A Glimpse in the Mirror

It’s not that I’m afraid of mirrors. There are some in the house. There’s even a full-length mirror in my son’s room, though you’d have to move a hell of a lot of stuff out of the way to get a look. But I find that I avoid them, because what I see in them frightens me. This is not eisoptrophobia, the clinical anxiety of mirrors, which seems to find its roots in the supernatural. (A brief perusal on the topic finds one afflicted young woman after another commenting that when she looks in the mirror, something else is looking back. Not to make light of it, I’m sure it’s a crippling problem, but this made me think of the response that puppies have when they first see themselves in a mirror.)

Over the years I’ve made a lot of self-portraits in mirrors, or reflective sheets of glass (like a plate-glass window) or even my reflection on the surface of smooth water. If I have time to compose, I can look. I can even study. But God forbid I catch a glimpse of myself in a department store mirror, or in some other similarly unguarded moment. It’s horrifying. Who is that woman? Today I experienced a riff on that with the new phone, which has a dandy gadget on it so that you can take pictures of yourself, and see what you look like while you do so. Mary, Mother of God, help me. Do I really look like that?

Okay, so it was late in the afternoon on a humid Ohio August day. My hair, graying at the roots and temples and hairline, was frizzy. It was shoved off my face by readers perched on top of my head. Whatever little makeup I slapped on this morning was long gone and my eyes looked small and plain and raw. What happened to the contours of my face– those once smooth plains are wrinkled and puckered , my face sags and droops and seems “lumpy” somehow. Who is that? It can’t be me.

The full length version isn’t much better. Despite my efforts over the last months and the moderate success I’ve enjoyed, I look and I think “How can I look that bad?” Because when I compose myself in front of a mirror, I don’t. My brain edits out the bad parts. I cock my head this way and then that way and I think “Okay, not too bad for 50.”  But when I catch a glimpse of  it in the mirror it’s more like “not too bad for seventy.”

I’m two pounds away from my 30-pound-prize: it’s a mirror, from IKEA. I’d like to say something profound about making peace with our fears, or coming to terms with one’s self– but you and I both know it’s not like that. This big mirror will be like the others in the house– safe enough. It’s those lurking outside that I worry about.

Today’s target 72.  Steps 2595

Breakfast: yogurt with granola. Lunch: fish sandwich, two cups watermelon, Dinner: 4 ounces ground beef pattie, half an avocado, two hard-boiled eggs, ear of corn, six ounces of raspberries

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The Kitchen is Closed.

“The kitchen is closed,” she said, wiping down a counter with a damp rag. She must have sensed my confusion, these were her regular hours. She shook her head. “I know. I just don’t have it in me to write anything tonight.”  She wrung the rag out.  “I can give you a cup of coffee if you want. Hell, I’d just pour it out anyway. No one coming in to get anything.”

Taking a mug from the shelf she pours it to the brim and slides it across the counter to me. “It’s on the house, day-old coffee, ” she says, laughing a little.  Over at the window, she lowers the blinds, tilting them shut to keep out the world.

“I had a misunderstanding with my kid today. He’s off to college, things change. It’s hard to adjust sometimes.” She turns the sign on the door. “I just didn’t have it in me to write about, well, about anything.”  Leaning against the opposite counter, she crosses her arms. “And I think I told you- well, maybe I forgot. A woman I know died on Saturday. Not a friend, really, an acquaintance. But I liked her. She was a pistol.”  There’s a pause and she shakes her head a little. “Can you believe some of her friends didn’t want people to tell anyone that she’d died? They were afraid we’d gossip about her. How paranoid is that? Like you could even stop people from talking about death. Might as well catch try to catch wild horses in a teacup.”

Taking a broom, she begins to sweep. “Then tonight I get news from home, well, not home, but you know- the place I moved here from. Well, I lived there a long time. The boy was born there. They’re having wildfires again. Every summer it seems to get worse. I was always so afraid they’d come our way. One year they were just a mile off when the wind shifted.  Anyway, this fire today was in a little community up the valley, where our son went to school. First they said that the cafe was gone, and the church. Horses dead, or a person, maybe a couple of firefighters lost. I called my mother to tell her about it, and I broke down and cried. Sometimes losing a place is like losing an old friend.”

