Monday, January 30, 2012

PEGNAMS' BUNKHOUSE RECIPE FOR POSSE STEW

Well, the saga continues. We were living in the Bunkhouse. Dreams really do come true. 

Unfortunately, there was no scale in the Bunkhouse. Prickly Pete says that he weighed 185 when we moved in and 215 when we moved out three years later.

I cooked up a storm and he ate everything I cooked. Obviously, I did too. Not much room to move around in there so we didn’t get a lot of exercise after meals.

I did manage to waddle up the driveway to go to work in the real estate office and the store. With three sets of stairs to get from the bottom level to the top level of the store I thought I was getting lots of exercise.

And, we did have to walk up the driveway two times a day to get there. It was up hill. Pant! Pant!!


One of our more rigorous forms of exercise was shoveling snow. Of course, a hearty stew and some homemade bread are called for after such an event.

My favorite Posse Stew story involved a huge snowstorm and the local fire chief.


Waking to being completely snowed in, we didn’t rush out in the morning to check things out. We decided to give the sun a chance to melt the top couple of layers. Let’s eat a big breakfast, have another cup of coffee…put another log on the fire. You get the idea. Not lots of ambition to get to work.

It was so cozy in the Bunkhouse. Getting snowed in is…well…romantic. Sigh.

Whatever the day might bring, we needed something nourishing to eat. Peter had a nice fire going in the woodstove and he made a fresh loaf of Sourdough bread.

I raided the pantry and came up with the ingredients to make a batch of Posse Stew. With the crock pot on simmer and the Bunkhouse fire roaring, we could safely leave for a little while and do something about the snow.

This was the day that Dan stopped by to help us shovel. He had probably already shoveled many driveways and the fire station before he saw us struggling. All the while, we had been sitting by the fire being our fat and happy selves.


Calamity Janet shoveling...Ski and Oso watching.
We invited him to join us for the noon meal to thank him for his help. He graciously accepted and ate what we offered.

Afterwards, he said, “I like Posse Stew. It stays with you for a long time.”

We were not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Almost certainly, Posse Stew came from the settlement called Round Valley just down the mountain from Greer.

The Apache County Sheriff’s Posse gets around on horseback. They have to go out into the mountains to search for people, they sponsor the annual 4th of July Apache County Rodeo and they ride in parades.

When I was involved in putting on the annual Greer Days event, the Sheriff’s Posse brought their cooking trailer to cook the Sunday morning pancake breakfast. They set up out at Bunch Reservoir, complete with tables, chairs, and the cool, crisp mountain air.

No doubt, the trailer they brought to cook pancakes had seen its share of Posse Stew. Their typical recipe no doubt called for ground beef.

But wild turkey is plentiful in the mountains. Might “cookie” sometimes have used turkey in his Posse Stew? I think so.

Calamity Janet’s Happy and Healthy Posse Stew

Ingredients:

3-tablespoons oil
1-pound ground turkey or ground whatever
1-whole chopped onion
1-heaping tablespoon chopped garlic


1-28 ounce can of diced or stewed tomatoes, smashed
2-26 ounce cans (or one 52-ounce can) Ranch Style Beans
1-29 ounce can of Juanita’s Mexican Style Hominy
1-15.25 ounce whole kernel corn
1-7 ¾ ounce can El Pato Salsa de Chile Fresco
2-4 ounce cans of diced green chile.
Salt and pepper


Process:

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot on medium heat or on the campfire.
When the oil gets hot, add the chopped onion and the chopped garlic.
When the onion and garlic get transparent and look soft, add the ground turkey.
Use a potato masher to mash the turkey so it gets crumbly as it browns.
When the turkey is browned well, add the other ingredients.
Stir it until it bubbles.
If you will be eating within the hour, put a lid on the pot and simmer on the stove until time to eat.
If you will not be going to eat soon, put the stew into a covered crock-pot and simmer on low all day.
If necessary, Posse Stew freezes well.

To serve, ladle into big bowls and have some sour cream, chopped green onion and shredded cheddar cheese available as toppings.

Some good sides are quesadillas or corn chips.

Fresh fruit is good for dessert to cleanse the palette.

Happy trails!



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

AN APPETITE FOR A "TINY HOUSE"

Janet is fond of recounting how the two of us lived together in a 280-square-foot bunkhouse for three years.


