Category Archives: Nutrition

Soup For Life

The meat, the meat must be beef shank, preferably with bone in; it makes a much better tasting soup. Set it to cook in a large pot three-quarters full of water. You add the spices at this stage. Salt, black pepper, garlic. The amounts are not measured; taste is what matters.

You must watch it closely at first. The fat will rise and needs to be scooped out, a spoonful at a time, making the broth leaner, clearer. Then you let it simmer as life simmers, gently but persistently, bringing memories bubbling to the surface.

“Papa, when do you add the vegetables?”

“I don’t know, Mijita.”

You know he does, but you say nothing and instead turn back to the stove. The meat is soft now and curls around its round flat bone. The bone is white as white can be, the marrow nestled in its center. You poke at it with the spoon, breaking it up into pieces, allowing its juice to mix with the broth. Meanwhile, you have chopped an onion into large chunks and added it to the broth in progress. Its layers float to the top, shimmery, translucent, adding their own juice.

It is you in the kitchen this Sunday morning. Your mother is sick, a migraine keeping her abed. You feel a deep sense of desperation. You want to fill in for her, but you can’t. You are not her and your father knows you are not her. He walks through the kitchen and steps outside, leaving you to divine the next steps. You know what the soup looks like when it’s done, but not how it gets that way.

With the fat scooped out, you can step away and leave it alone for an hour, or two, being careful not to let the broth cook away to nothing. This simmering will cause the meat to shred, making it so tender you barely have to chew it.

This soup was a staple in your home. Every other Sunday the house filled with the aroma of its cooking. Your mouth waters at the thought and you are helplessly transported back in time. You see the tall clay pot sitting on the stove, flames licking its full rounded bottom, its flared top opened wide, gaping at the ceiling, its middle pinched in like a waist.

It resembles a woman’s shape and you wonder what the potter was thinking while he shaped it. It doesn’t appear to hold much, yet your mother makes sure everyone eats their fill. You can never figure out how she does that.

Once the meat has cooked through, it’s time for the potatoes. Scrub them well and slice them crosswise into thick slices, unpeeled. While they cook, chop up the rest of the vegetables, carrots, squash and cabbage.

Take a fresh corn on the cob and slice off the tip, then shuck the corn peeling back the husk to its core. With a firm grip, snap off the cornstalk. Under running water, work out the silk tucked into the rows of kernels. Score the center of the corn with a sharp knife and then break it in half and add it to your soup.

The corn was your favorite part. You looked forward to it. There seemed to be so few pieces in that pot, but your mother always made sure you got one. Those firm yellow kernels glistened sweetly as you inhaled your soup, leaving the corn for last. There was no need to salt it or add anything to it; it was perfect as it was. You ate it row by row, slowly working your way down the length of it. When all the kernels had disappeared, you siphoned out the succulent broth from within that cob, again working your way along it lengthwise, making sucking noises that made your siblings laugh.

When the potatoes are done, fish them out and place them in a covered dish. Add the rest of the vegetables and continue cooking. In approximately thirty minutes it will all be done.

There is not enough room in your deep stainless steel pot to hold all the ingredients at once. It makes no sense to you. It seems so much bigger than the clay pot of your memories. Nevertheless, you set the potatoes aside before adding the vegetables. You’re not sure when you figured out the sequence to this, if you were shown it or if it just came to you, but it matters not, now.

 

*Eat soup. It’s good for you.

**A version of this appeared on my blog, Prose and Possibilities.

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My Mother’s Kitchen

I am always looking for my mother’s kitchen. The scents, the sounds. The tastes, the textures.  The colors, the flavors. The love she used to stretch each meal so that we were all left satiated once again. Each meal a true labor of love, whether it was a simple dish of eggs scrambled with tortilla bits, called Migas. Or a grand presentation of Mole Poblano, chicken in a spicy chocolate-based sauce.

I doubt I will ever find even a semblance of it, not even in my kitchen as my own table pales by comparison. She is cooking in heaven now and I am left with memories that propel me to keep looking so that every time I walk into a Mexican restaurant I wonder, is this it?

Chips and salsa

An occasional treat. If I eat too much corn, I notice swollen hands the next morning. RA imposing its limitations. The salsa has several health benefits, but what is salsa without chips?

wine

White Zinfandel. Something not found anywhere in my mother’s kitchen. Or my own actually. I keep Moscato around, and I found a strawberry Moscato that hits the right spot after dinner. Who needs dessert?

avocados

Guacamole. Avocados were a mainstay of my diet growing up and are a frequent part of my diet now. Avocados are loaded with vitamins and minerals, plus they are delicious plain or mixed to make guacamole.

