Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes

This morning, someone at church asked me about our Thanksgiving plans, and naturally our conversation turned to food (I’m sure I was the one to bring it up). She was intrigued by my talk of “hash brown casserole,” and I told her I’d publish the recipe here.

Several years ago the recipe for Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes came into our family. We don’t have an Aunt Pearl, and no one really knows who the heck she is or was. But, boy, do we love her potato casserole! It’s a treat to make this because we reserve it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has become my job to make it because I’ll be the one with the biggest serving on my plate (turkey? who needs turkey?), and I’m the one who would complain the loudest if this dish wasn’t on the table. (And being the designated maker of this dish, I can make as much as I want and save some aside in my own fridge – who’s gonna know?)

We’re probably going to eat our main Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant this year, but do you think I’m going to miss an opportunity to make these potatoes? Well, do you? (I didn’t think so.)

So here it is, Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. And for anyone looking for the nutritional content of this dish, just forget it. Even if we knew, we wouldn’t burden you with that here. It’s Thanksgiving – a time of year we forget we’re supposed to be sensible about food!

I’m giving you the recipe 1) below and 2) as a downloadable PDF. There are two identical recipes on the PDF (I hate to waste paper, so there’s one for you and one to share.) To download the PDF, click the link below, then click the icon; it will download to your computer.

Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes

2 12-oz. bags hash browns, thawed
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
16 oz. sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks melted butter (divided use)
2 cups crushed corn flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In large casserole dish, mix first 6 ingredients (hash browns through salt) with 1 stick of butter. Sprinkle with corn flakes and drizzle with 2nd stick of butter. Bake for 1 hour.

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The wait is over – but not the weight

It’s time to get back to blogging.

(I know you’ve been on the edge of your chair in anticipation of my next post. You can relax. Here it is.)

I’ve missed writing, but, to be honest, even though my class has been over for three weeks, my brain hasn’t caught up yet. I’m still mentally and physically tired.

So today I’m just going to tell you my weight (haven’t done that in months) and consider this my leap back into the blogosphere.

Yesterday I weighed 178, but this morning I weighed 178.5.

We’re in a Biggest Loser competition again at work. Week 1 was really good for me. I lost about 7.5 pounds. I say “about” because before the first weigh-in I had eaten breakfast, and before the second weigh-in I hadn’t. Not eating before a weigh-in is my typical practice. I usually visit McDonald’s on those mornings, take my breakfast to work, weigh-in, then eat.

In the past it was on Indulge Fridays, but this group decided to weigh in on Mondays, so I changed my splurge day to Indulge Monday. I weigh in and then eat what I want the rest of the day – within reason.

But yesterday, after having some lightheadedness Thursday and Bruce suggesting I might be low on iron, I decided that was an excuse for a drive-through hamburger. I hadn’t had one in so long I had forgotten what I was missing. Truth is, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting to. That’s a good thing – means I won’t be tempted to do it very often. What I really wanted was a good ribeye steak, but I didn’t see how I could get one on a quick lunch break. So I drove through Wendy’s and indulged.

Now that that’s over, I’m mostly back on track. This morning after our two-mile race we walked over to the local grocery and got an egg, bacon and cheese biscuit. Then I had chicken for lunch – a great recipe I’ll post soon – and a vegan brownie.

So here I am rambling on and on when I said I was just gonna post my weight. But you knew I couldn’t stop there. When I talk about my “journey to fitness,” I get wordy. You know I do that, but you still love me, right? You love Suzy & Spice so much you’re willing to put up with my rambling! Thanks. I appreciate it.

The wait is over. But not the weight.

Stay tuned for more rambles.

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Holy cow! I’m in chocolate heaven!

I’ve been OD’ing on chocolate this weekend.

On Food Network, that is. I can’t say that I’ve indulged in much of the actual substance lately (yeah, chocolate is a substance for me – but not a controlled substance, if you know what I mean, so I have to be careful how much I keep around the house).

Because Valentine’s Day is just a couple of days away, my favorite TV network has been spreading it on thick. Many of my favorite Food Net stars have episodes this weekend dedicated to gooey, dark, wonderful, sweet (and even savory!) bits of chocolate perfection. And since my household recently upgraded to DVR service, I can watch these shows in less time because I can skip the commercials!

