The Disappearing Chocolate Bar

Last Saturday, I purchased a lovely piece of chocolate. I carefully budgeted the calories for it. I knew that I could eat it without a speck of guilt, and I intended to just that. As the sun set, my husband and I sat, reading books on our Kindles in the dark on our boat.

I remembered the teat that awaited me. I went below to get my chocolate. I carefully divided it into small pieces to prevent me from eating it too quickly. I arranged them on a small plate along with some berries, and I returned to my reading.

As I read the thriller, I reached for a piece of chocolate and a berry. When the chocolate had melted in my mouth, I reached for another piece, and another. Before long, I reached for another piece of chocolate, only to find the plate was empty. I felt around on the bench seat where the plate sat empty, in case a piece or two had slid off unnoticed. When my tactile search turned up no chocolate, I reached for my iPhone to turn on the flashlight. I searched the bench and the floor, sure that there must still be 3-4 piece of missing chocolate. My search turned up nothing except some dead spiders that had escaped the vacuum.

As I resigned myself to the fact that the chocolate was truly gone, and that I had finished it, I was sad. I had eaten all of those decadent, highly anticipated morsels of good chocolate and had barely noticed it. Instead of being an enjoyable experience all on their own, they had merely melted into the background of the story I was engrossed in.

Mindless eating is one of the causes of our epidemic of obesity. From the time that our parents hand us a container of goldfish or cheerios to keep us quiet, we learn to consume food without even thinking about it.

Mike McIntyre of Cleveland’s WCPN aired a show this week on Mindful Eating. Dr. Susan Albers shared a five-point strategy to practice eating mindfully so that the food that we choose actually registers in our brain as having been consumed.

Albers shared the 5 Ss:
Sit down – Sitting down (preferably at a table – not your desk, the couch,or the car) makes eating more of a ritual. Removed from the influences that keep us from focusing on our meal, we are more likely to successfully practice mindful eating.

Slowly chew – You’ve heard it said that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full. Many of today’s highly-processed foods are easy to swallow without chewing. Either they are soft, semi-liquid, or liquid like smoothies, pouches of applesauce, or macaroni and cheese, or they dissolve in our saliva as soon as they hit our mouth – like potato chips. By forcing ourselves to mindfully chew those foods rather than gulping them down, we can be more in the moment and eat mindfully.
Savor – When you eat mindfully, you can truly enjoy your food. I enjoyed the piece or two of chocolate that I remember eating. I savored them. Until I got into the book and began to consume them mindlessly, I really savored them. Had I not been expecting more pieces of chocolate because I failed to savor them all, I quite likely could have been satisfied with less.

Another piece of advice was to “eat like a chef.” Iron Chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon is famous for including bacon and fat in many of his dishes. Chef Symon is in great shape. Although he eats some decadent food, he doesn’t stuff himself with it. Many chefs eat just a bite or two of those spectacularly rich foods and walk away. Having savored that first bite, they can push themselves away from the table satisfied with the experience.

Simplify your environment – I overate last night. I’m usually very good about weighing and measuring virtually everything. Last night, however, I simply grabbed a bag of snacks and brought them to the computer room with me. As I took a handful of cashews, I promised myself it would be the last. Soon, however, I found my hand back in the bag.

Similarly, there is an open bag of potato chips left over from a meeting in my kitchen right now. As I went to the kitchen to pour a glass of water, I spotted the chips and my mouth started watering. Although they weren’t in today’s plan, I weighed out exactly one ounce. Although an ounce of chips won’t make or break my diet, had I put the chips away, I wouldn’t have craved them at all.

If you’re going to have your trigger foods in the house at all, do yourself a favor and put them where they are out of sight!

Smile between each bite. Albers suggested that smiling between each bite gives you a pause – time to consider how full you are before you take that next bite. That pause also helps to extend meal time so that you experience satiety.

Mindless eating is a big problem for me. I’m going to put these suggestions into play as I learn to be more mindful about not just eating, but regarding life in general.

