Shocking victory of recipe over perceived science

So I tried the one-pot pasta dish and it worked!  Although both I and CPP had our doubts, the pasta turned out al dente and not broken (I used the small penne from Trader Joe’s).  I had to resist (heroically) the urge to throw in more liquid while it was cooking, but to my surprise, it all came out tasty.  I was fairly precise about the amount of pasta I used (weighed out 12 oz with a scale) and that may have helped — as compared to my usual eyeballing everything.  The amount of liquid was exactly right; nothing was burnt nor was anything soggy.

I didn’t take pictures.  Next time I make it I’ll make a few different flavoring choices than the ones I used, but that’s a feature, not a bug.  All the liquid absorbed and made a light sauce that was neither runny nor heavy, and not too much of it, either.  I used chicken stock in place of plain water.  The fresh basil is om nom nom.  I think next time I’ll put in some wodges of fresh mozzarella.  The sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil were just right.

Saving water and still eating pasta == WINNING.

(I’m still surprised, but I also just polished off the leftovers, and there’s no arguing with that!)


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I trust my body

The great irony is that I learned to trust my body at the point at which it was most broken.

Let’s step back a bit.

I started getting a little chubby around the time when my period started in middle school.  In high school I lost a lot of weight because my religion forbids me from eating poorly prepared food and our cafeteria food was worse than prison-grade, so I ended up doing this kind of feast and famine thing where I’d starve during the week and fill up on the weekends.  This was especially bad between when they stopped providing Total cereal in the cafeteria during junior year and before I was able to ask my parents if I could have a food allowance senior year (money was always really tight at home and I didn’t want to be a burden, plus the dorms only had microwaves and fridges for food preparation).

When I got to college I grew two inches.  People complained about the college cafeteria, but the lettuce was never brown or even yellow.  There was fish!  Nothing sat in tubs of melted grease.  Cold-cuts!  Cheese!  Whole wheat bread!  The milk was never sour.  They served juice made from actual fruit!  No, not as good as home cooking, but the salad bar alone was like heaven after years of starving.

In college I was surrounded by beautiful skinny women who were always complaining about how fat they were.  Everyone dieted.  I resisted, but somehow they got to me (I didn’t even *notice* they’d gotten to me until my first year of graduate school when someone asked why I talked about my weight so much… oh, man, I’d been indoctrinated).  I counted calories.  I ate a lot of sugary things that had no fat because the no-fat diet was in.  I was always hungry.   I don’t remember ever consciously thinking about doing this– if asked, I would have told you I was against diets and poor body images (and happy with my breast size!), and yet, I was doing what everybody else did.  And I continually gained weight.  I was my heaviest weight ever by the end of college (I can *totally* fit into my college clothing, though I don’t because styles change).

Scratch that, I was actually my heaviest weight my first year of graduate school.  BCP and depression and not having to walk very much caused me to gain all the weight I’d lost the summer between college and grad school and some more.  (I’ve seriously blocked this time from my memory.)  After getting the depression under control and moving where I had to walk more to get to school, I dropped some, but was still was heavier than the healthy weight for my height, and not because I had too much muscle.

Then we decided we were ready to have children.  I went off BCP.  I cycled once.  Then twice.  Then not again.  So I went to the doctor who sent me to another doctor.  And then another doctor because my insurance changed, and then another.  The second doctor suggested PCOS (and POF and thyroid).  The third doctor confirmed PCOS.

For a year and a half my body was broken.  Every three months I’d take a provera challenge to get my cycle started again.  I was poked and prodded and found out I had a blocked tube on top of not cycling.

During this time I found out a lot about PCOS.  I found out I’d been doing the diet thing all wrong for me.  No fat was ridiculous for my body and was the reason I kept gaining weight while always being hungry.  I cut out HFCS.  Then sugar.  Then refined carbs.  I upped my fruit, nuts, and full-fat ice cream intake.  I began snacking.  I stopped being hungry all the time.  Sweet things began to taste more sweet and I started being able to appreciate dark chocolate for the first time.  Weight started falling off effortlessly at a pound or two a week.  I stopped having mood swings.  My acanthosis nigricans went away.  I stopped being sad for no reason (other than the infertility-related reasons).  My rational mind had much better control.  Eventually I added Metformin to get the insulin under control and weight slipped off even faster.

