In Praise of Savory Oatmeal

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I love oatmeal. I could go on and on and on about it. But right now, because I am waiting for mine to cool so I can gobble mine up, I figured I would fill the time with a public proclamation to sing the praises of savory oatmeal.

It started for me the way it so often does when I am intrigued by a new recipe. I obsess about it until I make it, try it, and decide whether it was worth all the intrigue and obsession.

In this case, it started for me late last January, when I read a recipe that included two of my favorite things…steel cut oats and eggs…together, not as part of a baked good, but as headlining ingredients. They seemed an odd couple indeed, oatmeal and eggs cooked like that, but for some reason I bought what the writer was selling. I made it as soon as I could (which wasn’t soon enough because of how I cook my steel-cut oats; more on that later) and not only was I hooked, but started telling anyone who would listen about how culinary life-changing this recipe was. I knew it instantly. And to date, I have made and served it to precisely one other person. (God bless my old and dear friend Sarah.)

Savory oats have opened up a world of possibility for me, and my enjoyment of them now extends well beyond eggs and oats and breakfast. But before I get too carried away, let me talk about what I just ate. (I said I was writing this while I waited for them to cool, but since they cooled sufficiently I paused to eat; they’re gone now, banished to my belly.)

Anyway, first of all, Steel-Cut Oats.

I’m not going to go into details of the wherefores and whys of steel-cut oats, and I will simply say that they are worth the extra money and preparation time. I like the McGann’s ones that come in the small metal tin. I have tried the quick-cooking version put out by Bob’s Red Mill…and find them faster (obviously) but not quite as good and it could be me but I feel like 1/4c dry yields less cooked than the McGann’s.

Anyway, to cook steel cut oats:

These have a long sitting time until they are ready. So if you plan to eat them for breakfast, make them the night before; for dinner, start them in the morning.

A serving is 1/4 c. dry.

Mix that with 1 c. water in a small saucepan.

Bring it to a boil (then turn it down a bit so it keeps boiling but doesn’t boil over, and keep your eye on it. A watched pot may never boil but an I watched boiling pot of oatmeal will inevitably overflow.)

Let it boil for two minutes. A bit longer is fine, too long and you have yourself a hockey puck.

Take it off the heat, cover it, and let it sit overnight (or all day).

Reheat it on the stove (low heat and be careful) or microwave for 90 seconds to 2 minutes.

Voila. Steel cut oats. You can do a million things with them but I will only speak of a few right now. Also, you can make multiple servings and keep them refrigerated to eat during the week. For whatever reason I make one serving at a time. I can be ridiculous like that.

I started my oatmeal last night so it was ready for me when I got home from the gym this morning. I cooked two fried eggs (in a nonstick pan coated with some cooking spray) over easy while the oatmeal was heating. I took the hot oatmeal, put on some salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Grated, because it was what was in the house. Then I put the fried eggs on top, a bit more salt, pepper, and Parmesan, then kind of stirred it all up so that the yolks would run and mix with the oatmeal.

I let it cool and then I devoured it. Now I am stuffed, and only 310 calories (per MyFitnessPal so accuracy not guaranteed).

If you think about oatmeal as you would rice or couscous or quinoa or risotto, maybe it won’t seem so funny. Once you’ve eaten once, if you like it, then you can put together countless variations, and often using leftovers. I’ve mixed in sautéed spinach, grape tomatoes, caramelizing onions, different kinds of cheese, bacon bits…whatever I have on hand that sounds good to me.

Next up, these bad boys. I can’t wait!

Try savory oats and let me know what you think!

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Dropping The “L”: Admitting It’s More Than Logistics

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I recently wrote about something I am plagued with, a particularly acute case of the FOUL Syndrome, Fear Of Unknown Logistics.

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Upon reflection, I realized that I also experience a kind of low-level general fear of the unknown. For a long time, I let said fear get in the way of things I wanted to do…but since I was either not consciously aware of it or simply didn’t want to admit it, I was unable to deal with it.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve worked hard to minimize the implications of what is a very normal fear. In fact, I have found many manifestations of this malady where the afflicted is either unaware of it (and thus unaware of its impacts) or attributes their behavior to something other than fear. In either case, these people are unable to get from their current Point A to their desired Point B, despite the fact that often the path to get there is short, flat, and straight–allowing them to get their with little effort.

So what I did to help myself was to start being hyper-attentive to when this “fear” was preventing me from doing things or was impeding my enjoyment of things. I started to address it by doing things that were slightly outside my comfort zone. At first these were primarily social in nature. In general I don’t consider myself all that social or extroverted (remember, I tend to the pensive). Plus I wasn’t working at the time (and I’m fighting a relapse now, because I am not working again), was single, and felt I had little to bring to the table. My sister had passed on some words that someone had passed on to her, and simple as they were, they were transformative. (As an aside, it’s important to note that the most basic things can often provide you with direction and motivation, so don’t ignore anything that moves you.) Essentially, the words of advice were, “If you always say no, people will stop asking you.”

