No Offense

beauty-primer

You may have noticed that my blog frequency has decreased. I could simply say that I’ve been busy and leave it at that, but that would only be somewhat true, and wouldn’t really address the problem I’m having, so here’s a go at total honesty.

For the past two weeks, I have had probably a dozen blog topics run through my head, and have dismissed all of them for the same reason–potentially offending someone. If you are a family member or have reached a point in your life where this is no longer an issue, I can already hear you saying, “it’s okay! We love you! Just write what’s in your heart!” And “Why the f*%k would you care? Just write whatever you want!” Respectively. You’re both right. But it’s not all that simple. Over the past few weeks, the support coming from all of you has been unexpectedly overwhelming, and wonderful. I have also had some of the stars of my blogs–people I never even dreamed would read them–contact me to ask questions or give a nod of approval, sending me into a panic, internally shouting “holy f*%k! They actually READ that? Well s%£t, should I skip town now or just have a heart attack from embarrassment?!” In the end it was fine, but the anxiety is real!

In addition, as a stay at home mom, my scope can be somewhat and temporarily limited to subjects of home, family, and children. As a woman of a certain age, I have a lot of friends and family in a myriad of different stages of family planning, whether that be trying to have kids, learning you can’t have kids, coming to terms with failed adoption attempts, deciding not to have kids, deciding to stay home with kids and having mixed feelings about that, deciding to work and having mixed feelings about that, deciding whether or not to divulge issues of infertility, defending your choice to have 6 or more kids, defending your choice to have no children…the list could go on, and I know and love someone in EVERY ONE of these situations.

My problem is that any time I start to write about my family, I envision one of these people that I love being hurt or offended or triggering a guilt reflex or triggering a defense mechanism or just generally sticking my foot in my mouth. It’s a problem. So, because I was having this issue, my blog came to a near standstill, and the love and joy I was experiencing through my writing became apprehension and fear. I can’t not write. It’s who I am. So where do I go from here?

I have decided that in order to move forward, I needed to write this blog post as a sort of disclaimer. I have things to say about motherhood, and they’re not all good, or sensitive. I can’t promise that I won’t inadvertently offend someone, trigger an emotional response, or make someone envious or resentful. That could happen. It wouldn’t be on purpose, and I would never want to hurt someone I love, but sometimes words hurt, and I can’t sacrifice my writing on the off chance that someone will hate me for it. I would hope that the people in my life would all understand that my experiences are my own, and because of that, they are intrinsically biased. I am only capable of making decisions and opinions based on the information received through the filters of my perspective–we all suffer the same shortsightedness. That being said, I am open-minded, willing to listen to other points of view, and in fact welcome new opinions and perspectives. Your horizons are only as broad as you allow them to be. I am wide open.

I know that I am extremely blessed. As much as I complain on some days, I am always thankful for what I have. I have a husband that I love, two healthy boys, and a life with a reasonable amount of security. I need you to know that I don’t take these things for granted, even when I feel like running away from it all. I also want you to know that I have had struggles of my own. Maybe they’re equal to yours, maybe they’re not, but you can’t look at anyone’s life at face value and assume that they don’t know what it’s like to suffer or be judged. I have suffered, and I have been judged. We all have.

After this blog post is published, I intend to move on and move forward. I will continue writing about family, motherhood, food, daily struggles, memories, and whatever else comes to mind, and I’m going to try to do it with compassion, but without fear. If I ever write something that triggers an emotional response, I hope that you would message me privately, call, email, or contact me in whatever way you like, in order to talk about it. After my brain has it’s little “holy s*^t” freak out session, I would love to broaden my horizon of experience and gain a little more perspective. I think that’s what the human experience is all about.

 

Photo above borrowed from:
http://hopedwardsteichen.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

 

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FFT Friday: Toro Bravo and the Tasty Dynasty

Tasty

Today’s “Food for Thought Friday” entry comes a day late, but worth the wait.

My absolute, no questions asked, number one favorite restaurant in the whole city of Portland is actually a trio of restaurants owned by John Gorham. Toro Bravo, Tasty n’ Sons, and Tasty n’ Alder are a study in the three aspects of a perfect restaurant: 1) Tasty food. 2) Cooked perfectly. 3) Every time. Although the Gorham trio master each one of these aspects, number 2 is what makes them really sing. Whatever you order, whether you enjoy the flavors or not, will contain individual ingredients cooked exactly the way they were made to be cooked. When you eat an egg, you feel as if the egg knows that it fulfilled its maximum potential. The egg met its destiny on your palette. You’ll wonder how you never learned to cook an egg exactly like that.

