Everything I know about weight loss I learned after 50.

fullsizerender

“Bony Joanie”

Dear friends,

The headline is not exactly true; on some level I succumbed to the allure of so-called “click bait.” But it is true that I’ve had a lifelong struggle with feeling okay about my body/managing my weight. And the struggle is — mercifully at age 54 — virtually over.

As a young person, I was known as “Bony Joanie.” The photo above makes the reason for my nickname abundantly clear (knock knees much?). But despite how angular I was — a good thing by modeling standards — I felt bad about my appearance. Being buck-toothed and freckled didn’t help a girl who desperately wanted to look like Malibu Barbie. But mostly I was a head (or more) taller than my peers and in my mind, height equated to being “big.” My senior year in high school I was crowned Football Queen and I was taller than my escort. My adolescent psyche found this humiliating. (Let’s think about this: I was voted “Queen” by a group of male contemporaries and yet failed to accept it as an affirmation because of a single physical attribute. What can you say about the mind of a young girl?) So even though I was 5’10” and 130 pounds, I still felt BIG.

I was in my late 20s before I owned my stature. Marrying a man who is 6’6″ and broad-shouldered probably had a lot to do with that. The good news was that I no longer felt too big to be around others. I even started wearing heels regularly. It was a real breakthrough.

Still my weight fluctuated a lot. By 25 I was no longer bony. I gained the Freshman 10, then packed on another 10 post-college. My weight went up and down with the vicissitudes of my life, including pregnancy and job stress. I lost 30 pounds before my wedding; gained 52 with my first pregnancy; lost 18 in preparation for my 20th high school reunion; and lost 10 pounds too many times to count when discontent surged as a result of tight clothing. Through it all, I pinballed between 1) careful eating and regular exercise, and 2) sloth and eating with abandon. It’s a pretty typical story for many of the women I know.

But a couple of years ago, I started eating better. Like, really better. And it’s made a difference in my weight maintenance. I fluctuate between being vegan and vegetarian, but I’m not a nut about it. I eat the occasional chicken wing or hamburger when the cravings are strong. But 18 out of  20 meals are plant-based and involve a predominance of whole foods. I rarely eat desserts or sweets. My biggest vice is diet soda. (Sometimes I swear it off for months at a time. Other times, I indulge regularly. Such is the continuing saga of human cravings for comfort and familiarity.)

And I run regularly. I’ve been a runner for 31 years. I’ve taken off for long periods (especially in the baby years), but I’ve never entirely stopped. In the last decade, I haven’t laid off for more than a few weeks at a time. And it’s made a difference in my fitness level.

A couple of years ago I read an article that said weight management is 9 parts eating right and 1 part exercise. It’s proven so true in my life that I think the two ought not to be talked about in the same breath. Because here’s the deal: you can be a healthy weight but a long way from fit. And you can be overweight and demonstrably fit. I’ve been both combinations so I know fitness and weight are not inextricably linked. So here are my two truths:

If you want to be fit, or strong, or have improved stamina and endurance, EXERCISE to achieve those results. Fitness is a health and lifestyle goal in and of itself. If you exercise only to lose weight, you likely aren’t enjoying it (meaning there’s a good chance it won’t “stick” as a lifelong habit). Besides, I know plenty of people who have lost a lot of weight while doing nothing more strenuous than walking. So the goal of losing weight doesn’t have to “condemn (you) to the gym.”

If you want to lose or maintain your weight, EAT to achieve those results. Weight management is a goal in and of itself. It’s true that adding a little exercise to your routine jump starts your metabolism. And regular exercise allows you to eat more than if you were sedentary. But it’s not necessary to your weight management goals.

Ten months ago I saw a photo of myself that I didn’t like. Even though I had been eating healthy, I had been consuming more calories than was necessary for my age, metabolism and activity level — and my weight had crept up over time. I decided to cut back on my portions and it made an immediate difference. I lost 10 pounds quickly and felt measurably, physically better. A few weeks later, I realized I had let my fitness slip considerably, too, so I amped up my running program. I lost another 10 pounds. Eventually I lost six more pounds and realized I weighed less than I had in a decade. I was tempted to say “Holy cow, that was easy.”

It wasn’t, of course, easy. What I mean is that it wasn’t fraught with panic, self-loathing, guilt, deprivation or any of those other emotions I know so intimately.

