summer peach oatmeal

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At times over the years, I’ve considered making this a blog of oatmeal recipes. It’s pretty much my favorite food, I’ll eat it just about any time of day and it’s been my breakfast of choice for the strong majority of my life.

What I’ve added to the oats has definitely changed over the years however. From the brown sugar, milk, and stink bugs (aka raisins) of my youth, to the 10 carefully counted blueberries and half a banana of the days when I ate religiously too rigid during my eating disorder, to now when the toppings are varied and more numerous, oatmeal has been my tried and true.

 

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For many years the one ‘error’ I made in my morning bowl was that I was afraid of adding any healthy fats to it. I notice this with others too. Either seasonal fruits or berries or dried fruit are a popular topping but the thing about eating nutrient rich foods like fresh berries or anti-oxidant filled fruits (and vegetables), is that without a carrier fat in the meal they’re eaten with, those fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K can’t actually be absorbed. We need healthy fats to make them effective. After years of being afraid of fat, I’m now a big fan of eating it in moderate amounts since fats are important for both cellular and hormonal health. Fats surround all cells and organelles in what is called the phospholipid bilayer and they are essential for proper cellular development, as well as carrying messages throughout the body in the hormones.

It’s important for us to eat a variety of fat types from foods rich in saturated fat to the unsaturated mono and polyunsaturated omega 6 and 3 fatty acids. Our modern diets tend to be less diverse and mainly have an abundance of saturated and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. The omega 6 fats are found in soy, corn, safflower, sunflower and peanut oils, as well as sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds, and most nuts. In whole food form, they are incredibly healthy and essential, but need to be balanced with omega-3 fats such as freshly ground flax, chia, walnuts and wild caught cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut, anchovies, cod, and sardines. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3’s should be under 5:1 to be considered anti-inflammatory and for most individuals, this ratio is at least 20:1 or more.  For anyone with health concerns that are inflammation-related such as any of the common ‘lifestyle diseases’ like diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure, autoimmune conditions, arthritis of any type, and/or you are an otherwise healthy athlete looking to improve recovery between workouts, consuming those delicious nutrient-filled fruits and vegetables along with a healthy fat source and eating an optimal balance of omega 3s and 6s can be incredibly helpful. (My personal example is as an athlete trying to improve recovery and with an underlying chronic autoimmune/arthritic-like condition.)

One other thing to note is that all fat digestion first takes place in the mouth from chewing and saliva beginning to break down food–so chewing is important–and intestinal digestion requires bile salts and pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that specifically helps to break down and absorb fat molecules. If you find you don’t digest fats well, consider sending me a note. There are lots of natural ways to assist the digestive process!

 

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Now for my favorite oatmeal bowl lately. It’s got a super-seasonal local peach chopped and added in the last few minutes to old-fashioned oats, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon or so of tahini, and a good tablespoon of ground flax seed. In the summer, I tend to always add a sprinkle of fennel seeds, which also support digestion, and then top it all off with a bit of cinnamon.

 

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Creamy Summer Peach Oatmeal, makes 1 large or 2 small bowls

1 1/2 cups water
1/2-3/4 cups old-fashioned oats, gf certified as necessary
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 large peach, chopped
1 tsp. tahini
1 Tbs. ground flax
cinnamon, to sprinkle

  • Bring the water to a boil, add the oats, and turn down to medium-low. Cook until nearly all the water is absorbed and then stir in the remaining ingredients except the cinnamon. Cook until it is creamy and all the water is absorbed.
  • Turn out into a bowl and then top with cinnamon.
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Peach + Pluot Tart with Lemon Coconut Cream

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Friday evening and William and I took each other to the county fair. He stood in line for a corndog, a really good one, he said, and then we headed away from all the noise to the barns, ambling through each aisle one by one, comparing the chickens to ours, wondering at whether the tagline saying aggressive! scrawled under the price for a $40 bunny was a comment about the price, the animal’s temperament, or some other reason I already forget. Then we went to the hog barn, the sheep, and then the cattle. I beelined us towards the champion animals, commenting about how when I was in high school a dozen or more years ago, the genetics were just leaning towards better in the sheep division, and now the champion lambs are packed, their muscles rippling with every move.

 

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After it all we headed a couple blocks over to Friendly’s, a neighborhood natural foods store. We bought small pots of expensive delicious ice cream, brought it back home, and sat in the near-dark on the couch, eating little spoonfuls slowly. When I scraped the last bit from my dish and nearly got up for more, William stopped me, saying no just wait a moment and you’ll realize you’re done. 

