Spoonie kitchen screwups

April 30, 2012

There’s tired, and then there’s spoonie tired.

I decided to make an easy dinner tonight.  I’ve been trying to eat healthy food as much as possible, and I was feeling run down, so I wanted the best combination of easy and healthy.  For me, that meant pasta for dinner.  I use this a lot as my go-to easy dinner.  I sautee onion and garlic, add in veggies, include meat or beans or something, add spices, add sauce, cook pasta, and I have a healthy, relatively easy dinner.  Even easier is eggs and/or oatmeal, but I’ve done that a few times lately so I wanted to go to the next step.  Apparently, I wasn’t ready for the next step.

I’m not great at chopping up anything.  No matter how big or how small it is, I have to concentrate hard just to avoid cutting my finger (and even then I sometimes cut it.)  Today, more food than usual was hitting the floor.  I felt really off.  I had so much energy an hour earlier, but I hit the wall hard, and I just couldn’t seem to do anything right.  Luckily I wasn’t doing much cutting, since I was using frozen veggies.  Fresh veggies are better, but I didn’t have the energy for them.  Still, a lot of onion and garlic hit the floor.

As I was finishing the sauce, I kept thinking that something was missing.  It all seemed to be there, but I had that nagging feeling.  What could I have forgotten?  Then it hit me all at once: spices!  I forgot to add spices!  I quickly reached for the oregano and parsley and thyme and…. what was I thinking?

The steps ran through my head.  I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten the spices.  I’ve made this so many times I thought I could do it in my sleep.  Clearly I can’t even do it when I’m awake and run down.  But that’s ok, I fixed it.  It would be good enough.

Beans!  I forgot to add the beans!  Ok, no worries, I ate plenty of protein at lunch, and I have plenty of spinach and broccoli in the sauce.  It’s ok.

Beep beep beep.  Time to drain the pasta.  Something was wrong.  Why was it so mushy?  I timed it for 16 minutes and the package said 17-18, so what could be wrong?  Oh no, I used the instructions for the wrong pasta!  The other type, the other brand, is 17-18 minutes.  This type is only supposed to cook for 7-10 minutes!  Yikes!

Ok, the sauce will mask the pasta, right?  But wait, the sauce is…. liquidy.  I didn’t use enough veggies!  I usually make the sauce very thick, so that the meat/beans and veggies are just barely coated by the sauce.  I got it wrong tonight.  It looked so pathetically thin.

Despite all of the problems, the meal turned out ok.  It was even slightly tasty.  And I’ve learned an important lesson: the next time I feel drained, I won’t attempt anything as complicated as pasta.  I’ll stick to eggs.  Clearly my brain can’t be trusted to function on all cylinders when cooking (or typing, for that matter, judging by the number of mistakes I’ve already caught in this post.)

What basics things have you messed up when you’re not completely there?  Let’s revel in our spoonie mistakes.

The ironic luxury of time

April 28, 2012

I hate when people ask me how I’m enjoying my time off.  It’s frustrating to not be able to work.  This really isn’t like a vacation.  I feel lousy a lot, so I probably have no more “good” free hours than a person who works full time.  In fact, some days I have a lot fewer.

That said, I really do appreciate having a more open schedule.  On the days I feel lousy, I hate that I’m “losing” hours.  It feels like a waste, but since I can’t help it, I just try to remember that I will have more time tomorrow, and the next day, and next week.  I will try to make my time as meaningful as possible.  Sometimes that will work, sometimes it won’t, and I just have to accept that.

On both  the good days and the bad days, I’ve found that having a more open schedule can really reduce stress.  Yesterday was a good example.  After a quiet morning at home mostly spent reading, and then lunch, left to go to the library.  I could have driven.  It would have been faster.  I also would have felt my blood pressure rise as I dealt with red lights, bad drivers, rude pedestrians, and parking problems both at the library and later when I came home.  Instead, I took the bus.  Sure, taking the bus took a lot longer (especially since I missed a bus by only a minute on each end) but it had a lot of benefits: I didn’t have to deal with driving or parking, I got fresh air while I waited for it, and I got some exercise.  Both on the way and on the way back, I got some extra exercise by walking one stop further than I had to.  I skipped the closer stop, and went one more.  This was perfect.  If I had been in a rush, I probably would have had to deal with the stress of driving.

