Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Eating Well, Living Well

I wish nutrition, weight management and optimal health were the mysteries we think they are. What is frustrating to me as a Nutrition Consultant is that the facts and information about optimal health are not only simple, but frankly, uninteresting. In addition to that, when you give people information about what changes to make, it's entirely unoriginal. People know that in order to feel better they should eat more vegetables. It's not new technology to tell people they can lose weight by implementing an exercise routine.

Sometimes I feel as though if my clients don't really need me, my menu plans, and nutritional meal data. Instead, they need their grandmothers. Yes, they need the matriarch and her handy Fannie Farmer Cook Book. I remember making mousse with my grandmother one Saturday afternoon, and I can tell you first hand it was so much work there was no guilt in eating it!

So what I mean to say is that the current health crisis is not so much about a lack of information; it's about lifestyle. I would go so far as to say the "health crisis" is at its core, a time crisis.

The value of a home cooked meal goes beyond its nutritional benefits. The fact that when you cook from whole foods you can control sodium, fat and sugar content, and that you can avoid additives like chlorine dioxide, heptyl butyrate, benzaldehyde, and sodium steroyl-2-lactylate are simply an incidental benefit of having the time to nurture yourself, your environment, your family and your local economy.

When you buy your vegetables at the farmers market every cent of your dollar goes to the farmer who grew your food, as opposed to the 0.05-0.15 cents to every dollar when you buy at the traditional grocery store.

When you bake your own bread, simmer your own soups, and sit down to eat with friends and family, dinner is the event of the evening instead of a necessary chore to choke down enough empty calories to keep you conscious as you rush to the next commitment on your calendar. You are breaking bread with loved ones and feeding your soul, instead of burning fossil fuels, inducing heartburn, and amping out your adrenal system when the stop light feels like it's taking too long.

So take some time this fall to smell the roses and even learn a few recipes on how to cook with them. It's harvest season and the sugar pumpkins are bursting with beta carotene and vitamin A. Figs are oozing magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Apples are at their maximum crispness, and cabbage is begging to dress up your salads and stir-fry’s - just waiting to lend a helping hand in fighting off cancer, ensuring adequate vitamin K, and escorting toxins out of your cells.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Hound and the Heeler

Sometimes it seems unfair to me that all of the dog stories I share with people are about Truman, and Izzy tends to get less publicity. The truth, though, is that Izzy is compulsively well behaved. My husband I joke that it's like living with Lisa and Bart Simpson. She drinks espresso and reads the Wall Street Journal when we go off to work. Truman helps himself to strawberry milk and then goes back to bed. Yes, and I mean bed. We obviously don't have kids because our solution to keeping Truman off the couch was to buy him a "doggie futon." I know. I'm not proud of it, but it did the trick. We used to have to pile other pieces of furniture on to the couch every morning just to come home and find them all over the living room floor. Occasionally he would empty a laundry basket of dirty clothes and make himself a pillow to boot.

Izzy, on the other hand, is the dog that sits at our feet and stares at us devotedly every moment she's near us. When Truman got his head stuck in a rose trellis, Izzy was the one who tugged on Chris's pant leg until he followed her outside. When Truman ate the 2 pounds of chicken marinating on the kitchen counter, Izzy paced nervously around the living room, and then hid under the table when we discovered the theft. Meanwhile Truman didn't think to even leave the scene of the crime, and just stood there pleased and punchy, licking his lips. When Truman ate my sewing kit and managed to embed 12 needles in his esophagus, Izzy met me at the door, so haggard and anxious that I knew something had happened, and that certainly Truman was involved. (He lived - thanks to the extraordinary 24 hour veterinarian care available referenced in the picnic excerpt).

Our vet calls Izzy "the brains behind the brawn." Izzy can tell by what shoes I reach for in the morning if she is going to the park or just around the neighborhood. Izzy knows what a suitcase is, and my husband has arrived more than once on a research trip and found shoes and socks had been pulled out before he zipped the suitcase. Once, while he was on a particularly long trip I came home from work to find she had collected all of his things within nabbing reach - shoes, socks, a T-shirt, and had brought them to her bed. (She has a more traditional dog bed - one that lies on the floor. It's still quite lush and fluffy though).

Izzy alerts us to every bump in the night, and protects us from the wiley coyotes in the hills behind out house. Truman has to be coaxed and cajoled out of bed in the mornings, and if it's dark, raining, or cold, either my husband and I are sure to be late from work. Friends say, "Just leave him sleeping then!" Based on what little information you readers already have, can you imagine what we would come home to if we left this dog not walked and unfed? You dog lovers know that this would be plain cruel, but Truman makes choices like this happen on a higher level - it's called self preservation. I doubt our insurance would cover it...but they might get a laugh reviewing the claim. Much like my boss did when I was three weeks into a new job and I had to call in to say I would be late because Truman licked an outlet and electrocuted himself. (Yes, we have outlet safety plug-ins. People with kids call it child-proofing the house; we call it Truman-proofing.)

