It's been a while since my last big cooking wins, but I've had two recently that I just had to share.

Sweet and sour maple kale

This was an accidentally successful adaptation of a recipe for sweet and sour collard greens from the wife (also named Mel) of my friend Greg. The original recipe involved collards, vinegar, and sugar; I had kale instead, and no sugar, so I used apple cider vinegar and replaced the sugar with maple syrup. Served over a bowl of brown rice with a fried egg on top, it's just about perfect. But it gets better. The next day I marinated some tofu in olive oil and vinegar with herbs (dried thyme and cilantro, if memory serves), pan-fried it in thin slices, added that to the bowl of kale + brown rice + egg, and sprinkled sesame seeds on top. A little bowl of heaven.

Curried carrot soup

Carrots, peeled and sliced into thin coins, sauteed in a bit of butter, and then some curry paste mixed in. Toss that around in the wok a little longer until the carrots soften, then pour in miso broth (what I had on hand, but it adds a lovely nutty ricey flavor that I enjoy). After that simmers for a while, blend until creamy. This is where my magic super blender comes in handy (a Vita-Mix - my first-apartment present to myself, and yes, it's worth every penny of the $300 it cost, it's that much better than a cheap blender) - it makes the soup creamy without the actual use of cream. I'm enjoying this right now, and it is also heaven in a tiny bowl.

Le Noms: patterns over the years

So... I've been paying more attention to, uh, not killing myself with work lately. Where by lately I mean "slowly, over the past few weeks/months/years, at an incrementally accelerating place." And I've noticed a couple things.

  • Refined and processed foods, particularly things with lots o' sugar and corn syrup, make me feel like crap. This is a far cry from my 14-year-old self, who chugged Mountain Dew by the liter and carried sugar packets with her at all times for quick snacks.
  • Breakfast actually does makes me feel better all day. I'm not sure if it's the food or the act of pausing before I launch into the morning - or both - but it turns out to be... an actual good idea. Who woulda thunk?
  • I still love the taste and texture of good meat, but it takes much more effort to digest - so I no longer eat meat casually (i.e. I generally won't grab a fast-food burger). If I'm going to give my stomach more work to do, it's going to be worth it. Dairy is delicious, but makes me feel stuffy - I'm not lactose intolerant per se, but I tend to cough and blow my nose more if I'm chugging down the milk. I'm still a carb addict, but things like plain pasta and bread give me too fast an energy boost, and then I crash... but vegetables, beans, etc. taste great, work well, and keep me going.
  • Oils, spices, and eggs are wonderful things.
  • I'm lazy, so the less cooking I have to do to get something to become food, the happier I am.

everything.The end effect of all this is that I find myself increasingly hankering for a mostly vegetarian diet with very little dairy, lots-o-veggies and whole grains and beans, and fresh and spicy and minimally processed This... is not something I ever actually expected to happen. And yeah, I'll still go for a 5-hotdog blowout, or have a giant steak, or down a pint of ice cream for fun, and when I go to the Philippines I plan on stuffing myself silly with various kinds of candies and fried bananas and roasted pig. That's what celebrations are for. But in general, I really do feel better when I eat this stuff.

I want to make sure I'm getting enough protein and everything in my diet, so I was thinking of actually keeping a food log at some point and then seeing a nutritionist - which I think my health insurance covers somehow, I just need to figure out how that works. I have very little idea what nutritionists do or how I can best prepare to ask one lots of questions so that he or she can help most... if you've ever seen one, please let me know. I'd like to make the most of the time I book with them.

The car thing

I want to give a shout-out to Harry from Sports and Compacts in Raleigh, NC, who did a patient and awesome job of caring for my aging '93 Lexus ES300 the other day, and explained everything to me as he went along. I've still got to replace my windshield wipers, but everything else is in great shape and I have A/C working again (and I know where the fuseboxes are and how to figure out where wiring runs)! It took less than an hour and $50, but he just made me feel a lot more grounded with respect to my car, the shape it's in, and how to think about caring for and diagnosing it.

Oh. And I'm becoming increasingly tempted by Alex's suggestion that my next car be a Miata. Perhaps when I come back for grad school... we'll see what finances and my transport situation look like then.


As with diet, so with exercise. Being able to use and move my physical body well is something that I'm slowly spiral-learning. One consistent bit of feedback I received from everyone who helped me with my RSI is that I have no muscle tone - sometimes I look explosive and energetic, but that's because I'm literally throwing myself from one position to another, unable to consistently support things like... oh, I don't know, posture - in between. I just hurl myself into chairs, across rooms, down hallways; when I've tried to exercise before, I do the same thing - flinging myself through running a mile, throwing weights up and down - and this worsens my RSI sometimes because the structure is weak, my posture collapses. So I said - okay, fine. Slowly. How do I build up that sort of strength so I can move out into the (exciting! running! jumping! hurrah!) things I want to do?

The end result was that I started working through a book of (painstakingly explained - I got the most detailed book possible) Pilates exercises, and... wow. Awareness and control are hard, and I am incapable of slowly raising myself from a lying position to a sitting position without using my hands. (Also, there are more abdominal muscles in the human body than I had previously been aware of.) Unlike prior exercise things of mine, I'm starting slowly and doing just a little bit at a time; the goal here is consistency. I haven't missed a single day since I started (easy, since it takes me less than 10 minutes, since that's... probably all I can handle). I'm not working to exhaustion; I'm working until I can no longer control the movements I'm doing, then (successfully) fighting the temptation to go "bwahaha! I can power through another twenty of these!"

Slow, patient things. They're hard, but... they are also what I need to learn. Otherwise, the Mel won't actually last for a full lifetime. I'm pretty sure I've voided any warranties I came with by this point, what with the stress and lack of sleep and utter disregard for food and exercise and the tendency to go way overboard with work or anything else I'm doing - I burn bright and explosively, which is all well and good and I don't want to stop doing that - but I also need to learn the slower, more sustainable, warm glow that comes from banked coals and slowly cooking charcoal. I need a base to explode from. Too many of the things I do still stem from an overactive kid's idea of how to take care of herself - I left home to go to school when I was 14 - and one of the biggest things I've learned over the past 10 years is how to look at and rewire them.

It's weird. Maybe this is how people become grown-ups. I know my own adulthood is still very much a work in progress... and I hope it always will be this way. Never too old to learn.