What does it mean to “eat clean?”

What does it mean to “eat clean?” I saw that on the cover of a magazine at the orthodontist’s office the other day, and when I flipped to the article it was just a collection of some vegetarian dishes from Mark Bittman’s new cookbook, with no word on how this was eating clean – just an assumption, I suppose, that this was how you do it. (But more likely, given how magazines seem to operate these days, a disconnect between the cover presentation and the article inside. And disconnect is the most charitable assessment; too often there’s a bait-and-switch mentality in play.)

This has been on my mind as I seek to figure out what my particular “fuel blend” is going to be as I wean myself off the Slow Carb Diet. Nuts and cheese, for example, are a no-no on that diet, but are allowed on “The Perfect Health Diet” and are the new favorite lunch on my weekday regimen. Is cheese “clean?” I must admit I haven’t looked at its ingredient list thoroughly.

We’ve got this yearslong tradition of a weekly “cereal allowance” at our house, where every Friday since the kids were little I set out four fresh boxes, one per kid, and a supply of Raisin Bran for my husband. It was an attempt to put some kind of limit on their voracious cereal consumption and give me a chance to look for bargains. Over the last few years we’ve moved away from most of the junkier cereals, but it’s amazing how even the purportedly healthier varieties now strike me as overly processed. A couple of Weight Watcher cereals I picked up last week, for instance, a chocolate shredded wheat and a dried fruit and oat flakes variety, felt like factory food to me.

Weight Watchers products in general now strike me that way. That organization played a key role in my weight loss, helping me set up a framework and accountability system to keep me on track. But now, four years out, it strikes me as a first-phase program geared toward out-of-control carb junkies (which is what I was). You’re encouraged to eat lean meats and fruits and veggies, but there’s always a product table full of synthetic looking “treats.”

It’s not like Weight Watchers is so incompatible with how I eat now. (Though I haven’t been there all year, so I’m not even sure how the program might’ve morphed.) I’m tired of tracking everything I eat and counting points, not because it’s such a hassle but because it’s a system designed to handle temptations — and I don’t like to be in a position where I wonder what I’ll be tempted by on any given day. I now prefer a more structured eating regimen that I don’t have to think or obsess about during the week, followed by some kind of structured weekend  leniency.

I’d like to think I could stick to whole foods, for the most part, steer clear of chemicals. I’m not so wound up about dairy and gluten, but I do want to minimize carb consumption, knowing how easy it is for me to inhale flour-based foods.

But for now, at least, I think I still need one day off per week. Not to go crazy, ideally, but just a way to sample some old favorites within a very defined time boundary. “A containment policy,” you could say. (Never mind the fact that every time I think this I’m reminded of a party conversation years ago about limiting dog poop  to one restricted zone in a yard. If something works, it works – and if it translates to multiple applications, that’s a good sign it’s effective.)


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Jokie: The Patron Saint of Patience

I can’t even tell you how many times in the last few weeks, when extra discipline was needed to help me stick to my diet until Saturday rolled around, that I’ve drawn inspiration from a recent visit with Great Aunt Jokie.

Grandma Annie-Bananie with her baby sister, Great Aunt Josephine (aka Jokie), in the summer of 2013.

Grandma Annie-Bananie with her baby sister, Great Aunt Josephine (aka Jokie), in the summer of 2013.

As an 88-year-old diabetic, Jokie is eight years into the disease that likely contributed to her mother’s premature death decades ago. Technically, Lydia Maller Gerber died of a heart attack, but it’s probably no coincidence that she was in the hospital at the time due to complications from diabetes.

Jokie’s sister Sarah also had “sugar,” as they used to call it, though she, too, died of heart trouble.  So Jokie, at an age when old ladies can wear purple and say what they think and eat what they like, turns down the pie served at both lunch and dinner at the assisted living facility. She’s given up potatoes and bread, though she does treat herself to ice cream once a week.

Now that’s discipline. But what is willpower, after all, but waiting through all the times you must say no until the time arrives when you can finally say “yes?” And Jokie, it turns out, is awfully good at waiting.