That is an exaggeration. It wasn't 280 square feet. It was smaller than that. Neither was it a bunkhouse. That is a euphemism. It started out as the wranglers' shack at the Golden Horseshoe Stables. Emphasis on shack.


When the stables were torn down, Janet paid good money to have the ruin she lovingly called the bunkhouse dragged over a few feet to her property to bask in all its lopsided grandeur.

It had a funky front door, but no back door, although there was a nice hole where one might go if there ever might be a reason to close up the place. There was a rusted wood stove that threatened to ignite the estate whenever anyone had the guts to start a fire. On the other hand, it did have an overhead sprinkler system (also known as a leaky roof).

It had thick plank flooring deeply scarred over the years by the spurs of many a wrangler killing time sitting around a table playing dominoes on a rainy summer afternoon.

There was no bathroom, no kitchen, no water, no electricity. Maybe “shack” was too kind a word.

Janet confided in me one day soon after we met that her dream was to move from her big, real house on the front of the property to her precious bunkhouse at the backside of the half-acre.

If only..., she sighed. If only she had a big, strong, smart, visionary of a man to make it all happen. Ta-dah.


NO, HE DID NOT CARRY ME OVER THE THRESHOLD~CJ
Electricity, plumbing, new interior walls and ceiling and a back door, even, got the old gal (Bunkhouse) gussied up and the big moving day came about a year later. Somehow we squeezed into that tiny space a nice bathroom, a kitchen area with a full size oven, a built-in dishwasher, a refrigerator and a used-brick area crowned with a hand-hewed juniper mantle for the wood stove.

We were able to add a loft area for the bed and closet, all accessible by a rustic kiva-style ladder. It was not possible to stand up in the loft, so we had to walk hunched over. Not too hard once you get the hang of it.


TALL, SKINNY FRIEND TEST LOFT LADDER
That wood stove was our only heat. One year we went through 11 cords of wood, all split by that, sigh, big, strong guy.


SCARY MOUNTAIN MAN HUSBAND
What memories! Our Bunkhouse was a few feet from Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest land, only a short walk to the Little Colorado River and some ponds and beyond that...wilderness. It was possible in theory to walk straight out that new back door, cross the meadow and river and keep going east all the way to Texas without encountering anything resembling a town.


THE COWS. OUR BACKYARD IS OPEN RANGE.
Whenever we heard – and felt – things that go bump in the night we knew it was an elk bumbling against our home while partaking of a few offerings from our garden.


THE ELK. I SAID I FEED EVERYTHING.
That garden gave us bumper crops of lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, garlic and potatoes. The growing season is short in Arizona high country, where the danger of frost doesn't pass until June 15 and a freeze is possible by September 1. So some things can't be grown.

Salads were a nightly summer staple, for us and the critters.

One summer afternoon, I headed out the back door with my fishing pole and a few night crawlers taken hostage that morning from our driveway. “Going to catch dinner,” I told Janet in my most-confidant tone. She issued a non-believing chuckle in return.

It wasn't but a half-hour later I was walking back across the meadow with a string of rainbow trout. Janet screeched with delight. Trout from the river. A potato and salad from our garden. Ahhhhh!

The Bunkhouse is where I learned to eat mushrooms gathered in the damp hillsides in late summer.

Janet taught me how to find and identify a shaggy mane, the only non-poisonous one she was confidant of getting right.

The first time we did this together, we brought home shaggy manes to have with our steak. Janet cooked them to perfection. The next day, she took the leftover, cooked mushrooms and turned them into a gravy. The next day, she took those leftovers and turned them into a soup. Yum.

Trying to hold up my end of the food thing, I gathered wild raspberries in season from the shore around Badger Pond and baked occasional loaves of bread. I always had to make two loaves: One for us to eat as it came out of the oven and the other to eat over the next day or two. Two days? Who are we kidding? It was gone within 36 hours.

One of our favorites was the garden herb loaf recipe straight from the Fleischmann yeast book.

Good food smells are so intensified in such a small space. That is what we blame our Bunkhouse Diet on, but more about that in a later blog. (Hint: Bunkhouse Diet has nothing to do with losing weight.)

Adding to our bounty that first year was the “harvesting” of an elk by HD. We dined often on elk and loved the flavor.



