Speaking Out, Part Two

{I’m away this week. In addition to the delights of being with family & friends, I had the opportunity to speak to a MOPS group in New Jersey. I’m going to share some of the talk with you here. If I get my tech stuff together, I might even go all fancy and post it as a podcast so you can hear my squeaky little voice. Here’s the second of three parts.}

I have to condense the story here, but I want to tell you two things that helped me get to the place I am now, which, admittedly is not perfect, but which is undoubtedly a much, much happier place, a place where I can have the occasional chocolate croissant with a cup of coffee with cream and not feel “dirty” or like I need to go run 6 miles to “get rid of it.”

OK, first thing. First thing, I started reading the Bible with an eye toward what it said about food. Not in the, you know, Ezekiel Bread kind of way, as in, “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer,  and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it.” I love it that you can find, you know, Ezekiel 4:9 bread in the health food store, but the lying on your side for a year plus one month? So weird, and no one is going to build any kind of health practice on that!

But, in seriousness, I began to see how food in the Bible is this powerful symbol of God’s love and care and provision for people.

God sets up the garden of Eden with great food ripe for the picking.

God feeds the Israelites in the desert without their having to work for it.

God’s word, God’s love, is described again and again like sweet, rich food–like milk, like honey

Jesus actually feeds people–think of the five loaves and two fish. Think of the wedding at Cana.

Jesus says He is the Bread of Life.
The end of all things: the vision of God’s renewed, restored, perfect world is a party with great food.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live.”

This was not a God that wanted to punish me for enjoying food. This was a God who wanted me to taste and see that His gifts are good. That enjoying them, and giving thanks for them was NOT unspiritual. That eating and enjoying food might actually be a way of connecting with God. This was something to think about.
The second “thing” that happened, after that, was that my son was born. And in the process of being pregnant with him and nursing him (and realizing that in feeding myself, I was actually feeding HIM) I came to realize that what I ate influenced more people than just me. And somewhere I read some article that really scared me, about how mothers with disordered thoughts and behaviors around food and eating were likely to pass that on to their kids.
(And, by the way, some studies estimate that 3 out of 4 American women are disordered in their eating behaviors.)
I came to realize how much I wanted to protect my son from that sadness and struggle. I wanted him to enjoy his food and love his body in that carefree way that children do. In that carefree way that I once did.
Like I said, I’m not perfect. And there is no one single path to finding peace with food, peace with your body, peace with God. This has been my path. Yours is probably somewhat different. But I will say this: I’m really certain that eating together–as families, as friends, as women–and enjoying food–is powerful, powerful stuff.

The last part of the talk will appear tomorrow.

My (Mis) Adventures in France

One of the major perks of the whole overseas Ph.D. thing was increased travel opportunities. There was even the opportunity for us to tag along with Tim to study French in Paris for a month with the bill largely footed by a grant! Sounds perfect, right?

Perfect, it most certainly was not.

In August of 2009, we Stones availed ourselves of this opportunity and booked what seemed like a reasonably decent apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. To tell the truth, I had a weird feeling about the apartment and the character that we were doing business with, a feeling that was confirmed when, upon being dumped by our shuttle taxi, we proceeded to sit with our two tiny kids and four huge suitcases on the grimy sidewalk for two hours before a man in a down vest and wool pork-pie hat (ahem. IN AUGUST.) finally arrived to let us into the apartment.

{This is for the search engines: Gilles Bourgogne Paris apartment rental scam warning. Consider yourself warned.}

It wasn’t that there was no apartment. It was that the apartment in question was completely filthy dirty to an extreme degree. As in, only dirty sheets. As in, rotting food in the fridge and garbage cans. As in, piles of junk everywhere. As in, no toilet paper or towels. And the person we were dealing with was really obviously untrustworthy. As in, lied to us. Obviously. And a lot.

So we did not stay there. Well, we did. For the night. On sheets whose cleanliness status was decidedly indeterminate. Having nightmares of bugs crawling on me.

