snow days!

So Winter Storm Jonas passed through NC. It didn’t manifest itself nearly as dramatically as it did in Virginia where my mom lives:

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But everything shut down anyway, and I spent several days largely homebound.

I was all set to sleep late on Friday, my classes already canceled… but then, at 6 am, I heard pathetic meowing outside my window! I threw on boots and a coat and hunted this elusive meower. At least I found him perched pathetically in the neighbors’ building’s breezeway. I stuck out my hand to let him sniff it, and he acquiesced to being picked up (though then he started frantically wiggling because I was holding him against my snowy jacket). However, then I delivered him into my warm apartment and he purred like a little motor. Loudest little purrer I have ever beheld.

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We went back to sleep for awhile (he slept great, I DIDN’T, because his ultimate goal was to sleep ON TOP OF MY HEAD. We negotiated so he ended up on the pillow next to my head, with his feet in my hair. Gah he was so cute I didn’t even care.)

Then Alli and I went about our next day and a half in the company of this adorable kitty. We dubbed the cat Jonas Nino. Jonas for the name of the storm, Nino for the El Nino weather pattern that produced it.

I did a very minimal amount of homework and little cat friend sat on my lap.

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Alli watched a lot of Scandal with the little cat curled up next to her.

I made some PEACE SIGN PASTA my aunt and uncle gave me for Christmas (so cute!)

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And I figured out that the cat was a kitten, one because he had adorably disproportionately huge ears that he seemed to be growing into, and two because he just wanted to play all day.

I had made a run to the grocery store immediately after the cat’s arrival to stock up on food and kitty litter before the storm got bad. I had resisted getting toys, because deep down I knew this sweet, well-nourished cat had not been homeless and would have a family that would want him back.

So I improvised with the toy-like items I had around, like bag ties, and apron strings.

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After getting a little stir crazy, even with Jonas’s excellent company, Alli and I were elated to learn that our nearby sushi place was open Saturday, though the blizzard had barely ended and there were still snow flurries.

I housed this amazing bento box (eating everything but the rice in one sitting, what?!) Alli had always gotten the sesame chicken and I tried it this time and YUM. It wasn’t at all like sticky Chinese restaurant sesame chicken, but was rather crispy flash fried and not at all greasy chicken dipped in a yummy not-too-sweet ponzu sauce. Also enjoyed some sashimi and a crunch roll, plus salad and unpictured miso soup.

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When I returned from sushi I went to the mailroom, suspecting– correctly as it turns out– that there might be a sign about a missing cat. I called the number and heard the relieved exclamation from the mother of the household, who then uttered “Babe, they found him!” to another member of the household who turned out to be a little girl. Jonas was in fact named Boo. He had snuck out Thursday night and the family frantically searched for him but he didn’t make his way home as he had other times he had snuck out before (perhaps due to it being harder to smell because of the snow?) His family was very happy to be reunited with him. Apparently his sister kitty had been crying for him all night! Awwwww.

I was heartbroken but happy for the family that they got their sweet cat back.

Then the thawing continued and on Sunday I managed to get enough people together to have an excellent clothing swap! This was the lay of the land BEFORE anyone even arrived! Just the combined efforts of me, my sister, and a friend who read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and went crazy on decluttering her house.

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Lots of people came (some on foot!) and lots more clothes appeared and were claimed in the following hours.

The good news was, the leftovers went with my friend Taylor for her annual mission trip to the Dominican Republic, to be worn by kiddos and teens in the school/orphanage where she volunteers.

On Monday my morning class I TA was canceled, so I spent the day fiiiiiinally catching up on work at my favorite coffee shop.

And then when I returned home, I found a wonderful, sweet thank you note from a little girl who was glad to have her kitty back!

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new semester

Just finished my first week of the new semester. Also THE FIRST WEEK OF THE REST OF MY LIFE. I’m in a mindful place and feel like reflecting on life in general. Some trivial, some semi-deep.