She’s turning off things as she talks: the vent hood, the cash register, the coffee maker.  “Then I heard that most of that wasn’t true. I was glad it wasn’t true, I am glad it isn’t true, but you just feel sort of jerked around.  I guess I mean that literally. Not that people mean to, but first you’re so sad, and then you’re so relieved, but you’re still sad too, because it’s still terrible, even if it isn’t quite as terrible. Know what I mean?” She doesn’t wait for an answer.  “Now that damn fire has shifted and there’s a chance it could burn through the storage shed where I left all my books and old files, and letters and stuff. Just stuff.” She looks at me and smiles. “What kind of irony would that be? Get out of that Godforsaken place and still be at its mercy.”

The silence hangs between us for a moment.

“I’d offer you a refill, but I’ve already poured the rest out. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow. I’ll get something written.”

Target 73 Steps 1700

Breakfast: cup of watermelon, egg mc muffin  Lunch: two hardboiled eggs, two cups of watermelon, yogurt with granola. Dinner: cup of risotto with mushrooms and  two ounces chicken, half cup of cottage cheese. 

The Week Without Sweets

Over the past months, as I’ve struggled to lose weight and get fit, I have tried to keep my diet as realistic as possible. After all, as soon as something is forbidden, it is desired all the more, sometimes to the point of obsession. So nothing has been off-limits though I have tried to keep the portions modest and the habits moderate. Sometimes, though, things get out of whack. It feels like I’ve made sweets a habit again. Want a nibble? Have some chocolate. Need a pick me up?  There’s still a little pound cake or peach pie or frozen yogurt. They’ve gone straight past the occasional treat to the land of ordinary. I need to be reined in a little.

At first I thought, “I’ll have a week without sugar.” That seemed a bit militant for me. I use sugar (in small amounts, but still) in cooking onions, on turnip greens, in dry rubs for beef. That wasn’t really what I wanted to cut out. I wanted to cut out the everyday consumption of treats. Because when you eat them everyday they’re not treats anymore. I still get to have maple yogurt with granola every morning, because that seems to be the one and only breakfast I can face each and every day, no matter the hour. I can still have fruit, including salted watermelon and whipped bananas. Well, maybe not the bananas, they are really the essence of dessert.

But for damn sure: no brownies, blondies, cupcakes, cookies, pie, creme brulee, pudding, flan, layer cake, cheesecake, tortes, blanc mange, trifle, candy apples, chocolates, ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet, McVitie’s digestives, donuts, cinnamon rolls, tarts, creme caramel, shortbread, sponge cake, fritters, biscotti, jelly beans, caramels (salted or otherwise), fudge, chocolate fondue, banana splits, gelato, cream puffs, fruit bars, baked Alaska or cotton candy. Sigh.

Target today 73  Steps 1566

Breakfast: yogurt with granola, two cups watermelon. Lunch: salad without lettuce (avocado, bell pepper, mushrooms, nuts, bleu cheese) 1/4 cup mixed nuts Dinner: 3 egg vegetable omelet with an ounce of cheese, two cups watermelon. 

Counting in the Rain

Monday is the day to take count. So how could I let it pass without remembering Jerry Nelson, the voice and puppeteer of Sesame Street’s Count von Count, who taught so many of our children to count? Nelson died Thursday at his home in Cape Cod, after a lengthy struggle with emphysema. He was “the Count” on Sesame Street for forty years, along with voicing Mr. Snuffleupagus, Dr. Julius Strangepork (from Pigs in Space) the boomerang-tossing “Lew Zealand” and Kermit’s nephew, Robin. Sadly, his passing got little notice, and was completely eclipsed on Saturday by the death of astronaut Neil Armstrong.