{Not exactly Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Bonjour, Pah-reee!}

The unfortunate housing disaster turned into a happy event because I got to meet the legendary Nora, who resides near Paris, and stay with her for the month, during which time my dear husband demolished her deck and built a new one, my son slipped on a wet floor in Franprix and broke his leg, an old man exposed himself to me while I was walking with my (mercifully oblivious) children, the Franprix denied any liability for the unmarked wet floor because we didn’t “report” the accident at the moment it happened (we needed to report a 4 year old shrieking in pain as uniformed employees gaped at us?) My other son got heatstroke, and, THANK GOD, my mom visited for a week.

take it from my son. never let a broken leg stop you from taking the opportunity to sit on larger-than-life bear statues.

Because we were headed to Germany next, we sent our luggage on with a baggage service, Sernam, that somehow managed to “lose” the one bag with lots of adorable petite ladies’ clothing from my sister-in-law’s store.

{I do not think that was an accident. Sernam, I won’t go all Mattie Ross on you because when it comes to revenge I’m much more Les Miserables than Comte de Monte Cristo, but stealing that bias-cut polka dot dress with the red sash that made me feel, however improbably, like a 1950s film star? That? That was cold.}

Oh, and then, on the taxi ride from our beautiful guardian angel Nora’s to the train station, Graeme vomited all over himself and me. And then, when we arrived in Goettingen, Tim got stuck on the train, leaving me with several small bags and two small boys, one of whom had a thigh-high cast. (The other was a mere 16 months old.)

And yet? I still think fondly of our time in Paris. Why?

Well, our friend there. What a gift to have met her. We clicked immediately and laughed ourselves silly over everything and nothing and ate and drank and enjoyed life together. When I think of her hospitality in contrast to the series of unfortunate events we experienced in France, I am as profoundly grateful as I was on that August Sunday when her adorable convertible pulled in front of that crazy apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. More so, actually.

And, yes, you knew it was coming: the food. It’s not that every meal in Paris is haute cuisine. It’s just that the food there, to a much greater degree, is raised and prepared and served with so much care, so much attention to detail, so much love. So much joy. I’m not sure what magic they’re working with food there, but they even have a whole store of frozen food that’s quite delicious, Picard.

{David Sedaris mentions his love for Picard in his hilarious contribution to the Americans in Paris episode of This American Life. You can listen online for free here.}

Yes, good French baguettes really are that amazing. And the breakfasts we shared each day–nothing fancier than coffee with cream and baguettes with sweet butter and various delicious preserves–were some of the best breakfasts of my life. And then, of course, there was the pain au chocolat. And the beautiful, fresh summer salads. And the filet of beef Nora made, barely cooked. And the gratin d’endives au jambon, made by the same lovely person.

Not fancy food. Not “healthy” food, to our American notions of health. Just simple food, prepared well, and enjoyed in good company.

Oh yeah. You knew it was coming. French goats!

Sure, we visited the Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, and so on. It’s not that the food was better than those things, or even in the same category, really. But when I think of our time in France, in the cost-benefit analysis, what balances all the crappy things is not having seen the Mona Lisa, or the Louis XIV’s palace, though that was cool (but the Musee d’Orsay was cooler). It’s having made a friend, and, for a time, having lived as a family with that friend, and the means of that grace was then–and is now, when I make Nora’s potatoes to remember–food.

Food, a means of grace and remembrance?

(Sound familiar?)

Tomorrow I’ll try to post a recipe for pain au chocolat.


Am I too thin to say “accept your body”?

Last week, I received a comment on the Audrey Hepburn post–in which I urged that one can be beautiful no matter their size–that gave me something to think about. You can read the comment in full on the original post (here), but this snippet sums up the basic point:

“This is a message that is very lovely, but I have to say…you look beautifully thin in all of your pictures. It seems to me that it is somewhat easier to share the epiphany now your figure is closer to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

I have already responded, and you can read my response in full, but the question implied in the comment has continued to pester me. Would I be as happy/contented with food and my body if I were NOT thin?

