Training for a Half Marathon

Now that the holidays are over, I have started saying no to alcoholic and caffeinated drinks. I am all about the H2O as I prepare for a half marathon at the end of the month.

I have even replaced my food choices with healthier meals. I started reading Women’s Running again and came across a column comparing and picking foods with the most “nutritional punch.” Some of it I already knew, like, quinoa is a better choice to brown rice, kale has more nutrients than spinach and Greek yogurt is preferable to other yogurts.

But this caused me to put different items in my shopping cart this week:

Peanut Butter vs. Almond Butter
Although almost identical in calories, almond butter has less saturated fat but twice the amount of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat as peanut butter….The Champ: Almond Butter

Canned Tuna vs. Canned Salmon
Sorry, Charlie. When it comes to canned fish, salmon reigns supreme. Ounce for ounce, salmon has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the inflammation your body creates during exercise. Salmon also gets brownie points for containing more Vitamin D….The Champ: Salmon

Green Bell Pepper vs. Red Bell Pepper
This one is no contest. As star among its brethren, red bell peppers, which are simply green peppers that have ripened, have significantly more immune-system-boosting beta-carotene and vitamin C….The Champ: Red Bell Pepper

I was also surprised to learn that frozen blueberries have more antioxidants than fresh blueberries! I don’t really drink smoothies so I am sticking with the fresh blueberries, but I am having them with Greek yogurt and granola for breakfast. I am passing on the pop tarts and coffee for now. :)

Do you follow a certain diet or eat different foods when training for an athletic event?


When Obesity Gets In the Way of Fun

I was debating if and how to post this story as I know that childhood obesity is a touchy subject. But the incidents mentioned therein bothered me so much that I do want to share them with you.

Last week, I had four cousins from Pennsylvania — two from my father’s side and two from my mother’s side — visit me in California. I sent for the kids, who are aged 16, 15, 12 and 11, and had a wonderful time showing them around the Bay Area. We went to the famous Alcatraz prison — love the audio tour! — the outlet malls near Sacramento, many ethnic restaurants, Haight-Ashbury Street in San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. We snuck in a daytime visit to the Great America amusement and water park, which is located in Santa Clara, California, or the heart of Silicon Valley.

At Great America, there were a couple disturbing incidents that occurred. On two roller coasters, my 16-year-old cousin, who weighs 300 pounds, was unable to ride because the harness did not fit him. I reacted like my other cousins who were very sweet and told him, “The ride wasn’t that great anyway.” We also called the people who made the rides “pricks.”

But I won’t lie. I am concerned about my cousin’s weight and his 12-year-old sister’s who is large for her age and quickly approaching his size. While I was in the bathroom at Great America, I texted my uncle to tell him what had happened. I apologized for being a “Debbie Downer”, assured him that I did not think it was my place to say anything to his children, but felt wrong not saying anything at all.

“I agree with you,” he texted back. “But I have no control over what they eat at their mother’s house.”

My aunt and uncle are divorced. My uncle is somewhat large and has high blood pressure. My aunt is very large, like the children. Apparently, both my uncle and his sister-in-law — my aunt’s sister — have spoken to them about their weight, but nothing has been done (from what I can tell). My cousin admitted to me not only his weight, but also that he has high blood pressure and his doctor has told him to walk 20 minutes a day. Did I mention that he is only 16?

I tried to steer all of my cousins toward healthier food choices while they were with me, and by day three, limited the soda to one serving per meal. I buy soda only for birthday parties, and my kids don’t ask for it. Off the bat, I was caught by how much soda my overweight cousins drink. They would order the large and then inquire on “free refills.” I put an end to that on day three, gently suggesting that we all drink water since it was a hot day. The unlimited soda drinking felt like buying an alcoholic more beer, reinforcing to me that food and beverages can be an addiction like any other.