It was, however, rooted in awareness. “This is what I’m choosing to eat today.”

It was rooted in discipline. “I’m keeping track and monitoring the result.”

It was rooted in patience. “I allowed myself to lose track of my weight and fitness goals for a while now. It’s not realistic to turn this ship around in two weeks. (Or two months.)”

It was rooted in equanimity. “All things come. And all things go. Accept the seasons of your life for the lessons and gifts each bring.” (Let me tell you . . . of all the gifts being over 50 have brought me, equanimity is surely at the top of the list.)

Interestingly, I had an overly indulgent February. Two business trips and plenty of good food and alcohol later, I noticed my weight had crept up a bit. Not a lot. Five pounds. I didn’t panic. Nor did I beat myself up. I became aware. And a couple of weeks after becoming aware, 2 of those 5 pounds vanished. It was another breakthrough, of sorts — the kind that makes me ponder the long trajectory of wisdom and my intersection with it.

By the way, I feel compelled to point out I’m no expert on health and fitness beyond the impacts both have had on my own well-being and what I’ve learned, mostly informally, through an awful lot of research, reading and reflection. The diet and exercise industries are a combined $40+ billion enterprise so there’s plenty of expertise right at your fingertips. You know you better than anyone else, so read up and ask yourself how it applies to you (if it applies to you). Ask a knowledgeable friend or professional source for additional resources. Trust your body intuition. Become aware.

Most of all, tell yourself the truth about the choices you make, the motivations inherent in those choices, and the predictable results. Because that’s where the real breakthrough — at any age — comes from.

With gratitude {for, what else, the awareness and equanimity that seems to come with age in Mother Nature’s ironic trade-off},

Joan, who nobody calls bony anymore but whose dear friend recently called skinny and lit up the pre-frontal cortex of Joan-Marie’s brain in a Pavolovian response tied to her Barbie-worship days

img_9175

“Skinny Joan”

Advertisements

You didn’t really think I was going the rest of my life without dessert, did you?

Dear friends,

applecrisp2

As you might guess, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen. While I’ve been a relatively attentive home cook since college, I’m feeling very ’90s lately — as that represents the era when I had babies and first devoted considerable time to preparing food (versus merely assembling or reheating food-like stuff). Back then, I had few utensils and fewer skills and minimal understanding of how food ingredients and techniques worked together. Every dish required a recipe, and every recipe required an investment of mental and physical energy. Eventually, my knowledge and my skill expanded considerably and I learned both to cook from memory and to improvise.

So that’s why going “clean” the last month has left me feeling like a kitchen novice. A plant-based diet can be highly satisfying but it requires its own set of knowledge, skills and ingredients. I finally got my footing enough to experiment today, and what better to experiment with than dessert?

After all, did you really think I was going to eat kale and quinoa for the rest of my life?

I decided to start simple. I had no dreams of vegan cupcakes. Instead, my taste buds hearkened back to my childhood and one of my grandmother’s staple desserts, the humble Apple Crisp.

One of the reasons a plant-based diet offers so many health benefits is that whole or minimally processed foods do not prompt a strong insulin response. I’ve been amazed how much better I feel now that my blood sugar isn’t spiking after every meal or snack. The more I eat this way, the more I’m searching for foods and recipes that fit the “whole or minimally processed” criteria.

That’s why Apple Crisp came to my mind. It’s built around apples and rolled oats — two foods considered staples of a healthy diet. After perusing several recipes, I created my own, trying to keep it as “natural” as possible.

The result was as tasty as I remember, without a lot of the “gunk.” See what you think.

With gratitude {for the original Marie and her culinary legacy},

Joan, who’ll never fry a chicken with the same perfection as her namesake but may have matched her in the quilting category

Joan-Marie’s Apple Crisp

5-6 small to medium apples, cored and thinly sliced (I used Gala, but you can use a mix or your favorite variety)

2 TBLS lemon juice

2 TBLS cornstarch

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup buckwheat flour

2 TBLS flaxseed meal

1/4 cup sliced almonds, or more if you like

1/3 cup brown sugar (loose, not packed)

2 TBLS vegan butter (I like Earth Balance, but Coconut Butter would work well too)

Salt

Cinnamon

Pure Maple Syrup

After slicing your apples, put them in a bowl and sprinkle them with lemon juice. Toss to combine. Sprinkle them with cornstarch, cinnamon to taste (about 1-2 tsp) and a generous pinch of salt, then toss again to combine. Finally, pour in some Maple Syrup to taste (I used about 2 TBLS) and mix thoroughly.