This is what I’ve concluded: that THIN does not = the source of my happiness.

(Not to mention, there are PLENTY of ways in which I fail to meet our culture’s standards of beauty. I do believe I actually WEIGH MORE than Audrey Hepburn ever did–and I’m, what, ten inches shorter than she was?! I’ve even got me some visible attributes–low muscle tone, spotty-lookin’ teeth (the front ones are caps), scoliosis, blue sclera, skin that’s thin and easily bruised–of a bona-fide genetic disorder! My “defects” are in my DNA, people!)

But you know? We all carry marks of our brokenness–whether visible or not.

These days, though, I’m pretty much comfortable and content with my body, scars and bumps and all. I have a healthy relationship with food and I’m reasonably active and things like {food/exercise/my body} don’t take up an inordinate amount of my time or my mental space–my contentment is NOT because I’m a certain size, a certain weight, or a certain level on some index.

Here’s the strange thing: my body hasn’t really EVER changed all that dramatically (you know, except for the pregnancies). Yet ten years ago, this body was a torment to me, and I had no idea how to eat without overdoing it or under-eating or just plain feeling guilty all. the. time.

I was terrified of food, terrified because LIKE ALL NORMAL HEALTHY PEOPLE, I liked food. I thought that indifference to food was ideal, and all interest in food was gluttonous, possibly sinful, and would make me fat. Thing is, it’s kinda hard to avoid eating. So I would eat, but because I felt so disconnected from my body and my appetite, I never could seem to feel contented and satisfied. I was also terrified that I would lose control and eat too much, which happened too, sometimes, because, again, I was so disconnected.

Now here’s an important point. I don’t think that this way of thinking is particular to me or in any way unique. Rather, I think it is a way of thinking that is particular to a consumerist culture. This is not to evade responsibility for my own thoughts and actions, but instead, to put those in a bigger context.


Think of all the ads for weight loss products and programs and gym memberships and everything else. They always carry with them the promise (the lie) that YOU YOU YOU can change your body–that it’s raw material for shaping any way you desire–if only you’ll buy this, do that, have enough control, pray enough, or whatever. And think of food advertising and the general culture surrounding food today: it’s all about having it YOUR way and making things suit YOUR taste and shaping YOUR identity through what you consume (I AM a vegetarian, I AM an organic consumer, a dieter, an overeater, or whatever.)

And think of all the cultural baggage surrounding eating and dieting and thinness. This quote from Harriet Brown, author of Brave Girl Eating, a memoir of her daughter’s anorexia, seems to me particularly true of our culture:

“We…have fallen for the notion that food is a regrettable necessity. As if the ideal, the holy grail we are all working toward, is to do without food altogether—and as if we not only should but could attain this state, were we good enough, determined enough, strong enough. As if that’s what we should want.”

But you know what?

All of this stuff? It’s very ME focused. And THAT–not overeating, not being overly fastidious, and certainly NOT loving food–is the essential definition of gluttony: your stomach gets in the way of loving God and your neighbor.

I no longer see my body as a raw material to be shaped by my own willpower with the help of consumer products–I see it as the handiwork of a wise and wonderful Creator.

And I no longer feel guilty admitting that I LOVE food!–Because I see it as a gift from God and the fruit of rich and complex histories involving both nature and culture.

Am I only able to feel this way because I’m a certain size and shape? I don’t think so. Truly, I no longer buy the lie that only THIN is beautiful. I’ve known too many truly beautiful people who didn’t conform to any standard of beauty in any way.

And I’ve known too well the ugliness–within myself, an ugly self-centeredness–that comes from an obsession with thinness (and looks in general). If God had seen fit to build me big instead of small–or if the years see me growing rounder (which they probably will)–I really hope my message would (will) be just the same:

~Your body is a gift, but who YOU are does not = your body.