My other cousins, by the way, were average-sized, did not ask for soda and junk food, and pretty much ate like me, Markos and the kids do in California. They loved the tofu, for example, while my other cousins snacked at night because they were still hungry.

MotherTalkers, what would you have done in this situation? Are any members of your family this overweight? Do you say anything to them?


Summer of Eating Real: Phase 1 Report

So I’ve finished the first two weeks of the Atkins diet. And I want to get one huge misconception out of the way: it is NOT “all the fatty meats, butter, oil, cream, etc. you want.”

First of all, you are required to eat a certain amount of carbs each day, of which at least 12-15 [of 20, to start] must be from vegetables, including at least one salad made of greens (and whatever else you want), which is not at all carb-dense. 12-15 g. of carbs from veggies is, for me, one fairly large salad a day plus 3 more decent-sized portions of veggies (one with lunch, one with dinner, and one as a snack). So that’s a fair amount of food already.

Second, cream and cheese also have carbs, so you have to count those into your limit and they’re certainly not unlimited. (So do vegetarian proteins, which is why vegetarians start at a higher allowance–30 for lacto-ovo-vegetarians and 35 for vegans.) You are expected to only eat full-fat dairy products, for several reasons–fat aids digestion of calcium and vitamins, they make you full on a smaller quantity, and low-fat or skim dairy is higher in sugars.

Third, you are supposed to use just enough oil in cooking (olive or canola, only) or sauces/dressings (also allows sesame and other nut and seed oils) to be sufficient for the purpose. It is, however, recommended that you make sure to get a reasonable amount of oil/butter (2T/day) if your diet is otherwise low fat.

Fourth, assuming you’re eating all your carbs including all your veggies, on top of that you can have as many pure proteins (meat, poultry, fish, etc.) as you need to feel full but not stuffed. You are expected to shoot for about 4-6 oz. of protein per meal or 12-18 oz. per day, slightly more if you are a very large man. If you’re not losing weight at a decent rate, the first recommendation is to make sure you’re not eating too much protein.

By the way, I’ve heard it claimed (as if this were a bad thing) that the only reason Atkins works long-term is that people unconsciously start eating fewer calories. This is actually true, and why anyone would think it’s a problem with the diet is beyond me. I find it particularly ironic that this fault is touted by the same people who make the “unlimited quantities of steak and butter” claims. But yes, when you’re eating foods that are more filling and take longer to digest, then yes, you can eat fewer calories and not feel hungry. That’s the whole point.

Anyway, on to the question of what I’ve been eating …

2 eggs, coffee with cream, sometimes a bit of smoked salmon

caprese salad (tomato wedges and fresh mozzarella, tossed with extra virgin olive oil and basil)
mostly leftovers from dinner the night before
in an emergency, Gorton’s frozen fish filets in one of the non-breaded varieties, with veggies

chipotle-baked tofu; green beans
Moroccan-spiced mahimahi; asparagus
lemon herb baked tofu; broccoli with lemon butter
Greek-style baked cod with fennel, tomatoes, red onion, and feta
quiche with zucchini, red peppers, and Swiss and parmesan cheese
seitan fajitas (minus the tortillas) with peppers, onions, sour cream, and cheese; and cold avocado chipotle soup
tilapia baked with tomato and lemon juice; marinated zucchini
orange roughy [I know, I know, Expat already yelled at me] with safflower and garlic; zucchini and squash salad
Carl’s Jr Low Carb $6 burger (long story)
Thai coconut curry
sashimi, miso soup, and salad
plus nearly every night a green salad

celery sticks with ranch dip
sesame-roasted (or wasabi-roasted) seaweed (OMG so addictive!)
Atkins bar
leftover vegetables from dinner
Atkins shake

And the results
So far, I’ve lost a total of 7 pounds (sadly, less than 10% of the weight I need to lose). By the way, you’re supposed to measure yourself every day but track your weight by averaging each day with the days before and after.

