My 40th birthday was this weekend, and my teenaged daughters made me a special birthday surprise. I was expecting a cake, as that’s the traditional thing to bake people for their birthdays. I’ve been having birthday cakes since my first birthday- my Mom has a photo somewhere of 12 month old me, in the high chair, covered in chocolate frosting.
I don’t do so well on sweets these days. While I’ve continued to bake cakes for my children’s birthdays, I haven’t been indulging myself. I don’t even feel well if I eat too much fruit; it messes with my blood sugar. There are a few sweeteners that are compliant for me, and we do have them stocked in the house. But I can only have about a teaspoonful a day without ill effects, and you need way more than that per serving in a cake, A gluten-free, agave-sweetened birthday cake would be compliant, but I wouldn’t be able to have more than half a slice without feeling sick, and the taste and texture would have been “off” compared to the sugar and spelt cakes we normally bake for everybody else. So nobody would have much enjoyed the cake, and I would have eaten at least a whole slice and then not felt so good afterwards. I haven’t eaten dessert in months and I don’t miss it.
Fortunately, I have a couple of amazing daughters who know how to “think outside the box.” Instead of a cake, or even a dessert, they made a birthday side dish. They started out with some zucchini and yellow squash, cut into rings and hollowed out into “cups.” Then they made a sweet potato filling, and used a plastic bag with the end cut off to fill the zucchini cups in a decorative fashion.
I tried to stay out of the kitchen while they were preparing my birthday surprise, but I wasn’t completely successful. I saw them doing something with boiled sweet potatoes and guessed they were baking a pie. Then, during the mad dash to get everything ready before Shabbos, I was the one who put the sweet potato dish into the oven to warm up. But they still managed to surprise me.
The reason nobody was in the kitchen right before Shabbos is because they were busy working on other parts of the birthday celebration. They put up a hand-made birthday banner in the kitchen, minutes before Shabbos began. When it was time to serve the food, Leah put “candles” into the dish of sweet potato/zucchini cups. Since we can neither light nor blow out candles on Shabbos, she used toothpicks with little “flags” of paper taped to them. One said “40!” with the dot from the exclamation point becoming one eye of a smiley face. That one was in back. In the middle, in a row, were three toothpick flags reading “Happy” “Old-“ “ness!”
This was just as much fun as a real birthday cake; the kids enjoyed the preparation and decorating, and it was just as wonderful in the presentation at the table.
Who needs cake?
Yesterday was visiting day at my daughters’ camp. It’s about a 3 hour drive away, and the camp visiting hours are 10 AM until 5 PM, so it was a very long day. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, so I know to pack enough food to eat during the drives there and back, plus snacks for the day itself. We always eat the lunch the camp provides, but breakfast and dinner are eaten in the car. My ex husband comes over the night before and he does the driving.
I packed about a dozen hard boiled eggs, 2 bags of baby carrots, and a large package of sliced muenster cheese (for the Bs) in a cooler bag with 2 large ice packs. In a separate bag, I packed a canister of raisins, a bag of almonds, and 2 packages of rice cakes. I also packed a box of Clif bars for the boys to eat for breakfast, plus a few things the girls asked us to bring up to camp for them.
Most of the stuff was packed up on Saturday night, but we had to actually put together the cooler pack on Sunday morning and load the car. We also had to make sure the dog was settled with my Mom. She can’t handle the walking around camp, so she doesn’t join us in visiting the kids at camp. She volunteered to watch Robbie for the day so I didn’t have to take him with us on the long drive.
The drive there took us 2 and a half hours, as expected. I slept most of the way, and wasn’t very hungry for breakfast. I had a hard boiled egg and some iced tea in the car, then some almonds and raisins before lunch. Camp lunches are always a compromise, nutritionally. I let my son eat whatever he wanted, including things with tomato sauce. I also let him get a small slushie at the canteen. He’s healthy enough to handle one day of imperfect food, and I want camp to be a positive experience for him.
