Category Archives: Food for Thought

On the Other Hand, Sometimes an Adventure Is Just the Thing

Notes from the Hinterland

In yesterday’s post, I extolled the virtues of being a homebody, but today I’m going to take the other point of view, that the experience and challenge of travel can bring zest and fulfillment to life. I was reminded of this the other day when I brought my cats, Sherlock and Ms. Watson, to Winthrop Veterinary Hospital for their yearly check-up. David Corwin, one of my favorite veterinarians, examined the cats and gave them their shots.

With his white hair and ruddy complexion, David Corwin is one cool veterinarian. He’s retired and fills in for the full-time veterinarians when they are on vacation or need time off, and when the weather is good, he comes to work on his motorcycle. I’m not sure exactly how old Dr. Corwin is, but I would guess he’s at least in his mid-sixties.

When I had come in, I had spotted the motorcycle in the parking lot. As Dr. Corwin looked into Ms. Watson’s ears, I said, “I see you came to work on your motorcycle today.”

“Yes,” he answered. “And I have a big trip planned. I’m going to ride the motorcycle to California to join my wife, who’s visiting our children.”

“All by yourself?”

“All by myself.” Then he grinned at me. “And I’m a diabetic who needs insulin shots.”

“That’s very adventurous, ” I said.

“Well,” Dr. Corwin said, “I know plenty of people along the way, and I know how to take care of the diabetes.”

I thought of my own bicycle challenges, and although they are much more modest than going cross country solo on a motorcycle, those challenges add zip and energy to my life. I said as much to Dr. Corwin, who readily agreed.

I also said, “You know, if something happens to me on my bike, at least I’ll go doing something I like.”

“Darn right,” he said. “It would beat dying in a nursing home.”

When he was finished with the cats, and they were back in their boxes, I said to Dr. Corwin, “Bon Voyage!”

“Merci!” he replied, sounding as delighted as a school boy going on holiday.

I’ll be thinking of Dr. Corwin on his motorcycle as he heads west to California, which, despite its hard times, still exerts a pull that is almost magical. Bon voyage, indeed.

 

Busy at Home

Notes from the Hinterland

As I’ve written in past blogs, I am a homebody. While other people yearn to travel and see new sights, I prefer staying home, working on my various projects and being involved with my community. My backyard, with its patio and its woodland setting, is one of my favorite places to be.

Our backyard—one of my favorite places

Somehow, I am never bored at home or around town. There is always plenty to keep me busy.

Consider the events of last weekend, and Monday as well.

On Saturday, Clif and I celebrated the second wedding anniversary of our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike. In the morning, I went to the Winthrop Farmers’ Market, where I would pick up most of what we needed for our celebratory meal. From Wholesome Holmstead I bought rib-eye steak; from our own Farmer Kev, I bought, among other things, potatoes and garlic; and from Jillson’s Farm, I bought corn on the cob. What a treat to be able to buy so much local food. As the day was sunny and warm, we were able to eat on the patio. We stayed there until it was dark, and we were surrounded by a sweet chorus of crickets, punctuated, from time to time, by the call of a loon.

The garden—a little frowsy this time of year

On Sunday, another beautiful day, Clif and I decided to challenge ourselves and bike to Augusta to see, very appropriately, the excellent Premium Rush, a movie about a New York City bike messenger who rides like a crazy person, especially when he’s being chased by a corrupt cop. The cinema is only 12 miles away, but there are some very challenging hills as well as a stretch of road with no bike lane that goes right through the city. At least twice, I thought I was going to have a heart attack, but we made it safe and sound to the the cinema, where the popcorn and soda tasted especially good. On our way back, we took another route. The hills were steeper, but there wasn’t as much traffic, and I’ll take steep hills over traffic any day. When we rode into Winthrop, we both felt exhilarated and proud that we are strong enough to ride like this. After all, Clif is going to be 61, and I’m going to be 55. We are not exactly spring chickens.

On Monday, I met with a friend in Winthrop to celebrate her birthday. I’m not sure if she would want me to reveal her age, so I’m not going to do so. However, I don’t think I’m giving too much away to state that I am completely inspired by her. I gave her a picture—a 5 x 7—of a Maine daylily, one of my own photos. Lately, I’ve been taking lots of flower pictures, and with Clif’s help, I feel as though I’ve improved enough as a photographer so that my pictures make a nice present. And where did I find that flower? Right up the road.