I got a new scale halfway through, so I can only tell you my body composition as of that date–4.5 lbs. of fat lost, 2.9 lbs. of muscle gained, 1.1 lbs of water gained.

Measurements: 1/4″  off the hips and chest, 3/4″ off my thighs and upper arms, 1 1/4″ off my waist. (hey, gotta start somewhere!).

*By the way, a note on the girly stuff:* I didn’t ovulate this month, which is apparently common if you’re in Phase 1. Since we skipped trying this month anyway because I’m waiting to see if the wrist requires surgery, this was not a big problem for me, but it did freak me out a little. I’d only just gotten used to being able to depend on my body.

Where I go from here
The week of July 18-24, I get to eat 25g/day of carbs and add nuts (except peanuts), seeds, and wine or liquor with sugar-free mixers to my diet.
The week of July 25-31, I get to eat 30g/day of carbs and add legumes (including peanuts) to my diet.
The week of August 1-7, I get to eat 35g/day of carbs and add berries and cherries to my diet (and melon, which I dislike).
The week of August 8-14, I get to eat 40g/day of carbs and add yogurt and fresh cheeses to my diet.


A Summer of Eating Real, Part II: Sugar-Free

I diaried last year about eating only “real food” for the summer. We did well for a bit over a month, and then life interfered (as some of you may remember). We’ve mostly been better about real food overall, though. I’ve been trying to cook three times a week, and avoid things that are super-processed. I read Real Food by Nina Gordon and a couple of Michael Palin books. Our grocery bill has gone up, as has time spent washing dishes (God bless Expat) and so has my weight, but my blood pressure and cholesterol are way down.

So intellectually I’ve known for a long time that it’s better to eat whole grains and less sugar, but I never knew (1) precisely why or (2) how much sugar we eat. Then back in April, Expat posted on his Facebook an article called Is Sugar Toxic? and I read it. And now I can’t un-read it.

After a lot of reading (Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes, author of the NYT article; Get the Sugar Out by Ann Louise Gittleman; How I Went Off My Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds by Dana Carpender; and on Taubes’ recommendation, The New Atkins for a New You by Eric Westman) … I’ve decided to give the Atkins diet a try.

I must be insane.

Seriously, I LOVE bread. Love it. I’m cherishing a hope (not entirely unfounded) that I have a relatively high carb tolerance by Atkins standards, so whole-grain bread and the occasional dessert will eventually be back in my diet, at least in small quantities.

Okay. So, here’s the plan:
~ Begin Atkins on Monday, July 4, in Phase 1 (Induction)
~ Remain in Induction for 2 weeks, moving to Phase 2 (Ongoing Weight Loss) on July 18
~ Explain below the basics of Atkins
~ After July 18, diary my progress in Phase 1 including a meal plan, weight, and measurements
~ During OWL* diary every month or so

Okay. So, Atkins basics. The basic philosophy is to start with as few carbs as possible (20g/day) and work up in 10g increments (5g in Phase III, Pre-Maintenance) until you find which carbs and in what amounts provoke blood sugar spikes and cravings.

First of all, Induction is not obligatory. It’s recommended for those who have more than 30 pounds to lose, have dangerous blood sugar or cholesterol levels, or dangerous body fat distribution (for women, a waist measurement larger than their hips). Starting in OWL is recommended for people who don’t have a lot to lose, don’t mind losing more slowly, and vegetarians or others who need more variety than is allowed in Induction.