The major thing that happened (before the Metformin) was I started listening to my body.  I started listening to my hunger.  I started noticing what foods made me feel crappy later, and what foods filled me up.  I ignored calorie counts (mostly– it’s still kind of ingrained, but now it’s more, is this an 80 calorie hunger=apple or a full 200 calorie=small meal/larabar hunger?), instead listening to my stomach and to my moods.  I learned to recognize when my  blood sugar was dipping and always had something on hand before it could get out of hand.

And listening to my body is so much easier and less stressful than adding up points or calories or trying to be the mental command-economy for my body’s caloric intake and outtake.  I don’t need a calculator, just some mindfulness.

Now, that’s not quite everything.  I still have a very addictive personality and very little willpower.  But I’m also very good at putting in commitment devices in pretty much all areas of my life.  If I’m aware of my triggers, I can keep out of their way.  For example, if there are chips in the house, I will eat them, even though I know I’ll feel cruddy later.  Same with chocolate frosted donuts.  So I don’t keep these things in the house.  I don’t buy them.  DH isn’t allowed to buy them, and if DC1 buys them they belong to hir and I can’t have any.

That’s not to say I never eat junk… but when I get a boxed lunch at work, I give back the chips right away, unless they’re cheetos (I allow myself cheetos of opportunity).  I have rules.  I only eat sweets if they pass a certain quality threshhold (chocolate chip cookies from the good bakery, yes!  from the grocery store, no!), same with pizza (local place, yes!  Domino’s, no!), and with donuts, if there’s a chocolate frosted, I’ll take it, but no other kind.  (When I was pregnant I avoided even the above because of borderline GD with the first and that nasty wheat allergy with the second– I have a lot of willpower when it’s someone else’s life on the line).  When DH bakes something, I’ll usually eat some (and he often cuts the sugar and substitutes wheat flour if applicable).  I keep a bar of Green and Black 70-85% dark in my desk drawer at all times and take a square whenever I have a craving.  I don’t deprive myself, but the junk food has to be really good for it to be worth it, and if it is good enough, then I generally don’t need that much to be satisfied.

We also do psychological things like use salad plates for meals instead of the big plates.  We take multiple little servings so we can better judge when we’re no longer hungry.  Sometimes we freeze a batch of cookies to dole them out in smaller amounts later.  Back before DC1 was so big, we’d take half of a cake we’d just made to daycare so we wouldn’t eat it ourselves.  These things help us to pause so we can listen to hunger and desire.

And no, doing these kinds of things alone probably won’t put most people at the bottom of their healthy range.  (And some of my eating needs are specific to PCOS and my body. YMMV, which is why it’s important for you to listen to you.)  Depending on how much junk I’ve been adding (because with nobody’s life at stake, and DC2 not eating whole wheat, refined carbs have snuck in), how much exercise I’ve been getting, and whether or not I’m hard-core nursing, I can be anywhere within that range, usually between the middle and the top unless I’m on metformin or the baby is getting most of hir calories from me.

But I don’t need to be super thin.

I just need to listen to my body and take care of it so that it will take care of me.

And that fits in with the greater grumpy rumblings philosophy… mindful laziness with a side order of commitment device can do great things, with health, child-rearing, even career concerns.  Figure out what works for your specific situation, set up an environment where it’s easier to achieve those goals, and change things when they’re not working.  Complete flexibility within a rigid setting.  Mindfulness creating a low mental load.  Grumpy rumblings is vast: contains multitudes.

#2 would like to remind everyone that, whether or not you would like to make food and exercise changes, a great thing to have is radical self-love.

On Pizza: A PSA from Grumpy Rumblings

The best pizza is Chicago Style deep-dish, or perhaps Chicago-style stuffed.  (Hat tip to Lou Malnati’s for having sausage-crust pizza when I was pregnant at a conference and unable to eat wheat that one time.)

NY pizza is just wrong.  It’s FLOPPY.  And thin.  If pizza is thin, then it should be crispy.  You should never be able to fold a pizza.  That’s a crime against humanity.  Barbaric.

This message brought to you by Grumpy Rumblings.


Note that this is not tagged deliberately controversial because it isn’t.  If you disagree you are just *wrong*.  But feel free to disagree in the comments.

So we’ll know who you are. *ominous music*

My big summer plan for DC1

DC1 is 7.  Seven is a wonderful year and a wonderful height.