The dish pictured above is my all time favorite dish, and two separate versions of it are available at each “Tasty” location. They start with a layer of polenta, which in itself is a revelation. If you’ve ever tried polenta or grits and wondered what the big deal was, you were missing out on a ton of flavor that needs to be layered into the cornmeal while it’s cooking. Tasty chefs add savory and creamy ingredients to the polenta, and just a hint of spice, which lead you to believe that you could finish a whole bowlful, even with nothing else on top. Lucky for us, they top it with either a ragu (an Italian sauce with ground pork served at the “Sons” location) or a sugo (a French sauce with shredded pork served at the “Alder” location), and then finish it with a slice of mozzarella, and a perfectly cooked over easy egg. Break the yolk to let it ooze over the top of your dish, and you have a meal you will never forget.

All three restaurants serve dishes in various sizes, and bring them out as soon as they are ready, which lends to more family-style dining. This is a bonus, because it means your table will usually end up ordering more dishes than people, and everyone will get a taste of everything. Toro Bravo is a dinner-only location, while the Tasty restaurants favor brunch entrees, though they are open all day. All three restaurants serve traditional American style food with twists of Spanish, Moroccan, Mexican, and even the occasional Asian fusion flare. The ambiance of the tasty locations is decidedly hipster, but don’t let that chase you away. The service is excellent, and they are happy to explain everything on the menu without making you feel silly for doing so. Toro Bravo is dimly lit with a beautiful red fiery atmosphere, though it is a little too loud for my liking. The service here is also excellent. They once made a mistake by calling us prematurely for our table. When they realized our table was not, in fact, ready yet, they made up for it in probably $50 worth of free food and drinks.

It is worth repeating that the best aspect of these three restaurants is their ability to cook each item exactly as long as it needs to be cooked. If you order the biscuit sandwich with egg, cheese, and fried chicken, the chicken will be perfectly crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The egg will have a runny yolk and no burnt edges. The cheese will melt without the oil separation, and the biscuit will be perfectly buttery and soft with just a hint of crispness on the outside. If you order the scallops in romesco sauce at Toro Bravo, the scallops will be beautifully caramelized without drying out the insides, and the slightly spicy, hazelnutty, creamy romesco is the perfect accompaniment. What I admire most, is that you can count on consistently good food, every time, no matter the time of day or location…and isn’t that what we all look for in our favorite restaurant? You know exactly what you’re going to get. Good food. Every time.

 

 

 

 

Photo borrowed from:
http://mangiapdx.blogspot.com/2011/01/so-tasty-tasty-n-sons.html

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Drift Creek Falls

Thirteen years ago, while working a horrible summer job at Linfield College, I had a day off and nothing to do. None of my friends had the day off with me, so I hopped in the trusty old family minivan and resolved to go wherever the wind took me. I headed toward the coast because…well, when you’re only an hour away, the gravity just naturally pulls you in that direction. A few miles outside of Lincoln City, Oregon, I saw a teeny tiny sign that said “Drift Creek Falls next left.” I am a huge fan of waterfalls. That probably sounds the same as saying “I am a huge fan of breathing,” because who doesn’t like waterfalls? Nobody, that’s who. Everyone loves falling water. I turned left and headed toward destiny.

It’s about seven miles from hwy 18 to the drift creek falls trailhead, and all seven of them are beautiful. It’s a single lane road with frequent turnoffs built into the shoulder, so it feels a little risky at times. When I was 19, it felt like freedom. Part of the drive is heavily wooded and dim, like a gorgeous tunnel made out of rainforest. Then all of the sudden the sky opens up and you can see a rolling sea, thick with evergreen trees, before diving back down into the lush, ferny dreamscape. Thirteen years ago, every mile I traveled seemed to remove a burden from my shoulders, until my heart felt so light, I thought I could fly.

When I finally reached the trailhead, I was ready for an adventure. The signs stated that it was about a mile and a half to the top of the waterfall, with another quarter mile to reach the bottom. Being overweight but moderately fit, this seemed like a perfect distance. I stepped into the trees and let myself be swallowed up in the freshness of the forest.