I’m going to start in Induction, but stay in it the minimum time two weeks. Here is a list of foods allowed in Induction:
~ Proteins: tofu, seitan, tempeh, quorn, seafood, poultry**, red meat**
~ Dairy: cream; sour cream; butter; most hard or medium cheeses including mozzarella (up to 4 oz/day of cheese)
~ Fruit: tomatoes, avocados (strongly recommended); lemon and lime juices
~ Vegetables: all leafy greens; artichoke hearts; asparagus; bamboo shoots; green beans; broccoli; cauliflower; celery; cucumber; eggplant; fennel; jicama; leeks; mushrooms; olives; onions; bell peppers; pumpkin; radishes; scallions; spaghetti squash; yellow squash; zucchini (at least 12g/day of carbs must come from these and other “foundation” vegetables)
~ Condiments: any salad dressing with no more than 2g carbs; most spices; chili peppers; black bean sauce; capers; chipotles; coconut milk; cocoa powder; fish sauce; horseradish; miso paste; mustard; pesto; pickles; salsa; soy sauce; hot sauce; tahini; vinegar; wasabi
~ Fats and oils: butter, mayonnaise, canola oil, olive oil, coconut oil, high-oleic safflower oil, flaxseed oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, walnut oil
~ Beverages: tea; coffee; cream; lemon/lime juice; water; club soda; seltzer; soy or almond milk (unsweetened); 2c. of broth (any sort as long as it has sodium and no sugar) per day to maintain sodium; of course water is best!
~ Supplements (required): multivitamin; potassium supplement; fish oil; salt

That’s plenty of food, isn’t it? I can do that for two weeks, easy. Actually last night’s dinner/today’s lunch (salad of spinach, arugula, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and shrimp, with an olive oil/lemon juice/mustard dressing) was both delicious and within guidelines. (Of course we had it with bread and white wine, but that’s not the point.)

After 2 weeks, you start on what’s called a “carb ladder,” adding in 1 new class of carbs per week or so, and also increasing your carb intake slowly. The idea is  to find out which carbs make your blood sugar spike, cause cravings, etc., and how much you can have in a day without negative effects. So here’s the ladder:
~ nuts and seeds, except peanuts, cashews, and chestnuts
~ berries, cherries, and melon (except watermelon)
~ whole-milk yogurt, fresh cheeses
~ legumes, including peanuts, cashews, and chestnuts (vegetarians introduce legumes after nuts & seeds)
~ tomato juice and V-8
~ other fruits (including watermelon), except bananas
~ high-carb vegetables like carrots, acorn squash, and peas
~ whole grains

Anything else, you really shouldn’t eat, but if you do once in a while, just pay attention and cut down after for a day or two if necessary.

*It’s funny to me that they call it OWL; in Unitarian Universalism, OWL is our comprehensive sex/relationship-ed program we share with the United Church of Christ. It stands for Our Whole Lives.
** I don’t usually eat poultry or red meat but for most people those are staples in Induction.


Q&A with Beth Bader, co-author, The Cleaner Plate Club

Today, I’m delighted to bring to you an Q&A interview with Beth Bader. We here at MotherTalkers know Beth better as Expat Chef, who has endeared herself to many here for her recipe and passion for cooking, healthy eating and food justice as captured at her blog The (Ex)Expatriate’s Kitchen. Beth and co-author Ali Benjamin, founder of The Cleaner Plate Club blog, have recently published their first cookbook, The Cleaner Plate Club: Raising Healthy Eaters One Meal at a Time.

A few notes of journalism – firstly, Beth is a friend, so this isn’t exactly a strict piece of journalism – I’m biased as hell and want the book to succeed! Secondly, this “interview“ took place over IM and is edited and condensed for space, clarity and to cut out random  “My kid does this“ stories. Thanks, and without further ado:

R:  What was the genesis of The Cleaner Plate Club?

Beth Bader: It started in one way as a hobby I could fit into my life as a new parent. I needed something I could do for me (writing a blog) that would be flexible, ten minutes here, a random hour in the middle of the night there. And, something that I had to do in life anyway, that I enjoyed: cooking. I just pointed myself down the path I enjoyed. The food issues were beginning to surface and there was a lot to write about. The book came along when I met another blogger online. She [Ali Benjamin,]  emailed me and said, “We should do a book!” You think, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But people have the best intentions, it just rarely comes to be. Next thing I knew, I have a proposal, a book contract [and a] life goal staring right at me.