Pour the apple mixture into a well-seasoned cast iron skillet (I used a 10″) and spread the slices around the pan evenly. (Alternately, you can always use a metal or glass baking dish of your choice, but I prefer cast iron.) Set the skillet aside, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees, and make the oat topping.

Combine rolled oats, buckwheat flour, flaxseed meal, sliced almonds, another generous pinch of salt, a hefty sprinkle of cinnamon, brown sugar, and the butter. Work with your fingers until the butter is evenly distributed. Sprinkle the oat topping over the apples making sure it is evenly distributed. Give the whole skillet a light drizzle of Maple Syrup. Bake for 1 hour.

Serve alone, or if you’re not worried about dairy and/or sugar, with whipped cream or ice cream. Serves 4-6 depending on how big your appetite is.

Preparation Notes

The apples: You’re right. I didn’t peel my apples. Mostly because I’m lazy and I don’t mind apple skins. If it bothers you, peel yours, although you’ll never persuade me the ROI is worth it.

The maple syrup: I’m no expert, but I’ve noticed the “granola crowd” loves it. But you have to buy the pure stuff, otherwise it’s just corn syrup and maple flavoring. It’s pricey, but my modest research indicates it is better for your blood sugar than most alternatives.

The brown sugar: Yes, I’m aware it’s nothing more than white sugar with added molasses. I know it’s bad for you. I caved at the last minute remembering my Gram’s Apple Crisp, but I’m not convinced it made that much difference in terms of taste. Next time I make Apple Crisp I’m going to leave it out and see what I think.

The flaxseed meal: This stuff is packed with Omega 3 oils and fiber and I put it in practically everything now. It has a nutty flavor that I think added a lot to this recipe.

The almonds: I like them a lot, but you could use any nut you have on hand. Pecans and walnuts come to mind as tasty alternatives. I almost sprinkled some sunflower seeds on at the last minute but decided against it because I thought my sweet Gram would have shuddered.

The buckwheat flour: Besides the fact that buckwheat flour is gluten free, it offers a lot of health benefits so I used it instead of regular flour. If you’re not familiar with it, I encourage you to check it out.

Tasting Notes

Yes, it’s been 30 days since I ate dessert, but I still moaned when I took my first bite. It was every bit as good as I remembered. Maybe better because I knew my version was vegan and significantly cleaned up.

I’m not gonna lie — you can’t eat dessert and feel as good as you do when you eat a salad. I definitely had a bit of a sugar rush, which may owe more to the size of my portion than the dish itself. But the feeling was short-lived and it was a good reminder that desserts should be enjoyed in small portions and on infrequent occasions. Still . . . if you’re gonna eat sweets, it’s hard to imagine you’ll find one as reasonably healthy as this one. Keep your portion modest and there should be no guilt with this one.

Reboot.

Dear friends,

beets

My “gut reboot” is complete and, as promised, I’m here to tell you about it.

(Because what’s the point of self-improvement if there’s no one to tell, right?)

When my friend Patti told me about the plan (and the book), I was skeptical. A 21-day cleanse sounded about as much fun as a 21-day root canal. Perhaps she caught me at a weak moment. I had just fallen off the treadmill a day earlier. (This was a literal treadmill accident, not a fall “off the wagon” so to speak.)  I was feeling particularly old and vulnerable. And bad.

The thing about feeling bad is — like the frog in the proverbial pot of hot water — you don’t know how bad you feel until you don’t feel bad anymore. Headaches, sleepiness, lethargy, persistent GI distress . . . I chalked it all up to age and stress.

I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal. Until it wasn’t.

I started to feel better by day 3 of the cleanse. By day 10, I was really grooving. Now I’m all but a few days away from a month and I have no intention of stopping.

