In case you haven’t heard a good romance story lately, here you go.
In 1996, my high school band hosted a marching band contest. I was a band guide for Cleburne County High School. I spent the day hanging with their band, and several of their girls exchanged contact information with me. We stayed in touch, the old fashioned way. We wrote letters. You see, in rural West Georgia and East Alabama, technology was slow to descend on us. This was pre-internet. There was no social media. Dial-up access to America Online was just beyond the horizon for us, and long distance phone calls were still pricey for a family like mine.
To rattle off a few names, there was Amy and Pamela, both with red hair and freckles (still the most dangerous combination EVER), Ashley, Evette, Lisa and Paula. I exchanged sweet thoughts with a few of them; Amy and I actually went out on a few dates. Then, college graduation came along, and we scattered to the wind. Ashley ended up at the same university as me, we saw each other from time to time there.
Fast forward a decade. Social media pervades, and it seems like each week the “people you may know” window has another face from your past gazing your way. Amy found me on Facebook. Such-and-Such commented on Jeremy’s picture.
People have recently started copying and pasting a thing on Facebook, asking folks to hide their likes and comments from view. Don’t! That’s exactly how I got a second try with a high school sweetheart.
You see, Amy lived less than 10 minutes down the road from the apartment I was in. We got together for barbecue one night. She was coming out of a failing marriage; and it had really rattled her. I invited her to my Pampered Chef party that was coming up soon… she needed an excuse to smile.
She smiles pretty often, now.
Don’t get me wrong, this has been a lot of work. There was a lot of emotional scarring she had to deal with from the failed marriage, and we started slow. But, there was just so much in common. We’d escaped the vacuum of our hometowns. We chased ambitions, saw the world, and settled in civilization. Our hearts and values, though, were still very much from the hometown. That’s something that’s just hard to find when you’re sitting in a bar hoping some great girl will just fall into your lap.
She helped me become the person I wanted to be, as well. When we re-united, I was at least 250 pounds. Probably 265. I drank too much. Most anything I cooked was heavily processed, bacon-wrapped, or cheese-stuffed. My roommate, Eric, was a pretty big guy, as well. We kept the thermostat on 62, or lower. Skinny guests wore sweaters. I sweated. There were massive problems in my future, if something didn’t change.
Things did change.
Amy volunteers with Crop Mob-Atlanta, and she eats all organic vegetables that are washed in hippie tears. She taught me how to eat. Last July, I started running. Then, I started logging my food consumption on a fitness app. Now, I’m not obese anymore. I’m not overweight anymore, either. I’m down to 180 pounds, about what someone my size should weigh. I haven’t been this size since middle school.
We decided to waste no time with a long engagement, either. December 1 – just a tad over two months from kneeling in dew-soaked grass with a ring, to married. We’re gonna have fun.
“I just went for a full physical and the results were pretty bad. Can you or Amy send us some tasty recipes?”
I spent 10 months as a mechanic when 0bama’s economy, $100/barrel crude oil and some poor management decisions put me out of a flying job. One of the mechanics on my crew, whom we’ll just call Chip for sake of argument, became a great friend. None of us were particularly picky about how we treated our bodies – working on the backside of the clock makes it really easy to abuse one’s self like that. I drank too much and ate a lot of bacon-wrapped goodies; Chip smoked like a stovepipe and we all lived on a diet of fast food. His text message was a jolt – but I’m glad to see the change. Within a week of some pretty drastic changes, Chip and his wife were losing weight and feeling better.
Now, before I start sharing recipes, let me share a little back story and show you the tools I’m using.
Just over a year ago, I woke up to early signs that my body was in distress. I picked up the Eat This, Not That book, and began making swaps in my fast food choices. Wendy’s Baconator took a back seat to chili and a single with cheese. Sweet tea became a precious memory as I learned to drink Diet Coke, then weaned off that in favor of unsweet tea. The first 15 pounds trickled off and then I flew with a captain who used the MyFitnessPal app on his phone. It’s a pretty straightforward program: Set in your weight, your target weight, how quickly you want to lose weight, how much you want to work out, and it spits out a daily target. You log everything you eat – most restaurant menu items are in there, as well as recipes on most of the major food sites. As time goes by, you get good at interpolating the stuff that isn’t listed, and you can enter in your own foods. My list of recipes includes three kinds of biscuits I make, two kinds of chili, some peanut butter cookies, crusty bread, pizza… I lost count of them all a long time ago. Above all else, though, keep an eye on your portion sizes. We eat most of our meals from salad and dessert plates – the big plates gather dust in the cabinets. We still eat plenty of unhealthy foods, just not a lot of them.
Sweet potatoes. Wonderful food. Packing a metric crap-ton of Vitamin A, they actually add nutritional value to a meal – and that’s one of my goals. They’re versatile – bake ‘em at 350 degrees for an hour or so – just make sure that they’re wrapped in foil, or the pan is lined with foil. They make a mess that’s tough to clean. No butter or sugar needed with them! Amy and I dice them into 1/4″ or smaller cubes, hit ‘em up with salt, pepper and chili powder, then drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on ‘em. Spread evenly on a cookie sheet and put them into a 425-degree oven. I use the convection roast setting, your equipment may vary. We’ve eaten this side with breakfast, lunch and dinner. A spoon of honey or a bath of ketchup works equally well; one place in Charleston, S.C. served their sweet potato fries with apple butter. It paired EXTREMELY well. Beware sweet potato fries, though, especially in fast food joints. What seems healthy is often soaked in fats and cheap oil. The calories and fat in olive oil, though, is the very best kind…
Speaking of apple butter, we make a lot of that in the winter. Here’s a recipe. We use brown sugar, and I have started using half-and-half sugar and Splenda in many such recipes. This stuff is great on biscuits, Martin’s Whole Wheat Potato Toast, or most anything else. Roasted sweet potatoes included. I often lose interest in peeling that many apples, and just core and quarter them. The peels work loose after an hour or two in the crockpot and I fish them out with a fork.
We love sweets. This Lemon Buttermilk Sorbet is pretty tasty, and as long as you don’t eat the whole batch in a sitting, it’s pretty reasonable on calories. We’ve added fruits and stuff to it, and have yet to come up with a bad combination.
I’ll say salads are great, and leave it at that. Amy makes great combinations for salads. Left to my own devices, they become leaves of lettuce swimming in dressing and avoiding icebergs of croutons.
There are more, and I’ll post ‘em up. I just kept putting this off and had to get something down to get started!