Beef Tacos

Beef tacos. Another thing I don’t indulge in often, red meat, especially when it comes in a corn tortilla embrace. Another staple from my childhood was rice and beans, though  I gave up white rice a long time ago. The beans (B vitamins and Folic Acid) remain an important part of my diet, minus the sour cream and cheese topping. 

Pinata lanterns

We were enchanted with the star-shaped hanging lanterns. When we asked our server where we could buy some he said, “Guadalajara.” Hmm, that’s a ways away; maybe I’ll check online. 

Though this was a lovely place, the food delicious, and we received excellent service, it was not quite my mother’s kitchen. I know it no longer exists, but I can’t help wanting to find it.

***One of my favorite novels: Like Water for Chocolate, (Como Agua Para Chocolate) a luscious love story with a bonus of delectable recipes preceding each chapter, written by Laura Esquivel and translated into English by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen

 

An Apple a Day

I mentioned before that I’ve been studying foods for a few years now. When I decided I would write some food-related posts on this blog, in my own roundabout convoluted way of course, I surprised myself with just how much information I had gleaned.

I was also surprised to find composition books filled with neat penciled, cursive writing. Such patience. Such yearning. Such neatness. Such legibility. Such heartache. Running my fingertips lightly over the words as I read, I felt the me of so long ago. The me who had written them, as if the careful writing down of this vital information would somehow help my pain go away.

Fear not. I do not plan to impart solely the clinical. More so the personal, and share what I believe has helped me. The main objective for this study of foods was/is to combat inflammation. That to me is far more important than thwarting fat. Because having a few extra pounds of fat on board is not as lethal as having a few extra ounces of liquid on board.

I learned that the hard way a few weeks before being formally, officially, definitively diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Prior to that event, I ended up in the ER with fluid squeezing my heart and lungs to the point that I presented as an MI patient.

I’d known there was something wrong with me for a while. Something that rest and sleep (hard to come by with a job and kids) and regular doses of OTC pain killers couldn’t seem to touch. My primary care physician mentioned the possibility of RA and handed me over to a rheumatologist.

Unfortunately, this rheumatologist turned out to be the wishy-washy kind. “It could be this. It could be that.” I don’t remember him laying a finger on me, not to examine me nor even to offer a bit of sympathy. And not surprisingly, he never came up with a diagnosis.

But he did treat. Vioxx, right before that blew up. Advil, yeah, like I hadn’t thought of that already. Paraffin wax baths for my hurting hands, hah! I’d read about those in my Fundamentals of Nursing textbook in 1978. This was 2004!

I thought we’d come a long way, baby, but apparently he hadn’t. In August of that year, I went to my PCP and spoke my mind. “That man is going to kill me.”

Little did I know.

He referred me to another rheumatologist and I was given an appointment for mid-October, new patient and all. I tried to think positive. Help was coming. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

On Oct 3rd, what I saw were the bright overhead lights of the ER exam room where at least ten people floated around me, sticking needles into my veins, needles into my radial artery, pills under my tongue, O2 onto my face, leads onto my whole body for a 12 lead EKG.

And the funny thing was that I didn’t care! I didn’t care what all they were doing to me because when you can’t breathe you don’t give a crap about anything else.

After 24 hours of very expensive testing, it was determined that my heart and lungs were fine. As the ER physician put it as he sat next to my hospital bed, “It’s your inflammatory condition.”

It was not his place to diagnose a specific ailment and then come up with a long-term treatment plan for me, to do the job of the specialist who should have. It was his job to pinpoint the obstacle to my heart and lungs functioning as they should right then. I returned his wry smile with my own. We both knew why I was there, why my status had deteriorated to the point where he and I ever had to meet at all.

I immediately envisioned chest tubes being inserted into me to drain the fluid. I’d lost track of how many times I’d assisted a doctor with their placement in critically ill patients. Had I been thinking clearly I would’ve realized that had I needed that particular intervention, I would already have a Pleurevac hanging off the side of my bed.

Though I lay amidst wires, lines and tubings, which made for one very restless night, it was only IV lines, heart monitor leads and an oxygen sensor clipped to my index finger that held me captive to the bed. That, and my yet-to-be-diagnosed disease.

I was sent home on oral steroids to treat my pleural and pericardial effusions. That’s when I first met up with my buddy, Prednisone. We’ve had a rocky on and off relationship these past ten years. Mostly off, but I like to keep my buddy handy, or as I tend to think of him, my frenemy.