So I started saying “yes.” Instead of using flimsy excuses in support of my cowardly “no” answers, I started saying yes. To cookouts and dinners and golfing and whatever other social invitations came my way. I started meeting a lot of new people and developing new relationships and skills…slowly developing a different attitude about these things, and about myself. Without really knowing (fearing?) it, I was gaining confidence and diversifying my life, and learning to talk about all kinds of different things with “strangers.” Not only that, I was having a good time doing it.

With a slightly altered perspective fueled by the success I had to date, I thought a little more about tackling my other fears…and I started to assess them in a classic “risk vs. reward” way. In many cases, there was no risk associated with taking these particular chances. And in virtually all of the cases I considered, the most “catastrophic” risks had pretty much no impact. So what if I tried a new recipe? So what if I tried 10 boxing classes at a local gym? What was the worst that could happen? A crappy batch of cookies? I get my ass kicked by the trainer? And then I realized, “So what?” It was a huge breakthrough for me. Some things are worth caring about and assessing and breaking down and weighing pros and cons and some simply are not. There are pros and cons to everything. But for me, anything low-risk? I try it now.

In some cases–and I did this–you can reduce the risk further by being accountable only to yourself. Try things on your own time and at your own pace…set your goals and start moving toward them. You can talk about your successes when you have them, and along the way you’ll learn from anything that didn’t go according to plan. When you’re accountable only to yourself you can be more forgiving. If you’re going to bother to work hard to get over your fear of things unknown, don’t trip yourself up by creating the new limitation–fear of letting others down.

And if you think you don’t fear the unknown, take a minute to reconsider. Case in point: my sister jokes about my case of FOUL and I laugh right along with her, because I know sometimes I am being ridiculous. But recently when we were vacationing together, she noted that it was great that I was there because my niece wanted to start making smoothies and since they had no idea how, I could teach her

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I marveled at that. How could they not know? And how could they not just do a Google search to find out? Or watch a YouTube video? It was of interest to them, but not of critical importance, and they had a long list of reasons why they weren’t able to get it done. Excuses? No matter.  For whatever their reasons they weren’t willing to risk making a crappy smoothie.

And now that they leveraged me and my trial-and-error smoothie making? My niece is making herself smoothies all the time and my sister–notorious for skipping breakfast–now makes herself one in the morning, doing the necessary metabolic kick start.

(Yes, there are a million types of smoothies, and recipes are easy to find. But if you want to eat healthier or whatever and are overwhelmed trying to start, well here’s how I told them to make a smoothie.

Put in your blender in this order:
About a cup of orange juice
About a half cup of vanilla Greek yogurt (with plain yogurt, I like to add 1t of honey)
3-4 pieces of frozen banana (peel them and break them into 4 chunks per banana and then freeze; I always keep plenty of frozen ones on hand)
About a cup of frozen fruit (my favorite is the Dole Wildly Nutritious Blend that has pineapples, mangoes, strawberries, and grapes)

I use almond or coconut milk and not juice.)

In any case, fear of the unknown can stop you from doing a lot of things. Today, commit to tackling at least one of the low-risk, low-consequence ones that is getting in your way. When you see what you can do, you’ll be shocked at the confidence you build, and how that allows you to do more.

Another case in point? Me, writing this blog and telling you this.

I think I’ll go make a smoothie.

FOUL Syndrome: Malady or Myth?

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I named it the FOUL Syndrome, but my guess is that a lot of you suffer from it.  You’re the ones who will agree it’s a malady.  Those of you who don’t deal with it probably think it’s a myth and consider us sufferers to have a touch of OCD.

What is FOUL?  Fear Of Unknown Logistics.  When you don’t know how something works, or how to get somewhere, how long something will take, or how things are likely to unfold, well, there can be some angst.  I find that FOUL is most dominant for me on race days, especially when I am going to a race for the first time.  It starts with the alarm clock, and the routine, and wanting to make sure that it goes as smoothly and as typically as possible.  For me, part of my running “success” happens when I am in the zone.  Remember, my zone is my zone, and my zone only…it’s the unique combination of factors that make me feel comfortable and settled and confident.  And it starts with sticking to a routine that works.

Setting up the timing of that routine is where the first signs of FOUL creep in.  I try to back into it, but if there are too many variables.–parking, registration, walking back to the car, porta-potty line, etc.–then there are so many places to build in buffer time. I worry about traffic, and walking distance from the parking area to the registration tent and back, porta-potty lines, etc. I know everything will be ok, but I want everything to go smoothly, relaxed not rushed, etc. I have all this angst about not wanting to have any angst!