So much is right around us, if we take the time to look, listen, and appreciate.

 

Quotation from Rhonda Hetzel from her blog, Down to Earth

“Now there is a more realistic understanding that we all do some form of house work, that home is our haven, that it’s a much safer and sustainable option to reduce the number of chemical products we use in the home, we understand the concepts of seasonal and local produce, developing community, solar and wind power, self reliance, recycling and the wise economy of restraint. We are still tough on women who ‘stay at home’ but I’m hopeful that too will change. Soon.”

Book Cover:  Down to Earth

HIS AND HERS

When we have pasta, someone in our house uses this bowl and usually goes back for seconds:

And someone in our house uses this bowl and never goes back for seconds:

A little perspective on size:

Another perspective:

Final note: The one who uses the little white bowl is losing weight, but so is the one using the big green bowl and going back for seconds. I think readers can guess which bowl Laurie uses and which bowl Clif uses. This definitely comes under the category of “Life is not Fair.” 😉

 

A BRITISH WEEKEND: PART TWO—SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that over the weekend, we saw two British movies with very different approaches to the subject of aging. What I forgot to note was that our British weekend coincided with Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. What good timing!

Anyway…yesterday I wrote about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a straightforward look at aging in today’s society. The other movie we saw was Snow White and the Huntsman, which, as the title suggests, is based on the fairy tale “Snow White.”

When most people think of Snow White, I expect the Disney version will come to mind, a beautiful classic in its own right, with a touch of evil—the queen—and quite a lot of folderol and cleaning—Snow White and the seven dwarfs. For avid readers, the Grimm version will come to mind as well.

While Snow White and the Huntsman is more Grimm than Disney, it forges its own dark way, blending modern concerns of aging with a mythical, medieval setting. Those concerns were always there, both in the Grimm fairy tale and in Disney’s cartoon. After all, the desire to be “fairest of them all” implies youth not old age and wrinkles. But in Snow White and the Huntsman, the evil queen (Charlize Theron)wants to be young with an intensity that is truly chilling. Vampire-like, she not only sucks the life force from young victims, but she also drains the life away from the land, leaving it bleak and barren. Her obsession with youth is a death sentence for all that is around her.

The movie, filmed in Wales and Ireland, starts out in happier times, and the early scenes, full of color and vitality, do a nice job of illustrating how good rulers—Snow White’s mother and father—are good for the land as well as for the people. Then Snow White’s mother dies, and things go downhill fast. Enter Charlize Theron as Ravenna, who quickly becomes the new queen and just as quickly murders Snow White’s father and takes over the kingdom with her own army. Theron has the sort of cold beauty that can easily be used to portray evil, and that’s just what she does in this movie. When she was on the screen, it was as though some malignant, poisonous creature had burst forth, and Theron certainly commanded attention.

Unfortunately, Kristin Stewart of Twilight fame, was less effective as Snow White. Stewart’s rather goofy looks combined with her wooden acting style make an odd combination, and “the fairest of them all” is not the first thing you think when you see her. However, the movie gets around this, to some extent, by suggesting that beauty resides primarily within. Still, an actress with more snap, if not beauty, would have been better as Snow White.

The dwarfs, on the other hand, were brilliant, to borrow a term from the Brits. Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Ian McShane and other British actors played them to perfection. As A.O. Scott put it in his New York Times review, these dwarfs were portrayed as cockney thugs who definitely did not whistle as they worked. No, they didn’t, but they certainly brought a lot of life to the screen, and I wish there had been more scenes with them.

With his scruffy good looks, Chris Hemsworth did a fine job of playing the huntsman. The movie suggests that he, in fact, might be Snow White’s true love, and it’s easy to see why this might be the case.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that in the end good overcomes evil, and death comes even to those who are obsessed with youth and eternal life.

Snow White and the Huntsman is not a perfect movie by any means. More care should have been taken with the story, which has some serious plot holes. Nevertheless, good fantasy movies are far and few between, and this one is worth seeing. Our society has practically made a fetish of youth, and Snow White and the Huntsman captures this fetish and shows us how ugly and damaging it is. The cinematography and special effects make this a big-screen movie, and fortunately, they were not a distraction, the way they are in some big-budget films.

