Forgetting What Hanger Feels Like

What’s your danger zone?

Mine used to be anywhere between 11:00am (sometimes as early as 10:30) and lunchtime.

I had another danger zone typically somewhere around 4:00pm (again, sometimes as early as 3:30), when I HAD TO EAT SOMETHING.

When Hanger Strikes

Hanger (or the combination of hunger and anger) can strike swiftly and without warning.

One memorable occasion was early in my relationship with Chico. We were heading up for an overnight in the mountains towards the end of our first summer together.

We’d breakfasted early on toast, jam and coffee (a typical Spanish breakfast). With our preparations, though, it took us a while to get on the road.

Then, on our way up to the mountains, we stopped to pick up a picnic lunch. We packed it away, ready to pull out on our bike excursion later. By the time we checked into our bed & breakfast and got on our bikes, it was AFTER FOUR PM.

Chico said, “Let’s cycle out a ways and stop to eat by the lake.”

He remembers this as the first time he ever saw my death stare. A cold glint appeared in my eye and I said, “No. We are eating NOW.”

Needless to say, we ate then.

Crippled by Hanger

It used to be that I could not fathom going to a grocery store between 10am and lunchtime.

If I ventured into a supermarket at that witching hour, I was sure to fall prey to the buy-all-the-food-because-I’m-so-hungry demon.

And don’t even THINK of having the kids with me when shopping at that hour. My hunger and their pestering would prove just the alchemy required to produce an EXPLOSION of hanger.

It could get ugly.

Hanger Evaporates

Today, though… Today, I went to the grocery store at 11:30am. I hadn’t had lunch.

I didn’t buy a single item that wasn’t on my list. I didn’t have a meltdown in the store when I couldn’t find the Babybel cheeses. I didn’t feel like I needed to stuff my face with food as soon as I got home.

Why was today different?

Probably, because finally, after working at it since September, I have managed to level out my blood sugar.

Gradually Getting Less Hangry

I’ve told the blog everything. I told you all when I decided to start counting calories. I told you of my frustration when I spent so much time feeling hungry.

I also told you about reading up on the benefits of a higher-fat, higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet.

I gradually started to up my protein intake and make veggies my main source of carbohydrate. The impact on my weight was visible on the scale almost immediately.

Even without doing anything as drastic as the “induction phase’ of the Atkins diet, my body seemed to be responding to the changes.

But for a while, I still felt hungry. I’d even finish a meal and still feel hungry. The combination of that hunger and my frustration led to quite a bit of hanger, not gonna lie.

Then Suddenly, One Day, I Wasn’t Hangry

I can’t tell you exactly when it happened because it was so gradual.

The Bug has his lunch break from 10:30am to 11:30am. It’s a ridiculously early lunch. It used to be, however, that I was hungry enough to join the boys for lunch at about 11.

Then one day, as I got the boys’ lunch ready, I realized something.

I wasn’t hungry.

I didn’t feel like eating lunch with them. So instead, I brewed myself a cuppa and sat down with them while they ate.


Without noticing it happening, I had succeeded: I had managed to get to a point where my blood sugar levels don’t dip and spike the way they used to.

Sure, I feel hungry. But it happens much less frequently and with far less urgency than it used to.

Generally, I find myself eating less, eating less frequently, thinking (and obsessing) less about food, and worrying less about snacks.

The Result

The result is that I feel a lot better. I’m slowly and gradually losing weight, a pound or two a week.

Back in September, when I started counting calories, I took out my tape measure and noted down some numbers.

The other day, when I was feeling a bit down, I decided to check my measurements.

The difference is dramatic. I can feel it in my clothes, but seeing the centimeters melt away really provided a much-needed boost.

Ongoing Debate

I know there’s a lot of debate about what constitutes a healthy diet. It’s one of those irrationally emotional arguments we get into.

Much like politics or religion, diet and nutrition are fast becoming one of those topics you shouldn’t raise at a dinner party.

I am in no way qualified to tell others what is best for them. All I know is that I have rarely felt better than I do now.