It’s not just races…it could be meeting new people at a new restaurant in a new neighborhood.  Yikes!

Finding a balance between the comfort of routine and the needed excitement of trying new things is another area that I’ve needed to actively manage as I’ve tried to introduce some (sustainable) change in my life.

It’s often said that you can’t keep doing the same thing the same way and expect a different result.  But I think sometimes we let ourselves believe that an external force that is outside of our control is the thing that is preventing us from getting where we want to be.  So we approach life thinking that if we keep plugging away and that thing in the way changes somehow, then PRESTO!, the mother lode.

Here’s what I tell myself when I find myself caught in that trap:

  • You’re wrong.  So no matter how hard you try or how long you wait, you’ll never get what you want (or need).
  • You’re blaming.  Assume responsibility.  Be accountable.  Maybe it is an external force but why sit back and wait on it?  Make it happen.  Then it doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong.  Neutralize it.
  • You’re afraid.  You have FOUL. Of course you’re afraid. But you have to put yourself out there and try something different, IF you want a different outcome. Trying something new might seem scary.  But if you look at it as exciting and take an approach that is relatively low-risk, yet doesn’t accept failure as an option, well, you’ll start surprising yourself.

In a little time, you’ll see different results.  You might not see the exact results you want in the desired quantity or volume right away (or ever), but you’ll start to see your actions tied to results.  The results don’t matter as much at this stage.  The actions do.  And learning that you can make things happen is totally empowering.

One small change I have made is this: even after the worst of nights, every morning before my feet hit the floor, I tell myself: you are going to kick today’s ass.  Every day I try.  And at the end of every day, I document the good in it.

So, stop reading and go kick today’s ass.

It’s All About Simple Math: The First Basic Principle

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There are some basic principles that I’ve applied in areas I have wanted to focus on. It helps me to keep things manageable, digestible. And I have had the most success when I break things down to the most simple pieces that I can. It keeps me from getting overwhelmed, helps me to feel like I am making progress (a baby step beats no step, right?), and is a constant reminder that my goals are attainable.

When you feel the inevitable (temporary) paralysis that hits as you start to frame your approach to achieving whatever goal, remember that at the basis of everything is very very simple math. Take weight management. If you want to lose weight, you need to expend more calories than you ingest. Burn to earn. You won’t lose weight if you exercise a little and eat a lot, no matter what “diet” you’re following. It’s really that simple–at the most basic level. But start at that level and you’ll start assembling the building blocks of a super-springy springboard to sustainable success.

Keep the simple math in mind as you endeavor to make lasting change…don’t overcomplicate things. Life is inherently complicated enough as it is. So why invite more complication in, when really what you want is to simplify and streamline your life to get on a path to a happier and healthier you, however you define it?

That said, even simple math involves a formula…it’s not meant to overwhelm, but more to keep you mindful. How you develop and implement the formula is up to you…remember, you know your goals, constraints, strengths, obstacles, etc. better than anyone. So you can do the best job of following your formula. Bottom line is this: you need to stay aware that there are at least two sides to everything, and that your choices and decisions factor into your equation and ultimately leads you to finding your right answer. And yes, there are days that you will get it wrong, but that is ok–as long as a wrong answer makes you realize something that can help move you to the right one.

I’m sure I’ll talk more about this later, but for now start thinking about the most simple and basic formula at the root your particular objective. Focus on that formula and keeping it in balance. Soon you’ll get the hang of it and before you know it you’ll be branching out.

And you can put away the abacus. It’s simple math.

And on an unrelated note, because I ate them both this weekend:

Mark Bittman’s Nut Burgers absolutely kick ass! I mainly use peanut butter, oats, and the chili powder the recipe calls for. This time I used a spicy Szechuan spice blend. Awesome.

These are the best pancakes I ever had.. They were super-fluffy, and with chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, topped with butter and confectioners sugar, I was cross eyed. Amazing!

Quick Recipe Check In

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Been dying to try these Peking Chicken Wraps for a while now and finally got around to it last night. So delicious!

The recipe calls for cooked shredded chicken; we slow-cooked ours for about 4 hours in a cup of veggie broth which worked out great.

We were jokingly calling them Asian Fajitas but it turns out they were more like Asian Burritos–apparently yesterday was National Margarita Day and these were as close as we got to a Mexican Fiesta!

For tortillas we went with old reliable, Mission Carb Balance Whole Wheat–26g of fiber per tortilla, which you can’t go wrong with. The hoisin sauce was great but you really could use any Asian-style sauce of your liking for sure.

Too good not to pass along and per the recipe, under 300 calories!

You Want to Change? Start Changing!

