i can't do it

I can't put up text in this space without giving you a visual, too. Even if the two are wholly unrelated.

So here, have some tomatoes. And then you can go read about my morning.

treasure all the more

It's still dark at 6am. Most days it is, anyway. Today, though, there is a soft light, coming from both above and below, a glow that fills the dark air. White-blue, it feels equal parts magical and softly comforting, a light that hints of cocooning and transformation.

It's a snow day.

Last year was a very snowy winter around these parts. Kalen wasn't in school yet, so snow days weren't part of our family language, but statewide, enough days of school were missed that it became a common topic of conversation, part of the small talk at the gas station and post office and grocery store, even (insomuch as it affected municipal budgets) making it onto the local news.

At our house, it meant I had a lot of shoveling to do. For a while it seemed as if every other night, after dinner, I was out clearing the new pile of snow at the foot of our driveway left behind by the snowplow's incessant pass-bys, so that Josh could pull in when he got home.

I like to shovel. I didn't mind. (Although it became harder and harder to toss the snow onto piles that were approaching five feet tall.)

This year, though?

The ground was bare when we went to bed last night. I've only shoveled once, and that was mostly for kicks - the inch of light, fluffy snow was definitely not in anyone's way. We've had only two storms move through that left a layer of white on the ground, and each time I rushed the boys out to play in it, knowing that it was a fleeting opportunity. Soon, the air would warm, the rain would come, and the snow would be gone.

It's like we're having a Seattle winter this year.

And again today. It's not 6am any more. Closing in on 7:00, I can hear the boys stirring and beginning to chat across their bedroom. They will want to make a snow fort, or maybe a snow whale. I will need to hurry them out once again, because the air has already changed. Looking out the window as the glow fades to dawn, past the bird feeder that the cardinals take possession of in the early hours, I notice that the snow on my car has cracks in in, where it is shifting and clumping together. The precious white covering the yard is quickly loosing the smoothness of its youth, becoming pockmarked and dimpled as it ages into slush. Closer to me, the precipitation that is blowing against the window has become audible. A clickety-tapping sound that reminds me of sparkles. Icy sleet.

It's warming up. The radar says the rain is almost here. Maybe if we hurry we can get in one good snowball fight before breakfast.

These snow day windows of opportunity sure do slam shut quickly this year. Which makes me treasure all the more the times we manage to slip through them, just in time.


one I plan on keeping

I didn't resolve anything for 2012.

I considered it for about half a minute. I thought about my resolution track record, trying to remember what I'd been determined I should or shouldn't do in past years.  But I couldn't remember any of it.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, even when I have made New Year's resolutions, they have always been half-hearted, done because this is what people do, not because I actually cared about them.

Naturally, I can't remember ever accomplishing a New Year's resolution. Or feeling all that guilty about my slacking, either.

Here's the thing: my life doesn't shift at the stroke of midnight on December 31st of each year. The old year's projects and goals are never wrapped up neatly, ready to step aside for the blank slate of the new year. Fresh starts rarely correspond to January 1st in my life. And in who's life could they possibly?

Life is messy, life is jumbled, and life has no concept of the Gregorian calendar. Personal challenges come at me at all times of the year, requiring just the sort of self-awareness, concentration, and resolve that many view as the siren call of early January. And so, if in October I suddenly find myself deep in self-reflection, identifying problematic areas that need my attention, my intentions to work constructively on those issues feel far more valid, more genuine (and more likely to be accomplished) than any reluctant attempt I might cobble together in order to join the New Year's resolution party.

So there you have it. Apparently I'm a year-round resolutions gal, one who never actually uses the term 'resolution.' But self-improvement and growth are always welcome (if not necessarily with open arms), and seem at times to be a near-constant presence in my life. So what does this mean for me? A more relaxed January, for one thing, free of the pressure to change. But also a lovely, more organic sense of time, ebbing and flowing without hard stops and starts. An outlook that allows next month to be anticipated just as eagerly as next year, since they're all blank slates when you think about it. And a commitment to tackle problems now, as they arise, instead of waiting for the right or more convenient time.

Which is why, in early December, I stopped putting sugar in my coffee.

A few weeks earlier, as part of my first annual exam with a new doctor, I'd had blood drawn to "establish baseline numbers" for things like cholesterol and blood sugar, to compare against as I get older. (Yes, I was slightly miffed to be told I'm old enough to have to start worrying about those things. Turns out I should have been miffed that I hadn't been tested sooner.)

My blood sugar registered just high enough to be considered prediabetic.