The walk is mostly downhill, but not steep. It is a well-worn trail, but it felt to me like uncharted territory. I was deep in the hills of the coastal mountain range, and I was an explorer on a mission. At about the one mile mark, I hit drift creek and a series of small bridges followed as the stream meandered back and forth across my path. The sound of the water grew louder, and a tiny tricklefall decorated the forest floor to my left.

After a little more walking, after the roaring water started to grow, I came upon the treasure of this hike. Not only was there a beautiful waterfall plunging 73 feet down from my vantage point, but there was an incredible suspension bridge taking my trail to the other side of the chasm, allowing for beautiful viewing of the falls at pretty much any angle. I stepped onto the bridge, in awe of the experience. It was incredibly sturdy, but in the middle, you could feel it swing from side to side. I may be afraid of speaking large groups, but a perfectly safe suspension bridge 100 feet in the air that gives the false impression of precariousness is right up my alley for excitement.

I could have stayed on the bridge for hours, watching the water blast down the beautiful mossy rock wall, but the pool below looked tempting on that hot summer day, and lured me down with its siren call. Another quarter mile down the path and I was diving into the gorgeous fresh mountain water. I had never felt so free. All thoughts of cleaning dorms and serving food to high school soccer camp kids vanished from my brain. It remains one of my favorite memories ever.

One last thing I remember from that day was that as I walked my dripping self back uphill to my car, the closer I drew to the trailhead, the more yellow jackets started to swarm around my damp clothing. By the time my car was in sight, I was literally running, and waving my hands in the air like a mad woman, trying to shoo away the vicious vermin. I ran straight to the restroom, locked myself in, and breathed a sigh of relief! I didn’t get stung, thank goodness, but I bet I got quite a few strange looks as I ran to the bathroom!

I can’t believe that 13 years have passed since that day. This trip with my family isn’t my second trip to the falls, but my fourth. In my younger years I took a few friends up there, since the place was too beautiful not to share. As Mr. Spreadsheet parked the car, we made one last comment about how it took 1o years and 2 kids before he joined me at my special place. With Key on Mr. Spreadsheet’s back, and Lock by my side, we took pictures, we played “I Spy,” we talked, we laughed, and I saw the waterfall through the eyes of my family.

Lock was thrilled by the suspension bridge. I could see the same look of trust and excitement in his eyes that I’d had so long ago. As for Mr. Spreadsheet…well, he asked me a dozen times if Key was still safe in his carrier, and begged Lock not to lean on the side of the bridge!

There are six tiny bridges on our way to the main suspension bridge, and Mr. Spreadsheet and I have an old tradition of kissing on every bridge we cross. Twice. That made 28 kisses. When Lock caught on to what we were doing, he decided it was gross and needed to be ceased immediately. He wrapped himself around our legs, trying to push us apart and jump up to put his hand between our lips. He’s a little too young to know the force of true love. Not even a single-minded, high-strung 6 year old can tear love apart. He’ll learn.

One thing that really cemented the amount of time that had passed was the look of the waterfall. In 2010, the whole face of the rock wall collapsed, leaving a jagged surface rather than a smooth wall carpeted in moss. Instead of plunging into a swimming hole, the water now slices through a massive pile of jagged stones–the largest being 60 feet in length. The place looks completely different. It will never be the same. Neither will I. Time changes all of us. We are worn down by time, circumstances, and huge landslides. I will never be that carefree 20 year old again, but if I were that same person, I would probably still be broke, lonely, totally unreliable, and searching for meaning. Today I’m still sanding down my jagged edges, but I’ve got a pretty good idea what life’s all about; and today, embarking on an adventure that’s simultaneously old and new, I couldn’t be happier to have my family by my side.

Drift Creek Falls 13 years ago

Drift Creek Falls before the collapse

Drift Creek Falls Today--After the collapse

Drift Creek Falls Today–After the collapse

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FFT Friday: Nuestra Cocina

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“Our Kitchen,” is the English translation, and nothing makes me happier than walking into their perfectly lit kitchen, ordering the best margarita in Portland, and sampling too many Mexican small plates. Nuestra Cocina is located on 21st and Division, and is one of Mr. Spreadsheet and my favorite locations for damn good food. They don’t take reservations, and they’re only open for dinner, so we recommend either going early, going late, going on a weeknight, or bringing an entertaining guest who will keep you company on the patio while you wait for a table. You will not regret the inconvenience.