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Here’s the thing. You don’t have to have a big plan or invest a lot of money or create a lot of personal publicity around whatever goal it is you want to achieve. You know better than anyone else why you want to achieve whatever goal you’re considering–so stop considering the goal and start working toward it.

First thing, don’t worry that your goal isn’t good enough. It’s your goal and it’s perfect. For you. Perfect for the life you lead and given all the unique events and variables who have got you to the unique position you are in right now…and no one else is in that exact unique situation, so only you have are in the position to decide. But I am telling you this: your goal is good enough.

You can spend as much time as you want to thinking about or rationalizing or doing things that prevent you from moving forward. Just start doing something you think will help you move forward. For instance, if you want to exercise, start exercising. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by extremes. Too often we see extremes (ideals?) and think “I’ll never…” Two things: 1) Do you even want to? and 2) How do you know you can’t? (If you can predict the future maybe you should be out buying Powerball tickets…)

Secondly, stop thinking and start doing. Better yet, think and plan while you do. Stop making excuses. Start. Go for a short walk around your neighborhood or a local mall. Find an inexpensive gym and join. Plug in that old treadmill in the garage and get on it. You know what your goal is and what the obstacles are. So break the goal up into pieces small enough to squeeze them between the obstacles or lift them over them. But no excuses. No more sitting.

There’s a great saying I heard when I first started running. “No matter how slow you go, you’ll always lap the person sitting on the couch.” And remember how true that is. Small steps are steps and steps of any size move you toward your goal. If your lifestyle or budget or other constraints put your goal far out in the future, that’s ok. But if you don’t start moving, you’ll never get there.

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This is a little bit of a loftier quote, but I find it motivating nonetheless. As a rule I often find that the words of other people help keep me motivated, focused, and positive:

“Life is not a dress rehearsal. Stop practicing what you’re going to do and just go do it. In one bold stroke you can transform today.” –Marilyn Grey

So get up and go. Lap the guy sitting on the couch. You got this!

Find The Good In Every Day (It’s Worth It)

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I don’t have a killer reputation as a super-bubbly, positive person. I’m more of a realist, which sometimes can be mistaken for a cynic…but this world and this life is crazy so the two–realism and cynicism–intersect more than most people are comfortable admitting.

I’ve long relied on a movie scene (that no one else really knows) from the old Jodie Foster movie “Little Man Tate” to illustrate how I felt. The woman says something to her son and he replies that he’s not crabby; he’s pensive.

Well that’s me. Pensive. Not to be mistaken for crabby.

Some people would get it, some people wouldn’t. But isn’t that the way?

So I recently started watching True Detective on HBO, and have only seen the first episode. But there’s an exchange between Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson that resonated like crazy. Four days later it still is.

MM: “I consider myself a realist, but in philosophical terms I’m a pessimist.”

WH: “What’s that mean?”

MM: “It means I’m bad at parties.”

WH: “You ain’t good outside of parties either.”

D’oh. That nails me.

But part of being realistic, to me anyway, means being positive and upbeat and having a good attitude in the millions of places where we have a choice. (Don’t worry…the realist in me readily admits that sometimes there is no silver lining, and that’s ok.) So I work really hard to utilize the power of positivity.

One of the things I do to make sure I frame my days in the positive is by documenting every day’s “redemptive quality” (RQ). I write down the date and the thing that made that day worth it. It can’t include any negativity like “in spite of” or “despite.” And it’s ok if the day’s RQ is that it ended or that you made it through. But it has to be positive.

Some of mine?

Unedited.

The first one:

Today’s redemptive quality: my new playlist. And the bonus, the 80s playlist at the gym tonight. (2/26/13)

Some random ones:

RQ, 3/3/13…Wompatuck for water with dad and a win for Annie at hoops. “You don’t mess with me.”

RQ, 10/13/2013: 1/2 marathon PR, 1:54:55

RQ, 1/16/2014: Johnny yelling “I love you, Nicky. Come back soon.” out the window after me as I was leaving.

These are not carefully curated selections. I scrolled through my notes and grabbed some for illustrative purposes. The only thing deliberate about my selections is that I wanted to cover a period of time. In doing so, I realized that I have been doing this for almost exactly a year (give or take 5 days). I’m learning a lesson in that realization: reflect more, ruminate less.

But my views on lessons and learning will have to come later.

Take time every day and reflect on what was good. You can always find something. And you’ll surprise yourself with how easily it comes, and how often you aren’t limited to a single good thing. I find that writing it down in an iCloud note works great–it forces me to do it, physically, and in hindsight I love having a written record. Speaking of hindsight, when I reviewed the last year, there were waaaay more good things than days that I “just got through.”

So, for now I will leave you with a great line from one of the greatest one-hit wonders of the 1980s to sum my perspective all up: “I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert, but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.” –from (In A) Big Country by Big Country