Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Moldy Mayo & Preserving My Happiness

I’m happy to, finally, be sticking up for myself. Lately, I've found myself actively avoiding negative people, protecting myself from being a sponge for their judgment and insecurity. I don’t think negative people are bad, rather that they are in unhappy and unhealthy place in their lives. I’ve been there too, of course. But now that I’m finally happy, I need to protect this sacred space. I need to preserve it. I won’t let anyone’s negativity poison my happiness any longer. I realize some people will dislike me for my happiness. I understand that too. I hated happy people when I was unhappy. But I’ve finally found that I’d rather be happy in isolation with my fellow joyful ones, than to be able to relate to and befriend the unhappy.

I’m proud that I’m sticking up for myself in other ways, too. It seems like a silly little thing (those small things are what add up to big change, right?), but I was excited to recognize my reaction to opening a tainted jar of mayonnaise yesterday. It was a perfect sunny summer day, the kind on which I always crave potato salad because it is the food-symbol of summer for me.  So after I added up all the ingredients I’d need to make potato salad and compared them to the ingredients I had at homes in my head, I realized I was almost out of mayonnaise. I went to Whole Foods on my way home and picked up a jar of Vegan Mayo, “Nayonnaise.” When I got home, I used a pair of scissors to slit the plastic seal and underneath the lid was a fuzzy dark blue clump of mold. Disgusting. In the past, I would have thrown it out, or maybe just scraped off the mold and used what was underneath. But this time I decided I’d demand a refund. This is not something I’ve done before. I’ve never sent back food at a restaurant or returned something for being beneath my standards for quality. Plus the mayo was only, like, $3.50. But I decided I wouldn’t take it this time. Whole Foods wasn’t going to rob me, damnit!  They’d taken enough of my money over the years for overpriced cheeses and hot bar soups. I wouldn’t stand for it this time. So this morning I went back. I ran through the pouring rain in the parking lot to the monstrous and majestic brick building and asked for my money back. I received a refund of $3.48 on my credit card. Along with that, I received my dignity.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gray's Venture into Acupuncture

According to the APA's 2010 survey Stress in America, about 44-percent of Americans reported their stress levels have increased over the past 5 years. I can certainly relate to that finding- factor in my increased responsibilities, accumulating bills, forging a career path, and throw in some car trouble, failed relationships, deaths. I would say I have always been a worrier, but the past few years my anxiety has become more noticeable.

The Mayo Clinic cites some effects of stress on your body, feelings and behavior (2011)-

On your body...
Muscle tension or pain
Chest pain
Change in sex drive
Stomach upset
Sleep Problems

On your mood...
Lack of motivation or focus
Irritability or anger
Sadness or depression

On your behavior...
Overeating or undereating
Angry outbursts
Drug or alcohol abuse
Tobacco use
Social withdrawal

Ultimately, I decided that there has to be a more constructive way of dealing with my stress than drinking gin and tonics or binging on Kettle Brand potato chips (jalapeño flavor). I do have healthy coping skills (e.g. talking with friends, exercising), but when your energy and focus go out the window, even turning on the bath can become a chore.

Then there is acupuncture. For those that still don't know, acupuncture is where one stimulates various points of the body through the application of needles penetrating the skin. This technique is part of ancient Chinese medicine, used to correct imbalances in flow of qi (life energy) in the body. Disruptions of this flow are believed to be the source of disease, and various points in the body correlate with different ailments.

My sister had discovered this year the Community Health Acupuncture Center. The center opened in August 2011 in Ferndale, MI. When I heard the center used a sliding scale of $15-35 per treatment, I was sold. I decided to take a stab at acupuncture (har har).

"At CHAC we operate a community style clinic, meaning that we treat people in recliners in a room together. We are able to take care of lots of people efficiently this way...Efficiency of treatment means we can be very competitively priced." 