But who am I kidding? I have spent just as much time watching them without the commercials because I keep rewinding through the good parts. The many, many good and gooey parts …

Am I beginning to sound obsessed? Well … maybe just a little. (Any chocoholic should understand.)

Tonight, during Alton Brown’s special, Good Eats: Turn on the Dark, I nearly got up from my chair (where I ostensibly was working on our taxes), whipped out my stand mixer and started pulling out the butter and cocoa powder. But I didn’t.

I am trying to lose weight, after all.

That’s why I was so excited when my sweet friend – or should I say my sweets-loving friend – Betsy gave me her recipe for vegan brownies, along with all the ingredients to make them. No baking required.

Betsy had offered me one of these brownies a couple of months ago, on the drive back from Hot Springs (where she won some running awards). It was love at first bite – not only because they tasted good but because they were made with such good-for-you ingredients. So I made them last weekend and took one to work with me every day. I emailed Betsy and told her they got me through a very stressful week (big deadline at work, plus my mom was in the hospital).

I know what you’re thinking: “Vegan brownies? I don’t think so.”

That is, if you even know what vegan means. A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is a vegetarian on steroids (OK, not literally; that would defeat the purpose). A vegan not only doesn’t eat animals (or, as Mr. Rogers would say, “anything that had a mother”), he or she doesn’t eat products that come from animals – meaning no eggs or dairy. Some (all?) vegans will not wear clothing or use other products that came from animals.

I’m sure some vegan foods are not as delicious as the typical American would like for them to be, but I believe that many non-vegans (like me) would enjoy these brownies; heck, some of you may even be as enthusiastic as I am about them. Give them a try. You don’t even have to turn on your oven (but you will have to clean your food processor).

Note 1: Betsy brought me certain ingredients that I’m quite sure she bought in Little Rock; I’ve never seen pure stevia extract at a store in Batesville (you can buy the less-intense kind at just about any store here, though), and I’m thinkin’ cacao nibs would be on that list, too. But you can improvise or make a shopping list for your next trip to the big city.

Note 2: I found that these weren’t very thick in my 8×8-inch pan, so I made a second batch and spread them a little thicker. Feel free to experiment; the original thickness may be just fine for you.

Give these a chance, and let me know what you think.

Vegan Brownies

(All ingredients preferably organic, but you can substitute where necessary.)

1 cup walnuts
8 large OR 12 medium-size pitted dates (about 1 cup)
5 tablespoons cacao powder
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 packet pure stevia extract (powder)
pinch salt
1-2 tablespoons cacao nibs (for sprinkling on top)

In food processor, grind walnuts into a “flour” (until it’s fine but grainy). Add dates and grind until mixture is relatively smooth (it will still be grainy).

Add remaining ingredients and mix in processor until well blended. Spread in ungreased 8×8-inch pan. Press cacao nibs on top.

Store in refrigerator.

If we hadn’t eaten all the brownies I were a really good photographer, I would have a great picture of this wonderful dish. But I am not, and I do not. Use your imagination. Or just make the brownies. Then you’ll know why there are none left. And if you make them and don’t like them, just drop them by the Oakley house; we’ll be happy to solve that problem for ya.

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The Big Waste

We Americans are spoiled.

But you knew that, right?

I just finished watching a Food Network show that made this fact all too plain. Called The Big Waste, the show featured four Food Network chefs – Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Anne Burrell and Alex Guarneschelli – who were challenged to create a multi-course gourmet banquet for 100 people.

The catch: “You can only use food that is unwanted, rejected or otherwise deemed unsuitable for sale – waste food headed for the trash.”

To gather their bounty, the chefs visited meat shops, fish markets, orchards, farms, bakeries and grocery stores. Every one of these locations had a sickening amount of wasted food. Examples:

