It’s my half-birthday today. Interestingly enough, it’s my half-birthday on the Jewish calendar as well. I know that my actual birthday will line up in both calendars every 19 years, but I have no clue how often my half-birthday does! This is truly a momentous occasion!
Or not. I’m forty and a half. I stopped keeping track of those halves when I was about eight, and only picked it up again a few years ago when my kids pointed it out. Is this really a day for celebrations and unhealthy foods?
Last Friday, when I made my little discovery with the calendar, I decided I’d celebrate my half-birthday with a mug of that delicious smelling vanilla-hazelnut coffee I’d bought for my daughter. But then I ended up having a cup on Friday afternoon instead, when she brewed some for herself and I asked her to make some extra for me. I poured in a little coconut milk and completely enjoyed the beverage. It was all natural and chemical free, but it was also 100% avoids. I’m not supposed to have vanilla, hazelnuts, coffee, or coconut milk- but none of those foods are things that REALLY affect me. I still kept away from corn, wheat, milk, and sugar.
Yesterday we were invited to a friends’ house. The kids went sledding in the backyard while I chatted with the adults. Again, I didn’t have anything truly toxic for me, but I didn’t make perfect food choices either. I had things like mandarin orange flavored seltzer- I shouldn’t have oranges and who knows what’s in the “natural flavors”? When we ordered from a pizza place, I got a tuna salad and nibbled a bit of my daughters’ gluten-free pizza. Again, I stayed away from “the biggies” but I don’t know for certain what oils were in the tuna, and I know I ate tomatoes and cucumbers in the salad, along with a little tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese in the bits of pizza.
Between the coffee on Friday, too many carbs all weekend long, and dinner at a friend’s house yesterday, I’ve really had my share of “avoids” for quite some time! I decided that I’ll celebrate my half-birthday by having a 100% compliant day, and I’ll even do a little detox by making it a grain-free and dairy-free day as well. I’m celebrating by taking extra-good care of myself today.
My Mom’s best friend has a terrier mutt named Robbie. Whenever the two of them travel together, Robbie stays with us. They just returned from 11 days in Florida, and the house seems kind of empty without the sweet little doggie.
The last time I dog-sat for Robbie, I used him as my inspiration to take more walks. At least once a day, I’d grab the leash and go for a walk with him. Things worked out differently this time. I got sick a couple of weeks before he came, and the coughing and fatigue are still lingering. I simply haven’t had the energy to take walks daily, especially not with the cold weather we’ve been having.
I took a walk with him to the corner mailbox the first day he came. My daughter needed me to mail some important letters and I didn’t want to leave him home alone the first day he came. I also wanted to take him for a walk to help him get settled in. That’s the routine we developed the first time I dog-sat; his “Mommy” left, he was sad, we went for a walk together, and he came home feeling happier and more settled in. Between the brisk weather and my state of health, that short walk to the corner was quite a workout for me!
I was simply too worn out to go for a walk the next day. Jack took him around the block a few times during this visit, but the only other time I took Robbie for a walk was Saturday afternoon. All 3 kids were away for Shabbos, so it was just me and Robbie in the house. I enjoyed the quiet time, but I still figured it would be good for me to get outside at least once that day, so I made sure to take him for a walk around the block.
Instead of walks, I usually put him on the cable in the backyard when he needed to go out. While that setup gives him far more exercise than it gives me, I’m still required to walk down the steps, bend down to hook him up to the cable, go back upstairs, and then repeat the process when I hear him barking to come in. Sometimes I’d go down the stairs before he was ready to come in and have to repeat it all a few minutes later. Sometimes I could get one of the kids to do this, but I still found myself up and down the stairs several times each day. Additionally, he needed his harness taken off at night and put on again in the morning. He resists getting the harness on, and it usually required two of us to get on- one to hold him and one to actually put the harness on. I got one of the kids to help me, but I never got two of them to do it without me!
Plus there’s the activity that’s part of my life even when Robbie isn’t here: grocery shopping, carrying items up and down stairs, doing laundry, and cooking and cleaning. I haven’t done any formal exercise for a while, but I’m certainly staying active!
When we moved into this house 7 years ago, there was an electric range already in place: oven and stove in one unit, with a fancy glass-top on the stove. I've been using electric stoves for my entire adult life, and adapting to the glass cooking top took no effort at all. Besides using it for cooking, I quickly found myself using it as “extra counter space” in my small kitchen. We routinely put clean dishes onto the stove top after washing, especially if we were washing meat dishes and the tablecloth was already set up for dairy.