During a visit by children, Janet fixed a delicious sausage gravy for our morning biscuits. We didn't inform a squeamish one, JC, that it was made from elk until after she ate. She nearly lost it and gave us a look that said: Why are you trying to poison me?

We kept a bowl of dry food on the front porch for our dogs, Ski and Oso, who ate from it when they couldn't find anything better. They once dragged home the hind-quarter of an elk and on another occasion came home with a whole pizza.


Oso and Ski...a rare nap in the Bunkhouse
Raccoons, skunks and bears also visited our feeding station. We learned from experience that Milk Bone dog biscuits brought in the bears, so quit leaving those outside.



One of our dogs, Oso, was strange. He appeared normal but would never let anyone, including us, touch him. Neither would he eat if he knew someone was watching.

On one summer evening when the weather cooperated, we dined on our back deck with a couple who was renting a nearby cabin. Our lady guest fancied herself to be a dog whisperer and offered to communicate with Oso for us.

If this had been a betting situation, I would have put all my money on Oso, who was keeping his usual 12 feet of distance from us. Dog Whisperer talked gently to Oso, who retreated one foot for every foot DW advanced.

DW eventually got down and rolled around in the meadow grass in an attempt, I guess, to bond with Oso. He would have none of it and gave our guest amused looks from his position, 12 feet away.

When the futile dance was over, we thanked DW for the performance. It had been a great meal, entertainment and all. Oso wagged his tail.

We had run electricity to the bunkhouse underground, so the sagging structure gave no outward appearance that it was habitable. Once in a while, a tourist from the city would carefully approach and look in the window and proclaim: “My God. Someone is living in there!” That made us proud.


Janet's friends from Tucson came to visit with the excuse that they wanted to wish her a happy birthday. They really just wanted to make sure she was okay.
Eventually, I attached a satellite TV dish to the outside wall and that really befuddled the tourists.



We didn't watch much TV, as the outside wildlife activities kept us entertained. Coyotes, bobcats, deer, migrating waterfowl, bald eagles and, of course, elk. Two blue herons nested on a small island in a small pond out back. We named them Gilligan and Mary Ann.

Another activity to pass the time was snow shoveling. One time, a particularly nasty storm left a big drift across our driveway. Janet and I both set out to shovel an opening for our truck.



We hadn't been at it too long when Dan Leeds stopped his car on the street. Dan is a native of the mountain, a self-employed logger, the guy who made the Greer fire department a reality.

Without a word, he grabbed a shovel from his car and started digging. We told him how much we appreciated his help.

“That's what neighbors are for,” he replied as he kept shoveling.

Janet offered him a bowl of posse stew as a reward, which Dan graciously accepted.

Good food. Good memories.
By guest blogger, Prickly Pete





Saturday, January 21, 2012

COUNTRY STYLE PORK RIBS, SPOONBREAD AND HOMEMADE APPLESAUCE




The Puritan and the Pilgrim
If there is any “recipe” for a good marriage, it is this scripture. Mi Amigo Pedro came to my life with these qualities and has continually been this kind of person to me. He is an example of decency, goodness, kindness, love and abiding commitment. Every day I pray that I can be the kind of person he is.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices at the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

But, of course, we do have to eat...and a sense of humor is essential.

Here are some of the recipes from that life-changing Memorial Day weekend menu:

Country Style Pork Ribs 

You will need:

Three Country Style Ribs per person.
1 fresh lemon per pan of ribs
1 whole white onion per pan of ribs
1-18 ounce bottle of barbeque sauce per pan of ribs
Foil
11” X 13” glass pans
Salt
Pepper


Process:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place the ribs in a 9X13 glass pan, side by side. You can have as many pans of ribs as your oven will hold.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on the ribs.

After the oven has preheated, place the pans of ribs in the oven for 20 minutes. This is to burn some of the fat off of the ribs.

There will be smoke pouring out of the oven and you will hear lots of sizzling. The smoke alarm might even go off. Don’t panic!

Turn the oven temperature down to 325 degrees.

Open the oven carefully and take out the pan of ribs.
Pour the fat from the pan into a glass-measuring cup.

I let the fat cool a little and then pour it over the dogs’ dry food and mix it up. They really appreciate it.