I hope that Sesame Street will retire the Count, and not just try to replace Jerry Nelson with a sound-alike.  There are other characters who can count, but there will always be only one true Count von Count. The video is a clip of the Count as a tyrannical director eliciting a fabulous performance from Liam Neeson, “Counting to Twenty.”  Godspeed, Mr. Nelson, and thanks for all the great numbers.

Target today 72 Steps 2737

Breakfast: yogurt with granola. Lunch: two hard-boiled eggs, one serving of “Bugles” Dinner: hot and sour soup, 4 sardines, one Chinese meatball, quarter cup Napa cabbage, half a cup of lo mein, fortune cookie. 

– This Week –

Number of pounds to lose this week: 1

Number of pounds lost this week: 3

Cumulative number to have lost by this point: 26

Actual cumulative number lost: 28

Number of steps to have walked: 30,000

Actual number of steps walked: 29,184

Cumulative number to have walked: 500,000

Cumulative number walked: 638,658 (241 miles!)

Top Banana

Josephine Baker in a banana skirt, Paris Folies

Several days ago I was doing a search on “salad without lettuce”, because frankly, I’m sick of lettuce. (There are lots of interesting ideas out there on “salad without lettuce”, and I’ve enjoyed the same for lunch two days running.) In the course of this search, I happened upon a blog called “Vegan Crunk.” What I could see of the blurb on Google said  “Today was my monthly raw food cleanse, and I ate a ton of salads without crunching down on a single piece of …”

It is remarkable, to say the least, that I clicked the link. But I did and I’m glad I did. Though I am not now, nor will ever be a vegan, I’m always looking for interesting ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my life, and this site had about six things I wanted to try on the first page.

Today, I tried one. I was skeptical, but it seemed simple enough, and I had the ingredients: bananas. Yes, just bananas. Bianca Phillips, the blogger, topped hers with a carob syrup. (Made from carob powder, agave and water, which I think is a rookie mistake. Chocolate is good for you– and good quality chocolate does not have milk solids in it. Agave, despite its unearned reputation is one of the most disgustingly refined sweeteners available. If you want chocolate syrup– go for it. Just make sure it doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it.) The blogger’s comment on her banana dish was that it was “mind-blowing.”

So I tried it. This morning I chopped two bananas into sections about two inches long and put them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. Tonight I got them out and put them (at my husband’s suggestion) into the blender. The blender, kids, does  not work for this. Got out the food processor and dumped in the half-mashed frozen bananas and let it whirl.

The result is astounding. It’s like a very delicate banana pudding combined with a kind of soft serve ice cream. Except it doesn’t have that nasty grainy texture found in so many soft-serves. The texture is more like that of hand-dipped ice cream that’s been stirred until it’s half-melted, soft and silky. It really is sublime. I drizzled a bit of chocolate syrup on mine– but it would be fine without too. Or maybe with a raspberry coulis or a salted caramel sauce. The possibilities are staggering.

Also, since next Tuesday I am going without sugar for the week, it is a way to satisfy my sweet tooth without giving in the evil white manna. And it’s a way to never have to throw out an overripe banana again. (Or even have an overripe banana.) And a way to capitalize on bananas on sale– two funny little urban groceries in the area have days (one Tuesday, one Thursday) where they feature bananas for 25 cents a pound. And bananas are good for you, providing  fiber, vitamins and minerals (including potassium, lacking in many American diets) without cholesterol or fat. It’s said that regularly including bananas in your diet reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. What’s not to love?

Two bananas made about two-thirds of a cup of pureed icy bananas. (I have to come up with a name for this– maybe “Banana Bliss,” or “Banana Dreams” or “Yes We Have No Bananas”  Suggestions are welcome.) This incredible simple dessert is so delicious  that you could serve it at the end of a dinner party. Yes, really that good– no one would ever guess it was just frozen bananas.

Today’s Target 73. Steps 3921

Breakfast: yogurt with granola.  Lunch: No Lettuce salad (half an avocado, two hard-boiled eggs, half a red bell pepper, half a yellow bell pepper, 5 mushrooms, and a tablespoon of “Simply Dressed” bleu cheese dressing. Afternoon snack: a S’more. (I think that might be the last one.) Dinner: tortilla with scrambled eggs and a piece of bacon, half a cup of tater tots.  Two bananas with a teaspoon of chocolate syrup. 