Not even when I lost weight successfully on Weight Watchers or during my short-lived stretch on Noom.

If I’m feeling good physically, emotionally (though there are still ups and downs), and about the way I look, then I figure I’m doing something right.

And I’m going to stick with it.

Noom: More of a Bust than a Boom

Yesterday I told you about my experiences with Weight Watchers (aka WW). Today, let me tell you all about Noom.


Okay, enough of that silliness.

First Off

The name is dumb. It means nothing. And part of the company’s “playful” and “cool” schtick is to try to push it as being sooooooo mysterious and aren’t you dyyyyyying to know what it means?

No. No, I am not.

Credit Where it’s Due

To give the company its due, I did learn about it through one of its sponsorships.

Noom sponsors NPR, and I am a big NPR listener (or at least I was until the pandemic made listening to the news an anxiety-provoking activity). So, well done Noom on hitting your target audience. Bravo.

Noom bills itself as a lifestyle-changing program, rather than a diet. Though, like any other diet, you are assigned a daily calorie budget with some extra weekly points you can use to “cheat” with–like in WW.

You then begin on a daily regimen of trite inanities.

What Now?

Yes, that’s what I said. You’re put through some pretty painfully dumb readings, quizzes and assignments.

Alright, I understand that this is a program designed for all Noom users, and that perhaps I am not what you would call average in terms of rapidity of thought and concept comprehension. Nor, however, am I an Einstein.

But PLEASE! I think what drove me most insane about Noom was the stupidly vapid, annoying and sometimes rather condescending tone of voice it uses in all its communications.

What You Actually Have To Do

  • On Noom, you weigh in daily. Weight Watchers and other programs I’ve heard of have you weigh in only once a week.

Noom argues, however, that weighing in daily helps you to conquer “scanxiety,” aka “scale anxiety” (See?! It’s these stupid terms that annoy me!).

Fine. I didn’t really mind that.

  • Then, you have to spend a good ten to 20 minutes on your phone, reading all the day’s articles, taking the quizzes and preparing for the day’s “assignments.”

At first, I diligently read all the articles, tried to absorb the “psych tricks” (“It’s all based on real psychology!” Is there such a think as fake psychology?), and obediently tried out the assignments.

It wasn’t all BS, though. I did glean some takeaways for portion control, tips for avoiding temptation at the grocery store, and even got a couple of nice recipes.

But spending that much time on my phone soon became undoable. I do not spend that much time on my phone in one sitting. As life butted in, I found myself dropping off halfway through an article to help dress a child, prepare breakfast, or (Heaven forbid!) actually go pee myself.

Then the day began and suddenly, I was behind on my assignments and felt like I had to try and play catch-up for the rest of the day.

  • And of course, you count calories. Foods are either green, yellow or red, and you’re steered towards a certain amount of each per day.

In the end, Noom is like any other program you’ve tried, just with jauntier lingo. The long and the short of it is that you have to count calories.

The database of known foods may be growing as people add in grocery store items and ingredients, but when I tried it, it was still quite limited. I mainly shop at Giant and Wegmans, and many basic products I bought there were not recognized.

And, naturally, I had to put in all my go-to recipes again and calculate how many portions they are (I dunno, I’ve made them up!), and how many calories a portion is.

Other Elements of the Noom Program

At the beginning you are assigned a coach. Your coach is a “health consultant” but is not a registered dietician.

I don’t know what qualifies a person to be a health consultant, but the supposed lady who was my coach seemed more like a robot giving automated responses. She was worse than useless.

After a period, you are also added to a support group. I think you’re matched up with others who began at more or less the same time, have similar lifestyles, goals and habits (they ask you about these things when you sign up).

Honestly, most of the time I ignored what was going on in my “support group” and what the group leader (another Noom employee) was posting there. She was supposedly setting challenges or giving motivating advice, but most of the time it just felt like even more stuff to read and assignments to complete.