And I did.
And I did.

It was a fabulous and simple evening after a long week with more weekend work ahead. It was lovely to just set everything else down for a few hours and be present, enjoying summer, enjoying the magic, realizing the hunger we’re hungry for can be fed in small doses of treats and much larger heaps of time with a loved one and their caring hand and arm around the shoulders, their well-intended suggestions, and in taking the time to share snippets of a long-ago passion at the county fair.

 

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The Recipe Redux asked for stone fruit this month. Even though I’ve been eating the various fruits daily, working apricots or plums into morning oatmeal, having a handful of cherries with afternoon snack, or gliding thin slices into whatever savory is up for dinner, this time of year calls for a treat, with stone fruits at their best.

This raw, barely sweet lemon and coconut cream tart is a real favorite, but one I often forget about. It’s one to make for a dinner party or a sunday feast. Or maybe, just because it’s summer and our weary selves need a little wholesome decadent goodness.

 

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Peach + Pluot Tart with Lemon Coconut Cream, adapted from my blackberry version
There are a few options here. The fruit can of course be changed up depending on preference, but the choice of nuts and sweetener can too. I used a mix of hazel and walnuts, the almond meal, and then used lucuma powder to sweeten. Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit that has a slightly mapley caramel flavor and the powder can be used as a natural sweetener. I had a nearly expired packet in the back of the pantry and put it to good use here, but the alternative of using about half the amount of regular or powdered sugar works well too and honestly isn’t added in enough quantity to do much harm.

5 medjool dates / 45 g, pitted and briefly soaked
1/2 cup / 50 g nuts of choice, toasted
1/2 cup / 50 g almond meal
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 15 oz. / 400 mL can full-fat coconut milk, chilled
2-4 Tbs. lucuma or sugar
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 peaches and pluots
lemon juice

  • In a food processor, combine dates, nuts, cinnamon, and salt.  Puree until finely chopped and the mixture sticks together when pinched with your fingers.  Turn out into a 7-8 in tart pan.
  • Open the chilled coconut milk and without stirring, spoon out the cream layer into a medium bowl. Reserve the watery milk in the bottom of the can for another use.
  • Whip the coconut cream along with the lucuma, lemon zest, and vanilla.  Spoon and smooth atop the nut layer.
  • Thinly slice the peaches and pluots and layer around the top of the coconut filling, in circles, as desired. To preserve the color, brush a little lemon juice across the fruit layer, and then lightly cover and set the tart in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours.

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Beneath the surface, a manifesto.

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Years ago in the thick of my disordered eating days, I regularly frequented a forum on the Runner’s World site in which runners would post their daily meals. I participated a bit, but I mainly monitored what these people ate and compared my own meals to theirs. It was a terrible habit that led to nothing good. There were a few runners in other forum topics that deemed this “Nutrition and Weight Loss” forum a breeding ground for all the eating disorders to proliferate. To an extent, I agreed, as there were many runners recovering from and/or struggling with eating disorders who collected their meals there and I could see it was mostly a terrible place for me to frequent.

I’m remembering this now as I reflect on my seemingly lifelong troubled relationship with food, my body, control, and ultimately comparison. When I wrote a few months ago about my eating disorder and the idea of restriction, I shared that I have no food rules, no off-limits items (other than gluten and dairy for allergen reasons), no black and whites. I meant what I wrote.

But I need to air out a big elephant looming in the room which I get asked about, weekly. I had a hamburger in May at my niece’s birthday party, a bit of pork loin the weekend before at my in-laws, and a short handful of meals with meat since at the homes of friends and family, and even at our own table as William had been requesting that I cook a roast for weeks and I recently gave in. I didn’t necessarily feel like eating any of those meals but not wanting to be the weird, offensive one, hungry and standing out eating only fruits and vegetables, I partook. Some of those meaty bites were just fine when I stopped thinking about them, but in others I actually had to coach myself through eating.

Way before I began my disordered eating, I had issues with meat and beef in particular. Being raised on a ranch, my parents making their livelihood in cattle, beef is what is and has always been for dinner. Being the oddball in my family from the get-go, I never really developed a taste for it. Ground beef in particular has always been a struggle and there were many meals that became ordeals growing up. In my family, it was protocol to sit at the table until the plate and glass were empty. I inevitably always got to the end of the hamburger gravy and the milk in my glass, only when I had drained all the tears, spent all my stubborn rage, and finally plugged my nose and got on with it.

