I started another phase of No Sugar a few weeks ago. I’m on day 14 and so far, have only had one pretty bad day of sugar cravings, but I think it was largely hormonal. Throughout this experiment, I’ve had to accept the fact that I use sugar to cope with my emotions, which at any given moment, can contain a high level of anxiety. I used to think that depression was my demon, but I think anxiety is my bigger struggle. Besides eating sugar, I’ve always found baking to be very comforting and therapeutic. It’s almost as if just being around sugar/sweets calms me. I’m almost positive it goes back to the numerous positive reinforcements surrounding sweets throughout my childhood. Bygones, mom, grandma, and numerous aunts!
So, in an effort to scramble my dopamine release system, I am focusing on other activities that can help manage my stress levels. Numero uno on this list is returning to yoga. I forgot how much I enjoy yoga! I mean, I really enjoy it. It’s physically challenging, and additionally, because a big part of it is about learning to breathe through your movements and stay in an uncomfortable position, yoga has a very calming effect. I’m actually considering going on a yoga retreat later this summer. With the news becoming seemingly worse every week, anxiety/stress management is my personal project this summer.
I’ve been experimenting with new ways to prepare vegetables. One of my favorite veggies – eggplant – is one of the most underrated veggies out there. I LOVE eggplant; I could eat it every day! I found this super easy recipe and had to try it immediately. It’s incredible. I’ve been making kale chips for a while now, so I thought eggplant chips would be even more delicious. I am not ashamed to say that I ate the equivalent of one whole eggplant over the course of a day via these eggplant chips. Smoky Eggplant Chips Adapted from Healthful Pursuit
Yield: 100 Chips
2 eggplants, sliced thin
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Seasoning ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
½ tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper ½ teaspoon onion powder ¼ teaspoon dried ground sage
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 250F and set aside 2 large baking sheets.
Slice the eggplant using a mandolin slicer or a sharp knife. The slices should be as thin as a potato chip.
Place eggplant slices into a medium-to-large sized bowl, and add olive oil. Toss to coat thoroughly, then sprinkle with seasoning and toss again. Mix until seasoning is evenly distributed.
Pour eggplant slices onto baking sheets, making sure that slices are not overlapping.
Place in the oven to bake for 60-70 minutes, depending on how thin you sliced them. If you make them too thick, they can take upwards of 2 hours to complete.
If anyone had told my younger self that I would go through menopause in my late thirties, I probably would have shrugged and went on with my life. Back then, I thought menopause would merely be a ceasing of menstruation and maybe a year of hot flashes. However, I’m learning that the experience of menopause is a heck of a lot more than that, and it’s a really difficult transition. Just the other day I was so frustrated and disheartened that I thought to myself, Why aren’t there menopause support groups the way that there are AA meetings? The thought kind of made me laugh, but then I soberly wondered if any actually exist.
It wasn’t until recently that I came to the conclusion that all of my ailments were due to my hormones being out of whack due to menopause. It’s pretty amazing how much control our hormones have over how our body functions; they control everything! They’re like the lobbyists of the U.S. political system. (Ok, I won’t get political…but isn’t that a good analogy?!)
I am trying to remain patient and maintain some sense of normalcy with this transitional phase of my life, but it has been a struggle the last few months as my symptoms become more acute. Yoga definitely helps. And I’ve started training for the half-marathon that I will be running in April. Every little thing helps. I just hope that I am one of the more fortunate women for whom menopause lasts two years instead of ten. Gulp.
This was my first time making a cassoulet. I came across this recipe in Food & Wine, where a Minneapolis chef was sharing riffs-on-casserole recipes. If you haven’t ever made one, they are as easy as a casserole, and even more delicious. And this particular cassoulet is perfect for hunkering down on a cold winter’s night. It’s almost March, people! Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet Adapted from Food & Wine
Yield: 10-12 servings
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced, plus 2 large carrots, cut into 2 1/2-inch lengths
14 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6-ounce chicken sausages, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
3 turnips, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 ounces rustic peasant bread, crusts removed, bread cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered. Add the onion, celery and diced carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the beans and set aside.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°. In a small skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant and the mustard seeds begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and let cool. Add the smoked paprika and crushed red pepper and grind the harissa blend into a powder.
Wipe out the casserole and heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in it. Add the sausages and cook over moderate heat, until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Do not wipe out the casserole.
Add the sweet potatoes, turnips and large carrots to the casserole. Season with salt and black pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5 minutes. Add the harissa spice blend and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the bean mixture and the chicken broth and bring just to a simmer. Cover and bake the cassoulet for about 1 hour, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and uncover the cassoulet. Mix in the sausages.
Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, toss the bread, parsley, lemon zest and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the bread over the cassoulet and broil until golden and crisp. Let the cassoulet stand for 10 minutes before serving.