Nuestra has perfect evening ambiance. It is just loud enough to make you feel the energy of your environment, while still effortlessly comprehending your partner’s conversation. The service is prompt and friendly, and your evening will begin with perfectly tiny handmade corn tortillas, pressed and griddled just moments ago from pure masa. They come with a beautiful pureed salsa with just enough of a kick to enjoy with your exquisitely crafted margarita…seriously…order the margarita.

Mr. Spreadsheet and I have never ordered an entree at Nuestra Cocina. The small plates are too delicious, and the variety is part of the fun. The menu gets changed slightly throughout the seasons, but some old favorites never change. The pork tacos (tacos de puerco) are a must-have, along with the sopes de chorizo. The pork, in any form whatsoever, is the best food on the menu, and the tacos are reliable perfection. Slow-cooked with chilies and spices, expertly seasoned, and topped with the perfect amount of cotija cheese, diced onion, and radish to make the texture pop, this little plate of three tiny tacos (picture a silver dollar pancake) will make it difficult to quit at one order.

The sopes are my favorite dish. They are crispy masa cakes, topped with black beans, chorizo, and a little garnish to freshen up what might otherwise be a heavy bite. These little cakes are substantial, but are deliciously savory. Don’t pass them up.

One more dish in particular deserves to be highlighted. The tamarind prawns (camarones con tamarindo) are slightly spicy, but are incredibly flavorful. The tartness in the tamarind and the spice of the chilies marry beautifully as the prawns grill in their shells. They’ll come to you slightly charred and smoky, with a cooling lime, cucumber, jicama slaw that is one of my favorite side dishes of all time.

Tonight for dinner, I made sopes…or rather I should say I assembled sopes, as nothing was made from scratch. I went to our local Mexican supermarcado and picked up some pre-formed masa cakes, pork chorizo, and queso fresco. The result of my labors is pictured above. Yes, that’s MY food up there! All you need to do to make them is to deep fry the masa cakes for about 1 minute, or until they float. Rest them on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Top with refried or black beans (my favorite are the salsa style refried beans from Trader Joes), some browned chorizo, crumbled queso fresco, cilantro, finely diced onion, and a few thinly sliced radishes. Easy and delicious! Even Lock loved them, and he never likes anything.

Although we enjoyed our dinner tonight, it’s nowhere near the quality of Nuestra Cocina, and we look forward to visiting again (and again and again) in the near future. If you decide to make a visit, Mr. Spreadsheet and I would love to hear your opinion…just don’t forget to order the margarita!

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Moms Only Use One Earbud

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I was walking out the door with my younger son, Key, in one hand, and my earbuds in the other, on my way to the grocery store. Mr. Spreadsheet saw me and commented on the earbuds.
“Do you think you should be using those?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Why not?”
“Well what if Key cries and needs you?”
“Oh, well I only ever use one,” I said, and made my way to the car.
I didn’t elaborate at the time, but when I got to the car, I realized that I haven’t used both earbuds more than a handful of times since Lock was born 6 1/2 years ago, and until today, Mr. Spreadsheet had no idea. It got me to thinking about the differences between us as parents, and about what it means to be the “default parent.”

Mr. Spreadsheet is an amazing father. He loves his boys as much as I do. He loves taking Lock on bike rides, to movies, shopping for the boys’ clothes, and running around the house with Key. He will gladly keep the boys for a weekend once a year while I take a ladies weekend off from motherhood. He will roll around on the bed with them, play music for impromptu dance parties, help with homework, read books, and once in awhile, he’ll even change a diaper. But he’s not the default parent.

Being a default parent means that you never get to sleep longer than your earliest riser. It means that whenever someone’s sick, you’re probably going to pull an all-nighter. It means that at the end of a long road trip, instead of taking a nap, you’re on the hook for watching energetic kids who just napped the whole way home. Being the default parent means that whenever someone’s hungry (and someone’s always hungry), you need to drop what you’re doing and take care of business. It means that your working day is from 6am to 8pm if you’re lucky, but you’re always on-call. It means tackling colds without Nyquil, because you can’t afford to be drugged up if someone needs you in the middle of the night, and listening to your favorite music with one ear, while the other earbud hangs, dangling and useless.

Motherhood came as a shock to me. I didn’t realize how much I would miss my former life. I didn’t know that there would be days when snuggles and kisses couldn’t make up for the loss of long, meandering drives out into the middle of nowhere, with no agenda or timeline. I didn’t know how long I would mourn lazy Sundays, movie marathons, peaceful brunches, and reading or writing without interruptions. It’s difficult to come to terms with a completely new existence, even when it was 100% your own choice.

