Day 17: Proekt 365 (A little something for the journey)

Day 17: Proekt 365 Brownies for the long journey home

Day 17: Proekt 365
Brownies for the long journey home

In another familiar ‘tradition’, the last night of my step-son’s visit has me baking brownies for him to take along on his long journey home tomorrow. It isn’t nearly as far as his grandfather’s journey was this past summer, but I did the same thing for El Maestro a few months ago. And, now as was the case then, I am filled with a mixture of happiness and sadness — delight that they want the brownies; sad that they will be leaving Finland much, much too soon.

I may not be able to have long philosophical conversations with either of them, but I can (and will always gladly) cook for them. Hopefully, regardless of where they eat them, both El Maestro and The Jr Cuban know that those brownies were made with a heaps of love. And, maybe, just a tiny tear or two dropped into them as well.

Food, glorious food (cont)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our first day of an intermittent fast, a day when we consume no more than a whopping 500 kcal. That first day was incredibly tough, compounded by the fact that all I could do was daydream about a bacon-blue cheese burger and crisp golden fries. I was also incapable of stringing together any sort of coherent thought by about 13.30 in the afternoon.

Today is my fifth ‘fasting’ day, and it is easier than that first day. I’m learning how to spread out my caloric intake as much as possible throughout the day. And, know that getting the important thinking work sorted first thing. I still get irritable as the day wears on. But, it is easier.

That said, it’s a bit annoying that once again today I find myself thinking of food I cannot enjoy. Each fasting day, I have been fixated on a particular food. The cheeseburger to top all others on the first day; another day, it was pancakes and mountains of bacon; and today, it is a moist, succulent and thoroughly huge pulled pork BBQ sandwich. I’ve had one such sandwich in the last 10 years or so, and the taste of that lovely bit of divinity is all I can think about now. Something tells me today will be particularly tortuous.

Still, we’re both enjoying this experience. For me, I’m loving the challenge of cooking extremely low-calorie meals which are tasty as well as filling. I had no idea how large a plate of boiled broccoli it was possible to eat without breaking the 50-kcal mark. And, I LOVE broccoli. I thought I ate plenty of fruits before we started this diet; now, I eat at least twice if not three times as much as a month ago.

For my husband, he has a thoroughly different reaction to restricting his intake. Instead of losing his ability to focus mentality on much of anything and becoming sluggish, he is like the energiser bunny. He bounds about the house a mile a minute and his mental acuity astounds me. The two of us together are hilarious—the yin and yang of fasting effects.

Our schedules are still a bit wonky as we work out how to go about fasting and living normally. For instance, any normal exercise schedule had gone completely out the window for the first two weeks of our intermittent fast. We’ve tried to schedule our fasts for days when we have no social obligations. This week, things are normalising, which is a relief. A big test for me will come Saturday when I meet up with a few girlfriends for a charity handicrafts event.

We’ve also had some fairly lovely results this far. Despite a bit of overindulgence on non-fasting days and not getting in my daily runs, in the first two weeks, I managed to shed a healthy 500 g. That may not seem like much, but after several months of running 5-km or more several times a week, I scarcely dropped any weight at all. On top of that, when I resumed running yesterday, I had a great run. The best since completely my first 10 k ever. So, the suffering as much as it is diminishing is paying dividends.

That said, today, as I sip my tea and eat many pieces of fruit, I will still dream of pulled pork and the hickory goodness of a fine BBQ sauce all delivered in a most fluffy bun with all the trimmings.

No pain, no gain, eh?

I cannot get this image out of my head and can just about taste it. Should you need a recipe, check out this one.

Food, glorious food

There is no doubt about it—I simply do not function well when I skip meals.

My graduate school mentor was the first to gently point this out to me. Never mind how I was progressing on my master’s thesis, ‘when was the last time you ate’? was one of the most frequent questions I heard from her. It had nothing to do with an eating disorder—I would simply become so focused on what I was doing that all sense of time and sustenance would cease to matter. A bit of fruit, a cup of yogurt, or whatever, and I’d realise just how hungry I had been. (Thanks, Kathy! And, belated apologies for my food bitchiness!)

Those days are long gone, and my eating habits are more regulated. I’m certainly not as svelte as I was in graduate school (which I’m sure some would applaud). But, I wouldn’t mind losing a few inches here and there. My husband and I recently watched the BBC Horizon programme, ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’ and have been intrigued ever since.

Both of us are at an increased risk for Type-2 Diabetes, and we are both concerned about our risks for cardiovascular disease. We’d be foolish not to think about various types of cancers as well. We generally exercise on a regular basis (him, walking; me, running). And, my long love affair with nicotine has ended once again (if this quit sticks is anyone’s guess, but I don’t plan on smoking today). Both of us would like to trim down a little, but we are not the sort of people to ‘diet’ in the traditional sense. We love our foods and cutting out one or another item let alone food group would be hell on our food habits. Just a few of the foods we would have extreme difficulty in eliminating include dairy of all sorts (especially cheese and eggs), bread, and rice. Hence, the BBC’s Horizon programme on fasting and its appeal.

Basically, there is an entire body of research being carried out on the short- and long-term benefits of intermittent fasting and restricting caloric intact. Some research suggests that eating less on average will lead to a longer life and one in which the individual’s overall health status is quite good. Others claim that intermittent fasting (such as a three-day fast every few months, a 5:2 fast, etc) are just as effective. The primary benefit of fasting (whether you choose the three-day variety or a 5:2 diet) is that it lowers you IGF-1 levels, which have been associated with diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers.

The Cuban and I decided we’d like to try the 5:2 diet. Here’s how it works: Five days each week, you eat whatever you want. Whatever you want. (‘Great!’, we exclaimed!) Two days a week, however, you limit your intake to no more than 500 kcal (for me; 600 for The Cuban). The two days do not need to be together (thankfully). You just need to restrict your intake to 500 kcal on two days out of each seven.

