Challah Bread Pudding

Breadpuddingcomplete

I’ve been starting to observe Shabbat (at least on Friday nights) in a more regular way lately, which has been leading to a dramatic increase in the amount of challah around the house.  This will ultimately require a more longterm plan, perhaps in the form of challah rolls, but for now, I offer you my favorite fringe benefit of too much challah: bread pudding!  This recipe is flexible to include whatever combination of fruits you like, but I particularly like this combination, which comes out subtle, yet very flavorful.

Breadpuddinginprogress

Ingredients:

  • ~2/3 to 3/4 of a large loaf of challah, cut into irregular cubes, about .5”-1” square
  • 3 cups soy milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • 1 medium apple, sliced thin and then chopped roughly
  • 2/3 cup blueberries
  • 1 T ground cinnamon
  • .25 tsp salt
  • .5 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract*
  • 1 tsp almond extract (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, beat eggs, and mix with sugar, salt, extracts, and spices.  Add milk and stir well.  Add challah and stir to coat.  Allow challah to soak up the liquid for ten to fifteen minutes, stirring now and then.  Add fruit and combine well.

Grease a medium baking pan, and pour in the contents of the bowl, smoothing as needed.  If desired, sprinkle a little extra cinnamon and sugar on top before baking.

Bake 50-60 minutes, or until quite firm.  Serve hot, room temp, or cold.

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A day in my migraine life.

When headaches happen, my brain feels orange.  Doesn't yours?

When headaches happen, my brain feels orange. Doesn’t yours?

I had been hoping to post today about my side-plank, or long walks, or gardening, but I will instead post about what today was filled with — stabbity in my brain.

I have had migraine headaches for essentially as long as I can remember, though they started to become a serious, prescription medication type issue a little ways into college.

My main experience of migraines is that all audio-visual sensory input is essentially transformed into pain input.  Light is pain.  Sound is pain.  Talking, because it is sound, is also pain.  Other things, like climbing stairs, or any adrenaline-type stress response, also cause sharp stabbing pains.  Depending on how bad it gets, there may or may not be a constant base-level hurt regardless of sensory input, but the primary sign I’m having a migraine — the big constant — is a steady pressure-type feeling inside my head reminding me of the imminent potential of pain as a consequence for any of the above sensations or activities.

The lowest level migraines consist only of that ominous and uncomfortable pressure, requiring me to be vigilant and cautious and tentative, for days, sometimes.  The worst migraines (which are mercifully more rare) have me in a dark room with my hands over my eyes, rolling around on my bed, nauseous,  and feeling like my brain consists of nothing but pain, no room for thoughts.  I go about many of my days powering through a haze of pressure, or of light pain.

Unfortunately, migraine medications are supposed to be taken both rarely (because tolerances can develop) and early (because the worse the headache gets, the less likely it is to respond to medications).  It’s a Hobson’s choice, trying to decide which of the many baby ones will turn into a big bad grownup.  And sometimes the meds work, and sometimes they just don’t.

I have a long list of triggers for headaches, but one of the most reliable is homeostasis.  I am, as it turns out, a delicate flower.  Irregularities in my physical life are often accompanied by migraines.  I get them when I don’t eat at the usual time or don’t eat enough, when I sleep more than eight hours, when I don’t drink enough water, when I’m sick, when I’m hot, or when I travel.  So today, a hot day when I decided to indulge myself by sleeping in… ended up migrainey — ranging between a 1 and a 6, most of the day, on the scale of 1 to 10.

Migraines make me mad, and they make me very sad, because the worst thing they do to me is to steal time.  When my medication fails me, I am powerless to stop the theft.  Today, I wanted to shop, to cook, to do leisurely weekend yoga, and to take care of odds and ends around the house.  I wanted to feel open and active, calm and relaxed, but energetic.  Through my light-to-medium pain haze today, I did manage to walk into town and shop a little bit, even to buy a new plant (ground cherry!) and get groceries.  I managed to watch some entertainment in an air conditioned room.  But I feel robbed of my Saturday, and sad that I won’t be getting it back.

