Friday, October 24, 2014

Love Your Body, Without Apology

Earlier this week I had the privilege of participating in a discussion at East Stroudsburg University entitled "A Conversation about Learning to Love Your Body Without Apology".  A wonderful friend of mine, who knows my personal history and struggles with body image, is an alumni of ESU and a member of the school's Feminist Alliance organization which put together the event.  Initially it was supposed to be a formal event where those who wished would read a monologue, and although about a dozen of us still did, it was in a much more casual setting, which was great because it encouraged commentary and conversation that would not have been possible otherwise.  My hope is that this was just a stepping stone to more involved projects, with more students and community members attending.  And eventually my friend and I are planning to bring some of the amazing young women we met that night to do a similar presentation at the local high school and middle school.  The teenage years are not easy, and the more that young women, and men, are encouraged to share their insecurities, fears, accomplishments and strengths, the stronger they will be as adults.  And the first step to being a productive citizen is to be proud of who you are, and love yourself, your body and your mind, without apology.

The following is the monologue that I prepared and shared with the group:

     Her nose is perfect.  She has great hair.  She has amazing abs. She is really tall.  Look how strong her arms are.  I wish my boobs were firmer, my butt was bigger, my hair longer, my feet smaller, my legs skinnier.  I hate being short. I hate being tall.  I want, I hate,  I need, look at her, look at her. Just look.
     Nobody is perfect.  No one goes through life completely satisfied with how they feel every day, how they look in the mirror or how their clothes fit. But we are all perfect.  Our bodies are marvelous creations that have been formed by the choices we have made and the circumstances we have been presented with.  As women, our bodies are beautiful and strong, miracles of nature that we far too often take for granted.
     I hate to admit that I spent years torturing my body and in the end I achieved nothing but self-destruction, depression and misery. Sure I was skinny, but I was miserable and half dead inside.  From the age of 14 until 23 I struggled with anorexia, sometimes acutely when I needed hospitalization and sometimes more in my head than in my outward appearance or actions. I was never heavy, never suffered from abuse; honestly I had nothing to complain about.  My life was “perfect”.  I should have been ok. I was one of the “lucky” ones.  And yet even I was not safe from my own mind.  I understand more fully the reasons now for why I suffered so much back then, but I can’t change the past, nor do I wish to.  I only have control over what I do today and how I restructure my thoughts whenever I begin to falter.
     There may have been a lot of reasons why I fell prey to an eating disorder and later to a strong bout of alcohol abuse, but I know one main reason why I survived.  At the age of 23, I got pregnant.  Obviously this could look like just another bump in a road to disaster and I would not recommend this path to anyone.  Having a child is usually the worst thing you can add to an already shaky life.  But it worked for me.  For years I had been searching for my purpose in life, my passion, a way to focus all my strengths without the need to be perfect.  And the only consistent answer I had ever given when asked what I wanted to be when I "grew up," was "a mom."  So getting pregnant, and having an amazing man by my side through it all, saved me.  My son, saved me. I know that in my heart and honestly believe that if it wasn’t for him, I may not be standing here in front of all of you today.
     This is not to say that every day since I heard the words “you are pregnant” my life has been easy or all my problems have been solved.  But it forced me to look outside of myself while learning to absolutely love all that my body is capable of doing.  I had something and someone to focus my energy on, and I started to be kinder to myself.  I began to really grasp the concept that what I put in my body really mattered, not just as far as how many calories it had and what it would do to my shape, but in regards to the simple fact that “we are what we eat.”  If I want to feel strong and healthy, I need to eat properly, and focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, vitamins and minerals.  I need to trust that my body knows what it needs and to give into my cravings whether it be a piece of fruit, a bar of chocolate or a jar of pickles.  My body knows what it needs if I quiet my mind long enough to listen. 
     Of course I still slip up, both in action and in thought.  In the past year alone I have found myself working out too much, eating too much or too little at times, drinking too many beers on a Saturday night, or not letting myself rest when all I really need to do is breathe. But I don’t punish myself because of it.  I am kind.  I look at myself in the mirror as others would (sometimes by not focusing on my face and looking solely at my body as if it was someone else’s- that really can work!) and I try to find things I love about myself.  Every day. If I feel the demons of my past creeping up, I close my eyes, and just let myself feel.  Feel my breath enter and exit my body and just be.  Think of the feeling of extreme relaxation I experience before drifting off to sleep, the sweet complex taste of a simple strawberry against my tongue, the complete exhaustion of my muscles after running for 3 miles, aching for breath and relief but bursting with adrenaline and pride.  My body can do all those things; this one body that I have been given, that I have tortured, scrutinized, bullied and finally learned to love. 
     This body made life. That is really cool.  And it is the only vessel I have been given to get through this life of mine. So I need to treat it well.  All I have to do is look into the eyes of my two marvelous children and I know what I have to keep fighting for, who I have to be an example for, and what I have to be proud of.  But I am also proud of me, who I am, with all my flaws, mistakes, bumps and bruises.  I have the ability with this imperfect body of mine to offer comfort and security to my children, express my love for my husband of almost ten years, prove my own strength by running for 30 minutes without stopping, and running a 200m race in a little over 30 seconds even though I know my athletic prime is long gone.  I keep on trying, because what do I have to lose, except everything?  I am here now, I am alive, and for that, I am thankful. 
     I am not perfect, I will never be perfect, but I am perfect just the way I am.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Curried Pumpkin Bean Soup with Kale