R:  I like the fact that your approach to the book is really “in the trenches” and explanatory without being condescending. Am I right in thinking that a lot of these recipes have come about because of techniques to encourage healthy eaters?

BB: Definitely. None of them are too complicated. All of them are aimed at getting the best flavor from healthy foods in a way that most kids would try, without really bringing the recipes down to a “kid food” low. And by kid food, I am talking about that limited set of recipes based on sugar, fat, salt and simple carb. The goal is to expand kids’ palates back to something “normal.”

R:  Yes – they come across as being adventurous and colorful without being demanding in a molecular-gastro-haute-cuisine sort of way.

BB: Heh. We wanted the cooking skills required to be minimal, and not intimidating. But we also used the recipes to teach how to create meals WITHOUT a recipe. Empowering people to cook, not just instructions without the “why.”

R: I’m struck by that phrase “expanding … back to something ‘normal’…” because it occurs to me that the re-norming is not just for the kids, but also for the adults doing the shopping, preparing and cooking.

BB: Seems like our culture has completely forgotten how to cook. Which is ironic, what with Food Network on 24/7 and all. But there it is. Maybe we all just need permission TO cook again, where marketers and fast food are trying to convince us we are too busy?

R: To that point, what I really enjoy about the book are two features – the pantry shopping list at the start of the book, and the recipe index at the back that organizes things by season.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve whipped out one of my cookbooks, found a delicious recipe and then either discovered that I don’t have the ingredients in my pantry, or that it’s totally impractical from  seasonal perspective.

BB:  Well, thanks, there’s a good reason the recipes all use the same pantry. It was my pantry! I cook with what I have on hand, recipes come from that one source, so the pantry is limited and seasonal.
… [A] lot of it is all the basics with a slight obsession for spices. We’re on a weekly food budget like everyone else. Growing herbs is absolutely the one way to take your dishes to the next level. Immediate greatness.

R: It works so practically, doesn’t it? they taste great, they’re cheaper than buying those bunches of fresh herbs in the store, and the food miles become  “food feet”. what’s not to like?!

BB: And they smell amazing. And somehow even I cannot kill them. I am a lousy gardener.

R: Do you have favorite recipes in the book? People who are longtime fans of your blog … will find old favorites like the mac n cheese recipe and the Florentine meatloaf recipe. But do you have favorites?

BB: I love the wedding soup. And, hmmm, the carrot souffle. My favorites kind of change each season. I’ll make something again and remember I love it.

R: So, what’s next for you? Have you enjoyed the process [of co-authoring a book] enough to repeat it? Does your activism continue in other venues?

BB: I’m still on the path with food. Food justice is growing on my radar. There is a nagging in my heart about those who don’t have access to good food. Hard to fully enjoy a meal when there are so many still hungry. So, that’s a next step. I would like to do a next book, too. But this one has to do well first for that to happen! One thing at a time, I guess. I am also intrigued by creative solutions to feeding more people. Urban agriculture for example.

R: Food justice. Yes. It’s not enough for people to go out there and say “organic is best! Buy only organic!“ then you  go into schools or negihborhoods where they’re starved for any fresh produce, conventional or otherwise.

BB:  Definitely. Food justice is a movement because so much of it is based on empowerment. Not just handing people money for a temporary fix. I love the creativity in problem solving, it inspires me. So those are fun topics to explore.


Christmas Eating- I need ideas!

As I mentioned before, I’m hosting the holiday this year.  This is largely due to the fact that my folks (including my 96 year old grandma with her limited mobility) moved into a teeny apartment in August and my sister lives 2 hours away and her house isn’t really accessible.  I’m actually happy to do it- it’s going to be nice to have a crowd around- but it’s also going to require massive organization on my part in order for it to work.  I have a teeny house and there’s not a lot of room to hide a mess- which means I need a lot of make-ahead, crockpot, easy to serve and eat options.  So I’m once again turning to the collective wisdom of the group.