All In All

Okay, so I did lose a little weight when I started Noom. That’s probably because my calorie intake was limited to 1,400 calories a day (whaaaaaaat? Yeeeeeeeeees, I know it’s ridiculous).

I spent a lot of time hungry. The “green foods” Noom suggests you focus on were not enough to fill me up. Lean proteins and even healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds are classified as “red foods,” so I avoided them.

Funny, but it seems to me like (in moderation) these are precisely the kinds of foods that help to satiate while also stabilizing blood sugar. But hey, I’m not an expert.

(Though it seems I already know more than my Noom “health coach” did.)

I fell behind in my readings and quizzes and soon became overwhelmed and unmotivated. My tracking fizzled, and before long I had quit and deleted the app.

And the weight crept back on.

In Conclusion

In terms of personalization, good coaching and support, Weight Watchers is definitely superior to Noom. Their database of known foods is also much better.

If you want to try a diet that encourages low-fat, low calorie consumption, and you don’t want stupid people talking to you as if you are the idiot, then skip Noom and use Weight Watchers. If you’re going to be hungry, you don’t want to feel like someone’s adding insult to the injury by belittling your intelligence.

Personally, I’m ready to try something else. Something drastic.

Watch this space.

Why WW Didn’t Work for Me

In this article, I refer to the company as both Weight Watchers and WW. The official name used to be Weight Watchers, but they recently rebranded to just WW. A lot of people still refer to the company by the long name, so I’m using both interchangeably.

I wrote a few days ago about my decision to count calories. Or, if not count calories, at least track everything that I eat.

This decision comes as I realize that I need to take my health (and the health of my lower back!) seriously. Not so much focused on a number when it comes to weight loss, but on my back feeling less pressure, feeling strong and healthy.

I’ve Tried WW Before

At the end of 2011, I was about as heavy as I am now. In 2010, I had surgery on my lower back which eliminated running from being my principal exercise.

In 2012, starting a new life in a new place, I decided to try and make some changes. I signed up for what was then Weight Watchers, which is now officially WW.

In the first week, I felt seriously hungry. I remember breaking down in tears at the thought that this was my future: feeling hungry all the time.

It Got Better

Gradually, it got better and just by tracking and eating less (not exercising regularly), I did manage to lose a good 10kg in about nine months.

I noticed, though, that Weight Watchers steered me heavily towards low-fat and low calorie options, and encouraged a lot of fruit consumption (high in sugar).

I was doing WW online, and I liked the app and the relative ease of tracking. However, putting all my recipes in (since I do mostly cook from scratch) was pretty tedious, and the database of known Canadian ingredients wasn’t huge.

At one point, when I had hit a plateau and wanted to try and re-motivate myself, I attended a couple of meetings.

Meetings Were a No-Go

The meetings heavily pushed Weight Watchers products. There were always arrays of packaged “healthy” foods: treats, salty snacks, prepared meals, all branded.

That was a bit of a turn-off. Also, the focus of the meetings didn’t seem right to me.

Instead of talking about making healthy lifestyle changes, the leader and other members seemed to focus on how to “cheat.”

They were constantly looking for ways to try and fool their taste buds or their stomachs into thinking they had eaten something they craved, or eaten more.

I stopped attending after two meetings.

Fizzled Out

Eventually, the whole process lost its charm, and my use of the app and tracking fizzled out.

I have actually twice signed up again for WW, only to let it drop. Once in 2018, when we were living in Germany. It is not huge in Germany, and I was using the American site. Tracking the ingredients and foods I was eating there was very difficult, and I soon gave up.

A second time was earlier this year.

Rebranded from Weight Watchers to WW

In early 2020, I tried again. Weight Watchers is now WW and the rebranding has included a revamping of their points system.

You are assigned a color, and based on your color, some foods are “allowed” and others are not.

If you are purple, you get fewer points for eating potatoes than if you are blue, for instance.

I also tried attending meetings again (this was pre-pandemic). But once again, though there was more sharing of tasty recipes in this group, there was a lot of talk about “fooling” yourself into think you’re eating what you’re not.