  • Somehow I got good enough at biochemistry that I am now TA for the first year students taking it wutttt?! I know all I do is bitch about it in the blog, but… I got honors passes for both semesters I’ve taken, and actually feel rather confident and conversant in the subject matter. TAing is also a practical undertaking- the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I’ll be tested on macro and micronutrients in my MPH comprehensive exams this April (!!!)
  • My current semester is kind of a mixed bag otherwise. I’m not super excited about any of my classes. The current ones are:
    • Food Science- I got kicked out of lab on Wednesday (!!!) because I was coughing too much (!!!) Hahaha, another student did too. It’s reasonable to be obsessive about food safety. I’m curious how this class will go- apparently the professor is prone to mood swings (!!)
    • Nutritional Epidemiology- I think other people are intimidated by this because they didn’t have a great experience in introductory Epi (partly because our professor lacked certain communication skills- she’s a key example of why we need both good scientists and good communicators in this world). I’m less intimidated because I really like reading and interpreting studies because I’m so preoccupied with having the best data and using it to save the world. (Though our anti-fact political climate is probably at cross purposes with that dream of mine). Also the teacher is my advisor and I like her a lot.
    • Biochem- yes really, I’m still not done taking it myself. This semester is all micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). We’ve got an unfortunate situation where none of the professors really know what they’re teaching- they’re all highly specialized research faculty who can talk a lot about one particular enzymatic pathway but sound really stupid when they’re talking about basic, like, what vitamin K does in the body. We’re going to have to teach ourselves a lot. But I had a review session today with my favorite study buddy and I actually think we’ll rock that.
      In the meantime, during class I have been having gif exchanges with my friend Colton. I am not particularly proud of this.
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    • With all that being said, this is my LAST SEMESTER OF CLASSES, and I’m trying hard not to wish it away. Going to school full time is a privilege. Getting to learn all day, and surround myself with interesting people and experts in their fields, is a privilege. I want to take advantage of all the opportunities I can in the coming months.
  • Before the new semester began, I finished out my winter break with a “field trip” that was essentially in my home town. We had a three day conference in DC with nutrition policymakers and representatives from organizations working in federal-level policy and research and implementation and lobbying and such. The conference was a requirement for one of our classes and it was a lot to ask of people! Extra flights, $ for hotels and meals out, a shortened winter break. Lucky me, I got to stay for free with my family in Northern VA (and I had a classmate stay at my house, where she hopefully had fun with my mom and cat!) I also got to play tour guide and show my friends around town a bit. Highlights include:
    • Hearing from Congressional staffers on how nutrition policy gets passed. I thought it was interesting that they say there’s more of a regional divide for the folks working in agriculture (Midwest vs Southern representatives) than a political divide.
    • Going to the White House on a lunch break and seeing Sunny and Bo THE PRESIDENTIAL DOGS THEY WERE SO CUTE!
    • Going to the white house on an evening break before a network happy hour and seeing KATIE COURIC walk inside! (Yeah that was cool but notice I get more excited about adorable puppies)
    • Getting mansplained at by the former president of the Corn Refiners Association and also former Bush appointee as Secretary of Agriculture! That guy. What a champ. My classmate asked him a question about the proprietary nature of GMO seeds and the challenges to biodiversity and he rambled a lot about how GMOs were safe (not the question). Then I asked a question in which I first pointed out that it’s cheaper to buy 200 calories of high fructose corn syrup in a soda than 200 calories of carrots. Then I asked how we could balance the need for farmers to be able to store commodity crops to sell them at a competitive price and at the same time encourage farmers to grow healthier crops like fruits and vegetables which are highly perishable and can cause the farmers financial risks. And he lectured me that frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as fresh, (which of course, again, had nothing to do with my question).
  • I came home from that break and immediately got sick. So I’ve been rocking this wan and dazed look for awhile.
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    I seem to’ve turned a corner today. Took a nice long walk in the sunshine :)
  • I have a lot of friends reaching life milestones and it’s freaking me out. Two sets of close friends are in the throes of wedding planning and good GRIEF it’s a lot. Also just found out a close friend is pregnant and it’s SO exciting and I’m actually going to get to be around this friend as her belly gets all big and she gets her sonogram pictures and yadda yadda! And again, also- OH MY GOD MY FRIENDS ARE GROWNUPS AND I AM SUPPOSED TO BE ONE TOO!
  • On the bright side, I am doing something cool with my time that is just for me and that is WRITING CLUB! I have a friend (one of my classmate’s boyfriends) who has a PhD in creative writing and we were chatting one time and I was like “Gosh writing is great and I miss it and the seminars you’ve done over the years sound so cool” and he was like “Get a group of people together and we’ll have one” and then I did! And we do! And our meetings are so fun! Well of course we drink wine and have snacks because that’s important. And we read each others’ writing and give feedback and Zach talks about writing as a craft and makes diagrams (!) and quotes Great Writers (!!!) and it is simultaneously educational and liberating. It’s so nice to use a different side of my brain. And be around people who are smart! Yes, my classmates are smart but it’s wayyyyy different memorizing enzymes than it is coming up with creative ideas for stories and characters.
    It’s telling because the story I’ve written so far has been lauded for its character development but critiqued for not yet having introduced a conflict/question/quest for the lead character. And as I think about my protagonist, and go “What shall she do with her life?” I’ve realized that it’s so about ME wondering what I should do with MY life! #meta
  • Finally, today is my one year breakupiversary. I will confess that I might have forgotten except my best friend texted me yesterday about it being my ex’s birthday and it was like ohhhh yeahhhh weeeeeeeird. I don’t know that I yet have anything deep to say about the past year. There have of course been awful losses in the past year (and may I suggest to people out there that it’s not the classiest thing to dump someone while they have a dying family member?) but at the same time I’ve learned a lot about myself and had a lot of happiness and general… life richness in the past year. I’ve gotten to dig into friendships and see them transform as people have gotten to know me as me rather than me as half of a couple. I’ve gotten to dig into things just for me, like writing creatively. I’ve cried a lot less (it’s absurd how often I found myself crying- heads up, if you are in a relationship where you cry at least twice a week it’s probably not a super great sign). I’ve done a lot less taking on of the emotions of others.
    And yknow I’ve also had some times where I’ve wondered if I have to make my peace with staying solo and not doing the wife/mom thing. If I should be online dating (I joined OKCupid for like two weeks and though it was a nice ego boost it made me realize that one that I was too busy with school to commit my time to casually dating a bunch of dudes, and two that I just honestly prefer meeting people under organic circumstances, even if it’s stupid).

Now that I’ve bulleted this post to within an inch of its life, here are some nice random photos from the rest of my winter break.

While I was still home my cat woke up and was like “I want dinner. I want to make sure I’m awake in case Ileana gets up and goes into the kitchen to give me my dinner. On the other hand, I am essentially asleep sitting up”. Sheila is the best.

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I got SO MUCH TEA for Christmas and it’s amazing. I now have both a tea shelf and a tea box. THANK YOU GENEROUS FAMILY!

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On the food front- so you’ll recall that we got crescent roll dough for my sister to make yummy thingies for our Christmas party. So since we got said crescent roll dough at Costco, that meant we still had a billion more rolls of crescent roll dough to use. So I made a recipe that was both very out of character and very delicious and used some of the leftover ham and cheese from the party to make this ham and cheese crescent roll bake. I put in some spinach, so you know, health food.

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I also was happy to check off my boxes for Northern Virginia- got Ethiopian food one night, Sweetgreen (actually got that twice; the second time also introducing my classmates to it), and Korean another night.

The yummy barley tea and the pickleys-

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The kimchi soup that’s basically a drinkable salad

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And the hot and spicy tofu soup with the fresh egg cracked into it mmmmm

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The Korean place is also near The Yard Where Christmas Exploded, so we made a visit there.

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And finally we got in more family time! My cousin Kate is marrying her Francisco, who hails from Puebla in Mexico. They’ll be getting married there this May. I’ll be missing it because it’s the first week of my clinical internship arrrrgh. But, I did get to attend the Mexican feast that Kate’s parents, my aunt Nan and uncle Andrew, hosted when Kate and Francisco were here for Christmas.