Throughout the years since, I’ve gone through phases of eating and barely eating meat. I attempted to be vegetarian during the days when I was avoiding foods with substantial fat and calories. Along with a few other foods, I put all meat into an off-limits category, with the idea that if I cut out an entire food group, I would not eat as much. Later, I left the country a couple times and rarely ate it because it was expensive. In the year that William and I lived apart, I barely ever cooked it. During the periods when I either actively or passively ate less meat, I did not miss it. Most of the times that it was reintroduced, it was because it was just there, our cultural norm, or I thought it was needed for a balanced diet. It was also the first food group that I was commanded to add back in to gain weight and for this reason alone, it will likely always have a lot of stigma attached.

For whatever reason in the last 18 months or so, along with the onslought of refiguring myself out that I’ve been dealing with, the idea of meat has become more of an issue again. Like when I was young, I’ve stopped enjoying the flavor and texture. A couple of months ago, I started noticing my reaction to when people ask me if I eat it, as they often do. I was emphatically answering yes, as in oh yes, definitely, of course; just not too often as I really like vegetables. I have been saying this as if I’m pleading with them to accept me as not that weird. Lately, I’ve been taking a back seat mentally in these dialogues, watching my thoughts and cataloging what is going on. After further reflection and digging beneath the surface, these experiences have me realizing a few things:

I realize that when people don’t like a food, they usually don’t make a big deal out of it. They just don’t eat it. And when they are allergic or intolerant to something, they don’t treat it as if it’s a nasty disability to be hidden. I tend to do both because I fear being an inconvenience and different. (Ironically, I have a giant individualistic streak and I like being the one doing my own thing.) I’ve spoken to William often about this and he always tells me, Look, there are foods I don’t like. And I don’t eat them. It’s okay if you don’t like meat. Just don’t eat it. His words are incredibly encouraging because I’m the one who decides what we eat most evenings and I’m especially thankful he’s okay with (mostly) foregoing it nightly and can enjoy it at meals we don’t share, or on days when he or we eat out. I am aware more than ever of where my mind goes in desiring to create “rules” to live by, to make me feel like I’m somehow in control of my circumstances. I have needed both to continue testing out meat periodically to see what the deal is mentally, and to hear William’s affirmations. More than the still-lurking-beneath-the-surface-fear of many social situations with food, I fear fixating on foods and unnecessarily labeling them good or bad. Doing so was the primary characteristic of my disordered eating days and I have no desire to retrace that path again.

Several months ago, I started reading Gena Hemshaw’s Green Recovery Stories on her blog, Choosing Raw. Gena is vegan and the green recovery stories are shared by women who have healed their relationship with food and recovered from eating disorders by adopting a vegan lifestyle. Mostly, their reasons center around reaching beyond themselves to find compassion for animals. I grew up showing and raising animals for meat and still feel substantially connected with the farming and ranching community. This closeness to the source of my food has me feeling differently than most of the ladies on Gena’s blog.

After reading many of the stories, however, I realize that I did find a similar eating lifestyle which ended up being a direct route to the beginning of healing my struggle with food. In the throes of this messed up relationship, when I feared every kind of fat and sugar and food of caloric significance, I recognized how distant I had become from the producers. Having grown up on a ranch and studying agriculture as a degree, this pained me but I could not seem to get out of it. At some point in my junior year of college, when I set out to expand my horizons by learning as much as I could about the different types of food production and farming methods, I learned of Alice Waters and Slow Food. A transition began. Shortly thereafter, I left the country and while abroad, the process was expedited due to the farm-tour-type classes and experiences I took, and the significance and national pride in eating local food that I witnessed in much of Ireland’s traditional eating patterns. After returning home and finishing school, I took the entirety of the monetary graduation gift I received from my grandparents and I went off to a cooking-farm-school for a week in remote, northeast Washington. I picked up a girl I’d met via email on the way and we carpooled the nine-hour drive, getting to know each other over Indie music and mutual interests in food and farming. That week–a week in which we began the day milking the goats, harvesting the produce for breakfast, making cheese and wood-fired, slow-fermented sourdough bread among other things–stabilized much of the healing process that had begun with learning the philosophy of Alice Waters and experiencing Ireland’s food culture.