Feeding the Bears

Photo allegory by Sarolta Ban

 

We all have a hunger that gnaws at us each and every day. The happy and content and productive among us have found a way to feed the bear that dwells inside. The rest of us, listlessly opening the refrigerator for the tenth time in an evening; those that sit mindlessly nibbling on carrot sticks or cupcakes, the discontented, the restless and fretful: our bear is hungry.  Perhaps we’ve all been in both places.

It isn’t just compulsive eating, or mindless eating, or eating for comfort that is feeding something other than that true hunger.  Sometimes we are quite careful about what we eat, but we can’t get started with exercise, or a project, or anything much. We’re just spinning our wheels, neglecting whatever it is that our true self craves and killing time.

Sometimes people find the answer by accident. Perhaps you move– across town or across the continent or across the globe– and you land in a place that “fits” you better than the place you left. You feel energized by the change. Maybe you happen upon an activity that “feeds your soul,” that just feels both compelling and essential. More often, though, you have to search for that which you truly ache.

It’s just like having a craving. Say you really want a chocolate milkshake. So you have a banana. You still want a chocolate milkshake. You have a glass of some sweet beverage, perhaps a diet soda. Now you really want a chocolate milkshake. You eat grapes, yogurt, a 100-calorie snack pack of mediocre cookies, a glass of milk, another 100-calorie snack pack, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a slice of cheese and more grapes. You’ve eaten long past anything resembling real hunger. And you still want a chocolate milkshake.

Should you give in to every dietary exception, each passing whim? Probably not. But you have to learn to identify the things you really want and seek to fulfill them. The same is true in your life. If your relationships are out of kilter, if you’re neglecting your own dreams, if you’re not being true to the most important person in  your life (that’s you, by the way) your bear will be starving. And we all know how grumpy a hungry bear can be.

I have identified the bear in my life, for now. I’ve named him Orville, for reasons that are obvious to those who know me. If I am not working on The Book — if I am letting other responsibilities take the limelight (as sometimes we must) the bear grumbles. I’m cranky. I get de-railed and can’t get started on anything. Days pass. I nibble. I nosh. I stand in front of the refrigerator. Wanting.

William Faulkner said “Everything goes by the board, honor, pride, decency to get the book written.”  Let me tell you, he knew he had to feed the bear. I have not gotten to that point. I still lay down What I Should Be Doing to help my kid get enrolled in college, to help my friends out of tight spot, to play with my dogs. And sometimes just to noodle around on Facebook, or go shopping, or watch television– those are less noble, and they distract me too.

Half the battle though is embracing the bear, his noble head, his lumbering gait, his mighty roar within us; and thinking about how to answer those needs, because that’s where happiness lives.

Target today: 74  Steps: 5775

Breakfast: two eggs, yogurt with granola. Lunch: salad without lettuce (egg, avocado, red pepper, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms with a little bleu cheese), a quarter cup of Chex mix. Mid-afternoon, yes, a S’more. Dinner: Wheat thins with two ounces of warm brie. Iced coffee.

 

 

S’more Love

 

I want the moment to start, when I can fill your heart with  S’more love and S’more joy, than age or time could ever destroy . . .

 

For our twentieth wedding anniversary this summer, I gave my husband an outdoor fireplace. That’s the sort of thing old people like– great gifts are the ones you can sit around with a good whiskey in hand. At a party for our college freshman last weekend we loaded it up with Pinon wood and brought out toasting forks, huge marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers: all the essentials for that uber-dessert of summer: the S’more.

Did you know that graham crackers were invented to curb masturbation? Really, it’s true, Google it. No, of course it doesn’t work. Anyway, I digress. The Girl Scouts are credited with the recorded invention of this campfire treat, as it first appeared in  Tramping and Trailing with Girl Scouts, in 1927. Always sticklers for the correct, Girl Scout literature refers to them as “Some Mores” up through 1973.