So, if time allows, and you like dark fantasies, go see Snow White and the Huntsman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A BRITISH WEEKEND: PART ONE—THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

Last weekend, we saw two very different movies about aging—The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Snow White and the Huntsman. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is considered a “realistic” movie. All of the events featured in the film could have happened, and while all stories involve some contrivance there is no huge suspension of disbelief required to enjoy Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. On the other hand, Snow White and the Huntsman is pure fantasy, and a disturbing one at that.

In today’s post, I’ll cover The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and in the next one I’ll write about Snow White and the Huntsman. Now, I’m not sure it’s accurate to state that Snow White is a British film as the two leading actors are American. However, the director originally comes from Great Britain, it was filmed in Wales and Ireland, and many of the actors—notably the seven dwarfs—are British. So I’m calling it a British film.

And, in keeping with the spirit of England, I’ll conclude with a recipe for fish with parsley sauce, which I made on Sunday. It’s one I’ve refined over the year, and Clif deemed this version “company good.”

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel includes a dazzling cast of some of England’s finest albeit aging actors—Judi Dench, who can do anything; Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Penelope Wilton. The story explores a subject that is a major concern for many people and is only going to get larger in the upcoming years. That is, as people age, how do they make good lives for themselves, lives that are full and meaningful rather than ones that are filled with loneliness and boredom? Especially when they live on limited incomes and have flats so small that they can be cleaned in a half-hour. What to do with the rest of one’s time?

In Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the main charters set out for India. They have been lured by a brochure that only has a vague connection with the truth—there is a Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but let’s just say that it’s somewhat shabbier in reality than in how it’s presented in the brochure. As Muriel, Maggie Smith’s character, indignantly observes: “The hotel in that brochure was photo-shopped.”

Yes, it was. Unlike the gleaming hotel that was advertised, the real one is dirty and falling apart. One of the rooms doesn’t have a door, which leads to a comical situation. However, the hotel is the way it is not because of malice or laziness but rather because the young owner, Sonny Kapoor, played extremely energetically by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire, has no money for its upkeep. However, Sonny really does yearn to run a beautiful, refurbished hotel, and it is this sincerity, at least in part, that keeps the travelers at his hotel. (Also, there is really nothing for them back home in England, and most of them don’t have enough money to move elsewhere.)

All the travelers have come to India for various reasons, and in the course of the movie, they find their footing and have small but meaningful epiphanies brought on by the astonishing vitality of Indian life. Some of the transformations are more believable than others, but the movie is so beautifully and movingly acted that I was was willing to overlook this and can without hesitation recommend Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is probably not a young people’s movie. However, it certainly resonates with the over-50s crowd. I went to see it at Railroad Square Cinema, a small art cinema in Waterville, Maine, and the house was packed, but let’s just say there was a predominance of wrinkles and gray hair in the audience. According to the staff at Railroad Square, almost every showing has been packed, and on the night we went, the audience applauded when the film was done.

In the upcoming years, there are going to be many old people, too many to ignore. While not all of us can or indeed should go to India to find our footing, we really do need to give some thought as to how we are going to live the last part of lives. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel chronicles this exploration and leaves viewers with a sense of hope. Perhaps the movie will encourage viewers to have little epiphanies in their own communities, where they can remain active, vital, useful, and connected for as long as possible.

 

ONE YEAR LATER AND FIFTY POUNDS LIGHTER

Last May, I went for a physical and discovered I was the heaviest I had ever been. When I stepped on the scales, my short hair nearly stood up straight. I knew I was heavy, of course. I could feel it and see it. But that heavy? No. (Obviously, I wasn’t weighing myself at home.) I knew the time had come to do something about it. I could picture myself being featured on a show like Heavy, where they ship you to a “Spa” and make you exercise until you cry.

Years ago, I had lost a lot of weight using a regime called “Controlled Cheating,” which was developed by Larry “Fats” Goldberg, a friend of the New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin. Controlled Cheating had worked very well for me until I decided to start publishing a literary magazine and no longer had the time and energy to focus on diet and exercise. Because there is no way around it: For someone like me who loves to eat and whose body loves to pack on the pounds, losing weight and keeping it off requires constant vigilance. I can never not think about how much I eat.

Here is the essence of Controlled Cheating: For six days a week, you eat a very low-calorie diet. When I was younger, that was about 1,500 calories day. Now that I am older, and my metabolism has slowed down, it’s more like 1,200. On the 7th day you rest, and eat whatever you want. However, there is a catch, and that catch is exercise. You must exercise every day for an hour or so. No exercise, no controlled cheating. (I’ve written all about this on the blog, but it seemed like a recap would be good for new readers.)

