Friday, March 22, 2013

Take A Load Off

At 56 years old and counting, I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to (gasp!) FRUITS AND VEGETABLES... DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNNN!!!!!

The image above is evidence of my addiction, including the questionable paraphernalia that allows me to continue my downward spiral into the morass of natural vitamin intake, a shiny wolverine fur coat and a roughage-friendly alimentary system.  It wasn’t always like this, but now that I've outed my unseemly cravings, I can only hope this admission will serve as a warning to others who may fall into the trap of a semi-healthy diet.  I never planned for this to happen.

Now, don't get me wrong... I am a total Chocoholic, and I get all kinds of crazy if I don't have some of that sweet brown goodie within arm's reach if the craving hits. One thing we are NEVER without at home is chocolicious snackies that get sucked in so fast, the wrappers almost go in too.  On those rare occasions when the goodies have been scarfed and it's too much trouble to hit the store, a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips will hit that sweet spot just right, I swear. The fact that dark choco is now my fave may explain why sometimes I'll go for the choco chips even if we aren't out of the regular stuff.  This chocolate craving has TEETH.

But for now, back to the healthy stuff.

I have a typical Virgo trait of being very process-oriented (read: anal-retentive), and since I do the grocery shopping for our home, I make it a point to hit the store first ayem on either Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather (yardwork) and any plans The Artist may have for me/us that I haven’t been made privvy to, which she likes to spring on me with little or no warning… she’s AWESOME that way.  I pull cash from the ATM (I refuse to pay for groceries with a debit card), fuel up the sled, then head off to one or more stores depending on the list.  Yes, we keep a grocery list… you’d be surprised how many people don’t make a shopping list and just buy food commando-stylie, heh heh heh.

My first stop is the produce section for the usual suspects (lettuce, tomatoes, apples, oranges, bananas), seasonal fruit when available (grapes, cantaloupe, cherries, strawberries or watermelon), a selection of tasty veggies (cabbage, green beans, broccoli or artichokes) and ALWAYS the Big Three:  carrots, celery and radishes.  I cruise through the store, aisle by aisle, picking up items and ticking them off the list before heading to the cashier with my motley assortment of re-useable shopping bags.  My bags were collected from various sources for FREE, but the different sizes and colors makes me a bit sheepish when I’m waiting at checkout behind someone who sports a stack of identical bags, all neatly aligned and in the same color, mocking my pile of mongrels (bag envy?).

Sidetrack questions:  Do you have re-useable grocery bags, or still relying on the plastic or paper single-use disposables? Did you know that less than 15% of disposable bags ever make it into the recycling stream?  Did you know that you’re supposed to WASH your re-useable bags on a regular basis? Are you aware the store baggers like to stuff as many items as possible into reusable bags, thereby squishing items and making the bags way too heavy?  Did you know that those same baggers HATE using the reusable bags?

OK, enuf of that. So, once I get back to the homestead and drop the loaded bags onto the kitchen floor, the very first thing I do is pop the teevee on the Classical Masterpieces cable radio station and crank up the volume.  Ahhh... Stravinsky! After the groceries have been stowed, I begin the Sacred Cleansing and Preparation Ritual. Cantaloupe gets washed (with soapy water because salmonella!), sliced in half, cleaned out and sectioned into an awaiting container.  Grapes, strawberries or cherries get a fast rinse. The Big Three are a bit more labor-intensive, but the process has become strangely satisfying for me, especially with that amazing classical music streaming in the background.

Carrots have their ends lopped off, then I peel and slice them lengthwise into quarters, which are then cut into 2-inch chunks before being washed and fridged. Celery gets the ends lopped off as well, and each stalk is sliced lengthwise into halves, cut into 2-inch chunks, washed and fridged. Radishes get snipped from the green tops (bagged ones were all they had when the image above was snapped), have both tips sliced off, then are halved (quartered if they're lunkers), washed and fridged. Once these veggies are prepped, it’s a snap to slap a handful of each into a sandwich bag to munch on at work, a great alternative to a bag of Doritos snaked from the vending machine.

Lately I've been bringing peanut butter to work for veggie dipping. I'm a bad wolverine with sticky paws.

Here’s the weird part:  my little ballet of washing and slicing and cutting has become a chore that I actually look forward to each weekend.  The elements are all there… the healthy food, the great music, the unrushed time spent in preparation, the idea that The Artist is working in her studio mere footsteps away, her brushes flying and her own music pumping.  It creates an aura of serene and purposeful work that is nothing but good.  On top of that, having recently acquired a really nice set of cutlery, I get to use a sweet little paring knife that makes me feel like Giada DeLaurentis gave me personal prep instruction. OMIGOSH a good knife is a thing of beauty, a tool to be used with deftness and care so as not to lop off a fingertip or skewer a palm.  It’s true… a sharp knife reduces the chance of cutting one’s self, and I can say that with certainty. Ouch.

There’s lots more going on here than just cutting up veggies, of course. In recent years, I’ve become more aware of my overall health and fitness, have worked hard to reduce the amount of salt, bread and butter in my diet (oh man that is SO HARD to do because I lovelovelove butter) and avoid fried foods that have become ubiquitous in all our lives. During the work week, my office food stocks are chock-full of goodies that are mostly good, but I am a weak wolverine so there's also the occasional choco bar or bag of chips or cookies.  However, it has become a running joke among my workmates when I walk through the shop while chomping on some veggies, an apple or a banana that it should be chicken nuggets going into my pie hole instead of wabbit food.