Okay, that all feels a bit Downward-Facing Girl.  Is there an Upward-Facing aspect to my migrainey plight?  Well, I’ll tell you one thing — my times of pain teach me deep, heartfelt appreciation for the times when my brain is migraine-free.  Sometimes waking up the morning after a headache and feeling normal is like the angels singing — like a million bucks — like I have a new superpower!  So I will focus today on letting go of expectations and entitlement for my days, and on gratitude and hope for tomorrow.

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Bumps in the Road

One thing I’ve always been super twiggy and nervous about is injuries.  I have this catastrophic horror story in my head where I twist an ankle or hurt my back or something and can’t exercise at all for long enough that I lose all of my health progress and have to start again from zero.  This is, of course, mostly silly and wildly exaggerated.

But I have in fact had two little injuries in the past few weeks, each from biting off a little more than I could chew.

As to the first, I’ve been progressing further and further with my yoga practice, which I’ve been massively enjoying.  I am still a solid level one, but have been more and more doing exciting poses I never thought I could do.  One thing that feels like it’s been holding me back a lot, though, has been my super tight hamstrings.  My hamstrings keep me from bending over very far at all with straight legs (I can’t touch my toes), and require me to modify many poses.  So I’d been working and working and working on them, trying and trying to touch my toes… until one evening my leg starting hurting a lot, and I realized I’d actually strained a hamstring.  It was a very light strain and I mostly ended up spending an evening on top of an icepack and a couple of days without doing any yoga.  I’m totally fine now, but it was a fantastic shot across the bow — a reminder not to push too hard, and to let my body work at its own pace.  A very yoga-esque lesson!

But apparently I didn’t quite learn it, and the universe decided to remind me.  This weekend, I visited a friend’s new house in another city.  The new place is a sight to be seen and actually contains an in-house aerial silks rig!  After watching a couple of friends twirl and flip elegantly in the air, I decided to fool around a little myself.  Trying my hardest, with great difficulty and with the coaching of friends, I actually managed to climb up to the middle of the silks and slide down again!  I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement and pride.  It felt like I had learned to fly!  Later that day, even though my arms were exhausted, I went kayaking, unable to resist the call of a beautiful day and a lovely set of wetlands trails.  And… now I have a strained shoulder, three days later.  I intend to baby the shoulder as much as I can until I’m 100% better, because I have learned to value my activity level too much to risk aggravating a minor injury into a huge one.

So I’m still working on learning to take care of myself and gain strength and flexibility safely, but luckily these little injuries are proving a good reminder that, while they are no fun, hurting myself definitely doesn’t mean the end of the world, or even the end of all exercise.

And I totally can’t wait for my first aerial silks class.  I’m sold!

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Making My Bed(s)

Garden Frog Says Hello.

Garden Frog Says Hello.

This past weekend marked the beginning of my second gardening season.  Gardening always brings me a lot of joy (and heartache and frustration and gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair — if I’m to be fair about it).  Though it can be a pain at times, gardening veggies, berries and herbs is completely worth it whenever I can run out to the garden for some sage or rosemary, or pop a little cherry tomato into my mouth as I head out on my way to work, or even just when I check every morning to see “what’s growing on” — who’s got new growth, who is blooming, who is getting eaten by the accursed snails.  It’s pretty great to feel connected to the earth, to know I’m caring for lots of little green lifeforms, and to feel that all my work resulted in (at least some) edible produce.

A little messy, but it's home.

I have a lovely broad array of plants this year: pickling cucumbers, multicolor peppers, three varieties of string bean, five varieties of little tomatoes, spinach, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.

For herbs, I’m growing sage, chives, and lemon thyme which all miraculously survived from the winter, as well as newcomers tarragon, parsley, cilantro, basil, and rosemary.

My most exciting innovation of the year, though, is one I’ve been waiting six months to put into play.  I did a little research during the holiday season, and learned that recycled Christmas trees stripped of their branches happen to make perfect trellises for vining plants such as string beans!  So here’s hoping my “bean tree” works out.  I’ll keep you updated!

My little bean tree.

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Bullet… dodged!

I received an email while still in bed cheerfully informing me there was an update to my online health management system, and sure enough, it was my blood sugar results!