Decorations were excellent.

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We brought this appetizer. “We” meaning I found the recipe and my mom did all the work! How GORGEOUS is this tarte soleil?! It was as yummy as it was beautiful, yay mom!

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Andrew and Nan also went ALL OUT. The chicken tinga was spec-tac-u-lar, and because Nan is so good at baking it is almost frightening, there were many many delicious things of the Mexican chocolate varietals. These little guys involved cayenne and I could have eaten them forever.

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Also, I convinced my cool aunt Kathy to do a shot of tequila with me :) It was great!

Finally, spent some family time with my aunt Jeanie, who made the most wonderful French onion soup. The bowls! The cheese!

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Also spent some quality time with my hairy cousins.

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One could say they were watching the neighbor’s cat. But I say they were looking forward to an exciting and yet to be discovered 2016.

christmastime food and silliness

Ventured North to see my family in the ‘burbs. I forget how much my neighbors lose their minds over Christmas decorations. I particularly enjoyed this Peanuts creche.

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Malindi and I both got in nice long breaks (and I’m actually here for quite awhile longer since one of my classes has a “field trip” to my home town to learn about national nutrition policy).

Malindi made us this YUMMY dinner one night shortly after we got home- pasta with pumpkin goat cheese sauce.

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We’d gone to the farmer’s market and gotten cute Persian-style cucs that morning, which my mom used to make a side salad that went perfectly.

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I’ve also gotten some nice visits with other family. Jasper and Alice continued their constant vigilance of neighborhood happenings while we hung out with their humans, my aunt Jeanie and uncle Tim.

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And before we knew it it was Christmas Eve! Malindi and I posed amusingly in our festive attire.

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I thought these festive headpieces had an appropriate level of reverence for a church service celebrating the birth of Jesus (Malindi got these for the whole family and I LOVE THEM SO).

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Sheila joined in the festivities, ish.

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The cat suffering continued the next morning when she received her Christmas tutu. Actually, she weirdly didn’t seem to like it- we were expecting her to go ape**** and destroy it immediately but she seemed weirdly nonchalant. Probably knew how pretty she looked.

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The gift exchange was as delightful as ever. Two of my favorite things ever are captured in the photo below.

  1. My sister gave me a Yoda onesie for Christmas. This glimpse of the fleece covered thighs is the closest you’ll get to seeing it unless you know me very well in real life, but rest assured that it is incredible and I’ve been wearing it as often as possible. It’s so soft and warm that wearing it is basically like walking around in a portable bed.
  2. My mother and I got each other the same Christmas gift! I loved Mr Rogers as a kid (well and as an adult, OBVI, since he was one of the greatest people in the world ever) and my mom continues to wander the house singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood”. So, two Mister Rogers sweater changing mugs were under the tree this year (he puts on his sweater when you pour in hot water!)

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We did our usual Christmas brunch tradition at my aunt Kathy and uncle Tom’s house. I was definitely expecting it to be a bit surreal, since last Christmas was the last time most of us saw Chris healthy. It seemed any minute like he was going to come around the corner and start laughing at the toy helicopter, or one of the uncles’ gag gifts. But it was also nice to be around all the people who love him and who he loved. And thank God for family, and all the laughing we do together. And eating, of course. Lots of eating.

That ghostly white arm is Malindi’s boyfriend Eric digging in. My family is Mediterranean and swarthier :)

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Kathy did her usual gigantic feast. A gazillion egg casseroles, a whole smoked salmon/oysters/mussels display, lots of yummy crackers and biscuits, tons of cheese, tons of fruit both fresh and dried. Mimosas galore.

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My aunt Dena made this cake over which everyone LOST THEIR MINDS. It’s gluten free (Malindi’s boyf Eric doesn’t do the gluten) and it’s basically clementines (boiled down for an hour to condense their deliciousness) and almond flour. Light, citrusy perfection.

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We did our gift exchange and my cousin Kate won Christmas. She’s getting married next summer in Mexico (her husband-to-be hails from Puebla) and started pepping everyone up for the occasion by buying all the women Mexican scarves and all of the men… Mexican wrestling masks. Oh yes.

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(Photo has been cropped to protect the innocent. I am wearing an awesome Christmas crown because my family always does Christmas crackers)

I would’ve been content to enjoy the Mexican wrestlers, delicious snacks, and board games and then call it a day. Climb in the tub, catch up with my cat.

But, I am a child of divorce, so had to go celebrate with my weird dad, his (sometimes) weird family and a few random strangers who were there for some reason (a foreign exchange student ish, her random friend, and my stepmother Sally’s random church friend).

However, then it ended up being really nice and I don’t know why I was being such a Scrooge. I forget that having random strangers around for the holidays, while seemingly weird, causes my weird relations to behave more normally because other people are watching! (More normally, to be clear. Less abnormally. They are still not normal.)

Lots of food! My aunt Jeanie made lots of contributions all of which were delicious, and Sally’s friend (who turned out to be a wonderful, friendly guest) brought DELICIOUS duck from a Chinese market.

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I decided we needed a green salad so I made this recipe. It was pretty good.

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The usual artichoke dip we have at all family holidays (my dad amusingly calls it “his famous artichoke dip” despite the fact that the recipe comes from his ex mother in law).

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The day after Christmas ought to’ve been relaxing. Though it was fun, it was also filled with party preparation, because we opted to host our annual post-Christmas pre-New Years family open house on the 27th. So lots of baking and cleaning and so on went down (read further down for more!)

We did break for a suuuuuuper indulgent and amazing lunch. My mom used some smoked salmon (which Kathy generously gifted us as a leftover from the amazing Christmas brunch) to make this gorgeous plate.

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That plus leftover salad plus whole wheat pita and hummus combined in the most simultaneously healthy and decadent lunch ever. If I could eat like this every day I bet my health would be superb. (On the other hand, I’d be broke as a joke).

