This post was sponsored by Harmony Books. See the end of the post for more details.
Almost every Sunday morning, my dear friend Tita and I take a walk. We walk in sunlight and rain, early in the morning, on the road and on the trail near my home. We’ve known each other for 23 years now, good friends all that time, without stopping. When we first met, I was 26 and she was 41. The first time I saw her, in her classroom at the high school where I was about to start my first teaching job, She reached out her hand, her eyes bright and alive, and I sensed the joy of friendship to come. She has known me through this last quarter-century of my life, through my years of teaching, of living in New York, of illness and recovery to health after I found i had celiac. She and her husband John were my model of good marriage for years. When they approved of Danny, immediately, I knew I would spend the rest of my life with him. Tita was at the hospital the day Lucy was born. She came over to meet Desmond the first day we were home. Tita is so very important to me.
So every Sunday that we can, we walk.
And we talk. We talk about children and the state of education. (She’s retiring at the end of this year.) We talk about politics and every historical precedent for such behavior. We talk about love and art and whatever happened that week. We talk about aging parents and people who are lost and the gratitude we feel for being here. We talk about what it’s like to grow older. And often, we talk about food.
Mostly, there’s no bullshit with Tita, either in conversation or in meals. Tita’s a great cook. Danny loves her honest, Midwestern food. She loves watching him cook and says she learns something new every time she sees him. But she already knows plenty. And if I have questions about the way I am eating and how I am feeling, i talk to Tita.
Often, she has told me, “You know, it’s not that hard. Eat good food that’s actually food. Everyone knows you should eat more vegetables than sweet things. Decide what you like and give yourselves a treat sometimes. And then stop thinking about it.”
I can always count on Tita for wise talk while walking.
However, now that she is 64, we talk often about how our bodies change as we grow older. Whatever excess we survived in our 20s, our bodies can no longer do it. The idea of cutting back on sugar seemed theoretical in my 30s, even in my early 40s. Now that I’m nearly 50, it’s a tangible knowledge. “Oh yeah,” Tita told me. “When you’re getting older and starting to feel creaky, your body needs nutrients more than pleasures. If you’re listening, you act on this.”
Tita was full of energy all through her 20s. In her early 50s, she paid the price for overworking and not listening to her body. She developed chronic fatigue syndrome (she always refers to it as her dead-ass years). The only way to heal was to rest: to drop almost everything but naps and taking the stress out of her life and eating simply. She healed, eventually. The glimmer of it is always there, reminding her to take it easy. I cannot wait to see how happy she is after she retires and can be fully Tita again.
We talk often about this, how America seems to love quick get-rich schemes and diets that promise radiant health in 30 days. It seems woven into the fabric of this culture, that shining city on the hill of health and wealth. But it’s rarely that simple. It usually takes a lot of time and listening to ourselves to heal. And what works for one body, at one point in her life, may not work for another body, in another part of her life. We are not a one-size-fits-all species.
That’s part of the reason I’ve been enjoying Haylie Pomroy’s new book, Fast Metabolism Food RX: 7 Powerful Prescriptions to Feed Your Body Back to Health. Instead of a didactic screed of foods to avoid and a diet with a hashtag, this is a useful book written by a woman who has been through the wringer. She writes about how a terrible car accident left her in horrific pain, from which she crawled back to health. She constantly negotiates her life with a chronic autoimmune disorder and other conditions. After years of suffering, she found her specific path to health through good food. She decided to become a nutritionist to help others. And now she has written a series of useful books.
What I like most about this book is its sure hand and its reliance on science. She writes about metabolic adaptation as the body’s response to stress as a way to avoid further disaster. She writes about eating food as soon we wake up, about movement as a foundation for health, and about the role that hormones play in disrupting the lives of women in their 40s and 50s. (Hi.) For each main track of the body in distress, she has a way of eating that makes sense, based on the science. Whether you are experiencing gastrointestinal dysfunction, deep fatigue, cognitive challenges or autoimmune issues, Pomory offers sensible solutions through food.
For me, her section on blood sugar issues has been the most useful. After suffering a TIA this summer, and spending a few months recovering, I’ve been examining the way I eat and the work we do. Working with my doctors to understand my health, I made some significant changes and strides toward full health. Mostly, I changed the daily work we do.