I made the best choices I could, which is still less wholesome than I would have eaten at home. I had some tuna and egg salad, not worrying about additives in the tuna or what kind of oil is in the mayo. I had a large plate of iceberg lettuce, but skipped the salad dressing because I wasn’t sure WHAT was in those. I also had some canned beets, not worrying about sugar or corn syrup that might have been in them. Beets are a “beneficial” food for me, and I knew I needed some carbs with the meal or I wouldn’t feel satisfied. I also had some chickpeas, which are a “black dot” for me. This means that I can eat them once in a while, but aren’t the healthiest choice for me. I’ve found lately that I do well eating beans at lunchtime, and I decided that the negatives of eating a “black dot” were outweighed by the necessity of having enough food for the meal. The meal was satisfying and, unlike last year, I didn’t need to eat a few rice cakes after lunch to feel full.
I did some snacking in the mid-afternoon, and didn’t make the best choices then. Even though I had plenty of hard-boiled eggs in the cooler, I still reached for the Muenster cheese. It’s so yummy on rice cakes! I did the same in the car ride home for dinner. I ate a couple of eggs, and plenty of carrots, but I still had several more slices of cheese with rice cakes.
When we finally arrived home, after 4 hours of driving in heavy rain and traffic, I wasn’t feeling satisfied. I had some leftover peas, rice, and turkey breast, and a glass of wine before going to bed. I also had to settle down a very unhappy doggie that’d missed us all day. None of us slept particularly well last night since Robbie kept waking up barking and we had to take care of him. At 5:00 AM, I took him out of his bed, let the boys hang out on the sofa in front of the TV, and went back to bed for a few hours. I think Robbie just needed some extra re-assurance that we still love him after we “abandoned him” all day yesterday.
I’m not feeling too well today, and neither is Jack. I’m sure part of it is due to the amount of time we spent in the car yesterday, part is due to messed up sleep, and part is due to poor dietary choices yesterday. I’m trying to eat extra-well today, along with taking it easy.
I’m dog-sitting for the next few weeks, while my Mom’s friend has knee replacement surgery. The surgery is scheduled for tomorrow, so she brought Robbie over today to get him settled in. She gave him his dinner here and then left while he was eating, so he wouldn’t run outside while the door was open. He’s part terrier so we need to be careful he doesn’t run away- this is NOT a dog that can be outside without a leash!
When he was done eating, Robbie started making these pathetic little sad-doggy noises. So I put on my sandals, grabbed my water bottle, cell phone, house key, and his leash, and off we went outside. We took a nice walk around the block, stopping to let him “water” just about every tree we passed. When we got back home, I gave him some water in a bowl and then we explored the whole house, letting him see that his “Mommy” wasn’t here. Since then, he’s been quite happy, dozing on the living room floor while I was able to start my own dinner and get some computer time.
It’s a hot day, and I probably wouldn’t have gone outside at all if Robbie hadn’t needed the distraction. The walk definitely did me some good. I was careful not to walk too fast and I had my water bottle with me, and I kept the walk short because I didn’t have any way to give him water while we were out. With my fibromyalgia, it’s important that I pace myself; exercising too much, too suddenly, can throw me into a flare-up. It’s a delicate balance for me to increase my exercise without hurting myself.
I think Robbie is the perfect walking buddy for me. He’s so tiny that he can’t walk too far anyway. I’d hoped to get in daily walks with him when I dog-sat him for a week in January, but one or more of the kids ended up taking him for walks and I didn’t often join them. Now, Leah and Hannah are away at camp and Jack has a cast on his left arm. I can’t let him take Robbie for a walk independently because he only has one hand to hold the leash; he doesn’t have a second hand to clean up dog-poop if necessary. This means that I’ll need to join Robbie on his walks, even if Jack’s the one holding the leash.
The farmers' market just opened up near me, and yesterday we went for the first time this season. It’s such a wonderful place to shop; so much more lively than buying produce in a supermarket. One of the farmers saw us and greeted us with “Hey- it’s the potato boy!” when she saw Jack- then apologized for the potatoes not being in season yet. He did pick out some nice cucumbers to snack on. At another vendor, he got very excited when he saw the kale. I ended up buying TWO huge bunches of kale- one curly and one straight- because he didn’t know which kind would make better chips.