Considering that acupuncture treatments in Ann Arbor can be around $80 (also a $135 consultation, yikes!), the CHAC offers an affordable service to a population that might not otherwise have that opportunity (broke students, single parents, those without health insurance and the like).

Booking my appointment was fairly easy- a quick call to (248)246-7289. I was then emailed forms to fill out before my visit. One form included was a health history, where one gets to freely indulge in their hypochondriac side, ticking off symptoms left and right. Restless sleep? Check. Cold hands/feet? Check. Sadness/grief, body aches/heaviness, chest pain, sinus problems... check, check, checkity, check.

I met with one of the practitioners Darlene, who was lovely and had a soothing voice of velvet, and I told her further intimate details of my body pain and emotional stress. After narrowing down my grievances to stress, nerve/chest pain, and emotional loss, Darlene kindly explained to me the procedure. After applying the needles, she would leave me to sit and relax. Needles and people vary, but the process usually takes 30-40 minutes until you feel alert and "done."

Now, for those afraid of needles, I may not be that much of help, considering I love to donate blood every 8 weeks. However, I will say, it does not feel like getting a shot. Darlene brought the little applicator to my skin, did some light tapping on the back end to drive the needle in. I did not notice the sharp pin-point of pain until I tried moving various limbs. The sting is vary light and only occurred when I tensed my muscles.

After I received some needles in my ankles, wrist, neck and top of my head, Darlene kindly asked if I would like a blanket. Mmm, heavy, fluffy, blanket. She instructed me that when I felt done, to make eye contact with her and that she would un-pin me. I then reclined in my big comfy chair, in a room of 4 other sedated strangers, and listened to the delicate hum of the white noise machines.

I stewed for a glorious 45 minutes. I floated between the realms of consciousness and sleep, my heart rate slowed, and my deep breath moved my belly freely like that of a puppy or baby. Now- would I have experienced these same things just sitting idly with my eyes closed in a recliner with ambient noises? Probably. Though the needles did offer a heightened experience, making my targeted points tingly. I caught Darlene's eye, was uncovered and plucked free. I rose feeling loose and high. After donning my layers I arrived in, I walked out of the clinic into the crisp Winter air and felt refreshed and relaxed.

For the price and customer service, I would recommend CHAC to anyone. I figure an interdisciplinary approach to ailments is often most effective. If anything, I would recommend people branch out and try new experiences. Somewhere there is a proverb about using the old bricks builds the same house.

Live and explore!


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Quest for Snacks

From "The Kitchn" 
Happy Munching!

Prepare for your minds to be blown. Ready? Homemade energy bars. Three ingredients. No cooking. No tricks. No kidding.
How to Make Your Own Power Bars at Home
I am a huge fan of chewy, nutty, fruit-filled energy bars of the sort made by Lärabar. These little bars are enough to spur me on to an afternoon work-out and keep The Hangry at bay. It was looking at the ingredient list of my favorite Cherry Pie Lärabar that made me first consider making them myself. The ingredients were just dates, almonds, and cherries. So simple. So incredibly mind-blowing.
I tinkered with ratios a bit, but in the end, I decided to take the most straight-forward path: equal parts dried fruits, nuts, and pitted dates. Whizz them together in a food processor until they combine into a thick paste, press into a square, chill, and chop into squares for snacking. Done.
My favorite is still cherries, almonds, and dates (which are pictured here), but you can swap out the cherries and almonds for any dried fruit or nut. Keep the dates, though. They act as a binder and also sweeten the bars without needing sugar. 
You can also play around with adding other ingredients into the mix: a few tablespoons of chia seeds, a handful of coconut, even some chocolate chips. Again, keep the same ratio of the base ingredients (1 part dried fruit : 1 part nut : 1 part dates), and add the extras a bit at a time until you get a taste and texture that you like.
Making energy bars really is that simple. You'll never need to buy them again.
How to Make Your Own Power Bars at Home