The evening wasn’t so great.  I came home feeling really good, and I was thrilled.  I made dinner and had a whole bunch of things I wanted to do (knowing of course that I’d probably only do a few of them, but it was still exciting.)  Almost as soon as I started eating, I felt sick.  Normally the nausea hits an hour or two after eating, so this was odd.  It felt different too.  This mostly meant that I didn’t know what to expect.  I put the food away and left the dishes for later.  After many trips to the bathroom and some Pepto, I finally snuggled under a blanket and watched a movie.  I was upset that I had had another episode of nausea after almost two weeks without one – so much for that winning streak.  But I wasn’t upset about the lost evening.  Nothing I had planned was an emergency, so I knew it could all wait until I had more free time.  That could be in a few days, or maybe next week.  It didn’t matter.  I’d find the time.

Having a more flexible schedule is making a huge difference these days.  Of course, if I was working full time it would be because I was feeling better, and if I felt well, I wouldn’t need such a flexible schedule.  Great.  (Did you notice the sarcasm there?)

There’s nothing I can do to change my situation, beyond what I’m already doing.  So as long as I’m stuck in it, I’ll try to make the most of it.  I’ll use my flexible time the best that I can.  I just hope I don’t lose too much more of it to nausea… that’s awfully unpleasant.

Too tired for a title

April 24, 2012

Why do we underestimate the value of sleep so much?  Sleep is important, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

This will be a short post, because I’m determined to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.  It’s not as if I’m not tired at night (well, sometimes that’s the case,) but I still stay up far too late, and always for no good reason.  Tonight I sleep.

Sleep is good for so many different parts of our bodies.  There are always studies being published about how it leads to better weight management, improved blood pressure, etc.  We eat better and we exercise more when we’re rested.  We feel happier and more relaxed when our stresses work themselves out in our dreams.  That’s not even counting the improved productivity and reduced car accidents.  We’re animals, and animals need sleep.  There’s no shame in that.

The worst reason, I think, for not getting enough sleep is, “I don’t have time,” or “I’m too busy.”  What is more important than taking care of your health?  Yes, sometimes a person really must get fewer hours of sleep one night due to busyness, but not as often as most people want to think.  Generally, we can cut out some tv, skip the internet surfing, eliminate procrastination, and get to bed at an hour (or more!) earlier.

Yes, there are many legitimate reasons for not being able to sleep.  There’s pain, insomnia, loud noises outside, crying babies… but none of that should stop us from at least making the effort.  That’s what I’m talking about here: effort.

I may not get enough sleep tonight because I get woken up early by the construction outside, or because the loud neighbors come home late again and are making a lot of noise, or because I have weird pain dreams like I did the other night, but at least I’ll have made a solid effort.  And who knows… maybe I’ll actually sleep for enough hours, deeply enough, and wake up feeling good!  I sure hope so!

And on that note, I’m off to bed.  Goodnight all!



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Fixing what I put in my body

April 22, 2012

For many years I had to choke down whatever I made for dinner.  It’s not that I was a bad cook, it’s just that… well ok, I was a bad cook.  I was the pathetic family member who always brought flowers as my contribution to the Thanksgiving meal.  It was not good.

A few years ago I quit a job where I was unhappy and I decided to wait for a while before I looked for work.  I had enough money saved up and I was feeling very burnt out.  It ended up being a fantastic time.  I set a few reasonable goals for myself for my unemployment.  I didn’t want to try to do too many things, so I kept it simple.  One thing was to learn to cook.  I had no grand illusions that I’d become a master chef; I just wanted to make food that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve to guests, and most importantly, that I wouldn’t mind eating myself.  And I succeeded!  The meals I make aren’t fancy, but they get the job done.

Since taking a leave of absence last fall, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food.  I’ve learned more about “real” food versus “imitation” food (like the difference between the bread you make yourself at home and the bread you buy in the grocery store – have you ever read that ingredient list?)  I’ve also learned about various chemicals and other unnatural ingredients in food.  Since then, I’ve been trying to eat more “real” food.  I’ve cut down on chicken and fish (I’d already eliminated red meat, and I never ate pork.)  I switched from canned beans to dry beans.  When I do eat chicken, it’s as antibiotic-free as possible.  I eat a lot more vegetables.  I eat very few processed foods (and I’m trying to get those out of my diet altogether.)  I figure if I’m going to see doctors and take various medications, I should make sure my diet isn’t ruining all my hard work!