Curried Pumpkin Bean Soup with Kale

Usually when people cook with pumpkin in the fall it is to make a dessert, such as pumpkin pie, muffins or cookies.  But there are plenty of savory uses for the beloved pumpkin as well.  I was hoping to have a few home grown sugar pumpkins to cook with this year since I planted about a dozen seeds back in the spring, but unfortunately despite many flowering vines, our garden only produced one pumpkin, that is currently helping to decorate the front step.  So for this recipe, and most of the recipes in which I use pumpkin, the canned variety is a fantastic substitute.  I got the inspiration for this soup from a couple of bags of dried beans that I bought from my local organic farm that were so pretty, like little works of art, I had to try them. The best way to cook dried beans, in my opinion, is low and slow in a nice soup, and nothing is easier than throwing a bunch of ingredients into a crock pot.  I had never made a pumpkin soup before, despite my mom telling me all about different creamy squash soups she has made and seeing recipes online and on TV.  I just wanted to make sure it didn't taste too much like pie, or too much like plain squash, but hit a balance right in the middle.  So in addition to the curry powder, I still added in some traditional pumpkin pie spices along with a decent amount of onion and garlic.  The house started to smell amazing within a couple of hours and when I finally opened up the lid to add in the kale, fresh from my garden, I couldn't wait to taste the soup.  The combination of sweet and savory flavors, the hint of spice from the cayenne, combined to make a truly satisfying vegan dish that my husband, son and I all enjoyed.  And every one of the ingredients are their own nutritional superstar, so it is a meal that your body will truly thank you for. I guarantee it will give you energy, boost your immunity and give you that little extra something you need to get through whatever this autumn day may throw your way.

Whole Wheat Beer Bread

Whole Wheat Beer Bread

On a cold fall day, nothing smells better than bread baking in the oven.  But usually there is a lot of prep work involved in making a decent loaf of bread: hours waiting while the dough rises, kneading it until your forearms ache... etc... but not with this recipe.  Honestly you could prep this bread in under 5 minutes, or in the amount of time it takes your oven to heat up. And if you bake at all, and drink beer, I am pretty sure you have the ingredients in your kitchen right now.  I remember seeing gift sets and fundraiser deals for "Beer Bread Kits" that cost anywhere from $5 - 10. But once you know how simple it is to make your own dry mix for beer bread, you will never feel the need to buy one of those again.  This bread is so flavorful, hearty and easy to make that there is really no reason not to.  Pair it with a delicious homemade soup or simply serve it with some butter, jam and a side of cheese and fruit.  It is best warm from the oven, so get going and make some tonight!!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Harvest Turkey Salad