Already a bit skeptical, when the pandemic hit I didn’t bother to try the virtual meetings. I also found that their points system didn’t work for me, and I gave up tracking again.

Eventually, I canceled my membership yet again.

An Individualized Approach

After thinking about it and wondering why I found it so hard to stick with WW, I have come to a couple of conclusions.

  • Firstly, I don’t like being told what to do by someone (or some entity) I don’t know and respect. With the online version, I don’t have any personal interaction (minus the online discussions, and let’s not even go there). And in the face-to-face meetings I attended, I couldn’t respect the person leading.
  • Secondly, despite having lost weight on WW before, I wasn’t really building lasting habits. I don’t think any app or program can do that for me, and WW certainly didn’t. I lost a lot of weight, looked great in the photos at my wedding, and then went back to old habits.

It’s not like I don’t know what I need to do. And it’s not like I am a weak-willed person who cannot discipline herself enough to build new habits.

But I think that I need something more personalized and more tailored than Weight Watchers offers.

That’s When I Tried Noom.

I’ll tell you about that another time.

(Spoiler alert: IT SUCKED.)

Not a Moral Failing

A year or so before my mother died, I decided there was one subject I could not broach with her.

At one point, I concluded that anything that had to do with diets, weight loss, weight management or my relationship with food (other than sharing great recipes) was off limits.

Without making any kind of formal announcement, I quietly closed that avenue of conversation with my mother. There seemed to be no point in keeping it open.

Let me Explain

I have always “struggled” with my weight. Or at least, that is what I have always thought.

In reality, I have only technically been “overweight” at two points in my life. The first time was after surgery in 2010 when my exercise habits had to change dramatically. The second time is now, after having had two babies.

What was happening before now amounts to this: I was never as skinny as my mother had been as a child and young woman.

This is not to throw shade on my mother.

I can see in hindsight, however, that her own relationship with food was likely somewhat disordered. It’s not surprising, therefore, that she should unconsciously communicate some of those disordered feelings to her daughter.

Building Frustration Over Years

When I was a teenager, my mother and I started having conversations about food.

We would talk about our habits, and we would talk about healthy habits. We would compare the two, analyse ourselves, agree that we knew what we had to do to improve.

We’d talk and talk and talk, but rarely did anything change.

Eventually, these conversations felt so cyclical, so repetitive, so fruitless and ultimately so demoralizing, that I gently but firmly put a stop to them.

It Wasn’t About Me

Again with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that these conversations weren’t so much about me as they were about my mother.

I had always thought that my mom struggled with her weight after she hit menopause. I recently learned, however, that her efforts to control her weight began long before then.

This surprised me. I always remember my mother being slim. I can remember her wearing a bikini at the beach on summer holidays. If I can remember it, I was likely five or six, making her at least 39 years old.

It turns out, though, that her weight and her relationship with food were probably two of her biggest demons.

The Effect On Me

It’s funny how now it seems so clear, so obvious, that these searching, analytical conversations about our weight and how we ate were more for her benefit than for mine.

In her effort to talk herself into a healthy mindset, she unconsciously made me feel like I was failing, like I weighed too much, and like I wasn’t healthy enough.

I know she didn’t mean to do this. I know none of this was malicious. But the truth is that these conversations, while they were probably meant to be helpful, were actually quite damaging to my self image and self esteem.

So Here We Are

Our habits are our own. No one else can make our choices for us. However, the example we see from the people we are closest to, the people we look up to, and the people we love most can have a huge influence.

All this to say that I have a few demons (some inherited, some my own) to push back against.

One demon that I have to fight hard against might have been inherited (my mother never said this), or it could come from societal attitudes. That is the idea that being overweight is somehow a moral failing.

It is not.

Just because I struggle to maintain a healthy weight (and I define “healthy weight” by whatever weight I need to be at for my back to feel good), does not make me a weak person.