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As for party prep- as usual, I went cookie crazy. I love love love making Christmas cookies and have some recurring classics I make as well as newbies. This year I took a fancy to margarita shortbread from Smitten Kitchen. DANG it was good. (Albeit looked weirdly like sliced bananas or plantains, right?!)

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I also tried out chocolate peppermint snowflakes. Or, er,rather, chocolate peppermint stars. These smelled like HEAVEN while baking, and were really beautiful and yummy. I also think any time you make dessert you ought to include chocolate because for some people it’s just not dessert without the presence of chocolate. Some of the cookies were topped with traditional peppermint candy canes…

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And for some I used this adorable whacky new candy cane flavors my mom found at the store (cake batter, anyone?!) Aren’t these so pretty?

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We also made some old classics, including macadamia butter cookies with dried cranberries and my mom’s baklava. Malindi took care of the gluten-free-ers with her pumpkin blondies, and also made carrot cake cupcakes with nummy cream cheese frosting. Also my awesome aunt made the heavenly clementine-almond cake yet again <3<3<3

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As for the savory components, we made a ham (bone-in for maximum flavor and moistness) and turkey. We’ve never once gone wrong with this Cooking Light recipe for apple cider brined turkey. Note that the recipe makes enough brine to work with a much larger turkey- this one was almost 22 lb!

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Other fun tidbits- lots of carbs (rolls, breads, crackers), and some caramelized onion and mushroom filled crescent rolls made by Malindi that got inhaled shockingly quickly (my sister knows how to Give the People What They Want)

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Also went cheese crazy and dip crazy as per usual. This end of the table included lots of yummy cheese from Costco; labneh, taramosalata, and yummy pickled and stuffed veggies from the Mediterranean store…

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… and several homemade dips. For the past several years I’ve made muhammara, the pretty red dip at left. My sister made a lovely cheesy spinach and artichoke dip. And people LOST THEIR MINDS over this butternut squash and cheddar dip from Serious Eats that I made for the first time this year. Despite the veggie in its name it is laughably far from health food (it contains a package of cream cheese, 1/2 a package of sour cream, half a stick of butter, and a glorious 8 oz of cheddar). Its flavors are HEAVENLY, both from the lovely saturated fat and from the caramelized onions and butter-softened sage. Sigh.

The table before it had been attacked too much:

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I supposed I’ll blog more on health-related things later (if I feel like it, which I probably will) but for now I’m admitting defeat to the power of being home for the holidays. My diet has largely been far from clean and that’s just the way it is. I’m trying to be very consistent about exercise (and may I recommend this for a nice full body workout?) and will get back on board with the blood glucose lowering plan of attack once I’m back in NC. C’est la vie.

How was everyone else’s Christmas?!

MANY MANY WORDS

Pull out your stress reliever tea cause I have some FEELINGS TO THROW ATCHA! (Followed by hopefully stress-reducing cute pictures)

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(The tea pictured above is delicious and I recommend buying it.)

So a lot of this might be oversharing but I actually feel like writing about the current state of affairs will be cathartic. SO IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME VERY WELL OR DON’T LIKE ME THAT MUCH JUST DON’T READ IT.

Longtime readers/people who actually know me in IRL know I have PCOS. You can read about this fun syndrome that affects up to 10% of women here. There are not particularly good explanations for its etiology because it is woefully underresearched (because it only affects women, amirite?) but it is quite the serious beast.

It’s not clear what comes first or what initiates what but its nasty symptoms include problems ovulating (instead of releasing mature eggs your ovaries accumulate big lumps of little not-all-the-way mature eggs that don’t properly detach from the follicles of the ovaries), excess androgens (too much testosterone, not enough estrogen; which is probably what jacks up ovulation), and screwy metabolism. The official diagnostic criteria for PCOS does not discuss insulin resistance. However, insulin resistance is commonly seen in women with PCOS and is bad news.

I got diagnosed with PCOS when I was 16. My mom dragged me to her gynecologist around the time I went “Er, by the way, I haven’t gotten my period in six months”. In retrospect, I was also displaying some of the other typical symptoms (excessive hairiness and weight gain. But I was also in the throes of puberty so what did I know?) The gynecologist diagnosed me with PCOS and spent about 30 seconds telling me about my ovaries, then put me on the pill and sent me off.

For more than ten years I had gone trundling ahead with my birth control pills thinking my ovaries were regulated and all was well… and then wham! I learned I could have higher risks of diabetes, heart disease, and other nasty things, due to other janky hormone action in my body that wasn’t directly involved with whether or not I was getting my period.

This year was the year I tried to get really serious about being my own best physician and advocate in dealing with PCOS (in part due to inspiration from a lecture by an expert in the field, Angela Grassi, founder of the PCOS Nutrition Center).

So I marched into a doctor’s appointment I’d made to get blood work and announced that I thought I should get my HbA1c checked. Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) measures your glycosylated hemoglobin, and indirectly tells you your average blood glucose over the prior three months or so. Your body always has hemoglobin circulating around on your red blood cells. Your body also always has glucose circulating around in your bloodstream. Some of the hemoglobin molecules get glycosylated- get a little molecule of glucose attached to them. The more glucose in your blood, the more little glucose molecules get attached to the hemoglobin swimming around with them. A normal HbA1c is between 4.7 and 5.6 (corresponding to an average blood glucose of 88 to 114 mg/dL). An HbA1c level higher than that indicates prediabetes, and anything 6.5 or above means you’re a full blown diabetic.

And now, sports fans, as you’ve probably inferred from this long prelude, my HbA1c was out of whack. 5.8. Corresponding to an average blood glucose of 120 over the previous three months. Not horrific, but worrisome. WORRISOME. Yes, irony of ironies, this masters level nutrition student is in that nasty scary prediabetes category at the ripe old age of 27. (Ew, typing that made me physically wince).

