Spring brings change to Meadballs

Meadballs is undergoing some changes. The weekly delivery service is finished. Instead I plan to offer fresh salads using seasonal greens, veggies, and grilled protein at area farmer’s markets. The locations and dates will be posted here, and e-mailed out to subscribers of my newsletter.

Why the change?

The main reason is that I will be going to nursing school full-time at Mercyhurst North East, graduating in 2020. Ideally I will be taking a couple of classes this summer to get back into the groove of the classroom – a place I haven’t spent any serious time since graduating from Boston University more than 30 years ago.

In the time since then, and even during college, I was a journalist. When the time came to leave the newspaper business two years ago, I was looking for my part 2.0. I applied to nursing school then – a different university – but didn’t get into the program.

So I stuck to what I knew – writing, freelancing, blogging. That worked for nearly a year, until my income source ceased accepting my freelance pitches.

Why? The company knows the answer. It wasn’t shared with me.

That meant it was time to consider 2.1, which included a food truck selling baked goods. Given the negative health effects of sugar, I switched it up to something healthier, which eventually became Meadballs. Three meals, featuring regionally sourced foods – delivered once a week.

My customers were/are great. They were incredibly supportive. They suffered through some of my experiments (some items don’t travel well, or work well in large quantities); and I learned about the many underserved health and dietary concerns  – such as offering gluten-free foods (like salad dressings, soups, etc), and vegan prepared foods that don’t star tofu- or soybean-based impersonations of cheeses, meats, etc.

My business model was built on this being a 15-hour-a-week job, with a related income. This was to give me time to travel, be a mom, and enjoy hiking, kayaking, and the like (in no particular order). The the plan to deliver Wednesdays (like Blue Apron) was replaced by demand for Monday (who wants to cook on Monday?), and limited weekend getaways.

January is always a time to look forward – so I looked at where I wanted to be in 2020 when my daughter graduates from high school. I needed work that could go anywhere in the country – or world. And that was in high demand (not true of journalists). And I was back at nursing.

And that also meant taking an entrance exam. For three weeks I  immersed myself  in algebra and biology. I can’t tell you how incredible Khan Academy and Crash Course were. Combined with a print study guide, I relearned subjects that  hadn’t paid any attention to in 35 years (and I swear some of the stuff I never learned at all, clearly). In February, my score was high enough to get me into the RN program, instead of the LPN program I originally applied for.

So here I am. I will be starting version 2.something just after I turn 55. I will graduate from Mercyhurst at the same time as my daughter does from Fairview High School.

And then we will both be packing our bags for the next chapter.

I Quit my Job so I Could Walk my Dog More

One of my goals when I left my full-time job to become my own boss was to walk the dog more. Sounds like a ridiculous or irresponsible career or life move.

“Hey, y’all. I’m quitting my job with health insurance benefits, paid vacation, and an office so I can walk the dog more.”

Marnie has finally flipped, right?

But there it was on my list. I worked with a career coach, Debbie Peterson, over a couple of months. So it wasn’t impulsive. The list also included becoming my own boss, setting my own hours, having time for family, travel and yoga. And the dog.

My life had gotten to the point where walking the dog was rushed, a chore. Gotta walk the dog before work. Gotta walk the dog before bed. And we’d rush to get our mile in morning and night around the neighborhood, which is nice, but not inspirational. And I’d be cross with my daughter for not walking the dog after school because she forgot. Rushed and angry were not good parenting.

For me, walking the dog – really walking the dog – provided meditation and inspiration time. We’d head into the woods, and I would leave behind deadlines, silly demands, and ridiculous behavior from co-workers. I had two techniques, one taught by Debbie, to release the issues of the day. This would free my mind to engage in more creative pursuits, like thinking up story ideas or solving some domestic problem. I’d feel the wind, humidity, or sun on my body. I’d watch the change of seasons as a story told by the plant world. Forty-five to 90 minutes later, I would emerge calmer, happier. And, of course, the dog thrilled at every sniff  of every other dog that walked the same route, and solicit some love from fellow walkers.

I gave myself 6 months to figure out what I wanted to do in this next phase. That deadline is approaching this month. But the commitment to walking the dog will still be part of that phase.