That ribbing comes from a group of guys whose sole intake of vegetables consists of the nasty tomato slice and shredded lettuce on a triple burger from Wendy’s. Almost to a man, they don’t eat fruit of any sort, walk in first thing each day with a Red Bull and a cigarette as breakfast, and scarf down sucky fast food for lunch EVERY SINGLE DAY.  My boss has his standard breakfast in-hand most mornings:  a pack of choco donuts and a 32 ounce soda from 7-11.  The healthiest thing I’ve ever seen him munch on is a chicken bowl from Flame Broiler, which I can attest to as surprisingly tasty.

I can trace the roots of my banana fetish to a boss I had many moons ago, a barrel of a man with a terrible hairpiece who ate a banana every single day at work. He got me started on that and I pretty much have followed suit, bananas being one of my abfab go-to snacks.  My love of fresh fruit goes back even farther than that, back to the mid-1960’s when I lived in La Puente and our back yard was teeming with apricot, peach, plum and nectarine trees.  From Spring to Fall, we kids were always munching on fresh fruit, and we’d toss some over the fence and into the three swimming pools adjacent to our back yard as bribery to be invited for a swim. Just writing about it now, I can taste the sweet-yet-tart flesh of a barely-ripe nectarine, hard to the touch and offering a loud crunch at every bite. We never EVER let fruit rot on the limb and fall to the ground, because we raided the fruit from the tree the millisecond it became edible.  Who says there’s no free lunch?

The weight thing was also a bugaboo for me many many moons ago.  At one point in the mid-70's, when me and my street-racing friend Jerry were out late most weekend nights, we’d stuff our faces at Bob’s Big Boy or Carrows sometime around 1AM before crashing at home, and my weight ballooned to around 220 pounds.  Thankfully that regulated down to around 190, but 10 years ago I had a real-world epiphany about weight and food and health.

I was working the season-opening NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway in 2003, sporting about 200 pounds of wolverine flesh and not paying attention to my daily nutritional intake because I was doing so much travelling for my job. Our mobile marketing area, consisting of several tractor-trailers with huge enclosed canopies and interactive displays, were on one side of the exhibitor area and the track’s operations center was on the other, perhaps a quarter-mile away. 

After the first few days of set-up, I found myself having to traipse between the two sites many times each day due to the complex nature of our set-up and the needs of our primary client.  Halfway through the event, I found myself running the route in order to make things happen when I began to get really winded, really fast.  By the last event day, it was almost impossible for me to keep up the pace, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was overweight, out of shape and had no one but myself to blame.

I started my caloric intake change that very day, avoiding airport food for some fruit and nuts that I had bought on the way outta town, drinking water instead of sodas and forcing myself NOT to chow down fast food at every opportunity.  I cut way back on most breads and (more recently) sugar, although I had yet to curb the salt thingie.  Lo and behold, I began to see a dramatic change, shedding weight and getting my stamina back, settling in at about 170 pounds and maintaining that pretty much to this day.  I’m at about 175 now, have seen a max of 180 but freaked out and found that I could drop the tonnage pretty damned fast if I put my mind to it.

Thankfully I’ve been able to keep some discipline in my diet and not balloon back to my old rolled mold. The Artist and I regularly enjoy a wide spectrum of healthy foods that include a lot of roasted whole almonds and her jabbing me whenever I get out the tub o’butter.  I struggled mightily with the salt shaker, but now I almost never touch that vile glass vial.  She also has a stellar way with cooking fresh veggies, using a combination of microwave and stovetop to maintain taste, freshness and the heavenly aroma of really good healthy foodstuffs.

One veggie in particular that has become a staple for us are brussel sprouts, those delightful mini-cabbages that have a pungent aroma during cooking but are so delish!  She’ll wash and halve them, nuke until just barely soft, saute’ them in a pan with olive oil to get a bit of char, then sprinkle with toasted pine nuts… NOM!!!!!  The best part: she’ll use the leftovers on HOMEMADE PIZZA! I simply cannot tell you how good this is, you just gotta try it, get over the weird concept and go for it.

All of this is just ancillary to the idea of eating better, cooking with fresh foods, planning ahead when grocery shopping and making sure there’s always something healthy ready to go in the fridge.  Yes, my blood pressure is a tad bit higher than I like (130/80), but my doctor sez that I’m in pretty damned good shape for an old Messican, which means that our healthy eating efforts are not in vain. Even after two knee surgeries, I have full range of motion and take care not to abuse them complex joints like I used to, yet another sign that I am get both older AND smarter. I’m sure The Artist would take issue with the ‘smarter’ part.

This isn’t rocket science, the healthy-eating thingie. It just takes some of that ‘self-discipline’ goo that we always seem to have a shortage of, an eye and nose to find a really good cantaloupe, some bangin’ classical music, a sharp knife and the brain power to use it all without needless bloodshed.
I’m a healthy, shiny-coated wolverine.


Lead image de Oblio; The Clash 'Lost in the Supermarket' video, muchismas gracias de YouTube.