Yesterday, was my first fasting day. Here’s what I ate:

Food item & amount Caloric value
Coffee (my standard cup) 2
1/4 tsp sugar 3.75
1tbsp milk 9
Coffee (my standard 2nd cup) 2
1/4 tsp sugar 3.75
1 tbsp milk 9
Tangerine (120 g) 64
Kiwi (93 g) 58
Cup of Asparagus Soup 80
Pot of ginger-lemon green tea 4
2 eggs, poached 137.75
Tangerine (135 g) 72
Kiwi (92 g) 57

Total:                                           502.25 kcal

And, loads and loads of water.

It wasn’t so bad. But, it wasn’t that easy either.

First and foremost, yesterday was not a day that I ran (which is now at least a 5-km route). I scheduled it that way. Normally, I have to eat something (usually a piece of fruit) before and after I run. So, I had a relatively lazy day in terms of physical activity.

Thankfully, I finished up work by noon so that I didn’t have to worry about thinking in the afternoon. Even simple tasks were more difficult. I usually spend a little time each evening knitting, quilting or crafting of some sort. It was not simple and it was incredibly frustrating, something which doesn’t happen very often anymore. My current project, however, a relatively simple knit square that I’ve done dozens of time so far was incredibly difficult. I simply could not keep track of where I was in the patten.

The afternoon was the most difficult time for me. This isn’t surprising at all. Normally, every day between about 14.30 and 16.30, I am useless. My blood sugar drops and focusing is difficult at best. If I could take a nap, I would. If possible, I schedule my work out time for this block or some other mindless task. Working or doing anything which requires higher brain functioning is a waste of time. It’s always been that way and it is unlikely too change. I’ve learned how to cope given the demands of my professional life, and most of my colleagues know this about me (it’s actually quite obvious to anyone paying the least bit of attention! I’m an absolute idiot at that time of day!). When fasting, this was infinitely worse! There was a point yesterday when I was only capable of staring off into space not really thinking or doing anything. Sad, really. Tea helped. A nice big, bacon cheeseburger would have worked better!

Alas…Dinner of two poached eggs and fruit was divine. I was full when I finished and I swear they were the best eggs ever. Of course, an hour later, I wanted another cheeseburger. Ah well.

Still, day 1 of fasting was alright. I woke up this morning and wasn’t ravenous, as I expected I would be, and I didn’t dream of food all night. I normally do not have breakfast until at least one cup of coffee has been downed and the second is brewing. I’ve been up now for about an hour and a half, my second cup of coffee is sitting in its standard spot, and my toast and tangerine are ready to be eaten. (NB: They were damn tasty this morning!)

One thing is certain: I love food. And, I shall enjoy every single morsel today.

Chickpea enchiladas

One of the many reasons we are reluctant to try various other ‘diets’. Foods like this would no longer be on our menu, and that just isn’t right.

The Ultimate Go-Go Juice

Give me intravenous coffee as an alarm -- the perfect alarm clock.

As I opened up my various daily news sources, I had to chuckle when this headline and the associated image at alternet.org popped up. Intravenous coffee as an alarm clock has long been my idea of the perfect gift/gadget.

I love coffee. It’s taste. It’s smell. The various ways in which you can brew it. And, most of all, I love the varieties. I’m a bit of a snob in some ways in that my perfect cup of joe is a fresh dark roast finely ground just minutes before brewed. Most days, I’ll take whatever I can get as long as it is extremely strong and a rich dark roast.

As an undergraduate in Atlanta, I’d normally start the day with an entire pot of coffee. At the time, hazelnut was my preferred flavor (can’t stand it anymore). I had this huge 32-oz coffee mug that I’d carry with me throughout each day during classes. I’d run to the commissary in between classes to fill it up. At the peak of my consumption, the tally was shocking—something like more than 20 cups a day on average. As I said, shocking.

In graduate school both at The University of Alabama–Tuscaloosa and at The University of Connecticut in Storrs, we were fortunate to have brilliant coffee joints on or close to campus. In Tuscaloosa, the coffee shop across the strip from campus (and luckily a mere 5-minute walk from my flat) would roast their beans in-house. The smell was amazing, and the coffee matched that aroma. It was then that I realised just how yummy a fresh dark roast can be. My consumption went down, but the enjoyment of the coffee increased. My favourite cups of joe were those shared with my thesis advisor, mentor and friend, normally in the afternoon.

In Storrs at UConn, Java Joint became my daily dose source. This is where I learned what flavours I truly enjoyed. Tanzanian Peaberry. Sumatra. Ethiopian something or other. Brazilian Santos. Guatemalan Antigua. I think of them all the Sumatran and the Brazilian Santos were and still are my favourites.

Every day, I’d arrive at the little trailer which became a bigger trailer which eventually became a proper shop inside the bookstore with my more manageable thermos and have it filled with the most divine coffee. I’d usually stop in sometime later in the day in the afternoon before a seminar or office hours or a meeting with a committee member. Occasionally, the cup of joe would serve as a prop and pick me up during a peripatetic meeting with a close friend and intellectual giant with whom I was fortunate enough to work. I miss those days, and I desperately miss that coffee.

Bags of cafe de cuba from a fantastic coffee shop in Havana, Cuba.

These days, I’ll take whatever dark roast I can get. The latest great-tasting coffee to hit our kitchen is Cuban coffee. It’s subtle and lovely, and packs an outstanding kick. The Cubans in my life think anything other than a thimble’s worth of coffee is too much. I’m quite happy to enjoy two cups a day now.

That said, it’s time for that second cup.