I pick our walks based on the weather. Sun beating down on us means we need to find shade. Typically, I like Asbury Woods in Millcreek Township, Pennsylvania, or Pleasant Ridge Park,  in Fairview Township. Asbury has hundreds of acres and Pleasant Ridge has about 80. But both have lots of mosquitoes at this time of year – and even the best repellent results in about a dozen bites.

With a nice breeze today, we headed to Erie Bluffs State Park, nearly 600 acres along Lake Erie and bordered by Elk Creek.  I unload Bobo and we walk the path from the parking lot through what used to be corn. This open stretch will take us part of the walk, where the grasshoppers will flip and skitter around as we disturb them. We are the only ones at the park this morning. We can listen as the tall weeds rustle and the crickets keep up a hum throughout this open part. The pods of milkweed, beloved of the Monarch butterfly, are still green and haven’t opened yet to release the white fluffy interior. Eventually we get to the edge of the woods, where the trees are more oak than maple and we head into the shade. If we chose one path, it will lead us down toward Elk Creek, a popular fishing creek later in the fall. The wind replaces the sounds of the crickets. This breeze is keeping us both cooler and the mosquitoes away.

Down to the creek we head, where the dog gets a drink of water in time to see a kayaker come down stream. The heat of the day is starting to intensify, so up we go back into the cool of the trees. Alas coming down means heading up a vertical incline, using tree roots as our stairs. We move to the other side of the wood, toward Lake Erie, and the waves hitting the shoreline is drowning out the wind. I wish I could bottle this sound and play it at 1:45 a.m., 3:45 a.m. and 5 a.m. when I wake each night. It is that soothing to me.

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We head back toward the car, into the light, and the grasshoppers, and bees, and then the dog disappears into the tall weeds. All I can see is a tail wagging. I head back toward him and suddenly he is rolling and wagging.

Nature’s back scratch.

Back into the car, with lots of water, he goes. Home again, home again.

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Bobo is about 10 years old. We rescued him at the ANNA Shelter in Erie, Pennsylvania, and all three of us have been tremendously rewarded by the experience.

 

Have a peaceful Wednesday.

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Love-Hate Relationship with Whole30 Diet

I’m just wrapping up the Whole30, a diet/elimination/paleo/lifestyle plan. I’d apparently been under a rock for the past couple of years and missed this one. Probably because I don’t do diet plans any more.  I’ve done them, namely Weight Watchers. But all that counting, etc., just taught me a lot of bad habits, like trying to eat food that isn’t food – bread made with wood pulp, cream cheese that could do double duty as spackling, and other products that aren’t really food.

But the Whole30 caught my eye because it eliminates foods that are troubling to your gut. You go clean for 30 days. Then you reintroduce foods – one category at a time – and see how you feel. You do eat real foods. You eat vegetables, fruits and lean protein. Fats include olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and some canola oil. What you don’t eat are: soy, of any kind; dairy, of any kind and that includes cheese; grains, of any kind; sugar, of any kind, real or artificial; legumes (which include peanuts); or alcohol.

If you cheat, you start over at Day 1, which is a powerful incentive not to cheat. It’s like AA that way. You don’t get to pick up on Day 16 if you had a bad Day 15.

So why did I want to do this?

The main reason is I needed to slay the “Sugar Dragon.” I’d quit drinking alcohol nearly 6 years ago. Gradually sugar had been creeping into my diet as a substitution. My doctor had warned me. Alcohol is processed as sugar in the body (which is what leads to fatty liver disease). The alcohol cravings passed, but he said the sugar would be a hard one to defeat. And sugar substitutes (see below) aren’t the answer.

If you have food sensitivities, which I do, you can manage by feeling a little bit crappy all the time. I know, for example, dairy and soy are triggers for me. But I never knew just how much they contributed to my malaise until I spent a month without them. I will probably risk the issues with dairy here and there because I adore cheese and ice cream. But it eating it will have to be for something special. As for soy. I’m happy to eliminate it, minus the occasional dip for sushi. I think having both of these things out of my day-to-day diet has been very helpful.

