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Today is a good day.

It’s good despite a certain physical discomfort I’m really trying hard to restrain myself from writing about again. But how not to when my high school classmate contacts me via skype earlier today, and when I say I won’t be able to chat long due to the above mentioned experiencing of pain, she bluntly asks:

“Is that perhaps the famous PMS?”

We haven’t spoken in a decade, mind you, minus an email here and there. Dumbfounded I utter:

“But how do you know???”

“From your blog!”

Ah. That. Though I haven’t written about this one yet. YET.

The day is good nonetheless. It’s great. It’s FESTIVE & CELEBRATORY. Here’s why. Something happened today, something unprecedented, at least as of the year two thousand and six…

It was one of those exotically warm days in October, back in 2006. It was exotic to me, as I had just moved to Los Angeles from quite positively four-seasoned New York City. Don’t forget also that I grew up in Poland. Four ever changing seasons was all I knew till then. It must have been one of those summery days of Californian fall in 2006 when my ass was wrapped in a pair of my favorite jeans for the very last time. As never after it was able to fit again. Until this day…

Today I pulled the old buddies out of the closet where they sat in the dark corner forgotten and in disgrace since TWO-THOUSAND-AND-SIX. I dug them out from underneath a pile of all those new guys I collected in the meantime. And just like that, suddenly inspired, four years later I tried to reunite the best of me with the best of the blue jean kind. And it worked!

Truth be told, it did require me to HIP-HOP some, and then to CHA-CHA-CHA a little bit more in order to tuck every last bit of me inside of those pants. Nevertheless it WORKED! Not only was I able to zip and button up, but also I am able to sit in those jeans as I type these words. Initially I tried the desk chair first for it’s adjustable, then the couch as it’s lower thus more challenging. In the end I was rolling on the floor exchanging hugs, tears, kisses and stories with my best buds who have returned home at last.

About this photo… May I inform you that my legs go for inches and inches beyond the frame of this photograph, so don’t be fooled by skewed proportions. Also, Cosmo is a very SMALL dog. A miniature really. What you’re looking at are legs… thin and all-the-way-to-my-tuchas long. Note that at the time of taking this photo my tuchas was sitting at the neighbors’ kitchen table.

Well, then. Now you know WHAT. Time to reveal HOW. Let’s omit the part where I skyrocketed three sizes up in the first place, about four years ago. The first two sizes left me shortly after I met Jason and fell in love. They just packed their stuff and went on their own, leaving no letter good-bye. Not that I ever missed them. But that last little size got stuck. Let me assure you that I didn’t even mind it in the end. I was comfortable in my skin at last, for the very first time in my life really, and it didn’t matter that much what the scale underneath me said. I wouldn’t even step on one, because who cares!

Lately, however, Jason and myself found motivation to get back to the gym, as we do every few months or so. Jason was complaining about a few extra pounds he no longer wished on him. I needed to get my core muscles stronger for those long hours of dancing around the kitchen when at work. Every child knows, however, that no exercise will bear results if the diet ain’t right. Hence, following the wisdom of many trainers that crossed my path (whose secret equation for losing weight is: 70% diet, 30% physical torture), we decided to switch dinners and lunches around.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been sending Jason to work with his lunchbox full of hearty and filling goods so he has enough energy for a jog when off duty. And then, after the gym, instead of stuffing ourselves with a bowl of pasta or rice, we simply enjoy a nutritious salad, full of natural vitamins and metabolism-boosting enzymes along with a touch of protein (nuts, chicken, fish, cheese, beans, etc.) and healthy fats (olive oil or walnut oil, nuts, avocados, and such).

This salad-eating also forces me to keep inventing new dishes and re-inventing what’s known and out worn. Above you see a version of a coleslaw. It’s crunchy like the traditional one with slivers of radishes, ribbons of red cabbage, and thin slices of Green Apple. It’s full of toasted walnuts that take the edge off the apple’s tartness. The dressing is somewhat familiar, though made with a non-fat Greek yogurt (like in my slaw recipe I posted here). However, there’s butter lettuce in the place of white cabbage, sprinkled with poppy seeds and thus turning the mix into a brand new experience. And trust me, a plate full of this salad, where you must work out your jaws on each bite, will keep you satiated till you’re ready for bed.

What do you do with the left over cabbage, you ask. It’s a good question. Let me also applaud you for purchasing the whole head in its natural form versus already shredded one and packed in plastic. Use those crunchy ribbons as a color-booster on all the different types of salads. Not only does it add esthetic value, but also texture and anti-oxidants, calcium, potassium, and loads of vitamin C, K and A.

Here’s another variation on a salad that served as post-work out dinner for Jason and moi. As seen above, its an abundance of sautéed kale with shallots, garlic, and tomato over roasted young potatoes, with added crunch of red cabbage, persian cucumber slices and paper-thin slivers of radishes. Needless to say, it is a warm, comforting, and filling plate of … vegetables. Yet it won’t weigh you down just hours before saying sayonara to your day.