  • A chicken had a wing that was broken in processing. The farmer said they couldn’t sell it because the consumer would think the chicken was diseased or otherwise not fit to eat. “They think there’s more to it than just a simple broken wing.”
  • Eggs at one small farm varied in size from walnut to, oh, maybe the size of a plum. Not sellable because they weren’t of a uniform size or all the same color, farmer Brian said. “Brian throws away around 2,000 eggs a year, but the estimated number of wasted eggs in America is 5 billion,” according to the show’s narrator.
  • After a wholesale meat seller produces center-cut short ribs, the leftovers are discarded because people “don’t know what to do with this end of it.” As Chef Michael said, “Customers fall into habits, and so do we. … It’s good to see stuff [like this] because it makes us think.”
  • Cabbage at a you-pick-it farm had been tossed to the ground – in the middle of the crop rows – by people who thought the heads were too small or too wilted (the outer leaves only) or for some other unknown reason. The farmer estimated a 40-50 percent waste of his produce. Chef Bobby said, only half-jokingly, that those people should be charged a penalty for picking and then dumping perfectly good food on the ground (and for someone else to have to pick up, I would add). At the same farm, beautiful, blemish-free stalks of corn had been bent over in a hurricane, but the pickers passed them by because they weren’t standing upright.
  • At one grocery, peas had spots and carrots had small bruises, joining lots of less-than-picture-perfect produce heaped onto discard piles. At the same store, containers of ricotta cheese had been set aside for disposal, one day past the “best before” date. Shortbread imported from Scotland was being hauled out because it was “past its best-before date.” But as long as the date isn’t an expiration date, many products are safe to use past “the date,” the narrator said.
  • Hundreds (thousands?) of peaches at one you-pick-it orchard were tossed onto the ground because they were “not quite perfect.” Tomatoes at the same farm had a few cracks from too much rain and were similarly tossed – destined for the farm’s massive compost pile.

All edible food. All considered waste.

About 40 percent of the food produced in the United States isn’t eaten, according to the narrator – enough waste food to fill a football stadium every single day. The grocery store owner with all the not-so-pretty produce and the ricotta approaching its “best before” date actually thanked the chefs for taking the food off his hands; otherwise he would have to pay the trash folks to haul it off.

In an unusual twist, Anne met a “freegan” – a man name Robert who “tries to avoid consumerism at all costs.” He said there’s a misconception that all “people who go through trash for their food are homeless people or people with need, and it’s not [true]. I have a good job, and I have a nice home, and I do this because I want to and because it’s there.”

All things considered, Robert seemed like a reasonable guy, and he helped Anne dumpster-dive through a supermarket’s trash, a location he frequents for the discarded food. Much of the food was in packages (containers of quinoa salad a day before the sell-by date) or had peels or rinds that made them safe for rescuing (avocadoes, mangoes). (I don’t think they took the unwrapped bagels or loaves of bread.) I don’t know about Robert, or you, but this is where I would draw the line. I wouldn’t be afraid to take soon-to-be-discarded produce from a store owner or manager who explained why it wasn’t on the shelves, but items already in the alley trash would be very iffy for me. (Mom, I know you’re glad to hear me say this.)

But, as Robert said, it’s crazy to throw out perfectly good food; he said he would “like for there to be one day that I could ride from one end of Manhattan to the other without any food that’s still edible being put out.” I agree.

Anne invited Robert to the banquet, to dine among the restaurateurs, critics and other foodies and judge how the four top chefs succeeded in their mission.

I have to stop here and say I know what you’re thinking: With all this talk about dumpster diving and the retrieval of less-than-perfect, perishable food from certain disposal, what about safety – is some of the food as spoiled as we Americans are?

Don’t worry – with each batch of food the chefs took back to the kitchen, they had a food-safety inspector come in and examine it. Most of it passed, save a chunk of prosciutto that was 43 degrees – or 2 degrees higher than is considered safe. Prosciutto is cured, preserved meat, Anne argued, that would be safe even at 2 degrees above the limit. But the inspector wouldn’t pass it. You could tell that Anne had trouble with this one. She knows how prosciutto is produced and said she would be taking that chunk of meat home.

Despite that small setback for the culinary crew, it was heartening to know that a safety inspector examined the chefs’ finds. It would be easy to sensationalize the matter of American waste and disregard the fact that we have real issues with food safety and the system that purports to oversee it (but that’s a whole ’nother post).

In case you’re wondering how the chefs fared in their mission, they succeeded; they found enough destined-for-the-dumpster food to feed all 100 guests one appetizer, two entrees, a side dish and three desserts – all gourmet fare.

As Chef Anne kept saying, this makes me really sad.

And as Chef Alex said, “It’s making me even think about my own standards and how absurd they’ve become.”