Yesterday was one of those hectic days, so I didn’t get a chance to do much of anything with the produce until today. I’d dumped the veggies on the table in the air-conditioned kitchen before going out for other errands, and didn’t even get them into the fridge until last night. When I went to inspect and clean it today, I saw that the carrots were already getting soggy. Those have been soaking in a bowl of water for hours- they should be nice and crispy again by tonight. I’ve already separated out the greens from the carrots, washed the greens, and put them away, tossing the inedible stems. I did the same for the golden and red beets, although the beets were in good enough shape to go right into the fridge without needing to be soaked or anything.
I washed one of the 4 heads of lettuce when I realized I’d bought WAY too many greens! Last year, I’d under bought the first week, and it was unpleasant having to revert to supermarket produce a few days after eating the farmers’ market stuff. So my natural inclination was to buy more to begin with; the way I’d shopped at the market by the end of last summer. But Leah and Hannah are at camp, and I’m the only one eating the lettuce this week. I’d mentally planned on having extras for company, but forgot that we weren’t making salad for 30. There were a total of 4 adults and 3 children, including me and Jack. We didn’t go through much more lettuce than I would have eaten on my own for lunch.
I’m a little bummed that my fridge is so full right now, and the lettuce might wilt faster because it’s squished in there. But I know that it will crisp up again when I soak it, so the food won’t go to waste. I’ll see how much is left by next Sunday and I’ll be sure to shop appropriately next week.
I washed the kale while preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, then ripped into bite-sized pieces and put them through my salad spinner. I put the spun leaves into a large foil pan, added olive oil and sea salt, and roasted them until they looked dry and crisp. I filled two large foil pans and put them both in the oven at once. I checked on them every 5 or 10 minutes, stirring as needed.
When they were mostly done, and had shrunk a lot, I combined them into one pan so I could cook the rest of the bunch of kale. I’m sure they would have cooked faster if I’d left them more spread out, but I find it easier to have fewer slower-cooking batches, rather than many small batches that cook quickly. When the second batch was one, I combined all the kale chips into one pan to cool. I plan to put them in a plastic bag tonight, but for now I want to keep them convenient for snacking.
I’ve also seen recipes for kale chips that use a low oven for several hours or overnight, basically drying the kale rather than toasting it. I’ve never tried that method. I’ve also seen recipes that add various spices or nutritional yeast along with the oil before toasting or drying, but my kids are happy with just sea salt and olive oil.
Today I cooked up the curly kale, but I don’t have the energy or time to start on the straight kale. That will be a project for another day.
For the past several years, I’ve been juggling the nutritional needs of 4 different people. Since both my oldest daughter and I have a SWAMI, and my younger daughter and son are two different blood types, I’ve had to co-ordinate 4 different food lists for nearly a year. Yes, there’s a lot of overlap between our food lists, but there are still subtle differences between each of our ideal diets, not to mention individual preferences. Hannah really enjoys vegetable soups, in all weather, and it’s just about the only way I can make sure she eats enough veggies. The only fruit she’ll eat plain is granny smith apples, and I’m not supposed to eat apples at all. Leah’s SWAMI gives her 6 times the amount of fruit that I get.
Now both of my daughters are in sleep-away camp for a month, and there are only two of us in the house. Things were very hectic this week, with packing and running around buying last-minute items. I tried to buy “just enough” of the foods that they eat that we won’t, but I didn’t work it out perfectly. I have a nearly-full jar of homemade tomato sauce that I put in the freezer. There’s one small granny smith apple that Hannah didn’t finish. We have two over-ripe bananas and a whole pineapple that I’d better find something to do with quickly.
I’ll probably freeze the bananas for smoothies for Jack, and dig up the juicer for the pineapple. I simply can’t finish up all this fruit before it spoils! If I juice the pineapple, I can freeze it in small portions, and use an ounce or two a day in green tea. I need to encourage Jack to eat more fruits and vegetables, but it’s doubtful he’ll eat slightly over-ripe bananas or pineapple by itself.
I’m glad I didn’t have to make a vegetable soup this morning, when it’s hot enough that I’d rather eat a salad for lunch. Later today, I plan to go food shopping with Jack. I’m looking forward to buying the foods we’ll both enjoy, without cluttering up the kitchen with foods we won’t eat.