I’ve only had one headache the whole time. I’ve had ZERO stomach/GI issues. My energy is improving daily. Mr. Mom said my skin looks clearer, younger. (I’ll take it!) My “brain fog” has finally cleared. With the exception of two late nights worrying about my kids’ trouble du jour, my sleep has been uninterrupted and restful. My running and weight training are improving. (In fairness, fitness breeds fitness so I’m not trying to suggest eating better has made me fitter; but I’m certain feeling better and having more energy has improved my exercise.) I’ve lost 10 pounds. All in all, it’s been a 21-day boon.

If there’s a downside, it’s that eating is no longer easy. It takes planning and preparation to eat healthy. You guys know I’m a pretty decent cook and baker and I’m having to learn new ways and new ingredients. I’m in unfamiliar territory but gaining my footing daily.

My transition to a plant-based diet has been a slow evolution since I officially became a vegetarian a year ago. Still, forgoing meat is relatively easy, especially if — like me — you rely on packaged and convenience foods. The beauty of this cleanse is that it helped me break my reliance on convenience foods. First, I came to realize that “cheese tots” or “chips and dip” really aren’t a lunch option I should consider a viable option as a vegetarian. Second, it broke me of my reliance on cheese and crackers or PBJs as totally acceptable dinners (or breakfasts, or snacks). Third, it helped me understand that life goes on (and goes on well) without refined carbs and dairy.

I am reluctant to call myself a vegan now, though I’m still not eating dairy. The premise of “Clean Gut” is that you eat a very restricted diet for 21 days (no dairy, no gluten, no caffeine, no alcohol, with other restrictions on many fruits and starchy foods like potatoes, rice and corn). At the end of the cleanse, you reintroduce common “trigger” foods and test your reaction. I have successfully reintroduced gluten, but I’m only eating limited amounts of oatmeal and whole grain bread. I may try whole grain pasta later but, so far, I haven’t missed pasta one bit. I reintroduced potatoes last night (with a vegan mashed potatoes recipe I found online) and found that even the cleaned up version sat really heavy on my stomach. While I experienced no major GI distress as a result, I realized I no longer enjoy eating foods that prompt an “ugh” after dinner. I still need to “reintroduce and test” dairy and corn, but I’m in no hurry. I feel so good I’m staying the course.

Speaking of ugh, the best habit this cleanse helped me form is to quit eating when I’m 80% full. I have to admit, when I first read this advice in the book, the concept was lost in translation. I’m a clean-your-plate girl. Always have been. I know what full feels like but I have no idea what 8/10ths full means. Almost full? Not quite full? Still hungry? Hungry I know!

Despite being fuzzy on the concept, I gave it my best. For someone as lost as me, someone who knows what the hour after the Thanksgiving meal or Pizza Night feels like but has no idea what it means to stop eating before you are satiated, the best I can describe it is this: Stop when you still want more. Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

This advice is not just about stopping. Although that’s hard enough to do. It’s also about how much to put on your plate to begin with. Recalibrating what constitutes a meal. As a young girl, a meal meant two helpings of everything. As an adult, it has meant excessively large portions (and still sometimes helping myself to seconds).

If you’ve ever done any reading on this topic, you likely already know it takes your brain 20 minutes to catch up with your stomach. Meaning — if you eat until your stomach feels full, 20 minutes later you will feel over-full. Over-full became my full. Which is why “less than full” has been so perplexing to me.

But I’m learning. And in the mean time, I’m having fun exploring new websites and cookbooks and recipes. I’ve had a couple of fantastic vegan successes (like the lasagna I featured here) and I’ve had at least one spectacular fail (a vegan “meatloaf” we shall never speak of again). Kudos to my boys for taking it all in stride.

With gratitude {for the chance, daily, to remake my life in healthier, happier terms},

Joan, who purchased the poster pictured above because it reminded her of Mr. Mom — who’s been an exceptionally good sport about eating more vegetables for the last year — and because he really does make her heart flutter

PS: I invite you to check out the websites of the books pictured below to learn more about a plant-based diet

books

Click here for Clean Gut

Click here for the Kind Diet

Click here for Oh She Glows

More yummy. Less yucky.

Dear friends,

lasagna (1)

I’ve been away from this space for a while. Life after loss is always an interesting hokey pokey. One step forward, one step backwards, a little sideways shimmy and start over again.