My kind nurse practitioner did a nice job of talking me down. She reminded me I’m at a healthy weight and I’m active, so this isn’t about me being “bad”, it’s part of the PCOS thing (sigh). She also said there were a few possibilities going forward:

  1. She could put me on Metformin. Metformin is a Type II diabetes drug that improves insulin signaling in the body, thus helping alleviate problems with insulin resistance. (I actually learned the biochemical mechanism by which Metformin works this semester, whoo). The NP was reluctant to do this because Metformin can have nasty GI symptoms.
  2. I could revamp my diet. As she pointed out, as a master’s level nutrition student, I am better equipped than most to do so.

So that was the plan, Stan. Obviously, there is nothing so fantastic as getting orders to consume a low glycemic index, low sugar diet two weeks before Christmas.

Here are some thoughts I’ve had in the subsequent two weeks or so since my diagnosis, in no particular order:

  • Feeling like your body is malfunctioning is scary as hell. Eating a meal and then imagining all the sugar swirling around in my capillaries is an uncomfortable visual. (And this is one of those things where my education has taught me TOO MUCH about the horrifying symptoms that develop with uncontrolled high blood sugar. Amputations anyone? Blindness?) And just thinking about my increased risk of heart disease. I can no longer just blissfully push away thoughts of my future health and go, “I’ll be like the fabulous Greek women in my family who grow old and healthy and eat whatever they want”.
  • In spite of the previous statement, I am SO SO LUCKY and I realize this. My God, I could have cystic fibrosis or some awful incurable genetic disease that would affect me my entire life and ultimately be fatal. Yes, PCOS sucks and I’m sad I have the crappy genes on which it is written but that’s life. It’s just the way it is. Some people have things wrong with their bodies. Duh.
  • I think the thing that gets me about this is that it’s about food. Directly about food, unlike other health problems which are about, say, thyroid hormone or red blood cells or crappy joints.  So so much of my life has been about food drama.
  • With that being said, prior to this crappy news I was in this fairly blissful period where I felt that I’d attained detente in my war with food. I ate relatively intuitively, didn’t deprive myself, didn’t binge eat, and didn’t feel like a crazy person when confronted with food. I had joyful eating occasions with friends. I ate foods that made me happy and was at peace with the shape and size of my body. I was a healthy weight and on a new fitness regimen that made me feel physically and mentally healthy. And now whomp whomp. That thing that felt so right wasn’t working.
  • Then I thought back to that earlier, crazier, deprivier time when I’d make little tallies in the margins of my notebooks in class, counting out the calories in each individual half teaspoon of olive oil I’d allowed myself to put in my lunch. I’d said goodbye to that time. I’d sought help and decided that I could either be thin or sane, not both, and I’d chosen sanity. But oh, irony of ironies, that time when my brain was a scary, sad little place, my body was doing fine. In fact, calorie restriction is one of the mechanisms that VASTLY improves insulin signaling and in fact likely increases longevity.
  • It feels inherently icky to me to monitor and count things when I eat. I’ve been tracking my macros and calorie intake on My Fitness Pal. I did this in the past, when I was in a real bad place. I’d be oh-so-virtuous and track everything and nod approval at my appropriately low calorie intake… and then have a mindless binge explosion. And even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to log how many calories had gone down while burying my face in cereal and chocolate and whatever. And of course that was probably why I’d done it. Maybe other people can dispassionately track everything they eat and look tranquilly at the numbers. Maybe I’ll achieve that. I’m not there! As you’ll see from the schizophrenic nature of this post, it’s hard to both think and talk about food like a dietitian and think and talk about food like someone who actually enjoys cooking and eating.
  • I hafta say, this has made me realize how much I rely on food for pleasure. Which makes me sound like quite the pathetic single girl, eh? The truth is that I have a lot of wonderful people in my life with whom I have a lot of wonderful experiences (and examples are listed below). However, as a fundamental introvert, when I’m alone, I like to read and I like to eat. I constantly desire sweets, which is a very typical PCOS thing, I’ve learned. And I want to be able to grab my chocolate and bliss out. Sigh.
  • Final, perfunctory note: I am entering the nutrition profession. If (when?) I come out successful on the other side of this with better managed blood sugar, I can help my clients with this. IT ALL MEANS SOMETHING, GUYS. Sigh.

So I have been in an ongoing process of creating a plan of attack to get my diet together, lower my HbA1c and prevent heart disease and diabetes and all the horrible other possibilities hanging in the back of my mind. This is all a raw work in process. Since the diagnosis, this is the order in which the plan was created/continues to be created

  1. I continued to exercise like a boss. That felt good. And exercise gets the sugar out of your blood even when insulin isn’t signaling properly (this is scientific and I can explain it to anyone who cares to listen).
  2. I gave away all the food in my apartment that wasn’t cool for an insulin resistant girl. White bread, chips, sweets, etc.
  3. I set a goal of 20 grams of protein at each meal (snacks I didn’t track as closely but I wanted them to include protein to prevent blood sugar spikes). I was largely successful in this endeavor. However, I am not a big meat eater and opt out for a decent chunk of the year for religious reasons. Therefore, a lot of my diet consisted of refined soy products. No bueno. Here’s an example of a semi-typical day after setting the protein goal.

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3. I would’ve said no sweets at all, but this was not a good idea. (For the record, my doctor told me I was welcome to take December off from worrying this stuff and enjoy the holidays, but I didn’t have that in me). What I decided was that I wanted to be able to enjoy social occasions with friends or I wouldn’t be living. Furthermore, if I were to have a single lapse and ate a sweet when I had told myself they were totally forbidden, that’d be a great prelude to a binge. So, I said twice a week, tops.Also tried to avoid white food, which is similarly no bueno for the blood sugar. That sort of worked when I was still in NC. .

4. Then, I went home. Home is GREAT! But, let’s talk about how home for the holidays is different from real life: unfamiliar kitchen not stocked by me (check), spontaneous trips to enjoy delicious ethnic cuisines unavailable in NC (check), Christmas treats all over the house both to prep for our annual party and coming in as gifts (check), no formal schedule with ample time to hang out in the kitchen (check), overarching tone of relaxation that causes one to lounge about in bed rereading Harry Potter instead of working out (check), other people cooking for me (check), spending time in a house where I lived out a lot of unhealthy eating habits (check). So then you get this:

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You’ll want to focus on that snack section, what with all the bread and dry cereal and ooh also let’s not forget all the cookies as a nice blood sugar spiking pre-lunch snack!
This, dear friends, is what I crave. This is what I need to take down if I want to stay on top of this.