As a teenager, back in the early 1940s, she waited to see what would happen when the state changed its rules and said farmers’ kids couldn’t just keep repeating the eighth grade until they turned 16 and could legally quit. She was sent to Kirkland High School, the first in her family to venture beyond the one-room schoolhouse. But her dad didn’t think it would be right for her to graduate from high school, given that none of her 13 older brothers and sisters had done so. So she, too, quit school at 16 and stayed home to help on the farm.

In 1943, at age 17, Jokie developed a blood condition that was judged to be leukemia. So then she had to wait to see if she was going to get well.

The doctor ordered up regular injections of Vitamin B-12, a regimen she’s continued to this day. Eventually she did start feeling better. And the year after that, at 18, she received a marriage proposal from a local boy named Ed Schwartz. He was pretty familiar to her, given that he happened to have three siblings who had married Jokie’s brother and two sisters.

“But my folks said I was too young to get married,” she said. “They said I had to wait until I was 21.”

In the meantime, Ed’s mother wondered if his marrying Jokie was really such a good idea.  “She told him, ‘She’s not well. You might end up having to take care of her,’” Jokie recalled. “But he said he’d take care of me if he had to. That’s what he wanted. And he waited for me all those years.”

This was not an era of instant gratification. But part of it was the insular Swiss Anabaptist culture they grew up in, too. Though their respective grandparents had emigrated to America from Switzerland well before the turn of the century, both Ed and Jokie grew up speaking Swiss at home, a tradition they carried on during their first few years of married life.

Ed’s gone now, as are the majority of Jokie’s brothers and sisters. Her oldest surviving sibling, Sylven, will turn 101 in December. “I’ve got a long way to go to catch up,” she notes.

Jokie’s  wearing a boot because of foot pain possibly related to the diabetes. She recently had another mini-stroke, No. 24, according to her count. “But never paralyzed,” she says. “For that I’m so thankful.”

Jokie doesn’t feel sorry for herself. When my dad asks her, at the start of our visit, as he does every time he stops by to see one of his aged aunts or uncles, “Wie gehts?” – how’s it going? – she responds as she always does: “Simly gut,” along with a Swiss phrase neither one of us can spell but that she loosely translates as, “As good as you make it.”

It sounds awfully familiar. The Swiss precursor, perhaps, to Grandma Annie-Bananie’s traditional saying, “That’s just the way it is.”

It’s not a sentiment you hear much anymore in this era of instant gratification. I miss hearing it.

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The best runner’s high: Breaking out of a slump

When I first started running with my little sister back in 2010, she had the advantage of being eight years younger and around 60 pounds lighter than I was. I was feeling lighter myself, having already lost about 30 pounds by the time we shifted from walking to running, but I was all too aware of the gap between us. At times, when I was really struggling, I wondered if I was just too old to even think about trying to keep up with her.

Eventually I did catch up, at least in size and speed; there’s not a lot I can do about our age difference.  But recovering from an injury the last several weeks, I began to wonder – for the first time in four years – if I was getting too old to keep up with her.

Traci’s a lot tougher than I am. She runs through joint pain on a regular basis without ever saying  a word. Even if she hasn’t been running for a while, she’ll push herself as hard as she can rather than ask to slow down. Lately she’s wanted to do intervals every time we’ve gone out for a run together, and I’ve been holding back, wanting to baby my healing hamstring.

Until Friday, that is. We went out fast, as we’re prone to do when we haven’t talked for several days and there’s a lot to catch up on. When our legs try to keep up with our mouths, look out!

We had to laugh when we got to the 1-mile mark, where we usually begin our accelerations, because we were already pretty darn accelerated. But we hit the gas anyway, vowing to slow to a jog afterward. And we did, for a little while, before starting to speed up again long before we got to the next interval.

This is what happens when you break out of a slump, I guess. I’d been babying my leg for so long, and it felt so good to not hurt, and not worry about being out of shape, and just … go!