Turns out that for all my worrying, my fasting glucose test was still in the normal range: 88, one point lower than it was two years ago.  I am relieved, though not as relieved as I expected to be.  This will be a spectre I’ll be fighting off for my whole life, and something I’ll have to be very vigilant of.  I know that if I keep my eye on it, though, that I can catch any problems early enough to take good care of myself.

I’m keeping up my regular exercise routine and healthy eating, and crossing my fingers that all of my healthy habits make it less likely I’ll be pulling the short straw in the years to come.

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Waiting to see if I’m still dodging the bullet.

I am terrified of developing diabetes.

I’ve done lots of things to change my life in the past two months — started using a standing desk at work, started meal planning, started yoga and kayaking, breakfast every day at home, planning for healthy snacks at work. Lots of things.

There’s one thing I’d been quietly and silently avoiding.

It’s been two years since my doctor had my blood sugars checked. They were within normal limits then.

I’ve known since I started changing my lifestyle and facing reality that I need to get the sugars checked. The little voice in the back of my head said “You need to know. Whatever the answer is, you need to know, and you need to deal with it.” But it’s hard — so hard. 10% because I hate getting blood drawn, and 90% because I don’t want the possibility of a bad outcome to feel real.

But this whole thing really is about facing hard truths and trying to take good care of myself, so this morning, as my doctor directed, I got up and headed down to the lab before breakfast to get my fasting glucose test.

The phlebotomost (technical term for the blood-taker-person) had to stick me twice, and both hurt like heck. Unfortunately, the first one still hurts even now (and left a pretty nasty bruise, at that).

And… now I wait for results, which will hopefully come back on Monday. I’m trying to be accepting — I’m prepared to lead a healthy life no matter how my blood sugar looks, and I know that the disease is controllable with enough work and commitment.

But me and my bruised arm are kinda nervous over here.

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Review: Rethinking Thin

At the recommendation of a number of friends, I’ve started learning and researching about the Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size movements. This fits in well with my goals of learning about the science of health and nutrition, rather than just accepting the conventional wisdom that “everybody knows.” This ultimately brought me to Rethinking Thin, by Gina Kolata.

Rethinking Thin, though definitely flawed, pretty much blew my mind, and is a must-read for anyone starting down the road to a healthy lifestyle with an eye toward dropping weight in the process. Kolata marshals a whole lot of hard scientific evidence in support of the proposition that it is almost impossible to sustain any significant weight loss over time. The studies she presents are fascinating. The information they provide is demoralizing, and at the same time, freeing.

Kolata writes about twin and adoption studies showing how genetics trump nurture when it comes to what weight we end up at. A series of prison weight loss and gain studies show in painful detail how hard our bodies work to stay in the weight range they decide they like (a 15-30 pound window). Thin or fat, our inner weight thermostat thinks nothing of slicing metabolism in half or doubling it to maintain our original weight when bodies get too far from it. Kolata also presents some information beginning to undermine some of the conventional wisdom about how bad weight is for your health.

Clearly, Kolata’s ideas run counter to much of the common discourse around weight today, and the information is invaluable to help understand what is happening when we try to change ourselves. The book feels padded, though, which is a darn shame considering the richness and depth of the subject matter. Kolata includes too much historical background on dieting and body culture (though some of it is very valuable in understanding just how not-new most of our fad diets are). She spends too much time on the sad stories of dieters whose individual character arcs are tragically predictable. She can be a bit all over the place, seemingly at a loss to meticulously organize the pile of ideas and studies she throws at us.

I would have liked to see more in the book about the impact of some of the different diets and exercise regimens other than their effect (or lack thereof) on weight. Kolata at times seems to lose the big picture of health in favor of her pure focus on weight, seeming bewildered as to why it might be a good idea to encourage interventions such as exercise and less soda for reasons entirely apart from weight loss. I also feel like she could have given more than a narrative shoulder-shrug to the studies identifying significant social class differences in weight and what they might reveal.

All in all, the book is pretty revolutionary, and gives me a lot of new ways to think about weight and what goals are healthy and realistic. My biggest change? I started out with a weight loss goal in the form of a somewhat arbitrary number. But now, I think I’m moving towards just being curious about what kind of body my body really wants to be, and what kind of body it can be.

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