The S’more has been much bastardized. There are Pepperidge Farm S’more “Goldfish,” and a Hershey candy bar called “S’more”, Kellogg’s Smorz breakfast cereal and S’more flavored Pop-Tarts. None of those things is worth eating. A S’more made in a microwave is a sad little thing indeed, lacking the magical bubbly crust on the marshmallow.

People can be very particular about how they want their marshmallow done. Some people want it gently roasted until it’s evenly golden all around, and so gooey it’s about to fall off the stick. Sometimes it does fall off the stick and you have to start all over. Some people like theirs barely warmed and still a little resistant (whereupon the graham cracker “lid” inevitably breaks when you push it down) and some prefer theirs blackened from having caught fire over and over again.

Most of the teenaged guests at our son’s party made S’mores. They were enthusiastic to do so; nostalgic about their own histories with the confection and defensive of their own personal techniques, which of course involved some blazing marshmallows. Much later in the evening, some of us middle-aged folk sauntered out to the fireplace, collapsing in the Adirondack chairs. I was the only one to make a S’more though. It surprised me how evocative it was putting a S’more together outside, under the stars. And how sticky.

I was reminded of that summer at Spider Lake, where the clan gathered for a week. Every night there was a bonfire on the beach, and we made S’mores. My boy was a baby- nine months old. His half-sisters were eight and ten, and they got to be quite the experts at S’more making. I remember the kids, a clutch of cousins, running with flaming torches of marshmallows, over the pebbled shore. The toasting forks were cut from tree branches– some of them held  five or six marshmallows at a time. There was much wanton excess. Looking back that time seems magical.

When Julian was nine, he and I made an epic pilgrimage across the country to pick up a puppy. If you can make a journey from Montana to New Jersey include the Outer Banks, you are the Queen of Road Trips. One night we stopped at Amos Mosquito, a funky but nice restaurant in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. On the menu were S’mores. They brought you the stuff to make them and a little flame pot for roasting. We were both enchanted, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

A bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers and a stack of Hershey bars will make a lot of S’mores. So, as it happens, I’ve been eating a S’more every day since last Saturday. Yes, every day. Yes, every single day, dammit. I confess that I have not been lighting the fireplace every night, and have instead been content to roast the marshmallows over the open flame of the Wolf Range. Yes, it’s not quite the purist way, but it’s close enough.  I had already had a S’more this afternoon, but I had to make another to photograph it for this column. I’m proud to say I did not eat the second S’more, but gave it to my son instead; the very definition of willpower.

Actually, for all of the decadent yum that you get from a S’more, it’s not the worst thing you could eat. An average S’more (normal size marshmallow, half a Hershey bar, two squares of graham cracker) has 195 calories and 8g of fat, 2.5 g of protein and 31g of carbohydrates.  It’s just that we’ve been making them with these ultra-luxurious Jumbo Marshmallows, which makes it 260 calories, 8g of fat, 2.5g of protein and 46g of carbohydrates. Oh well.

It seems like the ingredients in S’mores ought to lend themselves to reconfiguration to make a dessert that would be equally splendid but more, well, grown up, for lack of a better term. There are quite a few recipes for S’mores Tarts online, including an interesting looking one on Epicurious, all that’s left of Gourmet magazine.  But I wonder if the ganache is not a bit too creamy, lacking the cool snap / oozing melt of the Hershey bar. And I don’t know– I’m still not Martha Stewart enough to make my own marshmallow.  Maybe if you made them in muffin tins, with a graham cracker base, and a tempered chocolate layer, allowed to settle? Then some kind of marshmallow fluff, lightly browned? Julia Child’s right, a woman’s got to have a blow torch.

Target today 75  Steps 3092  

Breakfast: two eggs, yogurt with granola.  No lunch, just grazed through the afternoon- an ounce of potato chips, a cup of grapes and yes, a S’more. Dinner: flour tortilla with an ounce of chicken and a half a cup of rice, a tablespoon of cheese.