DC1 will be going to museum camp, and doing hir workbooks, and swimming lessons and piano lessons, and no doubt reading lots of great novels and playing all sorts of games (card, computer, video, board, etc.).  There will be a week being spoiled by the in-laws, and no doubt a weekend or two with my sister.

But I, too, have a nefarious plan in store for DC1.

This summer DC1 will learn how to cook.  In fact, this summer DC1 will cook for us with minimal help at least once a week and will be a sous chef for us on a regular basis.

Ze already makes excellent scrambled eggs, and fantastic macaroni and cheese (from a box with extra cheese added, and also tuna and peas).  This summer we will add more to hir repertoire.

I hope this will be an investment that pays out many-fold.  :)

We made a list.  It says:  chocolate chip cookies (chewy), pizza, ice cream, split pea soup, Japanese rice (for sushi), spaghetti, pancakes, waffles, muffins (blueberry), tacos, queso, shrimp, shakes.  It’s a little different than what I learned to cook first (eggs, crepes, chili, spaghetti with meat sauce, macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas, box brownies, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, spaghetti carbonara, regular rice), though with some overlap.

Many of my fondest childhood memories are in the kitchen.  When did you learn how to cook?  What did you first learn how to cook?  When did your kids learn (if appropriate)?  Any exciting summer plans?

Arepas: A gluten-free win

Many years ago we lived in a big city in walking distance to a wonderful little arepa place.  We’d never had arepas before and we instantly became addicted.

Arepas a kind of cornbread, round like a small corn pita-bread, crusty on the outside with soft melty cornmeal on the inside.  They hail from several Latin American countries, and the ones we craved are from Venezuela, where they split them in two to make sandwiches.  There’s a particularly addicting arepa sandwich called reina pepiada, which is essentially chicken salad with avocado.  Or a slice of fresh cheese.  Or just butter.  Oh oh oh.

Fast forward many years, and we’ve been unable to find arepas, or rather, we’ve been able to find plenty of Colombian arepas, but none of the Venezuelan kind.  After deciding it probably wasn’t worth trying to get to the 3 yelp-dot diner two hours away in the middle of nowhere, we figured maybe this was something we could make on our own.

So eventually DH got himself a Latin American cookbook.  It’s a bit intimidating… sort of the Joy of Cooking Latin-American style.  An encyclopedia for a continent and a half’s worth of cooking.

Then my mom bought the arepa maker off my amazon wishlist.  And we were in business.

Oh joy.

We haven’t quite mastered the amazing rosemary chicken salad of the big city, but we’ve got the avocado down.  And the arepas are heavenly.  Just as we remembered them.

You don’t actually need an arepa maker to make arepas, you can make them on the stovetop like pupusas or really thick tortillas.  But to get them just like the ones at the restaurant, the arepa maker was necessary.

Here’s an internet recipe.  The internet makes a big deal about using PAN harina, but we’ve been using instant masa instead to no ill effect.

This week in challenge eating :

Quesadillas (we actually had these last week, but pretend we actually did fried rice last week and not this week).


Leek and potato soup– Leeks are out of season, but we got some anyway.  $3 for organic leeks.  <$3 for potatoes.  And some butter.  So $6 for a big pot.

stirfry with the leftover cabbage and other assorted veggies

vegetarian chili– Same as meat chili, but without the meat.

spaghetti with meat sauce

scrambled eggs

On baking from scratch, from mixes, or not at all

When you’re trying to save money, it can be difficult to decide what to make from scratch and what to buy for convenience.  Sometimes it’s a time issue, but sometimes the price difference between products isn’t that big.  Sometimes the price difference is enormous.  Often the big difference is in quality.

If you do plan on doing a lot of baking a stand mixers is an important investment.  A stand mixer is well worth the time (and potentially money) that it saves if you can afford it.  That’s one of those problems with being genuinely poor– where are you going to get $250 or $350 to buy a high quality stand mixer so you can multi-task while making bread?  Without a mixer, where are you going to find the time to bake from scratch on a regular basis?

Some people balk at the cost of yeast when baking bread, but really you only need to buy it once.  If you’re going to be baking bread regularly you can keep a starter in your fridge and use that in place of store-bought yeast.  If you’re not going to be baking all the time, you can still save on yeast using the “old dough” method, which uses old dough to provide yeast for new dough, and the dough can be frozen for quite some time before reuse.  Once you’re down to the price of flour, sugar, and oil, homemade bread is a delicious but inexpensive carb.