Despite my obsession with food and my body’s tendency to gain weight when I just look at a piece of chocolate, I do have a few things in my favor. First, I am not an emotional eater. That is, when life gets rough, I don’t turn to chocolate. Or to anything else for that matter. In fact, it’s just the reverse. When life gets stressful, I have a hard time eating. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my stomach was so touchy that all I could eat for a while were poached eggs with toast. (However, as soon as the diagnosis was promising, to chocolate I returned.)

Second, although I love sweets and fried food, I also love food that is good for me—fruit especially, but vegetables as well. For me, to eat an orange or a banana or a salad is no hardship at all, and I truly enjoy them.

Third, I really like to ride my bike, to be on the move. In my mind, any day that I can go on a bike ride is a good day, and I ride an average of 10 or 12 miles a day. I also like to go for walks and to work in my gardens. This means that even though much of my time is spent sitting at my desk, I am also eager to be up and about, to get off my backside, to be doing something.

Fourth, my blood sugar and my cholesterol are just fine, and they were even when I was at my heaviest. Go figure.

I am happy to report that a year later, using Controlled Cheating, I have lost 50 pounds. Still, I won’t lie. Losing that weight has been hard, and I know it will be just as hard to keep it off. But that one shining day of the week where I can eat anything I want keeps me going.

Here are some other motivators. People are constantly telling me how good I look, and when I tell them I’d like to lose 20 more pounds or so, they say, “Really?” Now, how satisfying is that? But I do want to lose enough weight so that I can fit into a wool jacket I inherited from my mother. I’m almost there. I can button the coat, but it isn’t comfortable. Twenty pounds should do it.

When I visit my daughter Dee in New York, I can go up and down the subway stairs with nary a problem. Ditto for jumping in and out of the subway cars and for walking 6 miles through the city. My feet might hurt by the end of the day, but the next morning, I’m ready to do it all over again. Fifty pounds ago, this certainly wasn’t the case as I struggled with the stairs and walking.

All in all, I feel pretty peppy. Everything I do just hums along better, from gardening to housework to walking.

I want to conclude with a bit of advice for those who are trying to lose weight. Find a healthy weight reduction system that works for you and stick with it because you will more or less have to adhere to this regime for the rest of  your life. This might sound hard, but it’s true. Once the weight is lost, you can’t just say, “Oh, goodie! Now I can eat whatever I want.” I’m sure I don’t need to explain what will happen if you do this.

Because I am, as my daughter Dee puts it, “a lone ranger,” Controlled Cheating works very well for me, and I can do it on my own. However, I know that Weight Watches works for many people and that it has an excellent track record. I’m sure there other good regimes as well. Again, find what’s best for you and plan on sticking with it pretty much forever.

Get off your backside. Move, move, move. I cannot emphasize this enough. We all sit too much, and it isn’t good for us. Walk whenever you can. Bike. Leave the dratted car in the driveway as often as you can.

Some tricks for when you are really hungry and could just chew off the leg of your dining room table: Gum helps. It really does. Whenever I feel the urge to munch—and this happens frequently—I get a piece of gum, and somehow I don’t feel like munching so much. Fruit also helps, and in my opinion, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as an apple, but all fruit is good and is good for you. Also, recent studies suggest that because fruit has so much fiber, its calories are not processed the same way as the calories in, say, a candy bar would be processed. Indeed, in Weight Watchers point system, fruit is now considered to have zero points, which means you can eat as much of it as you want. (Obviously, diabetics must use some caution.)

So there! Twenty more pounds to go, and I should be able to fit into that wool coast. And very good luck to readers who are struggling with their own weight. I certainly know what you are going through.

Before, June 2011
After, May 2012

 

 

CHUCK’S MAPLE SYRUP—IT’S LIKE HAVING MONEY IN THE BANK

Last Saturday, we met our friends Chuck and Erma at Barnes & Noble for tea, coffee, dessert, and a chat. A quick note: Chuck and Erma live some distance away from us, and Barnes & Noble is a central place to meet. It is comfortable, the tea is good, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money. However, when I buy books, I do so from my local bookstore, Apple Valley Books.