Now I’m looking for a way to be healthy and sane moving forward. So here’s where I am, today, right now:

  1. I am going to continue to aim for 20 grams of protein per meal. Three things currently in my fridge that will deliver that are cod, bean soup, and eggs. I will also aim for protein in my snacks.
  2. I am not going to stress about carbohydrates as a whole, because that is too overwhelming to me at the moment. (It also may not be necessary as long as I properly balance my meals). Instead, I am going to
    – eschew desserts (except for a twice a week mulligan; and I am planning out those occasions in advance!)
    – eat only whole grains (I’ll allow myself a twice a week exception for white bread on that too, to stay realistic).
    – eat my grains mindfully. Sitting at the table for a nice oatmeal breakfast, yes. Handfuls of Life cereal mindlessly eaten while reading blogs, no.
  3. I am going to exercise regularly. I will aim, as I have been since I kicked up my physical activity level in the fall, for five days a week. At least three, please, but five is best. Today I did a little kickboxing and a lot of walking and felt good.

Three guiding principles seems about right. After all that verbal diarrhea, let’s take some space now…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was a lot of words. This is all raw and jumbly and messy in my head. As I said, I am writing to process this and to inform you, dear audience, that I am working on this stuff and I am figuring it out. Now I will share some of the day to day existence I’ve had in the past few weeks. If you read the blog for fun glimpses into my everyday life, here you go! If you want further thoughts on the nutritional components of the following events, they are italicized for your reading pleasure.

I took my biochem final. I got Chinese food with my sister and we watched Bridesmaids. It was amazing.

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Good, soul satisfying low glycemic index meal: shrimp, broccoli, and just a bit of brown rice.

Then I went to my friends’ for a bit and we had ourselves a lovely campfire. Their dog sat in a camping chair and stared contemplatively into the flames and it was the cutest.

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I could’ve theoretically headed up to Virginia the following day, since I was all done with class, but I opted to stay in NC for a few days. I could finish up my Christmas shopping at all the local crunchy shops I love, work a few more hours at my on-campus job and thus achieve my ability to do the aforementioned Christmas shopping, and hang out with some friends I didn’t get to see enough during the height of the semester craziness.

The next day I walked (exercise, see, see?) to see the Chapel Hill Carrboro Christmas parade! I brought my favorite baby and her parents!

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The floats were super adorable. I feel so happy and lucky to live in a real town, where people know each other and there are adorable community events.

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Latin Club at the high school. Pretty great, right?!

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There were many many Boy Scout troops represented. The guys below were the coolest.

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My all time favorite float was from the Botanical Garden. The guy with the red arm flaps is a Venus fly trap!

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The next day was legit like 70 degrees so outdoor brunch seemed important. We went to always reliable Milltown. I got the veggie burger, salad on the side.

The veggie burger came on brioche bun and I thought I’d be so clever and ask for it instead with whole wheat toast (which was listed elsewhere on the menu). As you can see, what arrived was suuuuuuuuper white bread. Shrug. I ate it bunless and felt like an Atkins tool.

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The veggie burger was exemplary. Gruyere and sauteed shiitakes on the top. There are a lot of veggie burgers that nail the taste portion of the burger equation, but this rocked that and also nailed the texture portion- it was satisfyingly fatty and crumbly, like the real deal burger.

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I spent the later part of the day again hanging out with Baby Friend and Parents Friends and making cookies. It was really nice enjoying the craft of baking (particularly when the little one participated!) and I didn’t feel terribly deprived not eating dough/cookies (and as you’ll see I did include some of our finished product in my twice a week rule).

I mean seriously how cute is this child?! She was so enthusiastic about helping. She has also started calling me Nana (which is also what my little sister called me when she couldn’t yet say my name <3)

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I grabbed a bag of the freshly made cookies and then headed to dinner with some of my best girlfriends in my program. We’ve all helped each other get through some stuff this semester and it was so nice to celebrate together.

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My contribution: both vegan and very healthy and appropriate for my health goals. This is a recipe I learned from a very sweet lady at church and it’s as simple as can be: black eyed peas, spinach, and caramelized onions.

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My plate- a healthy chunk of roasted chicken (yeah I know I said I wasn’t eating much meat but my friend cooked for us and I don’t turn down hospitality), a healthy chunk of spinach and black eyed peas, smaller portions of the trouble things (beets, which have a super high glycemic index; gluten free roll; and sweet potatoes) and some broccoli slaw. I feel good about how I filled this plate- got to try the things my friends made but also slowed down my blood sugar spike.

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And yes, then I did have dessert (this was my first time doing so since the diagnosis earlier that week): a wee little scoop of (light) vanilla ice cream, and cookies from my friends’ place- one little Buckeye and a piece of a whole grain gingerbread cookie.

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There are tricky things I’m still navigating- like the catered lunch at a work event. There wasn’t a lot of protein in this meal. I’m hoping I had fiber and portion control going  for me? Lots of eggplant curry, chickpea curry, lots of salad-y stuff (that did have white rice puffs in it :/), small portions of bread and samosa. 

(The kind of analysis I just did is what makes me really sad about this health stuff. I want to revel in the thrill of free food from my boss, not stress about protein grams and blood sugar)

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I did get to do something that did bring me pure joy the following day: time at the cat refuge! I still go there all the time, don’t worry.

It was a gorgeous sunny day. Sunny day= shadows to chase for Genevieve. She’s the cutest.

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I also had a great roomie date with Alli. We had this amazing mind meld where I texted her to see if she was interested in sushi at our neighborhood spot and she said it was fate and she was about to wait in the Harris Teeter line with takeout sushi but she’d way rather eat with me.

I got my usual favorite, the Bento Box.

