and sick or healthy and overweight? Of course, we all would choose the latter, but if that’s the case, then why is it so difficult to accept ourselves the way we are? Imperfect, yes, but still wonderfully, vitally alive.

If I had a wish for all of us, it would be this: I wish that we would all be able to truly believe this—believe that we are better the way we are—long before old age and disease makes waifs out of us, and it is finally—and regrettably—too late.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The February Challenge
by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld

A good friend of mine—Emily Threlkeld—has decided to challenge herself to do something INSANE this month, and she will be blogging about it every week on I WILL NOT DIET. Read Emily's first post below to find out what that insane thing is.

As I type this post, there is a roasting pan full of a potato (thinly sliced) topped with an organic lemon (also thinly sliced), sea salt, pepper that I ground myself, and fresh dill sitting in my kitchen. In ten minutes I'll toss this all together, wait another ten minutes and then add two tilapia filets that I drove to Whole Foods to buy because the grocery store right by my house only had Chinese exports. I have nothing against China, I was just really hoping for fish that was in the same time zone as me.

(I realize how obnoxious that sounds, but I'm just doing my part to make the world a better place.)

But, on the other hand, last night I put off making dinner for so long that I didn't have any energy to deal with it anymore and just ended up eating grapes. I ate so many grapes that I gave myself a stomach ache. Later, around midnight when all the fructose wore off, I polished off the bottom of a bag of BBQ chips.


I'm not going to lie to you. Last night's "dinner" is a more accurate reflection of how I usually eat. It's just so easy to go out and get a burger or pizza or lo mein, or to stay in and snack on whatever will stave off my hunger until I can go to sleep.

But in the last six months, I've been trying to lose weight. My diet and exercise routines were so out of whack before then that just by walking a few times a week and trying to eat like something resembling a grown up, I’ve lost twenty pounds.

What’s interesting is that the more time I spent in the kitchen, the more weight I lost, and the better I felt. Not only that, but I started realizing just how expensive eating out was and just how little I could afford to do it.

So I decided to make a challenge to myself for February: I will eat no meal that isn't made in my own kitchen.*

Convenience food is okay, cooking from scratch is better, but absolutely no take-out, fast food, or even barista-made coffee.

I'm hoping this challenge will push me over to the good side of things. I'm hoping the extra pressure will motivate me to figure out a better way to do things, so I don't just cave every time I feel too tired to cook. I'm also hoping that I'll end the month a tiny bit thinner, a tiny bit richer, and a tiny bit healthier.

*Well, February minus one week when I'll be in Costa Rica. I have no idea what the food situation will be there.

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She's also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I have a photograph

My father-in-law died on Saturday. He was 78, and his only goal in life was to love other people. In that way, he was incredibly unique. It's safe to say he accomplished that goal many times over.

It's hard to think about blogging at a time like this, so instead, I'll leave you with this brief but fitting Simon & Garfunkel song. . .

Time it was, and what a time it was. It was. . .
a time of innocence, a time of confidences.
Long ago, it must be. I have a photograph. . .
preserve your memories. They're all that's left you.