I started the program at the beginning of August. I’m glad I did it when produce season is in high swing. Here are a few things you can expect:

  1. You are going to be gassy. Yep. Unless you are used to eating a lot of fruits, veggies, and meats, your digestive tract is going to take some time to adjust. Take walks. Alone. Or with a dog, who can take a lot of blame on this one.  And this means your pants are going to be tight for a bit as the bloat works itself out, literally. My favorite trick, roasting vegetables. It adds to their sweetness. Roast tomatoes and then puree for a delicious sauce with sausage.IMG_4402
  2. You are going to have to read labels. I was surprised at how much sugar is used in items that aren’t sweet, like Wegmans Italian sausage or Hellman’s mayonnaise or many hot sauces. The same goes for soybean oil (your plain vegetable oil is soybean oil). Farm stands and your butcher are your friends here. Urbaniak Bros. does not use sugar in its sausage, except for those labeled with maple and one smoked variety.
  3. Eating out is a nightmare due to the sugar and soy issue. This is when I had to start over. I realized after taking a bite of an absolutely delicious mussel dish that the sauce had sugar in it. Since I had to start over, I had dessert too. If you eat out, stick to grilled meats and roasted vegetables potatoes (ideally with canola or olive oil). Stay away from sautéed, which typically involves butter. Oil and vinegar are best bets for salad.
  4. You are going to be a bit cranky. Lots of people report feeling like a million bucks – Tiger Blood – at some point after 2 weeks. Can’t say that I experienced that. What I did experience was a steady level of energy throughout the day. I was no longer crashing at 3 p.m. after the first two weeks.
  5. Sugar substitutes seem to be as bad as sugar. I read numerous studies, independent of the Whole30 literature, about how sugar substitutes alter your gut health the same way as sugar, eliminating some healthy bacteria, which results in metabolic changes. The science is pretty clear on sucralose, saccharine and aspartame, but not so much about stevia.
  6. This isn’t about losing weight. Some people do. My pants fit better, probably because I haven’t had bread or any sweets for 30 days.IMG_4403
  7. Beverages. This has been a tough one. I usually start my day with a cuppa Joe with cream and sweetener, or my fave, Italian Sweet Cream (sugar free), which has so many bad ingredients I couldn’t even look at it.  Or a Diet Coke. Neither was going to work on this plan. So far my best cup of coffee has been a Starbuck’s Cold Brew with coconut milk. Starting my day off relying on an occasional Starbucks may have contributed to cranky. Water gets boring. So does sparking water. My fave concoction is V8 VFusion juice mixed with kombucha and La Croix sparking water. Not exactly something you can order out.
  8. On day 29 I found a chocolate and sea salt RX bar at Wegmans on Peach Street. The ingredient list is nuts, dates, cacao and egg whites. This was my first chocolate in 29 days. You are allowed cacao powder, but you must be a genius to make it taste like chocolate. I dropped it in the parking lot. And, yes, I applied the 5-second rule. I picked it up, dusted it off, and ate it. I was THAT DESPERATE. I am not proud. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
  9.  Halfway through, I bought bananas. I hate bananas except in banana bread. But some blogger told me to make a slit in the middle, stuff it with a tablespoon of almond butter, top it with some raisins and baked it for 15 minutes. I would like to say it tasted good. I did in a pinch.
  10. This is sort of like paleo, but you can’t eat paleo things like honey. Nor are you supposed to make things like pancakes and muffins by using coconut flour (allowed) because this is basically a cheater version of giving in. I liked this part of the diet because it had principles, unlike that nonfat cream cheese and “lite” bread that some diets encourage you to eat.

Since diet is 80 percent of what contributes to our body (the rest is exercise, rest, water, etc), I think this is a valuable exercise to go through and I will continue parts of it as I reintroduce foods back. Bread is going to return to being a rare item on my plate. I think I just eat it because it is on the table. I like the emphasis on three meals, which you will find very important because you return to being hungry. I realize I was snacking a lot during the day, which will stop.

Yours in veggie delight

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Foodie Friday: Philly Inspiration

Philadelphia is a food-lovers kind of town. Whether you want a fill of street food such as cheese steaks, roast pork, or soft pretzels, or have a hankering for a five-star meal, this town has a lot to offer.

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All things Philly pretzel at the Reading Market.