I love creating great gluten-free baked goods for readers, knowing that I have the time here to experiment and play until those recipes work in other people’s homes. But working on our last book — which I love — meant day after day of making and tasting pies, cakes, desserts, and more sweet things. No matter how many vegetables I ate, a daily diet of sugary treats, ensconced in the concept of our work, took its toll on me.
This is part of the reason we launched Feeding Our People. Danny and I wanted the chance to offer humble food that we eat everyday, done well. A pot of braised beans sustains us through the week. Making a batch of salty seeds — 6 kinds of seeds roasted in a certain way, with sea salt — makes the lunch salad far more interesting. And learning to embrace leftovers, instead of making something new (and photo-worthy) for every meal, has meant our eating days are more focused on health than success online.
Now, we still work on baked goods, but one at a time, baking and re-baking until those date-oatmeal bars or cardamom-apple bread are as good as we can make them. And we plan every bake for days we’re having friends over for dinner or going to a potluck or going to a Unitarian service the next day. I taste once, then I give the baked goods away. (That’s why I love baking so much, in the end: feeding people.) We only have desserts around here on days that start with S: Saturdays and Sundays. The rest of the week is fruit. Doing this — along with more resting, less stress, more joy and less worrying — has helped me feel so much better than I did a year ago.
Pomroy lays out a simple food plan for regulating blood sugar issues, most of which centers on the timing of eating and the foods to combine in that time to keep blood sugar regulated. She’s certainly not the first to write about this, but she writes about it in a pithy, direct way that spoke to me. These days, I eat breakfast within the first 30 minutes of awaking. And i always have a complex carbohydrate, a good protein, and a healthy fat. Lately, that’s a little pile of braised beans I sautéed in olive oil and a fried egg. To my surprise, If I have a small bowl of that in the morning, I’m genuinely not hungry until 11 or so, when I have some protein and vegetables. This turmeric-roasted cauliflower and kale salad with walnuts and olives does the trick for an afternoon snack for me. I do better with small meals throughout the day, instead of waiting until I’m ravenous at 3:30 and eat down the house. My energy is even. I’m eating good food without thinking about it too much.
I’m so grateful for the wisdom of people who have done the research and helped others before me so I can learn. I’m so grateful for Tita’s wisdom, which has helped me navigate perimenopause and the pleasures and pitfalls of growing older. We can all use guides to help us listen to our bodies as we keep walking forward, happy to be here and learning all the time.
This post was inspired by the book Fast Metabolism Food RX: 7 Powerful Prescriptions to Feed Your Body Back to Health. Ms. Pomroy’s team at Harmony Books asked me to read the book to see if I wanted to be part of a sponsored publicity campaign with bloggers on behalf of the book. We turn down this possibility with most of the books we are given. I truly do believe in this book. All thoughts and opinions and words here are my own.
turmeric-roasted cauliflower kale salad
In Pomroy’s book, she has a list of superfoods that are good for regulating blood sugar issues. I don’t think these foods are magic elixirs but they’re good to have around. Last week, Danny played with some of the foods on the list — cauliflower, dark greens, seeds, olives, walnuts, fresh herbs, and garlic — and made this salad. Don’t call it a blood-sugar-reduction dish. Call it good and serve it for lunch. We sure did.
Prepare to roast. Heat the oven to 425°.
Roast the cauliflower. Toss the cauliflower florets, turmeric, and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil together. Season the cauliflower with salt and pepper. Put the cauliflower in a large skillet and roast it until the cauliflower is softened and starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Take the cauliflower out of the oven.
Make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, smash the cloves of roasted garlic into a paste. Whisk the sherry vinegar into the garlic paste, then drizzle in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Make the salad. In a large bowl, toss together the roasted cauliflower, kale, olives, walnuts, and oregano. Slowly pour the vinaigrette around the edges of the salad bowl, then toss the salad and serve.
For more crunch, top with our salty seeds, which you will find on Feeding Our People.
Note: To make a batch of roasted garlic to have on hand for occasions such as these, take all the cloves in a head of garlic and peel them. Put them in a small pan and cover with olive oil, generously. Roast in a 375° oven until the cloves are soft and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Your house should smell tremendous. Take them out of the oven and let them cool to room temperature. These will keep in your refrigerator for up to 1 month.