A few weeks ago, I put the clean, dry dishes away on a Sunday morning and noticed a crack in the glass. I soon realized that the crack spread along both left burners, rendering them unusable. I wasn’t even sure it was safe to continue using the burners on the right, which were far from the crack. I settled on a compromise: I still used the burners on the right when I absolutely had to, but I minimized their use.
I still used the stovetop to make scrambled eggs and omelets, when I was watching the stove the whole time. Instead of making a soup that simmered on the stovetop all day, I made soups in the crock pot. Instead of cooking meatballs in a frying pan, I cooked them in the oven. Instead of boiling water on the stove constantly, I kept my hot water urn filled and plugged in. I made ghee in the oven instead of the stovetop- and managed to over-cook it, because I couldn't walk past the kitchen and see it, and the smell of the finished ghee was reduced since it was inside the oven.
It took me a while to get the stove looked at. The crack occurred a few days before Christmas, and our handyman is Catholic. I didn't want to disturb him a few days before his holiest day of the year, since this wasn't an emergency. Then, of course, the next week was New Year’s. He was finally able to come the first week of January. He figured out that the replacement part for the stove was nearly $400, not counting labor. There would also be no guarantee that something else in the range wouldn't break shortly afterwards- the range was, after all, at least 9 years old. A new electric stove, without the fancy glass top, was under $450. It made no sense to repair the old stovetop.
But before replacing the stove, we did some research. Mom has a gas stove downstairs, which means the house has a gas line. What would it cost to extend the gas line upstairs and replace the range with a gas oven instead of another electric? Let’s not buy another stove until the plumber can give us an estimate for that. The plumber couldn't come right away- and then the estimate was too high. OK, we’re definitely getting another electric range. The first day Mom was available to go stove-shopping; I was home with a sick child. He was still sick the second day she was available. Finally, he was back in school and we went off to the appliance store, even though I was starting to get sick. Amazingly, they were able to deliver the stove the very next day, which was a Thursday.
Now I found myself quite sick, with a brand new oven and stove to figure out how to use, and it was nearly time to prepare for Shabbos! I kept the hot water urn on for a few more days- my throat was too sore for cold drinks, so I was using much more hot water than usual, and it was a bad time to make new habits, or even to resurrect old ones. Soon I would go back to using the hot water urn just for Shabbos, and boil water in a teapot during the week. This allows the electric urn to last a lot longer.
It’s been nearly a week with the new range. I've found that the oven cooks almost exactly the same as the old one, but the stovetop cooks differently. Instead of a few different sizes of burners, I have two big ones and two little ones. I’m not sure if they actually burn hotter than the old stove did, or if it’s just that the “big” burners are larger than the “medium” burner I used to use for simmering soup all day. Or maybe it’s the way I have to center the pot on the burner for stability, and can’t have it partially on/partially off the burner so it’s not quite as hot. I need to put things on “2” when I used to cook them on “3.” I haven’t actually burned anything, but quite a few things got over-cooked: a soup and yet another batch of ghee.
Maybe I’ll manage to make a batch of yellow ghee in February.
“I can’t take it anymore! I HAVE to eat something!”
I was appalled when that came out of Jack’s mouth the other day, shortly before bedtime. He’s been starving himself? He's only 11! I thought I’d done a good job talking about healthy eating, with a big emphasis on “eating lots of fruits and veggies so you’re too full to overeat the heavy stuff.” How did my message not get through? How did I not notice warning signs earlier?
He’s been overweight for about a year. At his annual checkup last August, he’d grown 2 inches and gained 25 pounds- about 15 pounds more than he should have gained. Since that time, I've tried repeatedly to get him to be more active, as well as trying to get him to drink more water and eat more fruits and veggies. That worked for a time. He slimmed down a little this fall when I was strict about making him eat at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies each day, making sure he had protein at every meal, and got regular exercise. But then life got in the way, and the new habits were forgotten.
I really noticed his extra weight about a month ago, when we were going through some hand-me-down clothes. I realized that the only pair of dress pants that fit was a “husky.” As a toddler, he wore a “slim”! I commented on this, and mentioned that all 4 of us need to lose weight. After that, he started cutting back on portions. I was a little worried at first, as he seemed to be cutting back on total food intake without increasing his fruits and veggies. Is he getting enough nutrition? But then I figured, he’s probably been over-eating for the past year, and now maybe his appetite is more in balance with his actual caloric needs.