Making your own mix when you have time might be an option.  Pancakes are super cheap from scratch.  Yes, it’s convenient to buy a mix and just add liquid, but if you’re really trying to save money, you can mix up a big batch of mix yourself and use it as you need it.  Similarly, you can make up extra waffles or pancakes for your own toaster-waffles (or microwave pancakes) on weekday mornings.

Cakes, on the other hand, are often expensive homemade than store-bought or from a mix because you start using butter, and even with on-sale butter ($2/lb at the holidays), it can start to add up, especially if you want to add things like chocolate or candied fruit.  Of course, the same quality cake will cost tens of dollars from a real bakery.  Supermarket cakes tend to be chiffon (using oil) or shortening.  They’re not as good, but may be less expensive than you making your own (especially when reduced for quick sale after an event).  If you’re really into chiffon cakes, it may be less expensive to make your own mix than to make from a mix, but you’ll have to run the numbers yourself.  Personally I don’t think store-bought cakes or mixes are worth it– if I’m going to eat something bad for me it had better taste really good.  (Store-bought brownies and mixes, otoh, can be pretty tasty.)

Similarly, if you have expensive tastes, then homemade may be worth it because you use higher quality and fresher ingredients than the store.  Granola isn’t peanuts to make depending on what you put in it (the oats are cheap, but nuts can get expensive), but it is so pricy to buy that making it turns out to be a pretty good deal.  Freshly made granola also tastes ambrosial.

The true benefit to making your own baked goods is that you control what the ingredients are.  There’s a lot of crap in a lot of processed foods, even in the pre-made mixes.  There are breads that are cheaper than flour, but I can’t bring myself to eat them.  We still have some wonderbread in our freezer from when FIL was here and he wanted to make french toast with bread (but not whole wheat bread).  (MIL shouldn’t eat it because of her diabetes.)

But often times store-bought is the way to go.  If you can find a sandwich bread you like, store-bought lasts longer and comes perfectly sliced.  Sometimes you only want one cookie and not an entire batch (and what’s the point in going through the effort of making just one cookie?  and you mean to freeze the dough or the cookies for later but…).  The kind of pastry dough you use to make croissants is a multi-hour if not multi-day affair of folding and pounding if you make it from scratch (though buying croissants made without butter is completely not worth it no matter how inexpensive).

Sometimes you don’t have time and it’s worth more to buy the convenience food so you can earn more money, even when we’re not talking about croissants.  However, baking is a good way to spend time with kids– they can help at a pretty early age.  And, once they’re old enough to do it on your own, the time calculus changes.  Obviously they need to make more cookies.

Sometimes there are sales that make store-bought baked goods ridiculously inexpensive.  Check out the day-old bin, and check for holiday-themed mixes and baked items after a holiday for real deals.

When do you bake, when do you buy?  When do you use a mix?

This week’s menu:

Fried rice.  This uses the leftover rice from last week’s stirfry, but if it doesn’t the entire meal costs <$3.

Fried kielbasa with onions and potatoes.  If you want to save money and aren’t worried about your gylcemic load, you can buy a big bag of potatoes.  The trick is that you have to eat them before they go bad.  Because of my PCOS we won’t be doing that– potatoes are a special treat that I need to balance with meat and/or vinegar to slow digestion so I don’t get blood sugar spikes.  But man I do love me some potatoes.  Kielbasa ~$3  Onion ~$1.  Potatoes ~$1

Homemade pizza.  Dough, sauce, cheese.  Bread dough<$1, sauce <$2 (we use canned pizza sauce, but if you want to go cheaper you can just get a small tin of tomato sauce and add salt and any spices you have on hand), cheese… can vary depending on what kind you use and how much you use of it, but let’s go <$2.  DH insisted on more pepperoni (<$2) and some mushrooms (<$1).  Base meal is <$5, more fancy versions will depend on toppings.  One recipe worth tends to have a lot of leftovers.

Black Bean Soup.  Black beans, onions, carrots.  This costs about the same as split pea soup from last time, but I really want to have it with sour cream, so add a bit more.  And we’ve got cilantro in our garden that’s thriving despite (or because of) the recent cold snaps.