The bottom line is this: exercising is undoubtedly good for keeping my butt cheeks closer together, tighter I mean, less jiggly and more bouncy. It also allows my back to stay firm and strong during those 8-10 hour shifts in the kitchen when on my feet at all times. However, it’s those hearty SALADS FOR DINNER that let my bottom jewel shrink enough to fit in my old blue jeans and wiggle woogie-boogie.

I think I won’t be parting with these for a while… My ass can’t be trusted.

I read in a magazine once that the best day for grocery shopping is Wednesday. After a thorough analysis of the results of a poll the authors ran, and based on the database collected, it was concluded the stores were least crowded on the third day of a week.

A whole lot of people must have read the same snippet in the magazine, as my local Trader Joe’s was bursting with fruit colors and soap bubbles when I arrived right past the lunch hour yesterday. Shopping carts were jamming at the front door, people pushing through, cars coming in and out of the parking lot, food disappearing from the shelves. You’d think Armageddon was coming, but I checked on my calendar that in fact March 3rd was WHAT IF CATS AND DOGS HAD OPPOSABLE THUMBS? DAY.

That surely explains the commotion at the grocery on the least frequented day in a week.

The last few days have been strongly affected by a craving rollercoaster. Since Monday, I think I stepped out of the refrigerator and paused consumption to take care of three things only – to walk Cosmo (as it would be embarrassing), brush my teeth (awkward), and when going to sleep (messy!). My right bicep is sore from the constant lifting forkfuls and spoonfuls of food to the opening in my head.

You know what I miss? I never thought I would say this but I miss being hungry. I want to feel empty for a change. Here’s a solution. While I wait for the estrogen levels to drop, I shall fill my refrigerator with foods that are filling, packed with fiber and digestion-boosting enzymes, just like my WHEAT BERRY SALAD. It tastes divine. It looks beautiful and appetizing. It’s crunchy and labor-intensive for the jaws, forcing you to chew your meal longer while enjoying its interlacing flavors and working out at the same time. Brilliant!

WHEAT BERRY SALAD

-       1 – 1.5 cups wheat berries, cooked

-       1 romaine lettuce, chopped

-       1 sm package of mixed greens

-       2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

-       1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

-       1/2 cup scallions, chopped

-       1/3 cup toasted pine nuts, cooled off

-       3 tbsp goat cheese, crumbled

-       1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

DRESSING

-       1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

-       1/3 cup flax seed oil (or use only olive oil)

-       1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

-       1 tsp Dijon mustard

-       1 tbsp honey

-       pinch of salt, pepper and garam masala to taste

Bowl. Toss. Dress. Toss. Serve. Eat.

Abracadabra, cravings be GONE! P-O-O-F.

I have nothing to say to you today. It’s not personal, I swear. I like you all, every single one of you just the same amount, and the amount is rather significant.

It’s possible I’m suffering from a less known, and yet quite peculiar form of the Samson Syndrome. (Remember the story of Samson and Delilah?) I got a haircut today, and quite possibly along with the hair I lost my brainpower.

Another explanation could be hiding in my estrogen high. The hormone’s levels have been rising for a few days now, and such high tide usually pushes all reason away through my ears. There’s probably one lingering thought still roaming inside my skull. If I stay still for a minute I can actually hear it stumble upon pieces of leftover furniture in my head. It falls down, bounces against the walls, and….Wait, I can hear it now… Holly cow, I think the last rational thought I had left has just committed suicide and jumped off the cliff!

Popcorn anyone?

Luckily, I have a recipe sitting around that I had put together for my clients earlier, and now I can just pretty much copy & paste it here for your satisfaction. That requires little to NO thinking on my part. And who knows, you may actually go bananas over the salad. Check it out!

GREEN SALAD WITH MANGO & BASIL VINAIGRETTE

This guy’s name is Foeniculum vulgare, or simply Fennel for close friends. Boy, is he vulgar! And it has anise flavor to add insult to injury. Hence, it makes a perfect sense paired with sweet and tart mango and intermixed with intensely green greens. Toasted pignoli not only add body to the salad, but also round its edges. Try it and you’ll understand what I mean by that.

Fennel may look scary at the first glance, but in reality he’s a pussy cat. With a sharp knife chop the green top off, then quarter the bulb. Using the tip of your paring knife cut out the “core” in each quarter, as it’s too hard to bite, thus no longer pleasant. Now slice the fennel into paper-thin pieces. Voila! Ready for the salad.