I can tell now that his belly is less padded than it was, and the scale shows a loss of 5 pounds. He’s clearly at a healthier weight, although he still needs to slim down some more. I thought everything was moving in the right direction until his comment at bedtime the other day- tense and hungry and stressed out- and immediately calmed down after having a bowl of cereal. That’s when I realized HOW he lost those 5 pounds- by cutting down his portions to the point where he always felt hungry. That’s not healthy eating- that’s the beginning of an eating disorder!
We had a nice, long talk about health and nutrition that evening, and those discussions are continuing. I explained to him that what he DOES eat is more important than what he doesn't eat. It’s never a good idea to end a meal feeling hungry- his body needs fuel for everyday activities as well as for growth. It’s good that he’s not over-eating; continuing to eat after he’s full is a bad habit, and likely what caused the weight gain in the first place. But he took it too far to the other extreme, and that’s not healthy either.
I've gotten him to eat more produce over the past few days. I’m encouraging him to drink more water, so he doesn't eat when he’s actually thirsty. Soon I want to get him exercising regularly.
Right now it’s the middle of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It commemorates a time in Jewish history when a small group of Jewish soldiers, called the Maccabees, defeated a much larger Greek army. Following the miraculous battle, another miracle occurred in the Great Temple. At that time, extra-virgin olive oil was used to light the large candelabra, called the Menorah. The Temple had been ransacked, and most of the lamp oil was desecrated, but one small jar of pure oil was found, just enough to light the Menorah for one day. At that time, it took 8 days to get more oil, though it’s not clear if it was an 8 day process to make the oil or if there was a large supply a 4 day journey away.
Miraculously, the small amount of oil burned for 8 whole days, until more pure oil was obtained. To commemorate this miracle, Jews all over the world light 9 branched candelabras called Menorahs or Hanukkias, and eat foods fried in oil. Some use actual olive oil for the Hanukkah lights, but candles are much more common. My family has always used candles.
For generations, Jews of European descent have eaten potato pancakes, called latkes, for Hanukkah. Israeli Jews usually have jelly donuts instead. My shul serves both. Wheat AND potatoes- what more can an O nonnie ask for?
I limited myself to water and seltzer at my shul’s Hanukkah celebration, though I let my children eat whatever they wanted. They’re healthy enough to handle a few “avoids” occasionally. I’m still detoxing from Hurricane Sandy and can’t afford any “cheats” right now.
At home, I’ve created some new holiday traditions. Before I found BTD, but had identified my problems with gluten, I made gluten-free potato pancakes. I started with boiled potatoes, mashed them, added salt and onion powder and eggs, then fried in olive oil and served with apple sauce and sour cream. The traditional recipe calls for grated raw potatoes mixed with eggs and flour or matzah meal, but I found a way to make it without the added wheat.
Not being able to eat potatoes presents an added challenge. I’ve successfully substituted sweet potatoes in other recipes calling for potatoes, so I did the same with my latke recipe. Start with cooked sweet potatoes, add salt, onions, and eggs, and fry in olive oil. It didn’t hold together very well, though, as sweet potatoes are much less starchy than white potatoes. A little rice flour in the dough fixed that right up.
On Sunday, Leah wanted to make latkes but we didn’t have any cooked sweet potatoes in the house. Instead, she grated raw sweet potatoes and mixed them with eggs, spices, and rice flour before frying in oil. They took longer to cook, but came out delicious! Monday I baked sweet potatoes to make latkes with my usual recipe, and found that they weren’t as good. It’s more work to grate them than it is to mash up cooked sweet potatoes, but I think it’s worth the effort. I plan to use the grated raw recipe for the rest of the week.
Another problem with traditional latkes is the applesauce served alongside. I buy unsweetened applesauce for my family, but O nonnies shouldn’t have apples. Last year I bought a jar of pear baby food to eat with my latkes, and it was delicious! This year, I wanted to stay away from the ascorbic acid added to jarred baby food, since I can’t guarantee that it’s corn-free. So I bought two large bags of pears: one for eating and one for cooking. I peeled and chopped the pears, then put them in my crock pot with a little water. I cooked them on “low” overnight, added a little nutmeg, and then blended with my stick blender before putting them in a jar in the fridge. I think this batch came out a little bit too runny; I think I’ll use less water the next time I make this. But overall the recipe is a winner- I’ll be making pear sauce for Hanukkah every year from now on.