Spaghetti.  Can of sauce, noodles.  ~$4.  ($3 if you make the sauce from canned tomatoes and aren’t picky about spices)  If you add meat, another $2-$6.

Wraps.  Wraps are like sandwiches, but with (flour) tortillas instead of bread.  You can put anything in them from sandwich fillings to leftover rice, bean, or noodle dishes.  They’re good on-the-go versions of a meal.   We are going to do fresh spring rolls instead because we still have rice wrappers from last time and DC2 shouldn’t have flour tortillas.  The price on this can vary tremendously depending on what you put inside the cover.   We’ll be doing noodles, lettuce, cilantro, mint (also thriving), and shrimp (DH wanted seafood and shrimp are in season), so not that cheap.  A less expensive spring roll option would use chicken or maybe tofu depending on tofu prices.

Sweet and sour red cabbage.  We might do this with the kielbasa instead of potatoes and onions, I dunno.  <$1 for the cabbage (and there’s usually leftover).

Ask the grumpies: subsidies and obesity

Linda asks:

I saw this story about rising obesity rates and thought there must be an angle here for an economist.,0,3401712.story Maybe I am biased, but I’m thinking that one reason the obesity rate is rising is because people are incentivized (is that the right word?) to buy processed food with a lot of fillers, sugar, hydrogenated oils, and many other bad substances because they are so cheap. Of course they are cheap because the products that are used to make them (mostly corn and soy) are highly subsidized. So, if the subsidies were diminished or removed and the costs of cheap food fillers, the product cost would go up, too, right? Then there would be a more level playing field for true costs of foods, whether they be the highly processed junk or the whole foods like vegetables, fruit, etc. If food prices rise, that would impact people’s budgets, too, but is this logical? Factual? Inquiring minds want to know! ;-)

Sorry, typing too fast…if the subsidies were diminished or removed and the cost of cheap fillers went up, the product costs would go up, too, right?

Ok, here we have some huge problems with food deserts, poverty, and, as you so rightly point out, subsidies and lobbies for stuff like HFCS.

#2 says:  There must be answers to this we can cite.

Have you seen King Corn?

#1 says:  Well, this is one where the science isn’t complete yet.  Many folks still believe that sugar is sugar, whether it comes from beets or cane or corn or apple juice or whether or not it has fancy chemical stuff done to it to make it “high fructose” instead of just regular.  However, there’s some compelling (in my mind) new research that suggests that our bodies don’t understand the calorie load of things like high fructose corn syrup, or (with a stronger research base) artificial sweeteners.  Therefore yes, it’s quite possible that these more processed things are making us fatter.  But that’s not mainstream yet and we don’t really know.

We also know that many processed foods are processed in a way to make them addictive– to get that perfect balance of sweet, salty, fatty, and crisp, so that no, you can’t eat just one.  Does that lead to over-eating?  I think it’s likely, but I don’t know that’s been proven.  (People could substitute with lower calorie intake later.)

We do know that you’re absolutely right about these cheap carbohydrates providing cheaper calorie loads.  They also are bad for folks with insulin problems because they’re digested quicker and lead to insulin spikes.  The insulin spikes then lead to weight gain and other health problems.  Are they bad for folks without insulin problems, I don’t know.  But, 10% of women have PCOS, so even with that alone, a lot of people are going to be affected by cheap simple carbohydrates.  We do know that being poor and getting your calories from simple carbs does lead to obesity.  That’s why there are a lot of obese poor people.

And absolutely, the subsidies are on grains that are not good for us.  They’re not on real veggies.  Without them corn and potatoes and bread would cost more, and healthier foods would be more likely to be grown (because there wouldn’t be a kick- back for planing the filler foods) and their costs would actually go down.  Overall food budgets would probably increase, though if we also got rid of tariffs and embargoes, it’s hard to say what the bottom line is.  Your economics logic is impeccable.

I’m sure someone has looked at the hard numbers recently, but it’s not summer so I’m not going to look them up.  I do know a guy who did his dissertation on getting rid of the sugar monopoly, so people do look at these questions and put numbers on them.  With the huge amount of funding going into obesity research, I’m sure there are plenty of numbers on what getting rid of the farm subsidies would do to obesity as well, though they’re really just guesstimates.  (Sorry for not looking them up… it has been a crazy busy semester, and sadly the only two ask the grumpies posts left require actually knowing stuff.  We have fallen down as omniscient bloggers.)


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