I didn’t eat the white rice (easy way to avoid glycemic index drama). I ate all of the sashimi and most of the (yummy!) crunch roll and all of the salad. This meal was a protein superstar. I had recently fallen in love with sashimi prior to this diagnosis so that ended up being fortuitous. I did not feel deprived at all whilst eating this meal, though I confess I did think how good it would be to eat ice cream after it.

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So by Wednesday I really didn’t have any excuses for still being in NC as I’d gotten everything I’d done that I planned. But in the morning, I got to meet my classmate’s baby! And in the evening, I got to watch me some STAR WARS!

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No, I didn’t see the new one (and I haven’t yet; no spoilers!) Rather, I went to the Baxter, the hipster bar/arcade that was screening all three films of the original trilogy! OMGSOFUN!

I went with a few friends and wore Leia buns, natch. This nicest guy was sitting by us and we were chatting (exclusively about Star Wars) and he was clearly like, “OH MY GOD GIRLS”.

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I got a cider, which was the first alcohol I’ve had since the diagnosis. I am not a big drinker, which is almost a shame as if I had been I could go from being a big drinker to a small drinker and that’d be an easy way to look after my blood sugar. But my drinking was low and only on social occasions and remains low and only on social occasions. I feel like if my heart disease risk is high, I should go for the protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption.

Then Thursday I really, really, I swear, really was going to drive back to Virginia. But it rained all day, so I didn’t leave right away. So after packing and procrastinating I was going to leave around four pm. But THEN I got a text from my friend Steph telling me there was something I needed to see at her place… and then there was THIS!

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If you are feeling sad about anything EVER, might I recommend baby chicks?

I came home the next day. More winter break updates to come!

mozz and booch

Recently my sister and I have been having a series of crafty women adventures. It begins, as so many things do in our lives, with cheese.

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I got Malindi a cheese making kit for her birthday this summer. We took it out for its first spin (a batch of mozzarella) recently. By “we” I mean “I did all the work and Malindi supervised”.

It’s quite the scientific endeavor with the rennet and the citric acid and the curds and the whey and whatnot. It’s pretty magical watching it come together and be real cheese.

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The kit was a little frustrating. I.e. the directions would say “Use gloves to pull hot mozzarella”, yet no gloves would be present. Ouch.

At least Malindi diligently documented this whole undertaking.

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Ta da! Two gallons of milk produced this. Soft and creamy and dreamy and just like the real deal! We used omglocal Maple View Creamery milk.

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So er yes you end up with a *lot* of whey. We used the whey in various not really noteworthy ways (suggestions welcome!)

Some of the cheese we ate straight up and it was damn great. Then Malindi had me over for dinner and made tasty grilled cheese and marinara panini in her roomie’s Foreman grill.

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We rounded out our plates with a random enormous veggie tray Malindi had brought home from a work event. (She bequeathed it to me, and I brought it to a relaxing Christmas decorations crafternoon with some girlfriends).

Oh and yes we did put extra marinara on the side for dunking <3

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The other homegrown thing I tried at Malindi’s was all her doing.

Anyone recognize this?

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If you said a SCOBY, points for you! Yes, thanks to our local store that sells garden stuff, homebrew equipment and (heh) quite a big of hydroponic materials, she obtained her own kombucha starter kit and has been making DELICIOUS batches of kombucha weekly since then.

Here’s the kombucha after one week of brewing with its newly grown SCOBY on top.

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The next step is flavoring: you remove the SCOBY (by hand is supposed to be the easiest way, here is Malindi modeling it) and divide it into separate containers with the flavorings of your choice. As you can see you can use a variety of containers (old Gatorade bottle anyone?) as long as they don’t contain any metal.

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For the flavoring in the picture below, she used cran-apple sauce.

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And my favorite, pictured below, ginger orange. When it was done it tasted JUST like the Synergy brand stuff.

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Finally, my sister and I did *not* make the amazing things pictured below, but we relished eating them!

Yes, we went to Monuts. Actually, Malindi TREATED me to Monuts as a thank you for driving her to the train station.

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I got a coffee and The Carolinian:

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The underside <3 Any flavor guesses?

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It is a sweet potato (!) bourbon (!!) cake donut. It tastes like awesomeness. They had SO MUCH good sounding holiday stuff.

Also pictured is one of Malindi’s donuts (she had a long train ride so decided to get to and ensure she had adequate sustenance). The captured one was The Elvis and involved the chocolate, peanut butter, and bacon; but no banana (which is an ESSENTIAL ingredient, IMO).

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What else should we be making at home? All this culinary adventuring is so fun! (Just don’t say homebrewing. Can’t do it. Can’t stand beer. Maybe some home infused vodka?)

VA Thanksgiving

When I drove up to my family in Virginia for Thanksgiving, the trip began with a MAGICAL FAIRY PRINCESS ADVENTURE WITH MY BEST FRIEND.

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Lydia, my bestie since 9th grade, is getting hitched! I am going to be maid of honor, and I got to go wedding dress shopping with her, which is the most fun thing ever. Even without getting to try on dresses (though generous-hearted Lydia she said she’d have no problem with my pretending to gay-marry her so I got to try on dresses too). Just admiring Lydia and cooing over dresses and arranging trains and fluffing veils was fun.

(PS I don’t think her fiance Brian reads this blog but if so that’s not The Dress, so we’re okay).

To further enhance the festive-ness of the occasion, we decided it merited day-drinking! Between appointments, we went to a fun pizza place of which I was very fond back in my VA days. We were tempted by the cocktails but ultimately decided to just get wine (which Lydia treated me to! Thanks buddy!)

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And we split the girliest meal ever- a mushroom pizza and salad: arugula, mandarin oranges, beets, goat cheese, walnuts, and balsamic reduction. NOMS!

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After appointment 2, we had a little time to kill so we hit up my old friend the Korean bakery. I had my old friends, a sweet potato latte and a pastry…

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… which was filled with uuuuuber sweet red bean filling.

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The next day was Thanksgiving itself! My aunt Dena and Uncle Louie hosted. They are both extremely artistic people, as you could tell by the beautifully laid table. (Doesn’t my sister look so adorable in her little hippie dress?!)