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Growing food is incredibly difficult work. I admire all farmers. But the more I learned about all types of food production, the more I resonated with biodynamic and sustainable agriculture. It made absolute sense to me that the truly exceptional farmers focus on the soil and let the soil feed their crops. This was a slow and gradual learning process and as such, my diet and lifestyle habits changed quite gradually. The more I learned about and respected the process of food production, the more I have steered towards eating whole, minimally processed, and sustainable, organic, locally-produced foods. Making what the land around me can produce in each season the bulk of what is on my plate has been central to healing this broken relationship and can be summarized into one word: consciousness. The more farms of all types that I got my feet and eyes and hands on and into, the more I read of this book and then slowly over-hauled my diet, the better my relationship with food and my body became. I began to change my paradigm of “never” foods. I could sit down to a meal and eat without a thought for calories or nutrients or where on my body that food was going to end up. I instead focused on the flavor and on the process of what it took to get it to my plate. How many hands helped in getting it to my table? What kind of life did those people live? Would I be proud to produce that kind of food if I were the farmer? If not, why was I then supporting it as an eater? Essentially, this is the ethos of Slow Food–eating food that is good, clean, and fair. Recognizing the finite resources we take for granted and the impact of every one of our consumerist choices, learning more about the connection between the microbes in our soil and in our bodies and their subsequent impact on our health–these learnings have had a powerful impact on my recovery process. There is now much more to my relationship with food than “what’s in it for me.” And so, my diet has ended up being more or less vegan without putting particular intentionality to it since being vegan is not my focus. The more I learn of myself, the more strongly I feel that I should not be eating meat right now. I do eat eggs on rare days when they sound good but I often bake without them because it is difficult–and I enjoy a good challenge. I like honey. I am constantly learning and adapting. I make exceptions.

When I shared a big piece of my history a few months ago, one of my best friends reached out to me about being able to process and share a tough experience. She told me I was inspiring to her and to many others. Her comment meant a lot because I don’t feel like my relationship with food is one that anyone I know can relate to or draw inspiration from. Most of the time, I feel like the black sheep at the party and I want to go hide in a corner or politely decline social situations involving food. I don’t think it should have to be this way. It is okay to have different ideas and different preferences. It is okay to be the one person in the room that is eschewing social norms for their own sake. In fact, these types of people are the change makers in our society that I’ve so often looked up to. I’m sharing all of this today because perhaps there is truth in my friend’s statement. Perhaps there is a little part of my experience that can be an inspiration and sharing can make someone else’s uneasy relationship with food and body image a little less messy than my own.

When I look at where I was years ago and where I am now, I am so incredibly grateful that I can largely enjoy days and weeks of meals with little guilt, few negative thoughts, and almost non-existent calorie counting, nutrient tallying, and labeling of good, bad, and off-limits items. I feel entirely comfortable going home to visit my parents, knowing they will be supportive in whatever decisions I make and whether or not they agree. I’m also able to take eating day by day, loosening up a little and being less in control, and developing significantly less anxiety when eating meals prepared by others, especially when they are not the meals I would make for myself.

At the end of the day, I love food. I love conviviality, I love cooking for and sharing meals with others. I loved them before I ever knew what a calorie or a nutrient or a “superfood” was. I also really dislike hiding. Getting this all down makes me realize I’m incredibly close to being able to eat exclusively on my own terms, to care less about what other people think–and stop comparing–to just eat what makes me feel satisfied, roll with the phases life brings, and live a little.

Perhaps sharing my experience is not what was meant by the being-an-inspiration comment from my friend. Regardless, I think we can all be a little better off for caring less about normalcy and fitting in and more for being true to the one person we get to live with constantly–ourselves.

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Tomatoes, Basil + Peaches, on Toast. serves 2-3

This is the simplest of summery dishes, which can be thrown together in a flash and enjoyed with some sort of protein to make a full meal. We are getting nearly to the end of the peach season here, but if you can find tree and vine-ripe peaches and tomatoes from a local source, the difference is magical — and worth the wait until next season once they are gone! 

1 peach, thinly sliced

2 large juicy tomatoes, sliced

a small handful of basil leaves, finely diced

a pinch of salt and ground black pepper

1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

whole-grain, gluten-free bread, toasted (or good slices of whatever you prefer)

  • Combine the sliced peach and tomatoes with the basil in a large bowl.
  • Measure in the balsamic and olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir to combine, and then spoon atop, crusty toasted bread.