Sunday, August 08, 2010

Mishucalanza

I haven't had time to post much lately, so this post is a mishucalanza of topics.

Birthday Parties for Kids

My husband and I were at Santana Row recently. We saw a white limo driving down the main drag. That's not unusual. People cruise Santana Row in exotic cars; cars with thumping music that screams, "Look at me;" and the regular folks, in their regular cars, cruise around seeking the elusive parking place. The new parking garage has helped tremendously with the latter, especially if you're willing to park at the top. But, I digress.

The limo had a sign on the windows in pink writing. It said, "Happy 8th Birthday!" Peeking out of the moon roof were several little girls. Obviously, a ride in a limo on your eighth birthday is not over-the-top in some circles. But how do you top this kind of excess, year after year? And how do you instill the idea that it's nice, and special for a special occasion, but you're not entitled to this? And in this economic climate, how do you teach children who are raised with this level of expectation about material goods that it can all go away with one sentence: "I'm sorry, but we're laying you off?" How do you give children this kind of excess and teach them life's realities? How do they learn to cope when their every whim is granted? Or when they know you have the resources to grant it, but won't? I'm glad I didn't have to deal with those questions, but I wonder sometimes whether parents who do even ask them.

My Secret Project

I'm slowly making progress with it. I think I have a name. I need to do a bit of searching with other starting points besides Google, but it's based on something we made up as a family and I've never heard it used by anyone else, so it's likely no one else has anything with a similar name. I have a logo, too. It's in my head, but I know what it's going to look like. And, I borrowed the camera David's not using so I can practice taking photos for the blog.

I need to design the look of the site. I need to figure out the scope of it and create a backlog of posts. I need to figure out a realistic schedule for new posts. And I need to launch it. It may take a while, but I have a reasonable plan. The main hitch is how much time I have, since my work schedule is not steady. Sometimes I'm really swamped and other times it's slower so I have more time to spend on personal projects.

Vegan Food

I have a cookbook called The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen. It has amazing food in it. I am looking forward to trying a lot of the recipes and techniques taught in the book. They look absolutely wonderful and with our budget taking a nosedive as Paul's income becomes his unemployment check until he finds another job or builds that business he's working on, we need to cut back on meat and dairy, since they're the most expensive things I buy. I don't want to cut the overall quality of ingredients I use, so using the most expensive ingredients less often, or in smaller quantities, whenever possible, will allow me to cut the total amount we spend. We're going to eat more vegan and vegetarian meals.

On the other hand, the book also highlights some of the reasons, aside from the fact that I like honey, meat, fish, poultry and dairy, why I don't want to eat exclusively vegan. He uses a lot of food I consider "fake food" because he's trying to mimic haute cuisine without using any of the above list of ingredients. I'm not talking about foods like the cashew cream or cheeses made from nuts he includes recipes for. I'm talking about purchased products like "meat" made from wheat or soy. It seems to me that vegan food should be a celebration of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, not an attempt to mimic the omnivore diet so as to convince people they can switch to a vegan diet without substantially changing the way they eat.

It's been my experience that foods created to substitute for other foods usually fail because they taste like a pale imitation of the original, or are simply completely unpalatable. Something is always missing. Nonfat mayo or salad dressings taste awful. Low-fat and nonfat cheeses are like rubber. But people convince themselves they're good because they think they're getting health benefits from eating those foods. As they eat them, they forget what the real thing tastes like.

But I'm not sure that we really know what a healthy diet looks like. There are a lot of people that make a lot of money selling us on the health benefits of the fake food they're trying to get us to buy. Yet people thrive on a wide variety of foods, including many that are on the experts' current hit list. As long as researchers take the easy way out and study nutrition by taking food apart and studying individual components, they'll never really know the answer to "what's a healthy diet?" because we eat foods in combination and that makes a difference.

Case in point--the glycemic index thing. When you eat a food high on the glycemic index chart by itself, it digests quickly, creating a spike in your blood sugar levels. However, if you eat them in combination with other foods, particularly adding a bit of fat, it slows down the digestion of that food and you don't get that huge spike. So, as an example, the "rule" that you shouldn't eat potatoes because they're high on the glycemic index is not accurate. The rule should be, don't eat a plain baked potato all by itself. Eat it as part of a meal, particularly one that includes some fats. Perhaps our penchant for adding butter and/or sour cream to baked potatoes shows instinctive nutritional wisdom on our part, but we tend to go overboard and put too much. So we overreact and instead of putting a smaller amount, we decide we should forego it altogether.

An example of "fake food" vs. the real thing: I read recently that when you eat salads with no-fat dressing, you don't get the full complement of nutrients from the vegetables when your food is digested. But when you use regular dressing, you do. And again, I think the problem people have when they use any dressing is the amount they add. One other thing that I think makes a difference is making it yourself because when you buy a bottle of salad dressing, it doesn't taste that good, so you tend to use a lot of it. When you make a vinaigrette, which takes about five minutes, it has more flavor, so you can use less and be satisfied.

So maybe the future will look a little like Woody Allen's film, Sleeper, where he wakes up and all the food that was considered bad for you is now considered healthy. However, I doubt we're ever going to get to his exaggerated prediction where vegetables are unhealthy. Good thing because vegetables are amazing. I think the real key to eating healthy is to prepare food from raw ingredients as much as you can. And carefully choose those you do buy prepared, like sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives, and so on.