A Question of Habit

That’s what it comes down to. Our habits are the things that we do without even realizing it. We’re so used to them that we don’t consciously choose to do them.

That is why they are so hard to change.

My aim is to change my eating habits from ones of extremes (Eat all the things! Deny myself everything!) to ones of moderation.

It’s not easy. It’s not going to happen overnight. And it won’t likely happen without help.

Which is why I write about it here. Because you’ve all been so helpful.

My mother was helpful, too. And I know she would be proud of me right now. She wanted for me what she felt unable to do herself. With your help, dear readers, I’ll get there.

God willing.

I Am Not a Garbage Disposal

It’s my new mantra.

I have to mutter it to myself 4-5 times a day, as I look at what my children have left on their plates.

This is a huge pitfall for parents trying to lose weight, I have learned.

Still Counting

It’s been about ten days, and I am still counting those calories. Thanks to some very sagacious advice from my godfather, I have also added some strength training to my fitness routine.

There have been good days and bad days. Some days I have too much, other days I don’t even eat all my allotted daily calories (rare), but I’m counting everything.

Some days, I feel perfectly satisfied.

Other days, I feel like I spend the day hungry. I’m convinced it’s psychological, because those days are the ones when I have less going on. I’m not as busy, hovering around the kitchen more.

Those are the days when my kids’ plates are especially dangerous.

Family Rule

We have one kid who simply doesn’t eat a lot, and another kid who is a picky eater. The Bug will taste pretty much anything, but he won’t eat lots of it. The Bear will flat-out refuse to eat things.

To mitigate the exhaustion and unpleasantness that can be mealtimes, we have instituted one simple rule:

One bite of everything.

Whatever foods are on their plates, they must take one bite of each. This can lead to faces, complaints and protests, but generally they comply.

The trouble is that whatever they don’t like gets left on their plates.

Often, the things they don’t like are the things that I love!

After eating, once they’ve cleared their plates to the counter, I have to steel myself before heading to the kitchen to start tidying.

It’s so easy to finish off what they’ve left behind! And it seems like such a waste!

(The worst part is that Chico can finish their plates AND have his own helping of seconds and never bat an eyelash. If I were to do that, I’d see the difference on the scale the very next morning.)

Building Up the Willpower

Different people have different approaches to this problem. I’ve heard of people squirting dish soap on their kids’ plates as soon as they get to the kitchen in order to avoid the temptation.

What’s helped me, though, is the knowledge that I must write everything down.

Today, the school-provided lunch was “pizza crunchers.” Basically, fried balls of mozzarella stuffed with tomato sauce. Neither of the kids liked them very much, and they left most of them on their plates.

The golden lumps of fat gleamed up at me from their plates. Their siren call was in their smell. They smelled delicious.

Just one bite, I told myself.

I picked one up, but instead of feeling a crispy crust between my fingers, all I felt was a soggy, smooshy lump.

That broke the spell. I dropped it back onto the plate (splat!), quickly carried it into the kitchen and emptied it into the garbage.

Whew! That was close!

Feeling Pretty Good

I managed to resist temptation. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

And then the boys and I baked brownies.

Pizza Perfection

It’s not every day I pull off five (nearly) perfect pizzas.

But today, I (nearly) did it!

(There was just the one that didn’t slide smoothly off the pizza peel and turned out looking a bit more like a calzone, but it was still delicious!)

Using the NYT’s pizza dough recipe from Roberta’s pizzeria in Brooklyn, I have yet to make a bad pizza.

I’ve certainly made ugly pizzas, but narry a bad one!

My First Pizzas

Back in January, our Bug asked for pizza for his birthday dinner. He had meant Papa John’s takeout pizza, but since his grandfather was visiting and family friends were joining us, I nixed that idea tout de suite.

I went in whole hog. I ordered a pizza stone and pizza peel on Amazon, and started researching good pizza dough recipes.

I bought 00 flour from a fancy grocery store (turns out Giant has it, too), and made the dough a day in advance and let it rise in the fridge overnight.

