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Through the Clouds

“Sisyphus,” Peter Vinton,
For more of his work, see http://www.petervintonjr.com/

On an usual cloudy day in Aix, I see light. I realize it’s cliche, but the word picture always conjures up a vivid image for me.  The last couple of years have been a long, dark tunnel of stress, ill-health, and to say that the times were challenging is an understatement.  These have been two of the most difficult years of my life, but the time of intense struggle seems to be nearing an end.

The hardest thing about such moments is that they generally arrive unexpected. In this life, there are no free-rides. Life is difficult in a variety of ways for everyone, and we cannot expect it to be otherwise or we will be blindsided. As Wesley tells Buttercup in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.” However, I want to clarify that I’m not advocating a doomsday perspective on life, simply a realistic expectation that there will be times of struggle and profound challenges. The thing is to not lose hope, to understand that life sometimes takes twists and turns we never expected, and to find beauty, positive outcomes, and yes, even joy in all circumstances.  Certainly, we all want to be happy, but even when life does not make us happy, we may be joyful. By joy, I mean a deep sense of peace under the turbulent waves that spring up as we travel through storms on our journey.

This week has been especially challenging.  I am now 3+ weeks into my new diet and had hoped to feel immensely better by now.  While I continue to see positive changes and incremental improvements, I’m not where I thought I would be, and I have had to come to terms with the fact that this may be a long road back to full health. Despite everything, I now look back on the week and see how much I actually accomplished and, quite frankly, am rather amazed because the whole time I felt like I was stuck in waist-high mud, straining but unable to move forward.  To the contrary, I found several apartment options for my Paris stay in September and contacted the owners, began my job search for a spring teaching position, wrote several drafts of a cover letter and contacted career services and my advisor to review it, figured out how to work around the problems I was having with the installation of the Windows Pro upgrade and note-taking software (Nota Bene), and am nearing the end of proposal writing. I also created a new-to-me raw food recipe, which I’ve shared below. Moral of the story: When I thought God was ignoring me, he was actually carrying me through these difficult times. By now, this should not surprise me, but when everything one does feels like a Sisyphusian struggle, it is difficult to see beyond the boulder one is trying to roll up the hill.

Now on to lighter topics…

Each week I am trying out at least one new raw food recipe – either someone else’s or experimenting with my own. This week it was making my own Mediterranean salad with what I had on hand. I am sure I am not the first to combine these ingredients, but here is what I threw in:

Peeled, sliced and chopped cucumber
Chopped Red Pepper
Chopped and seeded Cherry Tomatoes
Chick Peas
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Cumin

*Additional Ingredients (not shown):
Black Olives
Feta Cheese (which I cannot eat right now and is most likely not raw but would nevertheless add a lot of flavor)

This has quickly become a favorite.  It takes minutes to prepare, is delicious, healthy, and filling.

This week the archives are closed, allowing me to complete my proposal, catch up on cataloging and analyzing my research, and enjoy a bit of culture in Aix-en-Provence.  The festival of opera has just, which features the music of Mozart this year. My new roommate, Sarah (also a scholar of Algeria!) and I plan to attend at least one opera together, probably “Le Nozze di Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro). I also bought a guide to the “unusual and secret” around Aix that I’ve been dying to check out.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to take a least a couple of self-guided walking tours this week as well, and yes, I will post pictures after.

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Going raw … mostly

If you have been paying any attention to health news lately, raw-food and organic diets are becoming quite popular for a variety of reasons. Some people want to lose weight, others want to reverse the effects of disease, while others want to improve athletic performance, and still others see it as a way to “eat green” and leave a smaller footprint on the earth. I view my decision to “go raw” (mostly), organic, and hormone/antibiotic-free as the only way I can eat for life – both quantity and, more importantly, quality.

To make a long story short, I have had to follow very strict diets for 5-6 months at a time to get rid of systemic infections over the past five years. In case you’re wondering what the diet entails: very very few carbs, no more than one piece of fruit or the equivalent of one medium apple per day, and no sugar (including most fruit and all dried fruit), dairy, wheat, or foods with yeast, like condiments, which contain vinegar, or alcohol.