Back to the ribs…

Loosen the ribs from the bottom of the pan with a spatula.

Pour barbecue sauce over the ribs, lifting the ribs up with the spatula a little so some sauce can get under the ribs. There should also be some sauce on top of the ribs.

Peel and slice the onions, separate the onion rings and place those on top of the ribs.
Slice the lemons and place lemon slices on top of the ribs and the onions.

Cover the pan tightly with foil.

Place the covered pan back in the oven and let cook for three hours.

Time to eat? Remove the ribs from the oven and place on a platter using a spatula. They will be so tender they will fall apart.

Sammi’s Favorite Spoonbread

Ingredients:

1 8-ounce package corn muffin mix
1 8-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1 8-ounce can cream style corn
1-cup cottage cheese (eliminate when cooking over a fire)
½ cup melted butter
2 slightly beaten eggs
1 small can diced green chile
Shredded cheddar cheese

Mix together and put in greased square glass baking dish
Sprinkle shredded cheese over all.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes.

This can be cooked over a campfire. Put all ingredients into a covered cast iron skillet. 


Homemade Applesauce

I used to buy a large jar of unsweetened applesauce and add some cinnamon sugar to it.

Now we have MAP’s special homemade applesauce. Homemade is always better. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

4 tart Granny Smith apples, peeled, sliced in chunks off the core.
¼-cup sugar
¼-cup water
Ground cinnamon

Process:

Put apples, sugar and water in a medium saucepan.
Sprinkle some cinnamon to taste across the top of the ingredients and mix it in.
Heat to a simmer (bubbling slightly)
Cover the pan.
Cook slowly until the apples are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Mash with a fork.
Refrigerate.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

HOW I LOST 150 POUNDS IN 30 YEARS: The Third Dieting Decade

Cooking for other people has always given me much pleasure. As my children got older, they started to have favorite things they liked for me to cook for them. They invited their friends to come to our house for a meal so I think they were confident that I could serve up things that they all liked.

It also forced me to practice perfecting many recipes that I had set aside while they were little.

No more spaghetti-os or colorful sugary cereal or chicken noodle soup. Their tastes were becoming more sophisticated.

During the school year, they were involved in sports. Practice or games were after school or in the evenings. Being a teacher at the school they attended, I stayed in town to watch their practices or games and would take them to eat in one of the restaurants in town. We rarely got home until late at night, long after mealtime.

HD and Rica never had practices or games at the same time, of course. Often I would take one to dinner while the other was practicing and then take the other to dinner, always trying to fit homework into the schedule.

I tried to make a point of not taking them to get “fast food” but giving them more of an option for a healthier meal in a sit-down restaurant.

They learned how to order and eat in restaurants very well. If we  would get home late but still hadn’t had dinner, we would walk across the street to Molly Butler’s Lodge. The children learned to eat Prime Rib, steak, and fried shrimp, Special Steak with Mormon Gravy, and, to order the fried chicken with a side of Mormon Gravy for dipping the French fries. One of my tall skinny friends used to manage Molly Butler’s and she had taught me this special tip. So-o-o-o good.

Molly’s was our special occasion place. No matter how often we went there, we never tired of it. All of the children worked there at different times over the years as their school and life’s schedules would allow.

Many times I considered the advantages of moving to town. Somehow it just never made sense. Our life in Greer was too perfect. In the summer, they worked and played in the village. I worked in my real estate office just across the driveway from our cabin.

The children always knew where I was and I usually knew where they were. They were safe in Greer….and happy.

There’s something about driving up and down the mountain that gave me a sense of peace. On Friday afternoons I absolutely couldn’t wait to get home to our cozy cabin. I would encourage the children to have friends visit and I always cooked up a storm on the weekends for everyone.

My friends from my previous life in the desert would also come for visits often, usually on holiday weekends. We had to go to Molly Butler’s at least one time during their visit and I would plan to cook a big meal for another night.

On one memorable Memorial Day weekend, when I was right in the middle of being skinny again, something happened that gave me a reason to cook for someone else on a full-time basis…hopefully for a very long time.

Mi amigo Pedro (MAP) came into my life.

Two of my friends, the tall skinny ones, had come for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. They left me in my office working while they meandered up the street to check out the First Annual Greer Memorial Day Art Show.

Well, they checked it out all right.

They came back with urgent news.