A few weeks ago I was feeling particularly dull and lethargic and — not knowing if my symptoms were the result of grief’s natural progression or some bad habits I picked up during my father’s illness and death — I decided to make some healthy changes.

First, I gave up soda pop. Now the truth is I hadn’t been a pop drinker for more than a decade, but between May 1 and August 1, the desire for something comforting on long road trips to Oklahoma found me guzzling it almost daily. Most people lose weight when they’re under stress, but I put on 5 pounds over the summer and I’m certain it was the many, many cans of 7-Up I drank. Fortunately, I didn’t have much trouble snapping out of my delirium and giving it up.

Second, I recommitted myself to fitness. My running was severely curtailed during my father’s illness for a million excuses, some legitimate, some not. But beyond the running, I’ve been feeling unusually weak, as if getting myself up off the floor is a major chore. One night while talking in bed, Mr. Mom and I decided to start going to the gym together for weight training. Maybe we’re both feeling old or maybe we needed the mutual encouragement and support, but we’re almost three weeks into a new regimen that has put some pep into both our steps.

Finally, after a year of vegetarian eating, I’ve gone vegan. For at least the last six months, I’ve been noticing an increase in GI difficulties. I won’t get too graphic except to say giving up meat solved my acid reflux but I’ve still been suffering from a variety of stomach difficulties with symptoms that lead me to conclude I might have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A friend of mine told me about a book called Clean Gut. Written by a cardiologist, the book’s recommendations helped my friend feel better than ever. (Side benefit: she lost 20 pounds.)

The basic premise is that our gut is the center of our health and vitality and we can solve many of our own problems by being far more thoughtful about what we put into it. The book recommends a very strict diet called a “cleanse” for 21 days. (By strict, I mean no sugar, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, and no caffeine, with some other restrictions related to starchy, sugary whole foods like corn, potatoes and fruit.) After the 21 days, which is essentially a re-boot of your GI system, you reintroduce common “trigger” foods, such as gluten and dairy, one at a time and test your reaction to them. If you have a strong reaction, you need to eliminate the food from your diet. If you have a mild or moderate reaction, you need to limit your exposure.

I have long wondered if I have a gluten or dairy sensitivity, so following the book’s advice made sense to me. Beyond that, it gave me a framework for taking matters into my own hands and solving my own problems, hopefully without a visit to the doctor’s office or a prescription for medicine.

I’m only 7 days into the cleanse but I can already feel a big difference. I feel like the mental fog is slowly lifting. I’m not yet back to my old self, but I’ve blown away some mental cobwebs and I feel more awake and focused. More importantly, my stomach feels a WHOLE lot better. I don’t want to say too much too soon as I plan to write a post detailing the whole experience at the end of the 28-day cycle but, suffice to say, it works. And I’m excited about the possibilities.

In the mean time, here’s a really good recipe I developed this weekend for a gluten-free, dairy-free lasagna pictured above. (The Caesar Salad is vegan and is from The Kind Diet, another good book recommended by a colleague.)

For anyone who followed me from Mayberry Magpie, you may remember I have a killer Classic Lasagna recipe that I perfected over many years. It includes lots of meat and cheese, along with a white sauce, and it’s so good I’ve never found a better lasagna (and I’ve tried many at every restaurant imaginable). I have to admit the idea of any lasagna beside my classic recipe left me more than a little uninterested. But I promise this one is good and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. My tastebuds are as picky as they come and this dish left me completely, utterly happy to have eaten it. Even Mr. Mom said “I don’t care what you call this, it tastes good.”

Best of all, my gut was happy. No sleepy, no sicky, no burpy is a great way to end a meal, especially one that thoroughly satisfies, especially with a dish that usually sits heavy on the gut or induces a long nap.

Enjoy!

With gratitude {for friends and good books},

Joan, who purposely avoided telling you about the tragic treadmill accident she had on a recent trip to the gym, except to say if anyone had recorded it she would be a viral internet sensation (and she still has the bruises and deep scabs to prove it)

***

Joan’s NEW AND IMPROVED Lasagna

1 batch Red Sauce (see below)

1 batch Cashew Risotto (see below)

2 very large or several small zucchini, sliced and roasted (see below)

2 cups packed fresh spinach

Olive oil

Fresh parsley, chopped

Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Red Sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil

6 oz. wine (I prefer dry red, but sweet white is good too)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large cloves minced fresh garlic

2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes

1 TBLS sugar

3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp dried Italian Seasonings

Cracked black pepper to taste (I like a lot, probably close to 1 TBLS)

Heat olive oil in large, heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat (I prefer cast iron). Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add wine and stir and continue to cook until at least half of the wine has evaporated.