Ingredients:

-       1 bag of green salad mix

-       fennel, thinly sliced

-       ripe mango, diced

-       1/4 cup raw pine nuts (pignoli)

-       scallions, chopped

-       fresh basil, a bunch

-       extra virgin olive oil

-       white balsamic vinegar

-       honey

-       salt + pepper to taste

Get comfortable and toast your nuts, then set the pignoli aside to cool. Empty the greens into a large bowl. Add paper-thin slices of fennel, mango cubes, chopped scallions, and the pine nuts.

Using a blender or Magic Bullet, mix together 3 tbsp of olive oil with 1 tbsp of vinegar, a bunch of fresh basil leaves, salt, pepper and a touch of honey. Taste the dressing, and if approved by your taste buds sprinkle it over the salad mix, toss about, and serve along the Chicken Thighs dish we made last time. (You know, that night you and me had an online rendez-vous playing with those THIGHS and sipping white wine by the candlelight…shhh!)

I have this ridiculously decadent recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies that Jason won’t let me make… dammit!

He simply doesn’t trust himself around anything chocolate, especially if it’s merged with peanut butter (or even sat next to it for that matter), as he knows both his poise and self-control would instantly strip naked and offer themselves in exchange for the aforementioned delight.

Unfortunately, it puts me in a very awkward situation on days like today when, after 48 hours of mood swings due to estrogen overdose I’m stuck in the wall teeth first…  In desperate times nothing can stop me from satisfying my various PMS cravings, plaster included. One day it’s calcium, then iron, and most commonly magnesium. When the levels of the latter deplete, my mind goes blank for a split of a second, and when I recover my senses I realize the control panel in my head has turned on the red emergency light that flashes: CHOCOLATE.

NOTHING will prevent me from finding a piece of chocolate and holding on to it with the whole might of my jaws, like a rat that escaped from a sinking ship clenching to a raft with all that it’s got – nails, tails, teeth, harpoons, anchors, etc. Nothing, not even the stack of brand new jeans (two sizes down from the last pair I purchased mind you!) recently piled up in my closet, will stop me from satisfying THE craving.

Those jeans will stick around and I’m determined to use them as long as they fully cover my ass. One day their status will become a reminder of my “pre-pregnancy weight”. (Thanks, Heather, for your post. I’m learning so much ahead of time!) On those days I’ll be desperate to get the chocolate OUT of the grasp of my jaws, and lock it away in a chocolate jail with no option for a bail out.

Until then, however, play that funky music, white boy! Give me some of that rich and bittersweet chocolaty bite that will melt on my tongue and coat it with sheer satisfaction. I know my heart rate will rise, shivers will run down my spine, and I’ll salivate releasing serotonins that will ultimately take me to the peak of that mountain called O. Meanwhile, perfectly oblivious to all of it, Jason will continue to put out various work related fires instead of going on this hike with me… if you know what I mean.

How might I satiate this craving when the house is chocolate proof and the closest thing to sweets I can find is a half empty jar of Dijon mustard in the refrigerator? My eyes hopelessly slide down the carton of eggs, pickles, sliced turkey, my cheese-less pesto… EGGS! I got it! Suddenly it all comes together and I know what steps to take to get me to my Happy Ending!

The answer is… KOGEL-MOGEL. I’m going back to my roots again. Kogel-Mogel is – I assure you – a real word and not an Agi-ism. It is a Polish name for a kind of mousse we used to make back in the day when sweets were scarce, and all one could find on shelves in a grocery store was vinegar. Yes, it was a very different world from everything you know.

To make Kogel-Mogel you need at least one egg, 2-3 tsp of sugar, and as much of cocoa powder, plus a mug and a teaspoon to mix it all with. If you’re lazy, or want to get fancy, go ahead and grab your handheld mixer – life is hard enough as it is. Now, separate the egg white from the yolk. Save the egg white for later in a closed container inside of your refrigerator. You can use it tomorrow for the Scrambled Eggs with Roasted Acorn Squash for example, or merengues, or whatever else you want.

Drop the egg yolk into the prearranged mug, add the sugar and whip it together using the mixer. It will take a couple of minutes until the sugar is fully incorporated, thus making the egg yolk fluffy and thick at the same time. It will at least double if not triple in volume. Now turn off the mixer and add your cocoa powder (70% and organic is my preference). Whip it again for 30 seconds and YOU ARE DONE, my friend!

Chocolate Kogel Mogel

Go ahead and lick the mixing whisk… clean it good. You don’t have much in that mug, so take your time and dress your tongue with small servings of the chocolate mousse you’ve just made. Delight in it. Close your eyes, open your mouth and feel the pleasure with all your senses. Start climbing that mountain, and don’t look back. The world will pause and observe with envy as you get higher and higher. Forget the world, let go, breathe, relax, moan, and be free… Experience the O.

Today was NOT a good day. Today was one of those 12 days (one for each month of a year) when common sense and reason both get high on hormones, and start trippin’.

Besotted and betrayed by my own body like that, I sunk into the couch with a laptop in front of me, trying to produce… something. Anything!