How to Make Easy 3-Ingredient Energy Bars at Home

Makes 8 large bars or 16 small square-shaped bars

What You Need

1 cup nuts
1 cup dried fruit
1 cup (12-15 whole) dates, pitted
Food processor
Plastic wrap or wax paper
Sharp knife


  1. Roast the nuts (optional). Nuts can be used raw or roasted; roasting will add a toasty, nutty depth to the bars. If desired, roast the nuts at 350°F for 10-12 minutes, until fragrant and golden. Allow to cool before using. (See: How to Roast Nuts in the Oven)
  2. Combine the nuts, dried fruit, and dates in a food processor. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse a few times just to break them up. Separate the dates if they start to clump together.
  3. Process continuously for 30 seconds. By this point, the ingredients should all have broken down into crumb-sized pieces. Scrape the edges of the bowl and beneath the blade to make sure nothing is sticking.
  4. Process continuously until a ball is formed, 1-2 minutes. Continue processing for another 1-2 minutes, until the ingredients clump together and gather into a ball.
  5. Press into a disk and chill. Lay a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper on your work surface and dump the power bar dough on top. Press the dough with your hands until it forms a thick square disk, roughly 8" x 8" in size. Wrap and chill for at least an hour or overnight.
  6. Divide into bars. Unwrap the chilled power bar dough and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 8 large bars or 16 small squares, as desired. Wrap each bar in plastic wrap or wax paper.
  7. Store the bars. Store the bars in the fridge for several weeks or in the freezer for up to three months. The bars can be eaten straight from the fridge or freezer and will be firm, but chewy. Room-temperature bars are perfectly fine to eat and can be kept in a lunch bag or backpack all day, but will be more soft and paste-like.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Recipe: Peanut Butter Oreo Birthday Pops

Here's a recipe I came up with for an super easy -- yet fun and special-- birthday treat. I'd love to say they were made for my 5-year-old's kindergarten class, but alas they were made for my very-much-adult husband. (And I have no 5-year-old child.)

There really is no age limit to those who love colorful sugar on a stick.

Time: ~ 2 hours
Yields: 12 Oreo Pops

What you'll need:

-1 package Oreo cookies
-12 popsicle sticks (or 6 wooden coffee stirrers-- I just stole a handful from Starbucks and cut them in half)
-1 jar peanut butter
-1 bag semi sweet chocolate chips
-sprinkles (I used multi-colored nonpareils which stuck to the chocolate nicely, but rolled all around my kitchen floor. I'm still finding them in various nooks and crannies of the place 3 weeks later)
-parchment paper


1.) Line a cookie sheet in parchment paper
2.) Gently twist to open 12 oreo cookies
3.) Slather each non-creamed side with approx. one teaspoon peanut butter (I'd suggest the sugary jiffy-type variety over a healthier variety of peanut butter as it will spread and stick better)
3.) Press a popsicle stick (or halved coffee stirrer) onto each peanut-buttered oreo half
4.) Place a cream-covered oreo half on top of each peanut butter-and-stick-covered oreo half and press gently so the halves are securely stuck together

They should look like this: 

5.) Place pops on the cookie sheet and put in the freezer for 1 hour
6.) After 1 hour of freezing the pops, the halves should be securely affixed to the sticks. You will then need to melt your chocolate chips. (I used a make-shift double boiler, but you can also melt them in the microwave. If you go the microwave route, make sure to stop and stir them every 15 seconds to check on progress and make sure the chocolate doesn't burn.)
7.) Dunk each Oreo pop into the melted chocolate so that chocolate covers a about half of the Oreo. You may need to use a butter knife to skim off excess globs of chocolate.
8.) Place uglier-side down on the cookie sheet
9.) Shake sprinkles over the chocolate before it hardens
10.) Place the sheet of pops back into the freezer until chocolate hardens (approx. 30-60 minutes)

 Woo! You're done!

Put the pops in a parchment paper-lined decorative tin to give to the birthday boy or girl.

Or, I suppose you could fashion them into some sort of cookie bouquet. But then you're just showing off.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013