I need to plan food for Christmas Eve, Christmas day and at least one day after that.  Christmas Eve the kids and i have to be at church by 4, so I’m figuring on kid-friendly finger foods to munch on before and after and some kind of crockpot soup and bread that people can eat at their leisure throughout the evening.  However, I’ve got nothing more specific than that.  What kind of kid-friendly finger food?  Molly has to take it easy on the cheese, no one eats vegetables so…hummus?  Pepperoni? (DH is also supposed to be eating nothing with high cholesterol or too much fat or salt.)  Crackers?  Peel and eat shrimp?  Little hot dogs?  

Christmas day we always do the big spread for dinner, but breakfast?  I’ve got no memory of how we’ve done this in the past.  How do people manage to eat in the present opening frenzy?  And then dinner- how can I organize it in such a way that we don’t have to eat in the mess?  I’d figured on roast beast, potatoes, green beans and corn and rolls.  Do people do stuffing at Christmas? Again- I don’t remember.

What’s your favorite Christmas meal?  Help a girl out here.


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

For tomorrow, I am preparing a hodgepodge of foods for this vegetarian household. Yes, my brother is a vegetarian, too:

• My Cuban butternut squash stew
• Brown rice
• A rich mac n’ cheese that includes cheddar, gruyere, parmesan, and fontina cheeses. (I will post the recipe if it gets eaten!)
• A salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

For dessert, I have an apple pie and pumpkin pie I bought at a school fundraiser. I also plan to make mango margaritas. What will be on your Thanksgiving table tomorrow?

I hope you all have a festive, delicious and relaxing Thanksgiving! XO, Elisa


HELP – need recipe suggestions by tomorrow!

DS’s school is doing a “Harvest Celebration” on Wednesday.  I need something that is not too complicated to do tomorrow night.  In addition, whatever it is has to be transportable by a (fairly responsible, but still 11yo) boy, who walks to school in the morning.

I thought about corn bread/corn muffins, but would love something that’s “real food” since this will be their lunch.  I don’t want something that has to be served or eaten in bowls, since I won’t be there and have no idea who is doing the serving (want to make their lives easier).

Usually my head is full of recipes, but I just got a reminder email from teh Parent Coordinator and I’m drawing a blank!


Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

First, I need to send some props to my friend, Annabel Park, whose amazing documentary Liberty 9500 has been picked up by MTV. Liberty 9500 is about the ordinance in Prince County, Maryland, which very much like Arizona’s SB 1070, allowed for local law enforcement to pull over anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. It was interesting to see the fallout of that law, as well as the consequences of letting vocal extremists take over the government.

Annabel is also the brain behind the Coffee Party, a forum allowing people of different political persuasions to come together. I plan to attend and speak at the Coffee Party’s first conference this September 24 to 26. I will be on a few panels named “America’s Culture War: Immigration,” “Countering the Politics of Division/Advancing Equality” — with Lt. Dan Choi! — and “The Revolution Will Be on YouTube & Twitter: Online Tools.”  Yes, I will be going to Louisville, Kentucky, sitting on panels with not only fellow liberals, but conservatives from, among other movements, the Tea Party. It should be interesting and I will definitely keep you posted. But if you wish to attend — it is open to the public — here is the link. Also, if you are in the area, how about an impromptu MT meet-up? Let me know here or at elisa at mothertalkers dot com.

Also, this Saturday I will spend the day at the Los Angeles Convention Center for an event hosted by Latinos in Social Media. At 3 p.m., I will participate on a panel of Latina mami bloggers. This event is free to the public. Just register.

On another personal note, MomsRising is running a blog carnival on child nutrition this Thursday. The blog carnivals are usually well-trafficked as they are tweeted to MomsRising’s million-plus members. If you’d like to submit a piece about food, just let me know here or e-mail Anita, aka “Rolling,” at anita at momsrising dot org.