By the time we got to the 2-mile turnaround, it was Traci who was starting to feel gassed. So we did finally slow the pace between speed burns, just enough to let her recover a bit. As for me, I was so grateful to have mentally recovered from feeling old and slow – not to mention the enormous relief of feeling like this injury is finally in the rear view mirror – that I felt like I was experiencing the best runner’s high of all time.

I may be 49, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that good on a run — at any age.

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A kid’s point of view: A boy butterfly!


By Colleen, age 11

We finally had a successful monarch! When I got home from school on Thursday he was hanging from the top of a mesh laundry basket we put over the box his chrysalis was in. I know he is a boy because of the little dots on his back. He is also A LOT bigger than our other butterfly that didn’t make it. He also grew much faster, but I don’t know why.

We can’t release him yet because it’s too cold. But Mom said maybe it will be warm enough on Saturday. We might take him to the Monarch Festival at Eagle Marsh and release him there. I can’t wait!

The bad thing about Thursday was that I skipped my cross country meet so I could go to my soccer game and then it got canceled because the field was so wet. Rachel did, too, even though she WON the JV race at the Manchester Invitational on Saturday.  She is getting so fast, it’s awesome!

Somehow we managed to win Saturday’s soccer game without Rachel.  We are undefeated! I couldn’t wait to play on Thursday, then I was so bummed out when we didn’t have a game. Mom and I went over to the cross country course to do some speed work. I took off my shoes and ran barefoot in the wet grass. On Saturday I am going to the meet and then zoom back for my soccer game. I am going to be tired but it should be a fun day!

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DIY evaporated milk simplifies cheesy broccoli soup

broccolicheesesoupIt’s taken me forever to make this broccoli cheese soup recipe that Colleen’s been asking for, primarily because I never seemed to have any evaporated milk on hand.

Turns out we had everything we needed for DIY evaporated milk all along. I just didn’t realize it until I came across themakeyourownzone.com.

Evaporated milk is pretty much just what it sounds like – milk that’s had some of the liquid removed to make it a bit thicker. You can get a similar result simply by ramping up the ratio of instant milk powder to water. According to Bev the blogger, 1 ¼ cups of water to 1 cup of powder makes exactly 12 ounces, the size of a standard can.

Armed with this simple trick, I not only made the soup for last night’s dinner, but a crustless pumpkin pie as well.

Here’s the soup recipe, which was just as tasty as we hoped:


  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli florets, fresh or frozen
  • 1 small white onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 (15 oz.) can evaporated milk (or 1 cup milk powder mixed with 1 1/4 cup water)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

You’re supposed to cook the broccoli and onions in the broth first, then add the milk and cheese. But  I’m here to tell you that it’s not a big deal if you just feel like throwing everything in the pot and heating it up.

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Slow carb diet update (almost done!)

I dropped another 1.6 pounds last week, for a total of 8.2 pounds since Aug. 1 — all done with very little running.

I might go for another week or two (and another pound or two), but I’m going to start moving into maintenance mode soon. It’s fun to think what that might look like, since I’m basically cobbling that together myself, based on my experience with this and other diets from the past.

I know I want to keep a fuel-based approach during the week and allow myself a treat meal (or perhaps a “free day,” if that doesn’t prove disastrous) on either Saturday or Sunday. But I’m going to come up with my own “fuel blend,” some of which fits the Slow Carb mode and some of which does not.

I’ve already introduced my new favorite on-the-go  lunch: An ounce of nuts and two ounces of cheese. Dairy products aren’t allowed on the Slow Carb diet, but I had this yesterday and it didn’t get in the way of recovering from my weekend post-Cheat Day weight spike. This is a fairly low-carb lunch, very quick and portable and satisfying, and feels like a nutritional boost over cheese and crackers. (I got the idea from Tom Rath’s Eat, Move, Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes.)

When I shift over to full maintenance mode, I’ll probably add an apple or some other piece of fruit, which will feel decadent indeed.

