My friend Susan is the most amazing cook and hostess ever. Our four-woman book club met at her house this past week and she served us a meal so healthy and delicious we didn’t want to stop eating long enough to discuss the book — which was Winter’s Bone, by the way, and excellent. Susan started impressing us with bruschetta (roasted garbanzo beans, onions, tomatoes and other fresh veggies on grilled bread) and then went on to a cup of chicken soup with pita-chip croutons. Entrees were beautifully grilled salmon steaks with roasted potatoes and vegetables. And then there was dessert. And I know you’re thinking when you look at this ice-cream delight, “But I thought this was a healthy meal.” It was! Susan, with her shopping skills, found these low-fat and 140-calorie ice-cream sandwiches from Skinny Cow and topped them with heart-healthy walnuts, strawberries and blueberries. I’d never had any Skinny Cow products before since I tend to walk very fast past the ice-cream aisle at the grocery to prevent being irresistibly drawn to the Ben & Jerry’s section, where I usually stand there with the cooler door open wondering how many calories and fat grams Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream actually can have. (Denial. I’m in denial.) And I have to admit I’ve had unpleasant low-fat, low-calorie, low-whatever ice-cream experiences. Haven’t we all? But I’m telling you: Skinny Cow is good. And when it has the Susan seal of approval, you know it’s a winner.
This is the view I’ve been looking at for the past three days. Well, this … and my 75-year-old dad in a coronary-care unit hospital bed. But he’s getting better! Friday morning he was walking on the track at his town’s recreation center when he … I guess … sort of died from cardiac arrest. His heart just stopped. But he’s getting better! He was in the right place at the right time and the right folks were there to do CPR and operate the defibrillator. If he’d been walking on the outdoors trail or working on the tractor on his tree farm? Not so much. A helicopter brought him from his hometown hospital to this big city hospital, where he was sedated and cooled down for 24 hours to reduce brain swelling. Doctors kept saying, “IF he wakes up, then we’ll address the heart issues.” Um, yes, please? But he’s getting better! He woke up and practically instantly started complaining about being in bed and wanting to get out and go walk. That’s my dad. Of course, as Older Daughter said, when he starts asking how many people work at the hospital and when it was built and how many people it serves every year — then we’ll know he’s back to normal. So I’m hanging out here with my mom and my middle brother and all the wonderful wonderful dear friends who’ve come to help and the incredibly caring and skilled medical staff. And two Starbucks within walking distance. So it’s all good. And now, test your knowledge of Southern city skylines and tell me where we are. The “Batman” building on the right is the best clue.
I don’t mind not having TV at our new house yet. I don’t mind not knowing where my good boots are, or my blue leather purse or black leggings I just bought. I don’t mind that I still have to wind my way along a path between boxes or that we still have bath towels covering up a couple of windows. These are all temporary glitches along the Road to Completely Unpacking and Feeling At Home, and I embrace every challenge. (Also: I’ve been reading Anne Lamott.) But I really really really don’t like not having Internet yet. I’ve hit every WiFi spot and skulked around street corners and parking lots in my new town until the convenience of actually sitting in my own living room on my own couch with my own coffee cup and my own Internet kicks in — hopefully, my husband says, this weekend. We’ll see. In the meantime, here are some of the things that have been going on: 1) My 12-year-old nephew in Chattanooga had some dastardly kind of resistant staph infection in his elbow and was in Thompson Children’s Hospital all this past weekend. He was brave and put up with all sorts of IVs and needles and other unpleasant things and was worried mainly about missing school work — which is all his mom because his dad (my brother) would have considered a week off from school a major and unexpected gift. 2) While I was in Chattanooga hanging out with the family, I also got to visit with Younger Daughter, who recently moved there to work and go to school and live in my brother’s basement, which is a much cooler place than it sounds. I went to the grocery story where she works and met all her super-sweet co-workers and admired her handiwork in building her first display of chocolate and cheese — two of our most favorite foods. I’ve taught her well. 3) But in more family medical news, a couple of days later, Older Daughter went in for some allergy tests to try to find out why she’s constantly congested and she found out she’s allergic to — you’ll never believe it – glycerin. Glycerin! Who knew this was something to be allergic to? Of course she couldn’t be allergic to something simple like dog hair — which she actually was hoping for as an excuse to pass their annoyingly yappy dog on to another family. But, no. It’s glycerin. Glycerin!!! I don’t even know what glycerin really is. But whatever it is, it’s in EVERYTHING. Go to your bathroom right now and check all your makeup and lotions and creams and toothpastes. It’s there. It and its evil siblings — glycerol and glycol and other gly-names — are in foods and fabrics, too. apparently glycerin is poised to take over the world. Who knew??? Older Daughter is in for a huge overhauling detox. Or she may just shrug and say, “Oh, well.” She hasn’t decided yet.
In January, one of the members of my four-woman book club wanted to read something about Haiti since we all had to embarrassingly admit ignorance about this earthquake-ravaged country. She suggested “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Kidder and now I’m suggesting it to y’all. Read this book and you’ll be like us: Beginning to understand the Haiti story that’s behind the headlines. “Mountains” is a non-fiction look at Paul Farmer, a brilliant, charmistic and compassionate Harvard-trained doctor and anthropologist who’s moved by the plight of Haiti’s poor. Farmer helped establish a community-based health project in 1983 in Cange, in Haiti’s Central Plateau near Port-au-Prince where an internationally financed dam had obliterated the peasants’ land and way-of-life — reducing them to less-than-subsistence. Farmer’s initiative, Partners in Health, has grown into a world-wide non-profit organization and Farmer is a recognized global authority on poverty-related health issues. Kidder’s book traces the development of PIH but focuses on Haiti. You’ll learn about the daily lives of its peasants and the almost unbelievable obstacles they face just to provide human basics for themselves. You’ll find out about Haiti’s history and culture and way of life — and you’ll come to respect and appreciate and be amazed at how the Haiti people survive. Learn more about PIH and its work in Haiti at http://www.pih.org and author Tracy Kidder at http://www.tracykidder.com/. Farmer’s Wikipedia entry has lots of good information, too, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Farmer.