Add tomatoes and seasonings and cover; bring to a boil, then stir well again and reduce heat to low. Simmer with lid on for as long as you can; preferably an hour but 20 minutes will do in a pinch, stirring occasionally and adding a bit of water if sauce needs thinning after a long simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. If too acidic, add a bit more sugar.

For the Zucchini:

While the red sauce is simmering, prepare your zucchini. Wash well, trim off ends, and slice lengthwise as thin as you can (1/4” works well, but you can go thicker if you have difficulty. Just don’t slice them very thick.) The key here is to slice your zucchini to resemble lasagna noodles, long and not too thick.

Brush both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put on a baking sheet. Roast in a 400 degree oven for at least 20 minutes. The goal is to sweat out much of the water and get the zucchini at least halfway cooked. It’s okay to leave them in longer and let them get browned in spots. The brown bits taste really good. I have gone for as long as 40 minutes before depending on thickness. By the way, you can prepare the zucchini ahead if you like. They’ll be fine at room temperature for several hours or in the fridge for 3 days. If you happen to be grilling, you can also grill the zucchini and save it for this and other recipes.

For the Cashew Ricotta (from The Simple Veganista):

1 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked

1/2 cup water

Juice of 1 large lemon or 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 garlic clove

Dash of onion powder

Salt & cracked pepper, to taste

Soak the cashews for at least two hours in a bowl of water, covering the cashews with about an inch of water as they will puff up a bit.

Drain cashews and place all remaining ingredients into a blender or food processor, blend scraping down sides as needed until creamy. Taste for flavors adding any additional ingredients. Some like a salty ricotta so feel free to add as much salt as you want.

Store in refrigerator in an air tight container for an hour or two as this will stiffen the mixture a bit. You can also just prepare your dish with it straight away without refrigeration if needed.

Makes approximately 2 cups. Stores in refrigerator for up to a week.

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 11”X14” deep dish with olive oil or Pam and layer ingredients in the following order: red sauce, zucchini noodles, spinach leaves, cashew ricotta, a sprinkle of Italian seasonings and chopped parsley. Repeat the layers as many times as you like, reserving enough red sauce to end with it.

If you find the cashew ricotta difficult to spread, just drop dollops of it around the dish and use a spatula to flatten it out and spread it around. Don’t worry if you move the spinach around a bit, just do your best to spread the ricotta around so it’s not in big clumps.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until bubbly and edges are turning brown. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

Preparation Notes: I know it looks like a lot of work, but I made this from start to finish in about an hour (not including final baking time). You can always use sauce in a jar to speed things up, but try the homemade sometime. It really is worth 20-30 minutes of your time. We stopped buying sauce in a jar 10 years ago and have never looked back. Both Mr. Mom and I can make this sauce from memory in no time, and we use it for pizza, spaghetti, baked ziti – all our Italian recipes. You can double or triple the recipe and freeze extras for convenience.

And the zucchini and cashew ricotta can be made in advance, too. If you have everything on hand, you could layer this recipe up and have it in the oven in about 10 minutes.

If you are not gluten sensitive, you could add regular or whole wheat lasagna noodles in your layers and make this more of a classic veggie lasagna. But I’m avoiding gluten right now so that’s why I substituted zucchini for lasagna noodles. The great thing is that I didn’t even miss the wheat noodles – plus this recipe offers the added benefit of not sitting heavy on your stomach or making you sleepy afterwards!

PS: I forgot to mention — yes, the red sauce has a tablespoon of white sugar in it. That’s because it’s a recipe from my pre-clean eating days. I think all red sauces need just a bit of sweetener to balance the acidity. If you’re sensitive to sugar, replace it with your favorite alternative . . . Stevia, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave juice, the choice is yours.

A new kind of foodie.

Dear friends,

I’ve been happily tucked away, these days of late, cooking and empty-nesting and enjoying the transition to cool weather and shorter days. My acid-reflux is almost entirely under control, without medication, which in the (modified) words of our Vice President, is a big freaking deal!