The last two times I had to go on this diet, I just tailored it to my old eating habits and found replacements for the things I normally liked to eat. Certainly, I experimented with new veggies and found I liked gluten-free bagels with a soy “cream cheese” spread. However, as the condition became more severe, I could no longer eat many of the replacements.  Goodbye bagel and “cream cheese.”  Now that it is pretty clear that I need to make a change for at the very least a lengthy period of time (probably at least two years, if not a lifetime), I decided to step out of my comfort zone farther than I ever have before and go mostly, but not completely, raw.  Right now it’s easier in some ways since Aix-en-Provence has fantastic local farmers’ markets (something I strongly support) and it’s relatively easy to find organic food.

Within five days of making the dietary transition, my morning run felt so much better. I felt like I had grown an inch and lost ten pounds over night. The additional energy I had coupled with the overall feeling of lightness made it easier to run faster without much effort. That is not to say the switch has been easy, but I can see hints that it is already paying off.

I’ve known for a while that I needed to change my eating habits because, like many people, I found myself eating to feed emotional needs, but then I also rushed through whatever I was eating because I felt like I had to also be “productive” during that time. Both of those issues had to be dealt with. Fair warning for anyone else who plans to go on a fast or detox that it can be quite emotional. When the foods you ate to fill those needs are no longer options, you are left to deal with the emotions themselves and the reasons for them. Since I wasn’t even enjoying the food I was eating, healthy or not, I am now learning to slow down, take some time away from my work, maybe not much, but just enough to actually taste what I’m putting in my mouth. Mindful eating is better for the digestion, is much more enjoyable, and it gives the mind a little rest from the activity of the day.  As I practice it more, I am sure I’ll have more to say about it. 🙂

The blog won’t become all about food, but I may provide updates on how everything is going from time to time and post any particularly good recipes I’ve discovered since this is all part of the journey. The meal pictured above was last night’s experiment of throwing things together that I had on hand. The salad includes brown flax seeds for fiber and organic veggies: half an avocado, slices of cucumber, succulent cherry tomatoes, sweet green chile and bell peppers, alfalfa sprouts, and salsa (not homemade, this time but hopefully soon!).  The drink is essentially home-made Sprite: San Pellegrino sparkling water with fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice and a sprinkle of stevia. I’m not sure if sparkling water is considered raw, but it’s allowed in my diet, and since I had it on hand, it was a nice treat.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Recipes, Self-Reflection

 

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Homemade Protein Bars

Original Recipe:

Nonstick Cooking Spray
1 c. roasted soy nuts
1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1-1/2 c. quick-cooking oats
1/2 c. nonfat dry milk
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten
1-1/2 c. plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 c. dried tart cherries, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Coat a 13″x9″ baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a food processor, pulse soy nuts and pumpkin seeds until roughly chopped, about 30 sec.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine chopped soy nuts and pumpkin seeds, oats, dry milk, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, yogurt, and orange zest.
5. Pour wet mixture into large bowl containing dry ingredients.  Add cherries.  Mix well until all ingredients are combined.  Pour into prepared baking dish and smooth with knife or spatula until batter is evenly distributed.
6. Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into 15 equal-size (roughly 3″x2″) bars.

Makes: 15 bars
Per Bar: 170 cal, 5g fat (1 g sat), 22 g carbs, 11g sugar, 105 mg sodium, 4g fiber, 8 g protein.
From: Women’s Health (Nov 2011), p. 85.

My Adaptation: No added sugar, less dairy, soy-free = even healthier and still delicious!

Nonstick Cooking Spray
1 c. roasted pine nuts
1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1-1/2 c. quick-cooking oats (If you need to avoid gluten, make sure your oats say “gluten-free”)
1/2 c. protein powder (I used Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein Powder)
1/3 c. xylitol (available at health food stores)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten (if it needs to be egg free, you could substitute with Ener-G brand Egg Replacement)
1-1/2 c. plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 c. dried tart cherries, roughly chopped (I used dried cranberries that hadn’t been juiced)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Coat a 13″x9″ baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a food processor, pulse pine nuts and pumpkin seeds until roughly chopped, about 30 sec.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine chopped pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, oats, protein powder, xylitol, salt, and cinnamon.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, yogurt, and orange zest.
5. Pour wet mixture into large bowl containing dry ingredients.  Add cherries (or cranberries).  Mix well until all ingredients are combined.  Pour into prepared baking dish and smooth with knife or spatula until batter is evenly distributed.
6. Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into 15 equal-size (roughly 3″x2″) bars.

Makes: 15 bars

By individually wrapping and freezing them, they’ll keep for up to three months!

Enjoy! 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Recipes

 

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