Our first dalliance lasted till the following February. By the time I got to see my new rheumatologist, I’d gone through the one week’s worth of treatment prescribed by the ER Doc. The first thing he did was to put me right back on the steroids. “We don’t want it happening again,” he said. No, we sure didn’t.

The next five years were a blur of pain, but at least I knew why.

Come 2009, something happened. I’d left my job several years before and my youngest child had flown away to college.  I began to feel better physically. The fog was lifting and I began to look around. And I thought wait a freaking minute. There’s gotta be more to this than pain and drugs. And so began my journey, into exercise, into foods, into love. Into me.

Plus-Sized Woman

plus2

If I can still get into my size 8 jeans that stretch up to a full size, am I still a size 8?

They are snug, but I don’t have to hold my breath to zip them up or anything. And once on, they don’t bind; I forget I have them on even.

There’s just no forgetting one fact. I’m fatter than I was when I bought them. They were loose on me back then. My husband would stick his hand in the gap that swelled at my lower back and exclaim, “You need a smaller size!” And he was right, I was constantly having to pull them up; actually I still do though not as much, or as often.

But, the mirror and the scale do not lie. This year, I have added ten pounds to my physical repertoire. And the extra weight has two favorite places to settle on my body, my tummy and my caboose. My jeans, being low-rise, are not much affected by my fuller waistline, but the other side, well; let’s just say a certain hand doesn’t fit in there anymore. Though I have to admit to not hearing any complaints.

Regardless, I have one. A complaint, that is. Or maybe I should say I have ten, one for each pound of added weight. The view might have improved from his perspective, but not from mine. As much as I dislike what I see, I have to remember that the mirror is my friend. And it’s telling me it’s time to get serious about some deletion. Would that losing weight could be as easy as hitting clear-alt-delete. I’d be hitting those keys ten times in quick succession.

Since that’s not gonna happen any time soon, I am left with only one alternative. Hit the exercise bike. It’s been sad and lonely out in my patio waiting for me. My exercise gear is stowed away somewhere in this house; I’ll have to see about digging it up while it still fits. It doesn’t come cheap. Another motivator.

And it’s not that I eat a lot or eat the wrong things. It’s that I listened too intently to my writing professor. She suggested we buy lots of chair glue. You know, to keep us in that chair, writing. I spent all summer doing that, reading about writing and writing about writing. As a result, my knowledge has improved tremendously. I just don’t want to measure my progress as a writer by the size of my ass.

Besides, I read that each extra pound of weight puts ten pounds of stress on your joints. And with my RA that is not good, not good at all. So, the amount of chair glue will have to be counterbalanced by an amount of bicycle seat glue. I will try an eight to one ratio for starters.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not fixated on weight so much as my health. I have never been and will never be the size of those emaciated runway models. It seems the fashion industry considers anyone who isn’t a size zero, a plus-sized woman. Well, I’m proud to be on the positive end of the number line. As long those size 8 jeans fit like they use to.

Soft and Sweet

Why is it that Mother Nature makes something so good for you and yet so hard for you? And I mean literally hard. Rock solid, almost. I refer to the sweet potato.

Lately I’ve been on a quest, though my rheumatologist doesn’t encourage me. Western medicine, being what it is, relies more on chemicals than natural substances. And that’s fine up to a point; I prefer to control my RA with diet and exercise as much as possible.

From the research I’ve done, I’ve discovered that the sweet potato is especially nutritious, and after eating them I’ve found that they are especially delicious. But, and it’s a big but, after preparing them I also know they can take a toll on my hands and wrists.

Sometimes I think it would be easier to slice through the bamboo cutting board.

Here they are dressed in salt, pepper, garlic, paprika and olive oil, ready to go into the oven. I gave up struggling to cut them the size of French Fries and accepted that leaving them in larger pieces would be kinder and gentler on my hands. After the struggle of cutting them, it’s almost a pleasure to dig my hands into them and toss them around in the spices. Take that!

And after their metamorphosis, having gone from orange to almost red to golden. Soft and sweet after 20 minutes in the oven, give or take a few. They are so pliable now you can smoosh them with the lightest touch of the finger.

I make them about once a week and they go with everything. This time they accompanied the mahi-mahi, yum. But I am nothing if not a realist and if my wrists or hands are acting up, the sweet potatoes stay in the fridge for another day.

It just makes me wonder why a little tuber makes us work so hard. Maybe it’s to let us know that Mother Nature rules.