“We’ll watch the office. Get yourself down to Greer Lodge and check out the artist in the first canopy on the left. He is tall, dark and handsome and is wearing a brown hat.



I bought two paintings (that got his attention) and we were married a year later.
NAVAJO NOVEMBER







HOPI WALPI VILLAGE
I had prepared my favorite Memorial Day meal for my friends’     visit. The children like it as well and there are always lots of leftovers.

MAP got to eat some leftovers and I guess he liked them. I think it was the ribs. He decided to go back to Tucson, quit his job he’d had for 23 years, get a real estate license, and get hitched to little ol’ me. Whoa!

Of course, it did take a year to accomplish all of that, and, he did visit periodically during that year to make sure I knew how to cook more than one thing.

Contentment and love carried me off into the land of “fat and happy”. Boy, did I ever “bulk up”. Tent dresses became the norm and MAP seemed to remain his svelte and handsome self. He didn’t seem to mind that I had changed my body shape by tasting everything I cooked and eating the leftovers after his visits, with HD’s help of course.


Lalalala...Here comes the bride....(you know the rest). Not funny. I should've worn black.









Tuesday, January 10, 2012

HOW I LOST 150 POUNDS IN 30 YEARS: The Second dieting Decade

“I am going to lose so much weight it will take me five years to gain it back.” ~Rush Limbaugh

       
I heard him say this while listening to his radio show a couple of years ago. He was talking about having started the “low-carb” diet again.

I have now eaten myself into the “I weigh more than I want to” zone once again.

It takes me ten years, not five, to get back to reality. And, the good news is that I have never blossomed up to the 185 I weighed when I first went on the diet.

Overconfidence, not Mexican food is the culprit. When I feel good, I eat. When I feel bad, I eat to feel good. It’s a vicious cycle. OK, it’s an emotional response. The psychologists can ramble all day long about what makes us eat what we eat.

I am very opinionated about it. I like to eat fat. It’s in our DNA. The fast food hamburger restaurants didn’t get rich serving “spring greens” for heaven’s sake.

Whatever it is, my second dieting decade was a result of moving to the mountains and the food associated with feeling warm and cozy.

Living in the White Mountains of Arizona is healthy, especially living in a town like Greer. The air is clean because it is hundreds of miles from a large city and you are “in heaven” at 8500’ elevation.

Our water is the snowmelt from Mt. Baldy, the peak that rises above Sunrise Park Ski Resort. It seeps into the ground and comes straight across the Apache reservation land and the forest with nothing in between to contaminate it. Gravity brings the water into our home without the aid of a city water company or electricity.

There are four seasons. A wood fire is usually burning. Yes, even in the summer when the monsoon summer rains come to the mountains it can be chilly.

Of course, comfort food cooking is also nourishing to the senses and the soul. Eating it is a highly prized activity. Our table in Greer was always filled with food and people.

Pappy's Diner on Main Street in Greer, Arizona
A few steps from our front door was Pappy’s Diner. He opened at 5:30 AM every day of the year.

A few steps from the front door the other direction were The Golden Horseshoe Stables. HD and Rica worked there for tips with a few “summer” kids taking dudes on trail rides. They spent many summer rainy days in the wrangler shack listening to tall tales and learning from the cowboys how to play Dominos.

The Golden Horseshoe Stables on Main Street in Greer, Arizona


The children and I would go to the diner for breakfast or lunch pretty often. It was entertaining to stop by and see what the townsfolk were up to, always being greeted by Pappy’s 3-legged dog, Bear.

Yep! That's Pappy getting ready to cook up some steaks for the nightly cook-out on Main Street.

Now and then a tourist would stop by to get a sense of the local “color”. They could easily be “put off” from ordering breakfast when they saw Pappy smoking while cooking, ashes from his cigarette dropping into the skillet.

The chairs were tree stumps and the table was a counter. There were today’s and yesterday’s and last Sunday’s newspapers sitting around in case you didn’t have anyone to talk to.



Right to left, Dad, Mom and Millie sitting on stumps in Pappy's Diner

We locals thought we were “gritty” and would show off for the tourists as we ordered biscuits and gravy, eggs, pancakes, fried potatoes with onions, bacon, and sausage, all cooked on the same grill where, accidentally, of course, Pappy’s cigarette ashes had dropped into the mix.