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My cousin Steven enthusiastically posed for a photo. We just love having our picture taken in our family. (Hahaha, Malindi in the corner, cracking me up).

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I ate all the things. There were three kinds of stuffing, including one my sister and her boyf made out of pumpkin bread that was INCREDIBLE (no wonder; 2 sticks of butter were involved)

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Naturally I imbibed from the dessert table with gusto. Here’s a buckeye, a slice of pumpkin cheesecake, and an orange cream graham cracker crust little explosion of yumminess (technical term). I couldn’t finish the cheesecake… yet somehow did find room for a little almond-lemon cake and apple pie.

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Truthfully, Thanksgiving could’ve been rotten this year; it was a day after what would’ve been my cousin Chris’s birthday. However, it wasn’t, and for that I think we have Jack to thank. Jack being my cousin’s four year old son, who is HILARIOUS. You can read “his” blog here, in which his mother records his amusing and thought provoking quotes about music.

He spent a lot of the Thanksgiving meal “looking” for Lego pieces that he had “lost” under the table. At one point my uncle gave him a flashlight and you could follow where he was going by following the beam of light sporadically poking out from under the table.

Having this sweet little boy with his sweet little voice laughing around the house really, I think, saved the holiday.

I spent the rest of the time in VA avoiding doing homework, spending time with my cherished cat…

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And my favorite mom (with whom I did our traditional pilgrimmage to walk on the W+OD trail and then reward ourselves with yummy snacks, in this case macarons and cappuccino)

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NC Thanksgiving

It is a giant apple cider donut!

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I really got to spread out my Thanksgiving celebrating. It started with our nutrition department Thanksgiving at school, a few weeks before Turkey Day. I saw this recipe for an Apple Cider Donut Cake on Serious Eats and thought it sounded just swell.

Because I think it merits an extraordinary amount of self-congratulations to successfully execute a cake, I took lots of step by step pictures.

Butter ‘n sugar:

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Milk in one container; apples cooked in apple cider in the other (I did not bother to peel the apples; aint no one got time for that)

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I borrowed my Martha Stewart-est classmate’s beautiful bundt pan, and buttered it half to death (this was a really pleasant undertaking and my hands were lovely and soft after)

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Butter and sugar more or less combined (my dollar store eggbeaters only do so much)

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Then in went eggies.

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Then some kind of science magic happened when I added just the small amount of oil. So silky and pretty!

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Dry ingredients and cider/apple/milk mix ready to be added. You added a bit of flour, a bit of cider mix, a bit of flour, a bit of cider mix, and a bit of flour. Cake making is so fun.

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Final batter. One of my beaters experienced beautiful submersion.

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Swirleyed into the pan.

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And out of the oven I MEAN COME ON.

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On the drying rack. The bundt pan made the PRETTIEST pattern.

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Then I dusted on the cinnamon sugar, ahhh.

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Then it was off to our department Thanksgiving. They made it so cute!

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I meant to steal a turkey candle and forgot. Drat!

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I was nervous because our department Thanksgiving took place smack dab in the middle of our building where A BUNCH OF OTHER STUDENTS GO TO SCHOOL TOO, and what if randos from other departments tried to crash it?! Apparently someone from environmental health said we as a department undersalted food at our events RUDE AND ALSO WHY ARE YOU EATING OUR FOOD.

As a result of my paranoia, I spent some time guarding my cake by the dessert table inspecting all passersby for appropriate nametags to ensure they were nutrition department members. (I’m joking. Mostly. I just get very protective of my homemade baked goods and only want people I love to get to eat them).

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On my pretty $3 at an estate sale cake stand!

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Finally confident there would be no dessert gate crashers, I went off to the savory table to get my Thanksgiving eats. They were very ORANGE! The highlight was definitely Claire’s carrot souffle (around the 4:00 position on the plate) which was so incredible everyone demanded the recipe. And then we read it and it was all, “1 stick of butter…” and we were like, “Ahhhh”.

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As for desserts, the table consisted of a lot of fruit (… *Sigh*. Dietitians). So I only got a few things, a slice of my cake (of course!) and this cute and delicious pretzel-cookie dough-chocolate amalgamation.
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After all my craziness, I’d call the cake good but not great. The texture was A+, perfectly moist, but the inside was a little bland. Sigh.

However, at my next North Carolina Thanksgiving event, my dessert was LEGIT. Pumpkin custard pie with an almond crust and red wine caramel. Whatttttt?!

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I made this for a Friendsgiving at a friend’s house, and it was so good I just made it again for our cohort Christmas party. The almond crust is yummy and crumbly (and way easier to make than regular pie crust, because it’s more like making a cookie: you cream together the butter and sugar and bind everything with an egg; less fiddling around with pastry blenders and such). The pumpkin filling is quite tasty and not too sweet (the molasses is a nice touch).

And oh the red wine caramel! Incredible.

(I jacked it up for this second attempt at pie making, sigh. I think I didn’t dissolve the sugar enough? And/or used the wrong size pan? This time around the flavor’s still good but the texture is fudge-ish. So word to the wise, this is delicious but follow directions impeccably and dissolve the sugar enough).

Anyway, in this initial incarnation, the red wine caramel was perfect in texture and UH-MAZING!

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I busted out the holiday sock earrings for Friendsgiving. Aww! (My friend’s mom KNITS these. She is incredible. Teeny tiny socks).

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Friendsgiving was super fun- it involved champagne, a bonfire, and the best stuffing I’ve ever tasted. And one of Steph’s friends said I reminded her of Zooey Deschanel (and this I can accept as a genuine compliment because it was said behind my back! Score!)

A few more funtivities happened in NC before heading to VA for formal Thanksgiving. My cousin, who now lives in Chapel Hill, had her mom and sisters visiting for the holiday, and since they arrived before I left, I got to hang out with all of them the Monday of Thanksgiving week.

Them and Cara, the best dog in the land.

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Lots and lots and lots of fun! Real Thanksgiving will be another post, and was also excellent.