Harvest Turkey Salad
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!!  I made this recipe back in the summer when I was craving a taste of fall.  I love that my local grocery store sells rotisserie turkey breasts, so the hard part of the meal prep is done for me.  Of course a real home cooked turkey would be even better which is why I have been waiting to post this recipe until Thanksgiving time.  By combining some of my favorite flavors from a Holiday meal, I turned a traditional chicken salad recipe into something completely unexpected.  The crunch of the apples and pecans, the tart sweetness of the cranberries, the spice from the horseradish and the aromatic herbs and spices make an ordinary piece of turkey turn into an awesome taste experience.  I made a sandwich out of it on local whole wheat bread for my husband, but my portion never made it out of the bowl because it tasted so good I gobbled it up with the spoon I used to mix it.  So if by any chance you have any turkey left after your feast up there in Canada today, I highly recommend trying this recipe out in the days to come for a unique twist on leftovers.  I know I will be making it again in November after my family's big turkey meal!!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cheerios Bars

Cheerios Bars

I don't know many people who do not love Rice Krispie treats, but as the name suggests, they are a treat, and should not be eaten very often.  Puffed white rice has no nutritional value and is processed in the body the same way that white sugar is, so when you add marshmallows (I don't even want to know what those are made of!) and butter, you might be left with a yummy snack, but it doesn't help you or your kids out in the long run.  By switching the cereal to healthy whole grain Cheerios, with a touch of flax seed mixed in, and substituting almond butter and raw honey for the marshmallows and butter, you can create a delicious, sweet treat that is high in fiber and protein and will give you and your kids the energy they really need to face a busy day.  I made these for one of our first soccer game filled weekends this past month and both of my kids gobbled up large pieces for breakfast and I took along an extra for me to eat on the run as well.  They are great with a thin layer of chocolate on top, but it isn't necessary and are best eaten slightly cold.  So although I do still get a craving for a taste of childhood and will make regular Rice Krispie treats (maybe using puffed brown rice instead!) every once in awhile, this recipe is definitely a better choice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Crock Pot Cake

Whole Wheat Coconut Slow Cooker Cake

Now that the weather is getting cooler, I have found myself using my slow cooker more often, since there is nothing better than throwing a few ingredients into the magic pot, closing the lid and enjoying the smell and the ability to relax as a meal is prepared for you.  But did you know you could also use your slow cooker for dessert?  I honestly thought I had posted this recipe last year, but I guess I actually made this cake before I began my blog and although I have made other versions of it since, I never got around to posting anything.  But today at the gym, something came up about using a slow cooker and not having a liner, and I stated that I never use a liner, and although I sometimes worry that the smell from the last meal I cooked might linger, that has never actually happened.  And I know this because while you might not taste last week's chili when cooking a potato soup, I would have noticed it when I made a cake in my crock pot.  As soon as I said the words "cake" and "crock pot" in the same sentence, two different people asked me to share my recipe, as they had never heard of using a slow cooker to bake, and were intrigued. I was sure this recipe had already been posted, so I checked on my phone over and over again, but came up empty.  So I knew I had to get home and remedy this situation as soon as possible.  So although I do not have more than one photo to display my "crock pot cake", I assure you it is worth the minimal effort involved.  And if you aren't a fan of coconut cake, you can basically try any basic cake recipe you like and I am fairly certain you will get the same result.  My personal favorite, since I love chocolate, is to use my Chocolate Birthday Cake recipe.  The cake comes out extra moist, almost gooey, reducing the need to even use frosting.  Plus it will make your house smell amazing for hours. And trust me, nothing smells better than a cake cooking, low and slow, filling your house with sweetness and warmth... you cannot buy that experience in a candle!  So next time you want to treat yourself and don't want to hang around over a stove, give your old crock pot something to cook besides dinner!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Homemade Cheese Crackers

Homemade Cheese Crackers
I love cheez its.  My kids love cheez its.  But there are a whole bunch of ingredients in them that I do not love, so although I do still buy them on occasion, I knew there had to be a better option.  I have bought the expensive organic versions in an attempt to give my kids a healthier option, but as my daughter stated "they don't taste the same."  No, they don't, and granted, she also was not a huge fan of these crackers, but she is really, really hard to please.  My son, husband and I on the other hand, LOVED these and thought they tasted exactly like cheez its... and devoured them within 2 days.  So although my cheese loving daughter, who helped make them every step of the way, might not be a huge fan, I had to share them because they are fun to make and delicious to eat.