HD and Rica had friends from town spend the night often. It was always a treat for them to go to Pappy’s for breakfast on their own.

One weekend, Rica had a couple of friends spend the night. The girls went to the diner for breakfast the next morning. They ordered the big country breakfast: Eggs, bacon or sausage, fried potatoes and toast with butter and jelly.

Pappy brought the plates to the table and all seemed well. Everyone was ready to “dig in” and enjoy. Then they noticed Kate’s plate. It was different.

She sat there shyly staring at it.

Her plate had two fresh, unbroken eggs, two frozen sausage links, one unpeeled cold potato and a piece of bread untoasted.

Pappy heard the ruckus and laughter coming from the dining room. He poked his head out from the kitchen, and, with a big smile, came to the table. “Is something wrong?” he queried.

He did bring Kate a cooked breakfast but the “joke” provided a cozy “forever” memory.

Pappy would also cook a hamburger for me for breakfast. Most restaurants make you wait until they’ve cleaned the grill after breakfast because they won’t mix hamburger grease with the grease from cooking bacon and sausage. In this case, the same grill was also used for cooking eggs and pancakes. Yum.

My parents and their friends came from Illinois to Greer to visit (check on us) shortly after we moved there. They loved Pappy’s, the Lee Valley Mercantile and Molly Butler’s.

John, the wrangler, and Dad leaving on their trail ride
John, one of the wranglers from the stables, took my dad on a trail ride in the mountains. John would always tell the unsuspecting “dude” that he spotted fresh bear scat nearby and they would have to be very quiet so that the bear didn’t spook the horses. Dad had such a wonderful afternoon with John. He was rosy cheeked and beaming when he came back to the cabin.


Archie










John, the wrangler, after he made the big time.



Boyce with HD, Anna, and Rica
I invited Archie, the cowboy poet, John, the wrangler, and old Boyce, the horse trainer, to come for dinner to entertain the folks. They had a grand time and laughed so much. And, the cowboys got a home-cooked meal.

This visit would be the last time I saw my dad alive. I had no idea he was so sick. Now when I look at the pictures of him then, I can see how weak he looked.



Just before they left town, Dad stopped by the real estate office and sat down at my desk. He looked at me, took a deep breath, and said, “Janet, if you can manage to make a living in this beautiful little town and find happiness here, you will have fulfilled every dream I could ever have for you and your children.”

Mountain comfort food is the same as comfort food anywhere but I learned to cook a couple of new things after moving there. Biscuits and sausage gravy and Posse Stew come to mind.
This second decade of eating and enjoying the mountain cuisine was coming to an end; I started wearing very large tent-like dresses to my teaching job and I could barely climb the stairs to my classroom without huffing and puffing. The jeans had gone to the back of the closet in exchange for sweat pants as my weekend attire.  I had quit weighing myself.

Summer was coming. I needed to be able to climb mountains to show real estate to customers, I wanted to hike the trails around Greer with my friends; I wanted to feel healthy and energetic.

Enough is enough!!

I bought a scale and lots of eggs. I weighed 170.

I retrieved my jeans from the back of the closet. I started walking to the end of the road and back along the river almost daily, I planned some hiking vacations, I planted a garden and I enjoyed feeling healthy again.

I instructed Pappy to “hold the bun” and had only steak and salad at Molly Butler’s.

I was ready for miracles!

This time I lost 45 pounds.

NEXT: THE THIRD DIETING DECADE





Saturday, January 7, 2012

HOW I LOST 150 POUNDS IN 30 YEARS: The First Dieting Decade

I have always felt fat. I was a chubby kid. Out-of-control premature hormones made me “develop” faster than any of the other girls. At 12 I was taller than everyone else, including the boys. I had bucked teeth that didn’t meet in the middle. Then came the pimples. Geez. I was ugly. More than that, I was uncomfortable in my skin. I felt like a freak.

Mother started working on “fixes” when I was in 7th grade. She was able to fix most things except for my eating habits. She regrettably explained, “Janet’s built like her dad.” That would be short and stocky…chubby in my language.

Six years of cheerleading, playing tennis, swimming, softball, and PE class kept me physically active and healthy. I felt good about myself but was a victim of marketing and what a teenage girl should look like. American Bandstand and Teen magazine didn’t help.