Putting those two things together, I’m actually eating pretty decently now!  I can’t imagine how I would have handled my new gluten-free diet if I hadn’t learned to cook.  And I feel better when I eat healthier, “real” foods.  None of this is easy.  I won’t pretend I wouldn’t love to have a frozen dinner occasionally; but then, that’s why I don’t keep that stuff in the house.  I won’t pretend my willpower is that good.  If it was here, I’d eat it.  Still, I’m going to try to focus instead on my big accomplishments: cooking tasty, healthy meals.  When I didn’t feel well the other day, I was able to put together something easy and healthy.  Today I felt decent, so I made the pretty quinoa and bean dish in the picture.  It wasn’t all that hard, but I’m sure I would have messed it up a few years ago.  It took a lot of practice and effort, but today I was able to make this dish for the first time and have a light, healthy, filling meal.

So to all of you who are working on your diets, I offer you my encouragement.  It can be a tough road, but it’s very worthwhile.  If you have a setback, just accept it and then move forward again.  It’s completely worth it.  Now I bring actual dishes to the Thanksgiving meal (and my family is all still incredibly impressed, even now.)  If I can learn to cook, you can too!


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Making medical decisions by coin toss

April 20, 2012

Doctors no longer seem to be all-knowing gods to many of us.

My grandparents always did just what the doctor told them to do.  They trusted their doctor to be honest, knowledgeable, and infallible.

Fast forward many decades and things have changed.  A lot.  For one thing, there are the studies that suggest doctors lie to their patients.  They apparently do this to protect their patients, to save their feelings, but it doesn’t help with the trust thing.  Doctors are now overworked and dealing with lawsuits, insurance, and budget cuts.  In other words, they’re human.  The mystique is gone.  Even more, we have the internet now and can do a lot of our own research.  This helps us to realize that, again, our doctors are human.  They don’t know everything.

Now, I do think that a lot of my doctors are very knowledgeable and I trust them.  That, after all, is why I continue to see them.  However, I still find it difficult when I need to make a decision, and I have no one to help me make it.  I talk to my parents for advice, but I’m getting tired of that; I’m over 30, for crying out loud!  I’m not in a relationship, so I can’t turn there.  And anyway, these all just other laypeople (though my parents are very smart and knowledgeable.)  I can talk to my doctors, of course, but they won’t tell me what to do.  Sometimes they strongly hint at their preferred course.  Sometimes they say it outright.  But many times they don’t know what the right thing to do is.  Damn, they really are human.

I am now facing a small dilemma.  Should I continue my gluten-free diet, with its good effects but also possible negative ones?  Should I quit the diet and see if the negative effects go away?  But then the good effects might go too.  Should I try an over-the-counter med to see if that helps the symptoms?  But what if my body is still adjusting to the new diet?  It could be that I improve from the diet, but if I take the meds, I won’t know which is helping.  Or I can adjust my thyroid med dosage.  I’ve already filled the prescription.  This won’t help the nausea, of course, but it could help the fatigue.  But what if the diet just needs more time to work, and adjusting the thyroid med covers that up?  And I could have negative effects from changing the med dosage, too.  And these are just my top choices – there are even more options to consider!

It would be so easy to have someone tell me what to do.  It would remove this pressure that’s sitting on my shoulders.  But I have to admit, I’m glad when my doctors admit they don’t have the answer; it’s better than pretending otherwise.  Besides, I’m sure I’ll figure it all out eventually.

Does anyone have a coin I can flip?


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Cheating my way through dinner

April 18, 2012

I had a fantastic plan for last night’s dinner.  It was delicious and healthy and used up all of the starting-to-get-old veggies in the fridge.  But I was exhausted last night, so I made an omelet instead.  I hate omelets.

My top priority, in meals and most other things, is my health.  I’m also concerned about money, especially these days, since I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to work, and there’s still no word on whether or not my long term disability claim will be approved by the insurance company.  Put those together, and it means I’m not eating out.  I live near a lot of restaurants, but take-out is a big no-no for both my health and my wallet.  So instead, I cook.

