Joy Just Outside the Edges

I have a secret. I’m taking a dance class. Ok, so I guess it’s not a secret anymore, but I’m still taking a dance class. It has been approximately 8 million years since I last took a dance class and that particular class was modern dance. This class is tap and ballet. I am really reaching here. I am pretty far out of my comfort zone, although my classmates are all really nice and the instructor is WONDERFUL. But even with all of the discomfort at being completely lost for much of the class, there’s this familiar joy that comes from just being in that space, in front of those mirrors, working those muscles. Laughing and groaning with the other students. I am stretched, but I am reveling in it, especially the ballet, which is a little more familiar, and so far, well slower.

That’s all well and good… isn’t this about food? Well, yes. It occurs to me that like my decision to take this dance class (which is surely a good one), sometimes our greatest joys can be found by stepping outside of our comfort zones. We cannot grow if we stay inside the lines, can we? The same holds true for our relationsihip with food. Now and again when circumstance and opportunity present themselves, our food experience needs room to grow – we need to explore that area outside of our comfort zones.

We were presented with such an opportunity this Easter. In the past, we have always gone to my mother’s house for Easter dinner, but alas, this year my poor Mom had a fever and was coughing up a storm, and because she remembers what it was like to have a house full of sick children, she kindly suggested that we delay our Easter celebration. While I was in no mood to run out an pick up a ham at the last minute, I did feel like we ought to do something a little special for dinner. And so, my extremely talented husband and I decided that we would have our usual Sunday pasta because it is homemade pasta, it is delicious pasta, and because we all love pasta. BUT in celebration of Spring and all things green, and a particularly large mound of spinach in the fridge, we would holiday it up by making spinach noodles.

My Husband’s Glorious Easter Pasta

Aren’t they beautiful? We loosely followed the recipe from I say loosely because, as I’ve admitted before, I am nearly incapable of reading all the directions, and my husband is nearly incapable of following a recipe to the letter. Fortunately his results are such that this is a good quality. 🙂

Homemade pasta is no small undertaking, so I’m not recommending it as an easy approach to anything, but it is a glorious undertaking for those who like to cook, and for those who think they love pasta, but have never had homemade. Our experience, however, got me to thinking about a technique that we’ve used with our kids, and honestly with ourselves, when it comes to improving the health of our plates – a favorite dish with revision, a step outside of the comfort zone, but with the familiar joy of a favorite flavor. Our family loves pasta, so our children had absolutely no objection to trying Daddy’s pasta with several cups of spinach ground into it. Would they eat pasta with spinach on it? No. Do they eat cooked spinach side-dishes? No. Will they eat spinach salad? No.  I think you get the point. Their love of the pasta overruled their disdain for spinach and they happily jammed it into their mouths with glee; they didn’t even realize they were outside of their comfort zones! How wonderful!

How might this apply if you don’t make your own pasta?  The best pasta revision that I have ever made is to substitute whole wheat noodles for semolina when cooking boxed pasta.  I did this at the behest of my beloved Big Sis who suggested (in response to some questions that I asked about eating better and dropping a few pounds) that since we LOVE (and eat a lot of) pasta, this one switch could add up to a big difference for us.  If you’ve not made this switch, you may not know WHY it could really add up….  I’ll show you.

I have on my lap two packages of dried pasta.  One is 100% whole wheat chicciole (giant puffy elbows), the other is 100% semolina ziti (purchased for necklace production last summer).  Let’s compare the nutrition low-down.  Nutritional info is based on a 2 oz serving in both cases.

100% Whole Wheat                                                100% Semolina

Calories: 180                                                                  Calories: 210

Total Fat: 1.5g                                                                Total Fat: 1g

Total Carbohydrate: 35g                                             Total Carbohydrate: 42g

Dietary Fiber: 6g                                                           Dietary Fiber: 2g

Sugars: 1g                                                                        Sugars: 3g

Protein: 7g                                                                      Protein: 7g

Nutritionist Joy Bauer explains the benefits of whole wheat pasta: “A 100 percent whole-grain pasta includes all three layers of the wheat kernel: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Because nothing is removed during processing, whole-grain pastas contain more natural fiber and micronutrients than their white, refined cousins. And thanks to the extra fiber, whole-grain pastas tend to be more filling than traditional white pasta. What’s more, regularly choosing whole-grains over the refined type is associated with numerous health benefits, including lower blood pressure and reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. ” As you can see the whole wheat pasta also contains less sugar.  The difference in fiber, sugar, and micronutrients is what Big Sis was thinking of when she said one change could add up to big benefits.  BIG BABY STEP MOMENT HERE, FRIENDS.  If you still eat semolina pasta, give whole wheat a try.  If you are skeptical, start with a blended pasta.  These have more whole grains than straight semolina, but less than 100% whole grain pasta.  Take the pasta dish your family enjoys the most, and make a relatively small change that can add up to big benefits.