Indeed, the naughtiest thing Izzy every did was eat an unattended cheeseburger my niece had left on an ottoman. Several weeks later Truman ate the ottoman. So, we just don't get the same miles out of our Izzy stories, but as you can see from her picture we always know what she's thinking!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Picnic Connoisseur

Romantic picnics and sunbathers slathered in coconut oil…at the off leash dog park…even my dog is a foodie…

There is only one off-leash beach in Santa Barbara, so it’s with mixed chagrin that I chase after my coonhound as he catches a whiff of the giant salami in the sky about 100 yards away towards a family of unsuspecting tourists. I suppose they turned left at the lifeguard station to the off-leash part of the beach out of na├»ve interest in the novelty of being able to watch dogs fetch balls and chase birds in an untethered splendor that manifests all the romantic notions of life in Santa Barbara. The locals are sun drunk and friendly in the thick of January’s darkness, while folks in higher latitudes shovel snow and seek counseling and medication for seasonal affective disorder. The children are fit, bright, and know how to surf. The adults are sophisticated farmers market shoppers with an affinity for fine wines and local cheeses. It stands to reason that the canines of Santa Barbara herald an unprecedented connotation of the expression “it’s a dogs life.” Indeed it is, with gourmet treat shops, spas, acupuncturists, remarkable veterinarian care and even a canine day camp complete with waterfalls, swimming holes, shaded cots for nap time…and one off leash dog beach.

Maybe the vacationing family had to leave their own pooch behind at the kennel and was hoping to satisfy a vicarious need to imagine their own Rover bolting after pelicans and hopping waves. Maybe they thought the kids would stop lamenting Rover’s absence by being able to watch busy labs focus obsessively on their fetching sticks. Maybe the kids are unrelenting in their begging for a dog, so the parents chose the off-leash side of the beach to illustrate exactly how challenging life can be with a canine pal. If not, this is surely what occurs to them when they meet Truman…all 85 pounds of love and vigor as he dives into their picnic at 20 miles an hour.

It’s nearly a religious experience; I feel almost deity like, knowing what is about to happen to this family before they even have a second to anticipate the events unfolding in the sliver of their periphery. They don’t know it yet, but the next two-and-a-half minutes are about to define a significant portion of their day, if not the tone of their vacation altogether. At the very least, no doubt they will turn right at the lifeguard station next time. But in the meantime I run. I more than run. I sprint, fighting flip-flops and sand, hollering over the crash of waves and holiday chatter that fills the spaces in between each dog walker; “Truuuuuumaaaan!!! Truuuuumaaan!”

He is still a good 25 yards ahead of me, chasing a god far greater than all the hours or training, schooling, treat-bribery and scolding. Although I know better than to slow down, I realize I won’t make in time. His enormous hound-on-the-hunt-nose will be in the cooler, and depending upon the level of scuttlebutt and screeching I will be able to tell whether or not the family went left instead of right on purpose.

I see them become aware of Truman almost exactly at the moment he skids into their towels, toppling their umbrella, spraying sand all over them as his nose finds its target. For a split second amidst the din I am impressed at his precision. He manages to brake and land at the exact center of a foot-long hoagie, and he emerges so pleased with himself it does not occur to him to run away with his prey. Instead he jogs a circle around us with a triumphant swagger, rubbing it in, taunting the sandwichless.

Surprised, unafraid, undaunted, and not to be denied a picnic, (and all the other clever ways to say “pissed”), the man of the camp shoos Truman away while the children duck, dodge and giggle in shock as the wife leaps up in disgust. “Get him out of here! Roy! Do something! Get him away from the cooler!” Roy is wrangling the sandwich from Truman as I approach reciting the “sorry, sorry, so sorry” speech I have become so familiar with the past five years it spouts from my mouth on reflex. I am a mere 5 feet away, so close to leashing Truman and dragging him from the scene and changing how all of us will remember this day, when he does something even I didn’t see coming.

I try to understand as I replay the scene later, and the only thing I can imagine was going on in his coonhound brain was, “If I can’t eat the sandwiches, at least I can make them mine.” He begins a sprint as I reach for his collar and with a quick lift of his left hind leg he manages to ensure no one else, certainly, will eat the picnic now.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love

I've been hearing a lot about this book, so I plan on reading it soon. People tell me they actually can't believe I haven't read it already, but there are so many great books to keep up with! If only my sole responsibility was to feed my soul with literature and conversation in the company of kind people while we savor homemade soup and a cup of tea!