Tic-tock. Tic-tock. Hours went by, and failure was evident. Frustration filled me inch by inch, from the tips of my fingers to the split ends of my hair (kidding, no split ends here!), to my eyeballs and kidneys, my spine, and every cell of my body. When it reached its tipping point, an eruption tore the air and sparkling lightning bolts of anger flew up to the roof. Agi's Lightning Bolts

Lightning of AngerNext, a piercing tearstorm rolled in and washed me away from the couch. Sinister winds threw me, gasping for air, headfirst into the bedroom and onto a pile of pillows.

At that, my Brave Knight Jason, flabbergasted and terrorized by what he had just witnessed, composed himself in an instant, mounted his white horse and galloped into the room, following me, his Princess Insane. He wasted no time. Sir Jason reached deep into the folds of his cape, pulled out a glossy flask and rapidly applied the only antidote he ever knew to work – his loving touch and caressing words. He dropped them gently, like pearls, on my neck, behind my ears, and into my hair. He laid on top of me cradling me with his body, and patiently waited for the potion to work its magic.

It did. Not even five minutes passed when we were both laughing out loud and rolling all over the bed. Another fifteen minutes later, we collected our garments scattered about the floor. An afternoon quickie is the sword that vanquishes my 12 Day Syndrome every time.

How do I segue to food after such a freak out? The only thing that jumps at me is a frikkin’ good Chai Chicken with FREEKEH. It’s a dish I invented when I first started experimenting with dinners for my muse.

Since I don’t know the exact measurements, free-styler that I am, I promise to make every effort to retrace each step of the process.

I bought a package of an organic and free-range chicken with 3 breasts. Wait, the chicken did not have 3 breasts! I bought 3 breasts of chicken, I’m pretty sure not OF the same chicken, that happened to be sealed into one package.

At home, I washed my hands, then the chicken breasts, cut them in half-inch-thick strips, and into a hot sauté pan I tossed them along with a chopped onion. I then washed my hands again, as you do when dealing with raw meat. I let the two cook in a tablespoon of coconut oil, with a generous pinch of salt (or two) and freshly ground black pepper. I tossed the mixture around, making sure all sides of the chicken were getting the same heat treatment, and added about 1 tbsp of curry powder, 1 tsp of garam masala, and dusted it all with nutmeg. Also into the mix went about a tablespoon of finely ground ginger, minced garlic, and a handful of chopped fresh mint leaves.

Mint+Thyme+Dill

About 7 minutes into the party, there was no moisture left in the pot, which indicated the chicken was ready for a coconut bath. I emptied a 14 oz. can of coconut milk into the sauté pan, mixed all, brought it to boil and instantly reduced the heat to minimum. 10 – 15 minutes later the dish was ready. Before serving, however, I always taste the food, for it may be lacking another pinch of salt or a kick of another sort. I suggest you do the same. Trust your taste buds!

This dish will go swimmingly well with brown rice, or – as we prefer – with FREEKEH. What is it? It’s an immature wheat grain that is roasted in the process of preparation. It originated in the Arabic countries once upon a time, where it’s known as farîk. I think it’s a phenomenal substitute for rice, as it excels in fiber and protein while low in carbohydrates. Freekeh is also rich in vitamins as well as calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. It’s not rocket science to cook it either. Take a cup of whole grain freekeh and 5 cups of cold water, teaspoon of salt (or not), bring to boil in a pot, and simmer for another 25 minutes, or until soft and chewy.

Pour the curry-coconut milk sauce with strips of chicken over the grain, and voila. As a side dish, I propose Avocado & Grapefruit Salad. Finger-lickin’ good, I tell ya!!

Here’s how I make it:

- I start with a dressing (see below);

- cut 4 ripe avocados in thick strips, put into a bowl with the dressing and gently cover all sections of avocado with it, set on a platter in a circle;

- peel 2 grapefruits like an apple removing all skin and the pith, then cut out just the sections of the fruit and fill the center of the platter with them, over the avocado pieces;

- squeeze the grapefruit juice out of the “core” all over the sections;

- using a spoon sprinkle more dressing all over the salad;

- grind some fresh black pepper all over.

For the dressing I use:

- extra virgin olive oil + lemon juice (2:1 ratio),

- 1 tsp of dijon mustard,

- 1 tbsp of honey,

- good pinch of sea salt,

- pinch of freshly ground black pepper.

Are you following? Now go ahead and whip it together, taste, make any necessary adjustment to your taste, and it’s done. You can chop some chives or scallions, or even cilantro, and also sprinkle it all over for the final touch. Make sure to have the dressing ready before you cut up the avocado. You want to dip the pieces in the dressing quickly, because the lemon prevents avocado from turning brown. Also, I think a pink grapefruit on the green avocado will look outstanding!

Good Night and Good Luck!

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