Prediabetic! I was shocked, as was my doctor. I don't have any risk factors for diabetes! Except, perhaps, for a genetic tendency to have blood sugar problems in spite of a lack of obvious lifestyle risk factors, a tendency that seems to run through my father's side of the family.

Upon hearing the news, I freaked out, naturally. I vowed never to touch sugar again. I turned a blind eye to all the baking and recipe testing I'd been doing (the shortbread for the Ratio Rally, the gingerbread cookies for Williams-Sonoma's blog, the roasted pear and sweet chevre custard for 40 Paper). I began researching all the lifestyle changes a diabetes diagnosis requires, getting ready for a huge switch.

Except that . . . in all the commotion of my panic attack, I forgot that I hadn't actually been diagnosed with diabetes, and that my blood sugar numbers were low enough that my doctor was only mildly concerned. I think her exact, gentle advice was to try to increase my daily activity and eat less refined carbs, and we'd check it again later. No major lifestyle changes required right now. I calmed down and eased up on myself a little.

But still, I've dropped the sugar from my coffee in favor of honey (which I like the flavor of so much more), and went ahead and gave up my beloved morning French press for an Americano, after reading that caffeine can negatively affect blood sugar (espresso being lower in caffeine, since it's in contact with the coffee grounds for a much shorter time). I ate very few treats over the holidays, giving away much of the chocolate and cookies and candy that made it into our house. I'm making a concerted effort to add more low-glycemic foods to our already-healthy eating habits, despite the kids' near-constant requests for pasta. And I'm working on the increased activity part (realizing, finally, that being on my feet all day and chasing after my kids doesn't cut it as exercise).

It almost sounds like I made a resolution, doesn't it? Somehow, with the slight timing difference and health scare aspect of it, it doesn't feel like a New Year's one to me, and I'm adamant about not calling it a resolution, but it's certainly a commitment to change. And one I plan on keeping.

Interestingly, it doesn't (yet) feel all that hard to me. I think living gluten-free helps. Having been told many years ago that celiac disease requires you to permanently change what you eat encourages an attitude of more easily accepting that your eating habits need to reflect what your body does and does not need. No gluten? No big deal, there's plenty else to eat. So now, if my body needs me to stick to blood sugar-friendly foods, well then, that's just what I'll do. I've still got plenty of options, and the kitchen knowledge to make whatever I might be craving.

Except for . . . the cheating. With celiac, cheating isn't an issue. You simply don't do it. But the idea of suddenly (cold turkey, if you will) giving up all refined sugar and all starchy, carbohydrate-heavy foods doesn't sit well with me. I've always believed in the merits of eating everything in moderation, and now is no different. So I'm bucking pretty hard against the notion that I need to avoid sweet potatoes, and corn tortillas, and bananas. (And what about chocolate???) I love them. I consider them healthy. And I can't give them up. But with moderation, and creative food pairings, I think I'll be okay.

In this spirit of being gentle to both myself and my expectations of myself, I made this Thai-inspired dinner the other night. The peanut sauce is delicious and versatile, and the dish is full of lean protein, but embarrassingly few vegetables make an appearance, and certainly the rice sticks are not on the "good" list of low-glycemic foods. I'm okay with that. We rarely eat rice sticks. We eat vegetables all the time. And sometimes, you just have to give in to your cravings.

Which might be another good New Year's non-resolution.

Chicken and Pork with Thai Peanut Sauce and Rice Sticks
Yields 4 servings

For the sauce:
6 tablespoons natural crunchy peanut butter
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about ½ a lime's worth)
2 tablespoons gluten-free tamari
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (we like Huy Fong brand, adjust amount according to preference)
½ teaspoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil

For the rest of the dish:
¼ red onion, finely diced, divided
½ pound ground pork
2 chicken thighs, deboned and the meat coarsely chopped
½ package (about 4 ounces) rice sticks, softened in boiling water
4 tablespoons peanut oil, for sautéing
lots of fresh basil, coarsely torn, for garnishing
lime wedges, for garnishing

Make the sauce:
Combine all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until combined. More water can be added to adjust consistency. Set aside.

Finish the dish:
In a large skillet, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add half of the diced onion to the pan (reserving the rest for garnishing), and sauté until it softens. Add the chopped chicken and ground pork to the pan, season with kosher salt, and cook until the meat is cooked through. Off the heat, stir in one third of the peanut sauce.

Drain the rice sticks and thoroughly toss them with one third of the peanut sauce. Divide among four bowls, top with cooked meat and garnish with remaining diced onion, torn basil leaves, lime wedges, and remaining peanut sauce.
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