In other news: After a nasty outbreak of whooping cough in our state, the San Francisco school district will now bar unvaccinated kids from attending school for three weeks after each reported case. From Newsweek:

Every state grants vaccine exemptions based on medical need. But since the ’90s, as concern (albeit scientifically unfounded) about a link between vaccines and autism intensified, at least 20 states have allowed opt-outs for “personal belief.“ As a result, the percentage of unvaccinated kids has more than doubled nationally. And the number has quadrupled in California, where two out of three kids in some San Francisco schools are unprotected from 19th-century medical terrors.

According to the article, national advocates want to put an end to check-a-box exemptions entirely. What say you?

Also in Newsweek: Former prison chaplain Lynn Litchfield wrote a disturbing “My Turn” column about a mentally retarded woman who is about to be executed in Virginia. She would be the first woman executed in that state in 98 years. The thing is the convicted inmate, Teresa Lewis, did not carry out the killings, and the actual killers got life in prison. Hmm…random justice?

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members violates the Constitution, according to the Washington Post. The judge granted an injunction to stop the military from discharging openly gay men and women, but allowed the government time to appeal the ruling.

Here is a bummer of an article on how even “healthy” cereals can be sweet and fattening like Raisin Bran. Considering I am a sucker for General Mills’ Reese’s Puffs cereal, I should not have read this article.

How awesome is this: on her final show, Oprah Winfrey told her studio audience of 300 that she was taking them to Australia, according to MSN TV. Can I fit into your suitcase, Oprah?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Comfort foods

It seems like a lot of us are going through various upheavals in our lives these days. You guys have been so supportive of me, here and on Facebook with all of my crazy family drama, plus the saga of the unending roach infestation. Anyhow, when I am stressed out (and not battling evil demon roaches) I like to cook and bake some of my favorite comfort foods.

I think banana bread is comforting to me not only because it is warm and sweet and yummy but because my Great Gramma used to bake it for me. I could show up at a moment’s notice and she’d have a double wrapped banana bread waiting for me. She gave me her recipe and for years I tried to replicate her results (her banana bread was always perfect) but I have never been able to get it right. There are two reasons for this. One, by the time she gave me the recipe her memory had started to fail and I think she left something out, and two, I haven’t been baking anything for 80 years and that was how long she had been baking banana breads, and frying chicken, and making mashed potatoes! Her mashed potatoes were a work of art, somehow fluffy and creamy and mine are but a pale imitation.

A short list of my go-to comfort foods are

*Macaroni and cheese (the real stuff with white sauce, not the Kraft blue box)
*Green bean casserole (my Mom makes hers in a crockpot)
*grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup
*string cheese
*peanuts in a bottle of coca cola
*sweet tea and fried YELLOW tomatoes (Even better than green ones!)
*Fried chicken
*Daddy Soup (a concoction of my Dad’s, every vegetable in the fridge plus ox tails in a beef broth)
*refried beans
*homemade tamales
*Texas beef brisket
*fresh warm flour tortillas with butter

Well… it was supposed to be a short list.

Here is my recipe for refried beans

Sort and rinse 1 pound of pinto beans. Cover beans with water, water should be 3 inches over the beans.
Boil the beans for 30 minutes and then drain and discard water.
Cover the beans with fresh water (3 inches again) and add onion, bay leaf, garlic and olive oil if making vegetarian beans, bacon or bacon grease if not making vegetarian beans. Cook at a simmer for 2 hours or until beans are soft and just splitting their skins. Taste beans and add salt to taste. Drain beans and reserve some of the cooking water, then add the beans to a hot skillet coated in either oil of your choice or lard or bacon grease (yes I use lard and sometimes bacon grease) and heat the beans, mashing by hand with a potato masher until a rough puree is formed. You may need to add some of the cooking water if the beans look too dry.

When beans are done they can be tasted again to adjust flavorings and you can add tabasco, cheese, chopped jalapeños, sprinkle with epazote or leave plain.