On his birthday, we had guests for dinner and I was making a dish I had never made before. I was breaking my mom’s cardinal rule of entertaining: Always serve a dish you’ve made before and know you can make well!

What the hell. The kid wanted pizza.

By some miracle, the dough turned out perfectly. I put together three absolutely delicious pizzas.

Granted, the kitchen looked like it had been hit by a bomb and there was flour EVERYWHERE. But the pizzas were good.

Fast forward to today

I’ve had a few disasters between that first time and now. The fact the pizza turned out so well for the Bug’s birthday must have been beginner’s luck.

Each disaster has been a learning opportunity (don’t overload the pizza!), and almost every time I make it, it gets better.

So I was super proud of the pizza I made today.

Not only that, I was super proud of myself for being so organized that despite there being flour everywhere for the pizza making, cleanup was a breeze.

I’m really getting the hang of this…

Next time the challenge will be to sneak some vegetables onto the boys’ pizza.

Culture Shock

As I wrote recently, I’ve been enjoying some serious brain candy reading these days.

I’ve read several books in Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series. These books aren’t quite romance novels, but nearly. They’re rom-coms!

Girl meets boy, they fall for each other, their relationship moves along swimmingly until there’s some kind of conflict or crisis that splits them apart. But soon they realize they were made for each other and make it up in a funny/romantic way. Happy endings all around!

From Here But Not From Here

Guillory is from California, and all of the books I’ve read have been set in L.A. or in the Bay Area.

I live on the east coast of the U.S., and while it’s the same USA, there are a lot of cultural differences between east and west, north and south in this country.

Also, though I am American, I have lived the vast majority of my life outside of the United States. My husband is European, I myself and a dual citizen.

So while I’m here, I never feel really from here.

The Biggest Culture Shock

The biggest element of culture shock that has hit me since being here, and since reading these books, is all about…


Food is a big part of Guillory’s novels. Of course it is! Her characters are going on dates, which most often involve eating together.

But what strikes me as so strange is WHAT and WHERE they eat. And all the snacks!

First Off: What.

Donuts. Pastries. Pizza. Tacos. In-N-Out (a California thing, I think?).

Even the one character I’ve encountered who likes to cook (Carlos in The Proposal) mostly eats takeout.

Granted, Guillory’s characters are busy 30-something-year-old professionals. They’re career-driven doctors and lawyers. They start off single in the books, living in their own flats or houses.

When I was a single young professional, I didn’t do much cooking for myself, either. It’s no fun to cook for one!

But damn. Reading these books and seeing what they eat, I wonder how her characters stay so trim in their mid-thirties.

Secondly: Where.

Here’s a list of where Guillory’s characters eat:

  1. On the couch
  2. In the car
  3. At their desks
  4. In bed
  5. In a restaurant

Taking most of their meals on the couch?? This, to me, was the biggest culture shock. In all three books I’ve read, she’s specifically said that someone or other doesn’t even own a dining table.

Even when I lived in a tiny one-room studio flat, I had a dining table. Every meal that I ate at home, I sat down to eat it at the table.

Not Just In Books

And this has been a general theme in meeting new people and going into other people’s homes in the States (something we haven’t done since February, mind you…).

Dining tables are covered with stuff. They’re clearly not where the family eats.

I remember living with a college professor and her family one summer during my undergraduate studies, and I was deeply surprised to learn that their family of three rarely sat down for a meal together.

Mostly, they ate take-out on the couch.

I thought this was just a weird quirk of that one family, but I have since encountered it so many other places.

And What is With the Snacks??

Reading Guillory, I’ve learned about “bag snacks” (snacks carried in one’s purse), “desk snacks” (snacks stored in one’s desk drawers) and “car snacks” (presumably, snacks stored in… cars).

Elsewhere, especially among families with kids, I’ve noticed that snacking is a HUGE thing in the States.

Parents on the playground are always armed with food distractions like Goldfish, cookies, crackers, gummies and more.