After she graduated college this past December, Younger Daughter moved back home to work part-time and figure out the next step – which is going to be wonderfully awesome, whatever it happens to be. In the meantime, I get the benefits of living with someone who is the healthiest eater I know. And she cooks! When I’m empty-nesting, my usual lunch is 1) breakfast, 2) coffee with friends, 3) steam-table civic-club meeting buffets or 4) Cheeto crumbs eaten standing in the middle of the kitchen. I like Younger Daughter’s way much better. Here’s a typical lunch she’ll sort of insist on fixing for us: Organic cream of tomato soup and stir-fried veggies with sourdough cheese and herb toast. She plans and preps and I clean up — a great deal for both of us.
As much as we try to eat healthfully and buy organic and nutritious food, it can get expensive. That’s why I was happy to see an article titled “Eat Well, Eat Cheap” in the March issue of Better Nutrition magazine — a freebie publication that’s probably in your local health-food store. I’m usually cynically suspicious about this magazine — Will the SuperEnergy Natural Organic Green X48 multi-vitamins really help me lose weight, sleep all night and beat every disease that comes my way? — but this article actually was objectively helpful. It’s not on the Web site, http://www.betternutrition.com/ yet (the site’s getting a makeover and will be updated early this spring, so the cover image here is March 2008 instead of the newest magazine that’s out right now), so grab a copy of the March issue if you find it. And what are some healthy and nutritious foods you can include in an even stretched-to-the-limit food budget? Author Lisa Turner details 15, such as eggs, cabbage, sweet potatoes, sardines, canned tomatoes and oats. This issue also has a great recipe for a St. Patrick’s Day potato appetizer that even people who turn up their noses at “health food” will gobble up: Top roasted red-potato slices with a feta-olive oil-fresh basil mixture and garnish with a parsley leaf. Yummy and green!
Am I the only person who cannot find Dasani flavored water in the non-lemon flavors anywhere anymore? All I can find anywhere — and I mean anywhere, any place, any time — are the plain and the lemon flavors. Not good. The grape, strawberry and raspberry Dasani flavors are favorites in my house. I know, I know. It’s all really local tap water. And plastic bottles are clogging up the earth. But my husband and I drink more water when we chug the Dasani — plain tap water tastes like blood to me ever since I had oral surgery and I only use the powdered flavor mixes as emergency backup because I’m not wild about them either — and we religiously recycle the bottles. So that makes us feel a little better.
But apparently I’m out of luck. My husband and I occasionally stumble across a rogue single bottle at a stop-and-rob but no local groceries have the six packs I buy four or five at a time. What’s the deal? Am I just constantly showing up behind other Dasani fans who beat me to it? Is there some sort of sinister Dasani shortage going on? Or am I imagining the whole thing? I abhor the taste of Nestle water, I’m suspicious that Propel has more than 25 calories a bottle and I don’t like water that tells me what to do: “Revive” “Energize.” “Focus.” Forget it. I like my water to remain quiet, thank you very much. That leaves me with Aquafina, which is only so-so.
Dasani, what’s up? Can you give us some strawberry love down here in Alabama? That would be very nice.
I’m not a runner (it hurts!), walking gets boring and I’m too lazy to drive somewhere to exercise. But I enjoy working out — I do, really — so thank goodness for exercise DVDs. I like the flexibility of working out at home on my own schedule. Plus, I can pause the action whenever I need a break instead of getting the evil eye from the instructor, although this probably has more to do with my dislike for being told what to do and when to do it than anything else. And it’s always easier to find an excuse not to get in the car and drive somewhere than it is to pop in a DVD — I’m more likely to take 30 minutes to work out in front of the TV than I am to gather my stuff together, figure out what other errands I need to run, get in the car, drive to the Y, talk to people, work out, talk to people, gather my stuff together, try to remember what other errands I need to run, get in the car, etc. And I love variety! Classes usually are the same every time. With DVDs, you can dance the salsa one day, do Pilates the next and lift weights the next day — whatever you feel like. Keeps things interesting. Some of my favorite DVDs are from The Firm — they generally combine cardio with weights for an overall invigorating workout. Back in the late 1990s, this approach was revolutionary and The Firm’s first videos were so expensive — about $50, I think — several friends and I bought one together to share it. The sets were a lush sort of Grecian spa with an orchestra soundtrack. Then The Firm went through some business changes and the next round of videos were spliced-together clips of previous tapes along with a few somewhat scarily Stepford wife-ish new ones that apparently didn’t sell well. Today The Firm has a winning combination with enthusiastic instructors, lively music, modern sets and good solid routines. Some tapes have a few glitches — instructors off beat, music not matching movement — and The Firm has an annoying habit of always coming out with The Next Big Thing You Absolutely Have to Have, but for fun workouts that do the job, these DVDs get it right. Visit The Firm’s Web site at http://www.firmdirect.com. You can also check http://www.amazon.com/ and http://www.collagevideo.com/ for reviews of Firm videos.