As it did for each of the four chefs, this experience changed the way I look at fresh food, especially produce. I usually pick over the apples in the grocery store, examining each and every one to make sure it is bruise- and hole-free. After all, who wants to eat a bruised apple? (I must have had some kind of premonition about the show, though, because the last apples I bought had a few bruises; I have simply been cutting off the small bruised areas and eating the rest.)

When it was all over and the 100 guests had been fed (and satisfied – one food critic could be seen trying to scrape the last little bit of sauce with his fork), each of the chefs – many of whom I’ve seen waste food on their own TV shows – had something to say about their experience:

  • Bobby: “I have a different sense of what the definition of waste is when it comes to food now, because we just need to learn how to use it.”
  • Anne: “Makes me think twice whenever I put anything in the garbage.”
  • Alex: “I think now when I do buying for my restaurants I’ll think a lot about not minding so much nature’s imperfections.”
  • Michael: “It’s very, very eye-opening. I tell you, when I go to the grocery store now, I’m gonna to buy the holey apple with the spot.”

There is more to be said on this vast topic, but thank you, Food Network, for giving the subject some star power. Maybe a few people will sit up and listen, and maybe the conversation will continue.

If you live in Arkansas and know of excess food that is edible but destined for the dump, or to help out with a tax-free donation, visit Potluck, Arkansas’ only food-rescue organization.

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3 cheers for Three Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake

I found another great recipe a few days ago, you guys, and finally had time to bake it this evening. It’s delish, and you’d never know it’s “healthy.” (I tried to take a picture, but I don’t do so well with the lighting in my kitchen.)

If you like pasta – especially cheesy pasta, you’ll love this. If you want to get your kids to eat spinach, serve them this. Even though I love spinach in salads, I’m not a fan of the cooked variety, but with this dish, I eats me spinach (to quote a famous sailor man).

As usual, I modified the recipe a bit, but mostly just in portion sizes; this time I kept all the ingredients the same except that I added a bit of dried oregano and did not omit the salt when I cooked the pasta). It calls for an 8-inch-square pan, but I added extra everything and made more servings. (I’m giving you the recipe as I found it, plus the oregano; add to it as you like.) Also, now that I have a convection oven, I’ll be adding a note about baking temperatures to the recipes I post (you’re supposed to cut the temp 25 degrees because convection baking is more efficient).

Because I made extra, I’m going to freeze one of the cooked casseroles so that when life gets busier (as it will in a couple of weeks when my class starts), I can have a hearty dinner reheated in a flash. If you want to make ahead and freeze some of it, I’m sure you could do all but the baking step and put the frozen casserole in the oven straight from the freezer. The chicken is cooked on the stove before the baking takes place.

I also bought some whole-wheat hoagie buns (Kroger didn’t have whole-wheat dinner rolls), sliced them and added garlic butter and Parmesan before baking those garlicly wonderful pieces of heaven. (OK, so that part’s not as healthy, except to my psyche.)

Don’t  forget that I have a Recipes tab at the top of my blog now; this one’s going there. I haven’t posted a lot of recipes there yet, but this one will join them!

Dig in, friends.

Three Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake

1½  cups (12 ounces) multigrain penne pasta, uncooked
9-ounce package fresh spinach leaves
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
½ teaspoon dried oregano
14.5-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 ounces (1/4 of 8-ounce package) Neufchatel cheese
1 cup shredded 2-percent-milk mozzarella cheese, divided
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (For a convection oven, heat to 350 degrees.)

Cook pasta as directed on package, omitting salt and adding spinach to the boiling water the last minute.

Cook and stir chicken and basil in large nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium-high heat 3 minutes. Stir in spaghetti sauce, garlic and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Stir in Neufchatel.

Drain pasta mixture; return to pan. Stir in chicken mixture and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Spoon into 2-quart casserole or 8-inch-square baking dish.

Bake 20 minutes; top with remaining cheeses. Bake 3 minutes or until mozzarella is melted.

Makes 4 servings, 460 calories each.

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Suzy’s skillet supper

This is what I made for dinner tonight.

Yes, I need to come up with a less-Denny’s-sounding name for it, but it’s almost bedtime. I’ll worry about that tomorrow. In fact, the only reason I’m posting this tonight is that I’ll forget the ingredients if I don’t record them now.