There are upsides to being the default parent. I get more snuggles and more attention. They turn to me when they scrape their knees or need advice, and it feels good to be needed. I also realize that there are days when my husband would love to be the default parent. It would be awful going to work every day, leaving these munchkins behind, watching them go to the other parent when they need something…being absent for so much of their lives.

Our roles are set, and reversing them at this point would be a monumental change–one neither of us would probably prefer. Being a default parent is tough but rewarding. Being the bread-winning parent means slogging through work every day, but you retain your sense of self and purpose. I think that’s perhaps the biggest challenge of being the default parent. It’s easy to lose yourself. Someone mentioned to me recently that I was such a good writer and artist, it seemed like my talent was going to waste. I replied that I was spending these years of my life raising two boys, and that should be enough…but is it?

Since I started blogging a week and a half ago, I have started to rethink my answer. I HAD been letting my talents go to waste in more ways than one. Not only had I been letting my writing muscles atrophy, but as an introvert with social anxiety, I tend to sit on my thoughts and feelings instead of sharing them with the world. Maybe the world will continue on course without the minutia of my thoughts. Maybe the world would never miss my writing, but I’m not doing this for the whole world. I’m doing it because I have a voice, and a little tiny corner of the universe that will stop and listen. What a waste to throw that away.

I’m glad I have two ear buds. One may hang loose, getting tangled in my collar and sleeves, but it reminds me that I’m a mom, and that I have a responsibility to raise two beautiful boys into strong men. The other one sits firmly in place, reminding me that I also have a responsibility to myself, my gifts, and my tiny little corner of the world.

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A Foolproof Gift Guide for Men on a Budget

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I am blessed to be one of the rare women in the world whose husband is really good at planning gifts and birthday surprises. I’m not going to call anyone out, but over the years I’ve had more than a few girlfriends, family members, and online friends contact me, disappointed about a birthday or holiday gone horribly, horribly wrong. My friends are not high-maintenance people. I’ve never heard a woman cry because she didn’t get a diamond, a car, or a house. I’ve never had a friend call me because her breakfast in bed was too cold or the hallmark card she received at work wasn’t heartfelt enough. What I do hear, is that sometimes a holiday passes completely unnoticed. Sometimes the man in a woman’s life is completely overwhelmed and unable to do anything. Sometimes time and finances are so tight that a man gives up. Sometimes I hear complaints from men that women are just too difficult to shop for. I call shenanigans.

I know that money is often tight. I know that all of us get totally overworked from time to time. I know that women seem like mysterious enigmas wrapped in child-proof packaging, but in reality, we are ridiculously simple. I have thought about this topic a lot over the years, and I am ready to give you my foolproof, budget-proof formula for making the woman in your life swoon with happiness AND score you major, major bedroom points. It’s a simple, 3 point plan. Ready? Here we go:

1. Wish her a Happy ______(Birthday, Valentine’s, Anniversary, whatever), FIRST thing in the morning, and deliver it with a kiss. 
Seem like a no-brainer? I’ve had no fewer than a dozen conversations where the man in a woman’s life waited until 9pm to say something, or didn’t say anything at all. This is a BIG deal, and you can consider it part of your gift to her. As a woman, if you do NOTHING else on a special occasion, you need to at least acknowledge her existence. Put a reminder in your phone with an alarm, even if you never forget anything. When you kiss her, you need to MEAN it. This is no good-bye peck. Really good and kiss her. Make her knees buckle a little. I promise, even if you screw up the rest of the day, she’ll be in a good mood while you muck it up.

2. Pick a chore she hates, and do it for her.
If your wife or girlfriend normally cooks, and hates it, pick one meal and make it for her, even if it’s just toast and juice. If she normally does the dishes, tell her to take a bubble bath while you do them. If she’s been bugging you to change out the light bulbs for a month, suck it up and pull out the ladder. If you have young children, take them to the park for an hour while she reads a book. Most women desperately want to feel pampered on her special day, and if you can’t afford a mani/pedi or a spa treatment, believe it or not, crossing off something from her “to do” list will probably make her smile even more, and it wont cost you a penny.