Don’t get me wrong: we eat two snacks a day. One mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Sometimes our snacks are on the go, like at the park or the playground. But as soon as it’s time to eat, my boys are washing (or wiping) their hands, they’re sitting down and they’re staying on their butts until their food is done, or they’re full. This, I’ve learned, is unusual (“How do you get them to sit still and eat?” one mom asked me.)

Food as an Event

Really, the key thing that brought on culture shock for me was the fact that eating in this country doesn’t seem to be much of an event.

Growing up in Switzerland (with American parents, mind you!), eating was An Event.

For all meals (and most snacks, too!), my family would sit down together. They happened at about the same time each day, and each meal had a clear beginning and end.

Dinner, especially, would begin with grace and end with asking, “May I please be excused?” and carrying our plates to the kitchen sink.

The act of sitting down to eat together was so important to my parents, that I still remember the year we didn’t take any summer vacation to the States. It was because that year, Mom and Dad had paid for a nice dining room table with 8 chairs and a matching sideboard.

Sticking With It

Even though I’m learning that this is not how many Americans approach eating, I’m sticking with it.

Maybe it’s because I absolutely hate the feeling of crumbs on a couch or on a bed, but I will NOT STAND for food anywhere but on the table.

It’s also how Chico grew up, and to us, it’s a natural thing for our family to gather together to eat.

The Beauty of Culture…

…Is that you can take it anywhere.

And the beauty of the United States is that there are so many intersecting cultures here that you can go from one house to another in a neighborhood and experience something of culture shock.

Who knows? Maybe when the pandemic is over and we actually have people over to our house again, someone will experience culture shock in our house.

Cake Exhaustion

I’m too tired to write.

Why? Because I decorated a cake today.

And then ate too much of it.

Our Bear turned three today, and BOY is he three. You know. A threenager. He’s adorable, hilarious, fun, funny and EXHAUSTING.

He requested a Thomas-themed birthday with a “Thomas cake.” Luckily, what a “Thomas cake” actually was was up to me.


I wanted my cake to look like this beaut’ from Living Well Mom:

What I got was this:

Two things are evident here:

  1. My phone is old and the camera is crap;
  2. My cake decorating skills are not as good as Living Well Mom’s.

Here’s another view for good measure:

The Reception

“It’s Thomas!” he shouted as I approached with the cake. He was delighted.

But then he realized that the Thomas on the cake was actually his toy mini Thomas (thoroughly washed before being placed on the cake). And he was none too pleased about that.

Here he is, removing Thomas from the cake:

The cake was delicious. The buttercream frosting was particularly tasty.

(It helped that the cake was the devil’s food cake box from Betty Crocker. Hey, my time and effort went into the decorating, NOT the baking.)

Happy birthday to our little man. Here’s to another waltz around the sun with you.

Sugar High!

23. Sugar: Write something so sweet, it makes your teeth hurt.

Here’s a list of some of my very favorite sweet treats the boys and I have been enjoying during lockdown. I have resolved not to eat any sweets not of my own making, so because I have a terrible sweet tooth, we’ve been doing a lot of baking.

New Zealand afghan biscuits (AKA chocolate corn flake cookies). A wonderful combination of chewy and crispy, with chocolate frosting on top. Here’s the recipe I use. (Slight modification: I add a scant 1/2 tsp salt to the cookie recipe and I put 1 tbsp melted butter and 1 tbsp milk in the frosting instead of water.)

Fudgy cocoa brownies. I can never be bothered to melt the chocolate down in the bain marie, blah blah blah… This recipe is fudgy and delicious and is made with cocoa powder. Easy.

Banana bread. Bananas keep going brown, no matter how many we devour. When I get four good ripe ones, I freeze them until I have time to make banana bread. I always put in walnuts.

Cranberry upside-downer. My très chère cousine sent me Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking as a housewarming gift. I bless and curse her every day. My taste buds bless her, my waistline curses her. This cranberry upside-downer is my favorite recipe from the book so far. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and tart, and can be served with ice cream for dessert or enjoyed as an indulgent breakfast coffee cake.