I’ve been meatless since Sept. 8 and I haven’t missed it once. I bought two new cookbooks and it’s been a culinary wonderland in my kitchen. If you follow me on social media, you know I’ve posted endless photos of my new, healthier approach to eating.

Despite having dabbled in vegetarianism for years (actually, I’ve called myself a flexitarian many times), I’m still a little surprised how good food can be without meat when you put your mind to it. Let me be clear, though: I haven’t given up all animal products. I still eat yogurt and cheese daily, and I eat eggs a few times a week.

I’m pretty sure it’s not just the meatless approach that has improved my reflux. I’ve also cut out most processed foods (except for the occasional saltine). Once again — this is a big freaking deal, giving up packaged snacks. A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Mom and I were watching television and he mentioned how much he wanted a snack. “Just think,” he remarked, “a month ago I would have said that and we would have finished off an entire bag of chips while watching the Daily Show.”

You won’t be surprised to hear that my partner in crime, who’s always been more than happy to follow my lead in the kitchen, has lost 20+ pounds. Don’tcha just hate men and their metabolism? Still, I’ve lost half that amount, without trying. I didn’t set out to lose weight, though I certainly needed to. I set out to cure myself, and I seem to have hit upon the recipe: meatless meals + much smaller portions + no eating at least three hours before bedtime, which for me means no food past 6:00 pm. I’m also taking a probiotic supplement and digestive enzymes with each meal.

Take a look at just a few of the beautiful dishes I’ve made in the last few weeks:

blackpeppertofu

This black pepper tofu was Asian-restaurant quality.

leek

These leek fritters were filling and comforting.

parsnips

These roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette were a platter of health and beauty.

onions

These stuffed onions were mild and sweet and reminiscent of stuffed shells — a perfect alternative to a heavy, baked pasta dish.

pita

This pita sandwich with black bean hummus and veggies was a perfect lunch on the go.

polenta

This creamy polenta with slow-baked Roma tomatoes and a poached egg is a perfect weekend breakfast.

I’ve also made black-bean burgers, Indian hash, tofu enchiladas with green sauce, lentil/quinoa pilaf and salads galore — all of which delighted my culinary sensibilities while protecting my GI tract.

But — by far — the best vegetarian recipe I’ve made to date is this spectacular rice dish:

ricechickpea

It’s called basmati & wild rice with chickpeas, currants and herbs. Even Mr. Mom, who’s been a big fan of my new concoctions, took one bite of this dish and said unequivocably “This is the best vegetarian recipe you’ve made!”

The combination of two kinds of rice with chickpeas (spiced with curry powder), sweet currants and fried onions is unbeatable! If you’d like the recipe, click here. I’d recommend you triple the amount of curry powder in the recipe as I did. You won’t be sorry. By the way, if you have a well-stocked spice pantry, I also recommend you make your own curry powder. I used this recipe, with the only modification being I doubled the amount of ground chili pepper. I guess you can tell by now I’m not afraid of a little heat in my food. I have two dear Indian friends and their culinary influences and tutoring have definitely rubbed off on me.

In eight days, Mr. Mom and I are heading to one of America’s culinary meccas to celebrate our 23rd anniversary. I planned our vacation to New Orleans before I turned over a new leaf, but I’m confident I can eat well there while staving off reflux. I plan to indulge in my favorite treat — oysters on the half shell — hopefully without incident. Whether I can spend an entire week in the French Quarter without succumbing to the allure of beignets remains to be seen. I’ll no doubt take a ton of photos and let you know.

In the mean time, Kate’s coming home for Fall Break, I’m working a 60-hour week due to a flurry of special events, and we’re celebrating Parker’s 19th birthday (with Kate as Executive Chef for our family dinner Thursday night!). I’ll circle back around when the dust has settled to catch you up.

With gratitude {for the bounty of God’s green earth and great chefs, distant and near, who’ve helped me make the most of it},

Joan, who has a whoppin’ big announcement to share with you when she returns, not to be all sneaky or anything, but a little bloggy anticipation is a good thing

PS: If you’re as smitten by these dishes as I have been, I highly recommend you buy these two cookbooks by Chef Yotam Ottolenghi: Plenty and Jerusalem