Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Heart Healthy Summer in the Suburbs

"Cook cook cook, rest awhile, then cook some more. The world needs it."

"What if life is as simple as figuring out what people like and then making it happen? What if cooking works because making people happy works? Maybe we could all have better lives, with many more positives and far few negatives, by simply weaving the spirit of cooking throughout the way we live."

I love to cook because I get pleasure from eating a great meal and I look forward to sharing as many meals as I can with people I love.  When first faced with the challenge of transitioning to a heart healthy diet, I really wasn't sure what to expect.  I definitely went through the 5 stages of grief:
  • Denial: "This is not happening! I have a whole drawer of celebratory I'm-not-pregnant-anymore- and-can-eat-soft-cheeses AND have some wine drinkin' to do!"
  • Anger: "This is so unfair! Why is this happening to me?! I am so young and healthy!!"
  • Bargaining: "Everyone else gets to eat all the red meat and brownies they want! Maybe if I exercise more, I can allow myself some extra 'cheats'! "
  • Depression: "We all die sometime.  The damage is already done.  Is there even a point to trying this?!"
  • Acceptance: "This is real.  I can either make this work so my heart is as healthy as possible or not.... it's not even a choice."
Living a heart healthy diet requires some foresight - you need the right groceries in your kitchen and time to cook fresh meals.  You learn to pay attention to the nutrition label (fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar) and look for ways to get the most out of meals (puree veggies into pasta sauce! add nuts to your salad! toss some flax seeds into your granola parfait!) You ask for the nutritional information when dining out - bonus points for waitstaff who don't stare at you blankly when you inquire.  And, you find ways to prepare meals for the people that you love that they will enjoy sharing with you.

Over the last few weeks, the delicate heart healthy balance I've worked to build over the last year has been a bit disrupted, by a villain known as THE DAILY COMMUTE.  In my temporary living situation, my drive to/from work has gone from about 7 minutes each way to about 40 minutes each way.... and it seems, this 80 minute loss cuts into a few things I've made very important - Cameron/mommy time, Rachel/Brian time, cardiovascular exercise, and meal planning/making. Quite frankly, it's exhausting.  To all of you who commute regularly - tell me, how do you do it?!  When I moved back to St. Louis after college, I drove from Shrewsbury to Chesterfield for work and found that tiresome..... and at that point in my life, I was single, childless and rather carefree!

A small digression - While we were in Hawai'i, the Atlantic Monthly published Why Women Still Can't Have It All, and I have to make a few comments-
  • "It All" means many, many different things, depending on who you ask
  • I think women CAN have it all - but perhaps, not at the same time
  • It's important to note that with plenty of two-parent working households, more and more men/fathers don't really have it all either....
So, back to the heart healthy lifestyle juggling.  I may not be able to do everything well all the time.  But, I can make the most of my time at the gym.  And, I can put plenty of thought and love into every meal I prepare.  I can snuggle the heck out of my crazy toddler and enjoy dates nights out or in with Brian.  I am decidedly not a pro at this - more like a work in progress.

Recently, I spent an evening out at a street fair with Brian, Cameron, my best friend, her husband and their little one. Out of desperation to find a restaurant without a wait, we seated ourselves at a rather fancy establishment.  My best friend referred to this meal as "the best meal we'll never remember." While we shared this meal, our kids lost their shoes, threw some dirt, tried to run into traffic, flirted with other baby-passerbys, and unleashed general almost-bed-time-mayhem. It was chaos.  We all could have benefited from a shot (but really, who wants to see four adults with two small children in tow knocking back lemon drops.....)  I don't really recall what each of us ate, but I know there was cheese on my plate..... Regardless, there was TONS of laughter and some great memories made.

A few days later, on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself with a nice chunk of time to prepare a great meal.  So while grandma, grandpa, Brian, Cam and the doggies played outside, I sipped some red wine and got to work - roasting two salt-free jerk spiced pork tenderloins, preparing my favorite mushroom and onion twice-baked potatoes, and letting Cam make his first dish - a bean and corn salad with cumin and lime (this works because toddlers like to dump stuff from one container to another... squeezing the lime is another story). It was healthy and delicious and full of my love and gratitude for my family. So... I know I've said this before, and I somehow always seem to forget it - "balance", at least in my opinion, is an unrealistic expectation. Being present and focused on one thing - be it toddler, dinner, work, etc - leaves behind the best feelings and the least regret.

For those of you who tell me you always cry when you read my blog - well, I really hope this one made you laugh :)

"Much of the success of cooking comes from the way, when it is done right, its says 'I see who you are, I like who you are, I support who you are. And I love you.'" Bill, Penzey's Spices

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