My favorite thing about this skillet pasta dish is that I was able to use a couple of items from my own back yard: fresh basil and cherry tomatoes. Also, most of the ingredients were what I just happened to have on hand (I bought the broccoli, the spinach and the bell pepper over the weekend, and I opened my fridge and cupboards for the rest).

So here is the jumbly, hurried version of the recipe – for now. I’m going to let you figure out your own amounts, partly because I didn’t measure anything and partly because I’m about to go to bed. Also, I’ll clean it up and post it on my new Recipes page when I get a chance. (I haven’t formally announced it, but I created a page just for recipes; see RECIPES tab above.)

Suzy’s Skillet Supper

  • Whole-grain penne rigate pasta (or whatever kind you prefer)
  • Olive oil
  • A dash of chicken broth
  • Boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Fresh garlic (lots)
  • Red bell pepper
  • White onion
  • Fresh broccoli
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Fresh baby spinach
  • Basil
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook everything but the cheese in a big ol’ skillet, saving the spinach and the basil until nearly the end, dish it up, grate the cheese on top, and devour.

Serves a family of four, or Bruce and one small child.

Bon appetit, and good night!


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Just checking in

I am still alive. I’ve just been busy – and tired.

My week has been a bit difficult, foodwise. I have strayed off the path a bit – not too much, just enough to make me a little annoyed at myself. Stress will do that.

Tonight I wanted to write a longer post here but had to write my Thursday post for the Connect+Scripture blog at my church, then edit the Friday morning post and get it ready to publish. This is time consuming, and, even though I love Connect+Scripture, it sometimes causes me to neglect other things I need to do (such as sleep).

Last week’s weigh-in at work had me close to my 20-pound goal. I’m rethinking my reward. Instead of sandals, I’m considering a chin-up bar that will hang in the doorway (I need to work on my flabby arms). Or getting a replacement for my favorite necklace, which I lost nearly three weeks ago (ironically, because of the Biggest Loser contest! It was in my purse instead of on my person in the minutes leading up to the weigh-in, and it fell out somewhere along the way). But I may save the necklace for my 40-pound reward; it costs nearly $40, and the chin-up bar is $18. On the other hand, I may have to make my rewards ones that don’t cost money; we’re still trying to sell our house in North Little Rock, so pennies are still being pinched around here.

I’m so tired tonight I’m bordering on incoherent, so I’m going to sign off and crawl into bed with the very good book that I’m reading.

Good night, sweet friends.

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Things I’m thankful for

These are things I’m thankful for this morning:

  • The glorious weather. I know it’s hot, but that’s why I like to do my workout (walk/jog) at sunrise; the weather is actually cool for about an hour, until the sun rises high over the houses. Today there were just enough wispy clouds to create a soft pastel scene just above the horizon for a few minutes. So peaceful. We’ve had no rain lately, either, meaning I have to remember to water my own tomatoes and herbs (small sacrifice), but that also means I don’t have to wear special gear to exercise outside. Another reason to be thankful.
  • City road crews. The dead ’possum I experienced yesterday morning on Hill Street was gone this morning. It was a fresh kill yesterday, so I’m really glad I won’t have to look at it every day for two weeks like we did the armadillo carcass. Not sure who picked it up, but I’m grateful to that person. For the record, any time the subject of “jobs I would never want to have” comes up, No. 1 on my list has always been “the person who cleans up road kill.”
  • New friends, Part 1. At the moment I’m thinking about my new running/walking friends. Since I joined the women’s running clinic in late February (and recruited Coach Bruce a few weeks into it), I have made some lifelong friends. The group is amazing in its enthusiasm and support of one another. Many of us had been couch potatoes for far too long, and we’re now spurring each other on in many ways. This particular group is a hybrid of the women’s clinic, the Run for God Bible study and the White River Road Runners group.
  • New friends, Part 2. Bruce and I have been Batesville residents for 13 months now, and we have felt so embraced by our community. We have friends at church, at work, through volunteering and because of family connections. There’s not enough space here to explain it all or to express our gratitude and sense of belonging.
  • Old friends. I’m thinking of Lynn in particular right now. It’s been so nice reconnecting with her over the past couple of years, and now we live closer to each other and are able to have face-to-face meetings every now and then. She has been an encouragement to me, as well as an encourager. We’re on similar journeys to physical fitness although our personal circumstances are quite different.
  • Family. We moved here because of family. I haven’t seen as much of my brother and his brood as much as I would like these past few months, but my mother and I talk nearly every day by phone or in person. We share rides to work sometimes (she lets us borrow her car when Bruce and I both need to drive somewhere), she feeds our dogs when we need to go out of town and she lets us come over and watch sports on her big-screen TV – very important things! We live less than a mile from my brother, J.T., and Mom’s house is a stone’s throw from his. We love being so close to them.
  • Good health. I have minor physical ailments, but they aren’t enough to keep me from continuing my fitness journey. I have finally embraced the idea of moving every day in a way that’s making my heart stronger, both physically and spiritually. I can’t say when I will breathe my last breath, and I try to remind myself to savor each day as it comes (some days that’s easier said than done, but I still try).
  • The little deck on the back of our house. Yesterday after my wog (our Run for God leader’s word for walk/jog), I took my Bible outside to the deck to read the first five Psalms (next in our through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan). It was perfect that Psalms fell on the day I was able to spend time outdoors, not worrying about the clock.
  • Trees and birds. You notice them more when you walk the streets early or sit on the deck in the morning. The birds’ songs are melodious and soothing.
  • Good books. I’m reading one right now that I’ll review for BookSneeze when I’m finished, but I would be telling you about it even if I didn’t have to. It’s called “Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me” by Ian Morgan Cron. More later.
  • Chocolate. No explanation needed.
  • The dogs. I’ve talked enough about them in the past, so I won’t bore you with that this morning, but I’m grateful for them every day. They make me laugh.
  • Bruce. He’s my sweetie pie. I love him for so many reasons – too many to express here and now. I’ll just tell him to his face.
  • My job.
  • Home. My favorite place.
  • God. He bestows so many blessings on my life. I will never find enough words to express my gratefulness.

Beautiful weather tends to make me sentimental, hence the spontaneous gratefulness post. I think it’s important to stop and count my blessings every now and then, though. It helps me slow down from the busyness of life and remember the Source of all that’s good.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

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Patience: I want it NOW!

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote about how we’ve become afraid to celebrate with rich foods. (You’ll notice that more than once I included the phrase “in moderation.”)

Today I tip the scale in the other direction, to the topic of overindulgence.

I don’t have to tell you that overindulgence is what has got us into this obesity mess we’re in. Most of the time our problem isn’t that we’re afraid to eat but that we eat way too much, especially of the wrong things.

No one’s saying you need to eat celery sticks and rice cakes every day, perform death-defying feats of aerobic activity, weigh 98 pounds (unless you’re under 5 feet tall) or gag every time you look at your thighs in a mirror.

Some women try those things and end up anorexic, bulimic, institutionalized – or dead.

The key to healthy living – as with most things in life – is moderation. Balance. Patience.

(I write this as I finish scarfing down a huge bowl of macaroni and cheese, but please remember that today is Indulge Friday for me – the to heck with sensible eating day I allow myself every week.)

This morning at work I wrote a couple of things on a little scrap of paper:

•       “Don’t eat stuff you don’t fully enjoy just because it’s there. And certainly don’t eat a big serving of it!” I wrote this after eating a little heart-shaped cake with lemon icing that I found in the break room. (I think the two big boxes of mini-cakes were left over from last night’s wedding shower.) Not until I was finished eating did I realize that A) those “little” cakes were really about 1 1/2 to 2 serving sizes, and B) I was satisfied about halfway through but didn’t notice until I was finished because I was busy thumbing through a stack of magazines someone had left on the table. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about food, it’s that you should pay attention to it while you’re consuming it; otherwise you’ll eat way more than you intended and you won’t receive pleasure from it. (Studies bear this out.) It’s what my friend Sheila and I call “mindful eating.”

•       “Don’t fool yourself into thinking a little bit of exercise (or self-restraint with food) won’t help.” We tend to think it’s all or nothing. But, just as I believe that one person can make a difference in whatever world-changing pursuit you’re passionate about, one step at a time is what it takes to make meaningful, long-lasting changes to your body, your mind and your life. Baby steps. And patience. It will happen.