3. Create a romantic moment.
Dig up old pictures of the two of you and tape one to the inside of a card (Hallmark, dollar store, folded piece of notebook paper…honestly, it won’t matter). Write “If it’s possible, I love you even more today.” Done. You’re welcome. I’m being flippant, but I’m totally serious. It’s that simple. If you’re more talented, crafty, musical, or have a few dollars, you can try a million different variations on this theme:

  • Write her a song, letter, or a poem. It doesn’t even have to be good. She’ll still have it tucked away in a shoe box when she’s 80 years old.
  • Buy a $6 bottle of wine and a 25 cent tea candle and lay a picnic blanket on your living room floor for a cheap, but surprisingly romantic date. Again, kiss her like you mean it.
  • Pick flowers from a field and tie a ribbon around the stems. If you don’t have a ribbon, use a twist tie, a zip tie, a rubber band, whatever. It’s seriously adorable to get hand-picked flowers.
  • Buy an empty frame for the future. Write a note to insert into the frame telling her what it’s for–a picture of your future children, your next pet rescue, your 50th wedding anniversary, or a picture of two grey haired sweethearts sitting on the front porch drinking sweet tea.
  • Try to remember three details about your first date and recite them to her while you drink coffee together after work.
  • Grab a camera, go to the park, and do a photo shoot of the two of you.
  • Go to a playground and sit on the swings, push her on the merry-go-round, or ride the see saw.
  • Take a long drive down an empty road. Stop in the middle of nowhere and drink some wine, coffee, sparkling cider, etc. Plastic wine glasses get you extra points. Super extra bonus points if you stopped at a place that appeared to be random, but was the place you first realized you loved her, or wanted to move in together, or decided to marry her.

That’s it! My three point plan ensures that your partner feels acknowledged, pampered, and loved. It helps if you space out the three steps throughout the day. It also helps if you do it totally on your own. Asking for help, advice, or memories is discouraged, because it makes her do some of the work (ie. “Honey, I really wanted to do something romantic for you today, but I just couldn’t think of what you’d really like to do. What do you think?”). It IS however, acceptable to give her two choices, provided that you’re fully prepared to tackle either one (ie. “Honey, I really wanted to do something romantic for you today. Would you prefer a picnic lunch under a waterfall, or a drive out to the middle of nowhere to dance under the stars?”). It is also important not to emphasize your lack of money. It is okay to tell her “I wish I could have taken you on a cruise, but I love just spending time with you.” It is inadvisable to repeatedly apologize for giving her a rowboat ride instead of a yacht. Above all, a woman just wants to feel like there’s nowhere else on earth you’d rather be than by her side.

I feel the need to add a disclaimer. My plan probably only works for about 85-90% of the female population. There ARE women out there who will only be satisfied by jewelry, fancy dinners, and spa weekends. I also think it’s fair to say that every woman would appreciate those things once in awhile. If you have always been low on money and time, however, and your lady is still with you…you’ve got a good one. Make sure you treat her right.

 

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Food for Thought Friday

Carbonara

As a woman of substantial size, I have a deep appreciation for food. There’s no escaping this love affair. I’ve tried for too many years. I’ve sampled every diet, nutrition fad, and philosophy I’ve ever come across…and nothing has helped me attain a perfect body–only fierce cravings and disappointment–so instead of suffering, restricting, and yo-yo dieting, Food and I have come to a truce. It continues being delicious, and I continue savoring it.

Before you laugh, consider this: when was the last time you enjoyed a cookie or other sweet dessert? Like REALLY enjoyed it, without telling yourself you were “bad” for giving in, or counting the calories, or planning your workout in the morning to rid yourself of the shame? For some of you, you’ll have no clue what I’m talking about. A cookie is a cookie. You want a cookie, you eat the cookie, you move on with life. My friend, you’ve discovered the secret to food freedom, and you don’t even know it! You are also probably at a reasonably healthy weight and have no food hang-ups. Congratulations! For the rest of us, the cookie isn’t just a cookie–it’s the enemy, and every meal is a battlefield.

My war is over. That isn’t to say that I’m not trying to eat healthy, because I am, but I discovered a secret recently. If I remove all the guilt, shame, and stigma I’ve associated with food my entire life and allow myself to eat whatever I want without restriction, I actually eat fewer calories, and more whole foods. Over the past 6 months, I’ve eaten more vegetables and fewer sweets than I have since I was 18. I’ve lost a few pounds, but that’s not the point. The point is that I feel better about myself, I feel healthier, and more freedom than I’ve felt in my entire life.