Big crumb coffee cake. ‘Nuff said.

Apple (or plum, or rhubarb, or blueberry…) pie. I decided to learn how to make pie in 2018. I am both glad and angry I did. Glad because I love pie. Angry because my waistline has yet another reason to curse. I used to use an apple pie recipe from the NYT, but since life is too short to pre-cook the apples, I now use Dorie Greenspan’s recipe. (Bonus: here is my favorite all-butter pie crust.)

The boys love to help me bake. The afghan biscuits above are great because the recipe doesn’t include eggs, meaning I’m less worried about their licking the dough. Here’s another egg-free recipe that my mom got somewhere (not sure where so I can’t give proper credit, sorry).

Oatmeal Raisin Bread

1 cup oatmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ cup plain yogurt (I use Greek or whole fat)
¼ cup molasses
1 cup raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Grease and flour a bread pan.
  2. Combine the oatmeal, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together well.
  3. In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure out the yogurt. Pour in the molasses until you have 1 ½ cups of liquid. You can either stir it together, or I like to use my immersion blender to really mix the molasses into the yogurt. Add to the dry ingredients. Stir in the raisins.
  4. Pour (or spread, because it will be thick) into the prepared bread pan and bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This bread isn’t too sweet, so we love to have it for breakfast and spread all kinds of delicious things on it. Nutella, jam, marmalade, honey… And always, always butter.

Baking as a Family

Baking is fun and relaxing, and it’s the only way to get the boys interested in the kitchen. They morph into my little sous-chefs and usually end up with sticky faces. I will break with blog precedent to include a photo of them after our latest batch of brownies had gone into the oven.

There’s trouble for you.

Hopelessly Addicted

16. Addict: Everyone’s addicted to something in some shape or form. What are things you can’t go without?

Tea. I cannot go without tea.

Can this article be done?

What, you need further explanation? Fine.

Coffee vs Tea

Think of coffee. It has caffeine, it gives you that boost you need to kickstart your day. Its bitter flavor and strong smell combine to activate your get-up-and-get-going mode.

Now think of tea. (I am speaking, naturally, of the only tea worth drinking. That is Yorkshire Tea, produced by Taylor’s of Harrogate, Yorkshire. If you disagree, stop reading immediately and just go away.)

Sure, it doesn’t have as much caffeine as coffee. And it doesn’t have the energizing smell of coffee. And though it can be bitter if left to brew too long, it doesn’t have the same tangy bitterness as coffee.

So what is so wonderful about it?

Simply everything.

Tea Time is Me Time

My best friend once told me that life gets 10% better when you put the kettle on. Time and again, I have found this statement to be true.

In these times of social isolation and spending seemingly endless days at home, the one thing that lifts my spirits without fail is when I hear my beloved husband put the kettle on to make me a cup of tea.

(A quick side note to say that the saintly man does not even drink tea himself, but he brews a mean cup of tea. He’s got it down to a science, and now I almost prefer a cup of his brewing to my own. He also seems to have a sixth sense for knowing exactly when I need a cup of tea.)

Tea, since it’s made with boiling water, is much hotter than coffee and stays warm longer. When your tea is ready, you know that you have probably 10 to 15 minutes to enjoy it while it is still warm.

That’s 10 or 15 minutes for you to sip, close your eyes, and enjoy the warmth spreading through your mouth, down your throat and into your belly. The warmth then spreads from your core, slowly through your body, finally reaching your outer extremities. You curl your toes in response to it, and inevitably you take a deep breath and let out a sigh of contentment.

Characteristics of Tea

Just the act of wrapping your hands around a warm mug of tea is addictive. The calm that then descends on me in that moment is what I crave.

Coffee tastes like a swift kick in the butt saying, “Get up! Get to work!” But tea… Tea tastes like a best friend saying, “Come on over and sit a spell.” It’s inviting, it’s kind. It’s comforting and caring.

It also stains your teeth something fierce. Oh, well. I guess that’s the price of addiction.