~Your beauty does not depend on your looks.

~Food is a gift meant to be eaten–WITH JOY.

{Of course there’s more to my story than this, but I’m saving other parts for other days. Meanwhile, Thank you for your comments. I welcome them eagerly and treasure each one.}


Moment of Joy

Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule’s {this moment}, I’m following a Friday ritual: posting a single photo–no caption, no words–from the week capturing a moment or an idea expressing something related to {family, faith, food; joyful justice & bread of life} —a Moment of Joy. If you would like to do the same, leave a link to your photo in the comments!


In Defense of Frozen Food

“I can’t eat local–what would I possibly eat in January–turnips?!”

Not necessarily. Because whether you grow your own food or purchase locally grown food, you can PRESERVE some of it for winter! And it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need any special skills or equipment, unless boiling water is beyond your skill-set and a colander isn’t among your kitchen tools. And you know what? Many, many vegetables are BEST preserved by freezing rather than canning. (Think of the difference between frozen green beans and canned–which is most like fresh?)


True, some of the flavor and texture is lost through the freezing process, which is why you will prepare your frozen veggies differently than you would if they were fresh. You might make a Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, like so:

yum! look for the recipe on Sunday...

But you couldn’t replicate that salad in winter by pulling out the frozen tomatoes. You could, however, put them into any number of delicious soups, stews, and sauces. And, as Barbara Kingsolver points out, since they won’t have traveled any distance in the meantime–they’ll still be local.

“But what about VITAMINS? Aren’t fresh vegetables healthier than and preferable to frozen ones?!”

Actually, very few vitamins are lost in the freezing process. Even commercially frozen foods can be nutritionally superior to their fresh (but imported) counterparts, because food is frozen at the peak of freshness. By contrast, fresh vegetables transported long distances lose a marked amount of vitamins over the course of their trip from the field to your plate.

And as to the question of environmental friendliness, I certainly feel better about buying US-grown frozen broccoli in December than buying broccoli that has been shipped FROM CHILE.


To reiterate–you don’t necessarily have to grow your own. In fact, if you can find a local source for vegetables (and no matter where you live, you probably can), you may get a discount for purchasing a large amount in bulk. This helps the farmer and it helps you–if you know how to preserve the food. For example, local farmstands where I live are currently charging about 70 cents per ear of corn. If you buy a bushel (about 40 ears) it costs $10.

So what do you do with those hypothetical ears of corn? This method is the simplest and easiest and applies to many, many different vegetables:

1. Dip prepared (ie, trimmed and cut) vegetables into boiling water for 3 minutes.
2. Immediately dunk into COLD water and rinse to stop the cooking.
3. Pat dry with clean kitchen towels and pack into freezer containers/bags.

I was given a vacuum sealer, but it's in storage in California. That's what I get for moving 5x in 8 years...so these are just plain ol' freezer bags.

*UPDATE*

Ellen asked whether I have a dedicated freezer. I do–it’s one we’re borrowing from church, since they’re not currently using it. If that one wasn’t available, I’d be shopping around for a second-hand freezer, for sure. They’re quite energy-efficient (since they are opened only once in a while). Of course, space for a freezer is not always in great supply, especially if you live in an apartment (which I have done most of my adult life.) So this defense of frozen food may be somewhat unfairly biased toward home-dwellers. However, the basic point–freezing food isn’t hard!–still stands.

*END OF UPDATE*

That’s it! You can readily get more details in this book or elsewhere on the net. (UPDATE: lovely tutorial here.) Or you can ask me! (Not that I’ll know the answer, but I’d be happy to hear about whatever preservation adventures you may be on…)

Oh, and some of my favorite winter recipes take frozen vegetables very well. You can see them here!

And the best part? When you’ve frozen your own veggies in summer and fall (whether home grown or grown locally by someone else), you get a bit of a taste of the warmer months during the colder ones. And that’s fun!