Already eat whole grain pasta?  And you or your crew are pasta fanatics?  Maybe you can take advantage of that pasta love to introduce a whole grain.  What would happen if you used bulghur with your pasta?  How about quinoa primavera?  How about substituting a vegetable for those noodles?  Another recent twist of ours was built around cauliflower which, ironically, my picky eater loves and my omnivore is reluctant to consume.

Whole Wheat Bowties With Roasted Cauliflower inspired by Average Betty’s Roasted Cauliflower

  • 1 batch roasted cauliflower, as described above
  • 1 pound whole wheat bowties
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 Tbs capers
  • 1/3 c chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parmesan for garnish

As soon as cauliflower goes in the oven, set water on to boil for bowties.  Assemble all other ingredients and place in large bowl.  When cauliflower and bowties are done cooking.  Add to bowl.  Toss.  Yes, that’s it.  And yes, he ate the cauliflower.  Pasta Revision Method successful!  Delish!

Favorites with a twist give us a great opportunity to stretch ourselves with optimism, explore the edges of the comfort zone without losing all that is familiar, ensuring a little joy, the same familiar joy I feel when it’s time to change from our tap shoes into our ballet slippers.

Baby Steps

I’ve been feeling super energized about improving my diet lately, and it’s possible I’ve been obsessing a little… ’cause when I obsess, I only do it a little. HA! It’s also possible that I’ve been feeling a little evangelical about good eating. I kind of want to tell everyone I know about every good thing I’ve learned about food and what makes you feel awesome that also tastes great. And then I think about my own food journey. I don’t know about you, but I am not really interested in being evangelized about much of anything. I sort of have an instant negative reaction to the strong sell of the extremely earnest enthusiast. I remember anticipating my sister’s reactions (sorry Big Sis) if I ordered a Diet Coke or if I ate… well, whatever it was that I used to eat that disgusted her… oh right, a 7-11 hot dog (oh yeah, it was like that). Those of you who know me well also know that anticipating her reaction didn’t mean cleaning up my act or considering her point of view; it meant something more like rolling my eyes and digging in to the offensive item with gusto.

I’ve become convinced that most healthful changes that are not precipitated by an actual health crisis are best taken on incrementally. Baby steps are remarkable. It is easy, in the face of vast amounts of information and the sense that your diet is WAY off track, to become discouraged and simply shrug. It’s just too hard. But baby steps allow us to be a little kinder to ourselves – you know you want to make BIG changes, but today you’re just going to make one. You’re going to try that one on for a week, or two and see how that fits, see how you feel. And when you’re ready for more try another.

An early baby step for me was as a direct result of a conversation with the same sister. This time I was actually seeking advice and she, knowing that we are pasta fiends, suggested I try whole wheat pasta, just for a while, see how it goes. We did. It REALLY took. Honestly, I really don’t like other pasta anymore, too soft, a little slimy, no nutty goodness. No thanks. A million baby steps later, we’re toying with vegan dishes, and feeling better than we have in a long time. Each of those steps took us further away from highly processed food, farther into a world of eating what WE decide to put in our bodies, and with a greater appreciation of the amazing variety of flavors that the natural world has to offer. Do you hear the fervor building? I can barely help it – I don’t just want me to eat better – I admit it; I want you to eat better too. I think it’s worse than that; I want you to WANT to eat better. And I want to cheer you on!! So I apologize in advance for my gushing enthusiasm. Please believe me when I tell you it comes from a place of high hopes for both of us; perhaps you are more mature in the face of evangelizing than I have ever managed to be. In the meantime I will continue to attempt to stop myself before I make a bunch of pamphlets to hand out. BABY STEPS!! So for me, tomorrow’s baby step: breakfast without dairy. What’s your baby step going to be?