I’m sure I will bring up this topic more in the future, but I introduce it today in order to roll out “Food for Thought Friday.” Since I’m embracing my love of food, cooking, eating out, and nutrition, I’m going to share the love once a week with recipes, restaurant reviews, or personal food-related stories. I need to point out that this is HUGE for me. As a woman of size, my instinct is to minimize my appreciation for food in order to defy stereotypes about heavy people. In college, I went as far as to eat ALL of my food with a fork and knife–sandwiches, fries, cookies, everything–in order to avoid the stereotype that all fat people are slobs. I was terrified of dropping food in my lap or on my clothing for fear of judgment. What I know now is that what other people think of me is none of my business. I love my body, my life, and my food, and I’m no longer ashamed.

Today’s Food for Thought Friday is a writing sample I wrote when I applied for a job as a local food blogger. Wouldn’t that just be the best job in the world? I didn’t get it. I didn’t even get a call, but the sample was really fun to write, and I thought it would be a nice way to kick off this (hopefully) regular segment in my blog. So without further ado, I present to you:

From Cream to the Crop: A Culinary Transformation

When it comes to my relationship with food, I have always thought that richer is better. I love a heavy chocolate cake dripping with ganache, and I’ll pick a creamy artichoke enchilada over the more traditional version any day. That’s why I love carbonara. Pasta, typically spaghetti or linguini, with a rich bacon cream sauce, sometimes dappled with button mushrooms and bright green peas. What I didn’t realize, however, is that this version of carbonara…isn’t carbonara at all.

A few years ago, my husband and I took a 3-week trip to Europe. We started in Paris, ate our way down to Provence, and nibbled through Venice, Florence, and Rome. As a side note, if you’re making a trip to Europe for the food, I beg you, do your research! Read reviews online, or ask friends and co-workers for recommendations, but do NOT pick a random bistro or café, particularly in a touristy area. Every time my husband and I picked a place at random, we were sorry. Every time we researched a restaurant, we were greeted with the most heavenly, authentic food with brilliant service. In one of these amazing restaurants, I ordered a tagliatelle alla carbonara. What landed on my plate, however, looked nothing like the carbonara I was used to!

Instead of dry spaghetti from a box, I got a wide, fresh noodle, perfectly al dente and amazingly flavorful in its own right. In place of a cream sauce, the pasta had been lightly coated in a beautiful dark yellow egg yolk. Rather than bacon, I had a light sprinkling of tender, almost crackling guanciale. As for the peas and mushrooms…well…those were completely absent! There was maybe a sprinkle of cheese, and that was it. I felt like a transformed woman. I twirled and slurped, savoring every bite. My husband rolled his eyes at me, but had to agree that it was delicious. He had never liked carbonara at home.

A few weeks later, back in the earthy reality of Portland, my husband and I took a trip to the farmer’s market in the park blocks downtown. My in-laws came with us, and we were regaling them with stories of sights and tastes from our trip, when we came across a local vendor selling fresh pasta. The inspiration struck suddenly to recreate a version of my authentic Italian carbonara that would help my in-laws experience a small piece of our journey. I turned to my husband with a one-word question: “Carbonara?” A grin and a nod was all I needed to begin whirling my family through the farmer’s market like a typhoon.

Seeking local freshness over complete authenticity, I selected a few beautiful duck eggs from one local vendor, smoky tasso ham from another. To cut the richness with fresh spring vegetables, I selected some garlic leeks, and found some gorgeous pea sprout tendrils, neither of which I had ever used before. I was inspired by all the local produce to create something beautiful and unique, while still conjuring images of our recent gastronomic foray. This is my favorite way to shop for dinner—look at the seasonal produce that my local grocery has to offer, select something that looks fresh and beautiful, and turn it into comfort food.

My in-laws peered curiously into the kitchen as I began to cook. My hunch is that they sat down to the meal feeling a tad put-off by the barely-simmered egg yolk that constituted the sauce of my creation. That being said, one bite made them instant converts. I have to say that I had changed as well. My opinion of rich food had begun to crumble. Richer isn’t always better. Sometimes a meal needs only the simplicity of fresh ingredients, local produce, and a little bit of magic.

Photo shared from http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/spaghetti-alla-carbonara where, incidentally, you can find a wonderful recipe for authentic spaghetti alla carbonara.

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