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Eating insects: Cricket bar taste test

cricketbarsThe kids saw these Chapul Cricket Bars on “Shark Tank” a while back, so naturally we had to order some and give them a try — especially after the UN came out with that report a while back suggesting humans should start cultivating insects as food.

The Aztec bar contains dates, cocoa, cricket flour, espresso beans and cayenne.

The Aztec bar contains dates, cocoa, cricket flour, espresso beans and cayenne.

These bars come in three flavors: Aztec (dark chocolate/coffee/cayenne), Thai (coconut/ginger/lime) and Chaco (peanut butter/chocolate). A sampler pack of 2 bars of each flavor cost $18 plus shipping. Yes, there really are crickets in there, but it’s not like you crunch on actual bug bodies; they’re ground up into a flour.

Cricket flour isn’t the most prevalent ingredient, either. It’s listed fourth on the Thai bar (after dates, almond butter and cashews) and the Chaco bar (after dates, peanuts and organic raw honey) and third on the Aztec bar (after dates and cocoa).

We did a two-part taste test — one in which the tasters knew they were eating insects, and one in which they didn’t.

Test One: Full Disclosure

The Thai bar contains dates, almond butter, cashews, cricket flour, honey, coconut flakes, ginger, salt, sunflower oil and lime.

The Thai bar contains dates, almond butter, cashews, cricket flour, honey, coconut flakes, ginger, salt, sunflower oil and lime.

As I said, the kids ASKED me to order these cricket bars. When they arrived, however, both Cassie and Colleen refused to taste them. (Colleen cited her vegetarianism as an excuse; Cassie just didn’t feel like it.) Ben, however, clearly had no problem eating ground-up bugs. He not only broke into the stash of bars ahead of the scheduled taste test, but he snuck an entire Chaco bar later — even though I told him we were saving them for a second test.

Ben liked both the Thai and Chaco bars but didn’t care for the Aztec bar. “It wasn’t the cayenne,” he said. “That was fine. It was just the coffee flavor. It was gross.”

Bob tried only the Aztec bar, out of curiosity. “They weren’t offensive, but they weren’t appealing, either,” he said. “They were kind of bland. It was easy to imagine them being packed with insect exoskeletons.”

I tried all three bars and thought they were… OK. Not gross because of the bug factor, just not so delicious I’d seek them out on their own.

Test 2: Surprise!

Next we took the remaining bars to Grandma’s house, describing them as “gourmet energy bars.”

My niece Madison tries the  cricket bars, which were advertised as "gourmet energy bars."

My niece Madison tries the cricket bars, which were advertised as “gourmet energy bars.”

My niece Madison was championing the Thai bars, telling everyone the ginger gave them a taste reminiscent of pumpkin pie. She was disappointed in the Chaco bar — perhaps because she was expecting something closer to a Reese’s peanut butter cup flavor. She was not a fan of the Aztec bar.

My sister-in-law Darcy was not overly generous with her assessment of any of the bars, indicating they were “slightly less appealing than cat crap.” (I should note that this was her comment even before we revealed the cricket factor.)

My sister Traci didn’t want to risk trying them because of her nut allergy. The funny thing was, she was scanning the package to figure out if nuts were included, but never realized they contained crickets. “I just thought that was the name of the bar,” she explained.

My brother Brent and brother-in-law Gunnar also tried a couple of bites before the secret ingredient was revealed. Neither one was a fan.

For the record, no one screamed or made retching noises when they realized they’d been eating crickets. But then, no one except Ben had a very big piece. It’s safe to say they’ve all likely consumed more insect parts in their regular diet than they did in this taste test.


While there may or may not be a future in humans cultivating insects for food, these bars don’t seem to be anything special, other than as a novelty item.

“They’re OK,” said Ben, who said he’d be willing to eat one but not buy one. “But they’re expensive and they’re not that great and they don’t even have that much protein.”

Darcy pronounced the cricket bars "slightly less appealing than cat crap."

Darcy pronounced the cricket bars “slightly less appealing than cat crap.”



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