After going to college and being on my own I leveled out. No more “Foxie” 5-course dinners, no fattening sandwiches and fries at the local drugstore for lunch, no trips to the Dairy Queen or “dime store” for some chocolate covered malt balls after school. I felt good about myself and no longer felt weird looking.

At Stephens College we were well fed. We had three meals per day of delicious, nutritious food served in a formal setting (tables of eight) in a very attractive dining room. We had to “dress” for dinner, which meant we must wear dresses, hose and heels. Those were the rebellious ‘60s. Some very brave girls actually would wear hose with “runs” in them. Oh, dear.

The stuffed pork chops were my favorite. With lots of walking everywhere and regular meals that were included in the tuition, I was on a diet of sorts during those years. Extra money for snacking was hard to come by. We saved whatever extra change we might have for the newly invented item called “pizza”. What a treat!

In my early 20s I decided to be a vegetarian. That didn’t last long and I didn’t lose weight. I maintained a healthy weight, I think.

Then I started to learn to cook and I had three babies. With each baby, I gained some weight but it was the 9-pound baby boy that made me eat with reckless abandon.

THE FIRST DIETING DECADE:

On a check-up to the baby doctor a year after having him, the doctor said that I should think about losing weight. I asked him how he would recommend I do that. He replied, quite emphatically, “Stop eating!”

“Me, the lover of all food ever created, the child of a nutritionist who preached how important all food groups were, a lover of all carbs in abundance…quit eating???? I would die. I need to be healthy. How can I be healthy if I quit eating?”

He did not waiver in his position. He looked at me straight on and said, “Jan, you have enough fat accumulated on your body that you could live for years without eating.”

He was right.

30 years of mashed potatoes and gravy, hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, donuts, homemade bread, pies, cookies, tacos, beans, tortillas, stuffed pork chops, etc. were all still attached to my inner body.

I had an inkling that this was true before the doctor set me straight.

In our family Christmas picture taken a few months earlier it was very obvious that the big pink blimp was dominating the picture. I had big permed hair to boot.

Time for a change.

I would be going “home” in the summer for a high school reunion. Huge motivation. Also, my beautiful tall skinny mother, who cooked with butter, would be very proud of me if I were skinny when I came for my summer visit. I’m not saying that she would love me any more because I was skinny…well, yes, I am saying that. I knew she would.

OK Janet, let’s get with it!

I don’t remember where I got the idea about Dr. Atkins and his “no carb” diet. I probably read about it in a magazine.

I bought the book and read it. It made sense to me. The food sounded good. It even pointed out that it could be healthy. One of my buzzwords.

I could eat steak, eggs, hamburgers, salad, more steak, fish, celery, onions, garlic, more hamburgers, etc. in every possible combination. And, I could overeat. My forté.

The greatest challenge was fixing regular meals for my husband and three children. Such temptation to eat the forbidden foods: Mexican food, bread, pasta, all desserts, potatoes, rice, anything white except egg whites, and on and on.

In my research, it said that if you can make it through two weeks, your body will change…ketosis…and the weight will drop off. So, I set two weeks as a short-term goal to see if what was advertised was true.

What happened was unbelievable.

During that first two weeks, I thought I was going to die; I was weak, had headaches, I couldn’t sleep, I had leg cramps and was agitated. It was very difficult. But, I kept on with it.

I had gotten the routine down and had been able to adapt the meals I fixed to what the children liked. At the same time I was feeling like I was getting good food to eat. We ate lots of eggs, bacon, Caesar Salad, hamburgers (no bun for me), steak, tuna salad, Egg Flower soup, green beans, broccoli, chicken grilled, fried (no flour) and baked.

I saw no drop in weight during that first two weeks but I started to feel thinner. My clothes were getting big. My stomach felt flatter and my pants were baggy in the derrière. The protrusions in my upper torso were the first to flatten. I was told my face looked thinner. I could tell something was going on. I just kept up with living my life and forged ahead.

At the end of those first two weeks I had my doubts about this diet. I couldn’t give up yet. I figured I had put so much energy into it I should just keep going.

Then…Voila! My weight started to go down.

To speed things up for the sake of this post, I went from 185 to 118 in four months.

I went from a size “mega” to a size 4.