The first stop has to be Reading Market, where you can find all of those things, and lots more, under one roof. A better name would be EatPhilly, because that’s what it’s all about. You can grab a seat for breakfast or lunch, which I did with BU alum Sean Kardon one morning to catch up; buy some food to take home to prepare; or just graze your way through.

We were there for the DNC, which meant it was a madhouse around lunchtime. Although Kardon, who works for SEPTA (public transit), says it’s a madhouse around lunch every day. It was hot and I was overwhelmed on my first visit. Advice to visitors – go early and have a plan.

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A single blueberry crunch pie with buttermilk lemon ice cream at Vernick.

After multiple consultations with YELP, Trip Advisor and more, friend David Kidd, who lives in L.A., sent me a link to the Washington Post’s guide to eating there. Top on that list, a visit to Vernick. This relatively small restaurant has a reputation for being top-notch, so much so that one of our Uber drivers, who owns his own restaurant, says it was his favorite. It was good, but it’s not in my top three, except for the dessert, which was a blueberry pie served with a buttermilk lemon ice cream and blueberry sauce. It was neck and neck with the dessert at Butcher & Singer, a lemon icebox pie. Overall, for ambiance, service, and the steak, Butcher & Singer was the fave of the week in Philadelphia. The 18-ounce steak, split between the two of us, was pricey but worth every bite. It was perfectly seasoned and cooked. I will forever be spoiled by the steak. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was finishing his dinner there as our appetizers were served.

 

Urban Farmer Philadelphia, which has a Cleveland location I will try, took tops for the appetizer, which was a cold seafood plate that included shrimp, oysters, lobster and mussels served in a large colander filled with ice ($65 for a small, which is enough for 4 as an appetizer). The wagyu steak, enough for two,  was equally pricey as the Butcher & Singer, but not nearly as delicious. It did have the added benefit of being searched by the Secret Service upon entering because an unnamed bigwig was staying at the associated Logan House (Secret Service means either POTUS, FLOTUS (past or present) or Joe Biden). They couldn’t say whom  (or they would have to kill us – actually they would lose their job).  Other than that, the environment, for what you are paying, is not particularly inviting. The space is open and modern. The lighting and seating, while comfortable, is more reminiscent of a high-end cafeteria. The service, however, was excellent.

Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, in the now-hip Fishtown, was worth the visit. With its two kitchens, one featuring a wood-fired oven, this is a fun spot where shared ordering is encouraged. It can get a bit noisy because it is filled with 20- and 30-somethings having a really good time. The chicken under a brick was perfectly seasoned, cooked and served on a cutting board, perfect for two. The desert menu was underwhelming, but I probably didn’t need it anyway.

Estia Restaurant was a find via a friend from Scranton. This Greek restaurant was across South Broad Street from our hotel in the arts district. This was a two-stop spot for lunch. Definitely try the sampler platter with tzatziki, melitzano salata (eggplant),  and htipiti (roasted red pepper, cayenne and feta). Hummus comes complementary with bread, but don’t dig in to the bread until the platter comes because the warm pita is to die for. My Mediterranean salad with roasted eggplant, salad greens and calamari, was to die for, so I ordered it twice. ABC’s George Stephanopoulus reportedly was dining alone at a nearby table(I forgot my glasses).

The trip was inspiring in so many ways, but one of the first things I made when I came back was a blueberry crunch pie, with this recipe from Williams-Sonoma.

Blueberry Crunch Pie

1 9-inch pie shell, docked and baked at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until light brown

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Filling

 

4 tablespoons flour

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

5 cups blueberries

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and blueberries.

Topping

3/4 cup flour

1/3 cup  brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

8 ounces, 1 stick, butter, cut into 8 pieces

In a medium-size bowl, mix together flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Scatter the butter pieces on top. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, work the ingredients together until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs the size of large peas. Set the topping aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

To bake: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar on the bottom of the baked pie crust. Add blueberry mixture. Sprinkle topping over. Place pie on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until bubbling and brown on top.

Remove from oven and cool.

Serve with ice cream.

I will be working on the buttermilk lemon ice cream for a future column, but I loved the tang, sweet and citrus combination with the pie. I’ll also be working on the lemon ice box pie because I definitely want to try that one again.

Enjoy your weekend. Make the most of the blueberry season.

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com