Cooking sounds like a great idea, right?  It’s healthy and cheap (or can be, depending on how you shop.)  The problem is, it takes energy, and since I live alone, I have to do all the cooking.  That’s why last night’s dinner ended up being an omelet.  That’s why I planned the healthy dinner again for tonight, but again it didn’t happen.

Those veggies in the fridge need to be eaten, but cutting them up just wasn’t going to happen today.  I still made the rice, but I skipped the fresh veggies and instead nuked some frozen ones.  Forget garlic and onion; that’s too much chopping and garlic powder works just fine.  Ok, it’s not as good, but it works!  I use dry beans now instead of canned (to avoid BPA and whatnot) and I cook them in large amounts and freeze them in individually portioned bags.  This works great, but when I thawed them, they didn’t have a ton of great flavor.  Enter garlic powder.  And throw them in a pan for a minute with some olive oil.  Add the veggies.  Splash in the gluten-free soy sauce.  And some rice.  Now let’s see: starch, protein, lots of veggies.  Good enough for me!

Luckily my standards aren’t too high.  I don’t need a 5 course meal.  I don’t need anything fancy.  I don’t even need anything that tastes amazing, just something that doesn’t taste bad.  And with minimal effort and very little energy expenditure, I made dinner!

Those veggies will just have to wait until tomorrow.  Tonight, I feasted on the easy version.  A toast to all of the dinner cheats out there!

If you have a great “easy” version of a meal that you want to share, please add it in the comments!  We can all help each other out with new ideas.


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Sometimes “fate” intervenes

April 17, 2012

I wonder sometimes about timing.  Maybe if I had sat in the next subway car over that day I’d have run into a friend.  Maybe if I hadn’t been running late the other night I would have met a new business contact.  I don’t believe in fate.  I don’t think there’s some force controlling things.  But I do think that sometimes timing is everything.

After this weekend’s great walks, I decided to keep up the momentum, at least to some degree.  Ok, I won’t be walking 3 miles every day, but I know I need to do more than what I was doing before the trip.  So today I promised myself I’d take a long-ish walk.  A mile seemed like a reasonable goal.  But it was too hot.  So I ate some ice cream.  Still too hot.  I sat in front of a fan and watched tv for a while.  Yup, still too hot.  I ate dinner.  Ok, it had cooled off enough, time to get off my ass and walk!

I debated washing the dinner dishes, then decided to let them wait.  I don’t usually do that, but I wanted to get out before it got dark.  I could have changed my clothes or checked an email, but instead I rushed to leave so that I would be sure to take the walk.  What if I had delayed leaving for any reason?  On the walk, I slowed down to chat with a nice guy with a cute dog.  I’m a sucker for a cute dog.  What if I hadn’t slowed down?  I finished the big loop and ended up back at my building.  I could have stopped, but I pushed myself to also do the smaller loop that I had already planned to do.  What if I had skipped that?  At the far end of the loop, before turning back towards home, I decided to push myself and do a bit more.  I started walking a longer route home.  What if I had turned back when I planned?  But I didn’t.

And that’s how I turned a corner and saw a blind woman in the road.  It was a relatively quiet one way street, and the car had stopped and was waiting patiently.  The woman was in the middle of the wide street and she turned left, moved her cane, then turned right, moved the cane some more, then turned left again.  A guy across the street was watching this, clearly not sure what to do.  How many of us have been in the same position?  I’m guessing most of us have been on the receiving end of this internal debate: is it better to risk offending someone by offering potentially unwanted help, or to risk letting someone struggle by not offering potentially needed help?

I called out to the woman to ask if she needed help, and she gratefully said yes.  She was on her way to the T and had gotten turned around.  I led her back to the sidewalk.  She asked if I was going to the T and I said no, but that I was walking past it, which was true.  She immediately slipped her hand onto my arm and asked if I’d lead her there.  Of course I was glad to.  We joked and laughed about how we hold ourselves to high standards, trying to be perfect despite our disabilities.  She, of course, had no idea what mine were, but that didn’t matter.  We had a nice chat, and then I left her off at the door to the train station and continued on home.

There are dozens of ways we might have missed each other.  I don’t believe in fate, but I am so glad the timing worked out so that I could help someone else.  It is so easy to become absorbed in our own health issues, and it meant a lot to me that I was able to get outside of that to help a stranger.  I am sure she would have eventually made it to the station without my help, but I hope that I made her night a little better.


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