This is the before picture. Just kidding. You will see no before pictures.


I felt fantastic! I had more energy than I had ever had in my life.

I knew that there was something wrong with the way I had always been eating. My body did not like carbohydrates.

I sent the good doctor a thank you note for insulting me.

I was skinny and confident at my high school reunion. So much so that my best friend Suzanne (who was always thin) and I acted stupid and sat on the front row for the class picture with our skirts hiked up. Weren’t we somethin’? Dumb!!

My mother took more pictures of me than she ever had and offered to give me her hand-me-downs. These were endorsements that I met with her approval.

My beautiful and elegant mother


Usually, on my trips “home” she would pull out some of her beautiful clothes that she was tired of and ask if I thought some of my friends in Arizona would like them. I had three tall, thin friends who previously received all of my mother’s discarded designer clothes. I was thrilled!

My three tall skinny friends. I'm the short one. 


I slowly started to add some of my favorite foods to my dining repertoire. I didn’t see any change in my weight but there was a change going on. There was a quiet monster lurking inside me that crept into my physique and made me gain weight and go from a size 4 to a size 10.

The culprit was, no doubt, Mexican food, my complete and total weakness.

It took 10 years for me to realize that I had betrayed myself. Fat cells have memories. I was now weighing 170. I was still 15 pounds less than I was when I started Atkins ten years earlier.

Get back on the Atkins diet right now!

Disclaimer: This diet works for me. It is drastic! Don’t try it without consulting your doctor first. Then, if you get the “go ahead”, read the book…all of it. We are all different and different things work for different people. Don’t hurt yourself.

NEXT: THE SECOND DIETING DECADE

Thursday, January 5, 2012

DIETING IN JANUARY?

Now honestly, has there ever been a January following holiday gluttony when you haven’t at least thought about going on a diet or starting an exercise routine? It is the most popular, overused and most rapidly abandoned New Year’s Resolution; “I will diet and exercise and become a new me this year!!”

What else is January good for? It is a long, dull, uninteresting month with nothing to look forward to until all the big holidays of February.

Well, January does have three events that warrant my interest besides dieting and exercise.

One is my youngest grandson’s birthday.  

  

The second is my favorite son-in-law’s birthday.
The last is another better known birthday, the federal holiday on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

Have you considered that there is only one other person whose birthday is a federal holiday in this country?

I always pause to remember him and his accomplishments. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a civil rights leader. He was assassinated in 1968 on my husband’s 24th birthday and just four days before my first child was born.

As a young junior high school Language Arts teacher in the late 1960s, I was a member of a team teaching experiment. The team included an English composition teacher and a social studies teacher. I taught American literature. We would have a formal lesson planning session about once a month to decide what we would be teaching.

The social studies teacher influenced our curriculum because she had certain units she had to cover. She asked us to do the Civil War unit in January 1970.

There were lots of interesting teaching materials that we could borrow from our district office.

I was able to get records (33 RPM) with a lesson plan and supplements about the Lincoln/Douglas debates (yawn) along with Civil War poems and stories. Because Martin Luther King, Jr. had  been killed in April 1968, there were great resources available through the library about him and the civil rights movement.

I found something I thought was more interesting for 7th graders than the Lincoln/Douglas debates. It was the friendship between Lincoln and another Douglas…that was Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who was an influential activist for civil rights and a persuading, intelligent orator. He influenced Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Historians have called him the father of the civil rights movement. He was also the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad

I provided the students with the texts of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech.

In social studies they were studying the historical facts behind the events that prompted the passion and change in our country from the Civil War to the “present”, then 1970.

In English composition, the students were writing “themes” on various aspects of the abolition of slavery up to and including the current civil rights movement.

The school where we were teaching was a melting pot of students of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds. There were wealthy Anglo and Jewish students from the most elite residential areas and African-American and Hispanic students from the south side barrios all mixed together with some middle-class white and mixed race kids.

I happened to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Gringa” with a Hispanic surname. This helped the school with its minority teacher quota requirement. To my knowledge, no official ever came to verify this deception.

It was one of the most interesting units I ever remember teaching. It was educational for me as well.

If you haven’t read the texts of these speeches lately, “google” them. They are so deeply American and are awe-inspiring.

NEXT: HOW I LOST 150 POUNDS IN 30 YEARS!