Patience is the P in Bruce’s acronym for being a good runner: BEEP (balance, efficiency, effort, patience).

Today I was tweaking my Biggest Loser spreadsheet and projecting my future weight loss (I update it after every weigh-in). For some reason I’ve been using 0.6 pounds as my projection standard, although some weeks I lose a whole pound, some weeks it’s 0.8 and some weeks more than a pound. (Someday I’ll post my actual numbers for you to see. And I will be happy to e-mail you the spreadsheet so you can customize it for yourself – I’ve set it up to do the math for you.)

So, if I stay on track with the arbitrarily chosen 0.6 pounds a week, it’s going to be mid-July before I reach the 20-pound mark (and buy my cute little reward shoes)!

That is annoying as heck, but it is sensible. And patient. (I could get on my soapbox and rant about the rapid-weight-loss products advertised on TV and in magazines, but I hope you know how dangerous, unrealistic and temporary they are without my having to tell you. I will spare you the rant. Unless you believe the advertising, in which case you need a good rant.)

Losing a pound a week wouldn’t be unrealistic, but I also know this about myself: If I set a weight-loss goal too high and miss the mark too often, I’ll get discouraged and be more likely to veer off course. I’d rather set it at 0.6, take it slowly and ease into the habits I’ve been practicing. Slow is better than fast when it comes to changing your body composition (Suzy’s Scientific Opinion No. 969, not necessarily endorsed by the medical community).

This journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

Be kind to yourself. Take it slowly. Realize that, if you’re overweight and out of shape, you didn’t get into this condition overnight and you won’t get out of it overnight. If you do, you’re doing it wrong. Call me, and I’ll rant at you.

In a future post: using positive words – about food and about ourselves.

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Gut reaction

“And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!’ ” (Nehemiah 8:10, New Living Translation).

I was preparing to write today’s post on Nehemiah 5-9 for my church’s Connect+Scripture blog when that verse hit me between the eyes – or should I say punched me in the gut. (My gut is the part of my anatomy that comes to mind when I read it.)

The occasion in Nehemiah was a celebration of the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, which had been torn down when the Temple of God was destroyed and the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon decades earlier.

Now the Temple had been restored, the wall had been rebuilt and generations of exiles had returned home.

It was a time of celebration!

Why did Nehemiah 8:10 speak to me with such force? After reading of all that the great leader Nehemiah had done to help the Israelites restore the city wall (he organized, planned, inspired, admonished and defended, demonstrating not only his leadership skills but his great love of the God for whom the Temple was built), I noticed in particular the phrase, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks.”

We have become ashamed of eating.

In our overweight, self-indulgent, image-obsessed, dying-to-be-thin, dying-because-we’re-fat, out-of-control society, we have lost the pure pleasure of eating in celebration of what’s good. Oh, sure, some of us can enjoy ourselves temporarily, while we’re feasting, but how many of us can say we are left with not one ounce of guilt afterward?

I’m not talking about gluttony, but of the pure, true enjoyment (in moderation) of well-prepared food and the fellowship that almost always makes it taste better.

I am not immune to the contradictions. I have found myself smack dab in the middle of the tug of war: One minute I’m an epicure, a glutton; the next, an ascetic who worships at the altar of self-denial. The accompanying emotions might battle it out for space in my brain at any given time.

No wonder the world is crazy; most of us can’t decide whether the piece of cake we’re contemplating should be angel’s food (fat free, and therefore “virtuous”) or devil’s food (chocolate, and therefore “sinful”). We’ve even created a moral vocabulary for our food insanity: “sinfully delicious,” “those evil brownies,” “She’s thin; we hate her.”

We have gotten so off track we can’t enjoy a piece of chocolate without feeling guilty. And I’m here to tell you, I believe chocolate is one of God’s greatest gifts (I secretly believe and fervently hope there will be chocolate in heaven).

I believe it’s time we got healthy – in our minds, our hearts and our vocabularies (our bodies will follow). In Bible times, God ordained times of celebration (and rich foods) for his children.

I am one of those children, and I’m on a journey to wholeness. It’s a lifelong journey, but it includes appreciating good food, eating it in moderation, being thankful for where it came from, sharing it with those less fortunate and letting it nourish my body (and soul) – one delicious bite at a time.

“So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them” (Nehemiah 8:12, NLT).

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