My husband, Clif, and I always enjoy our get togethers with Chuck and Erma. They like to talk about politics, food, books, and movies, and so do we. The time just whizzes by when we are with them. One topic of discussion was Wall Street and the financial crisis, one of my favorite topics. We were all duly indignant, and we wished that President Obama had taken these firms to task when he had the chance. A missed opportunity, one that the taxpayers are paying for while the firms that caused the current world-wide misery continue with no repercussions and plenty of profits.

From there we moved on to food, a happier topic. Chuck brought me two canned quarts of beautiful, amber maple syrup that he had made from sap collected from trees on his property. Maple syrup, how do we love thee? Let me count the ways. On pancakes, waffles, and on French toast. On vanilla ice cream with roasted walnuts. And, as Erma suggested, in plain yogurt mixed with fruit and a little sprinkle of granola to give it crunch.

What a good idea! Although I’ve often mixed jam with plain yogurt, I’ve never used maple syrup. But I’ll be doing so soon. I have plain yogurt and plenty of fruit. I have granola. And I have Chuck’s maple syrup.

When we got home, after admiring the maple syrup, I put the jars in my cupboard, and it is my guess that with the syrup we bought from Mike’s Sugar House, just around the corner from where we live, combined with Chuck’s syrup, we will have enough until next spring. Just thinking about this made me feel good, as though I had money in the bank, so to speak—maple syrup to last for a year.

I reflected on the blessings of a full pantry, on what a fine, secure feeling it is to have food on hand. This summer, I intend to stock up on local food so that we have some put by for the winter. I might even do a little canning, and, if Farmer Kev has a surplus at the end of the summer, then we will certainly buy squash, potatoes, carrots, beets, and garlic from him, just as we did last year.

By doing this, in our own little Hobbit way, we are also giving a tiny raspberry, so to speak, to Wall Street. They might be able to wreck the world’s economy, but in the meantime, Mike and Chuck will tap their trees and make maple syrup. Farmer Kev will grow delicious, organic vegetables, and his hens will lay eggs. Wholesome Holmstead will make yogurt and cheese.

This local food isn’t everything, but it’s lot.

 

 

EAT AND LIVE LIKE THE SWISS

Last night, I had a discussion with Scott Davis, a neighbor who lives just up the road from me. His son Ian went to school with my eldest daughter Dee, and we exchanged information about the two “kids.” Ian married a women from Switzerland, who is fluent in English, French, and German, and at home she speaks French to her little children so that they will be bilingual. Both Scott and I agreed that this was a terrific thing to do, that nobody regrets being able to speak more than one language.

However, when I think of Switzerland, I quite naturally think of chocolate, and I mentioned this to Scott.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “They practically serve it at every meal. But you know what? The obesity rates in Switzerland are much lower than they are in the U.S.”

“Why do you think that is?” I asked.

“Well, when my wife and I went to visit our daughter-in-law’s family, we noticed that the Swiss walk everywhere, for fun and to get to places. Their portion sizes are much smaller, and their meals are leisurely. They don’t eat on the run.”

To sum up: The Swiss exercise more, eat less, and have more relaxed meal times. Sounds like a winning combination to me. The only thing I would add is that some countries make this healthy lifestyle easier for its citizens than other counties do. For example, it is my understanding that Switzerland has good public transportation and less sprawl. As a result, people don’t use cars as much and walk more.

Also, the Swiss government has mandated that all employees get 4 paid weeks of vacation a year. In the United States, the number of mandated paid vacation weeks is zero. Employers are not required to give their employees any paid vacation or holidays at all, and indeed I have worked in several jobs where I have had neither vacation time nor sick time. I know all too well that old, stressed overworked/underpaid feeling, and it is not a good one.

Let’s just say that it’s easier to have relaxed meals when you have a more relaxed schedule, with plenty of paid vacation time and some paid holidays thrown in to boot.

Now, this does not mean I think that individuals aren’t responsible for healthy and unhealthy habits. Quite the reverse—we are responsible for what we eat and how much we are exercise. But I also believe that we are societal beings as well as individuals, and some countries are better at promoting healthier, more relaxed societies than others are.

These countries, like Switzerland, usually have a high standard of living. They are not fringe countries where people are scrapping to survive for basic necessities.

And need I mention that Switzerland has universal health care for its citizens? No, but I’ll do so anyway.

So my question is, why don’t we do it more like the Swiss, when the benefits are so obvious?