The Maple Egg

Before I can tell the story of the maple egg, I must give you some background.  For many years, my mom made hand-dipped chocolates at Easter and Christmas.  For weeks before either holiday, our kitchen would be filled with boiling pots of fondant and warm pots of melted chocolate.  The house smelled like the oil of peppermint, cocoa powder, or vanilla extract she was using to flavor the current batch.  One flavor, however, provided a particular, cloyingly sweet aroma that filled the house for days.  Maple.  Maple overpowered anything that came before it.

For Easter, Mom would carefully mold bunnies and crosses, and she would dip egg-shaped wads of flavored fondant in milk chocolate and decorate them with royal icing flowers.  These would be sold to Dad’s co-workers and others who had placed orders.  She did a booming business.

My favorites were the chocolate covered cherries.  You simply can’t find cherries like the ones that Mom used to make.  Hers would explode with sweet liquid as soon as you took a bite.  She didn’t make those at Easter.  It was dipped eggs or molded chocolate.

I loved the buttercream eggs, and the chocolate cream eggs.  The peppermint was good, too, but the buttercream was my favorite.

Having explained this, I still can’t understand what I did on Saturday.  A dear lady I helped recently sent me a lovely thank you note with a $30.00 gift certificate to a local candy store where they still hand-craft chocolates just like my mom did.  The weather was beautiful on Saturday.  I put on my running shoes (and my bunny ears) and ran the mile or so to the candy store to spend my loot.

As I approached the store, the Easter Bunny himself asked to take his picture with me.  I was happy to oblige, and then I walked into the crowded shop.  There, before me, were shelf upon shelf of molded chocolates that looked like they came from the same molds that Mom used to make.  Alongside them were the creamy eggs dipped in chocolate, decorated with the same dainty lavender royal icing flowers that Mom used to make.  I was in heaven.

The flavors, though, weren’t familiar.  I found coconut and raspberry, but no buttercream or chocolate cream.  Then, I saw it.  The MAPLE egg.  As I approached it, the sticky-sweet scent reached my brain.  I filled my arms with other treats to eat and share, but I HAD to have an egg with the royal icing flower.  I went back and forth between the flavors, and almost bought raspberry… but then the wave of maple hit my brain again, and I knew I had to have the maple egg.

I finished my run and put my purchases on the dresser.  My husband lovingly saved me from most of the molded raspberry bunnies and the small raspberry and coconut eggs that I bought.  I savored the little dark-chocolate covered marshmallow-caramel candies.  Everything was delicious.  The maple egg made it through Easter without being touched.  The smell filled the bedroom. Monday, I thought I smelled the maple scent clinging to my clothes.  When I finally arrived home from work around 8 p.m., I knew I HAD to try that maple egg.  My mouth was watering.

I carried the fragrant package downstairs and got a cutting board out of the cupboard.  Gently, I cut a thin slice.  The fragrance filled the air.  I took a small bite.  The texture was wonderful.  Then, as the flavor hit my taste buds, I remembered that I never cared for the maple eggs.  I LOVE real maple syrup. I could drink it straight (if it wasn’t so bad for me), but I don’t like the artificial maple “flavor” that is used in confections.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a great maple egg – even better than Mom’s (don’t tell Mom I said that)… but it was still a maple egg.  I went back throughout the evening for another slice, and another, thinking all the while, “I don’t even like maple eggs.”  My husband had a slice too.  He agreed that “it was a great maple egg, for a maple egg…”

This morning when I awoke and went to make my pot of coffee, about half the egg was still there, taunting me with it’s sticky-sweet aroma.  I sat down at the computer to check my email, and the remaining chocolate-covered caramel marshmallow mini-eggs stared at me (much more to my liking than the maple egg, but still not my favorite confection from the candy store).  My belly felt lousy.  “No more sweets,” it begged.

I went off to work.  I called my husband part way through the day and asked him to either take the remains of the egg to his study or to throw it out.  He thought about it for a moment and said that he thought he would throw it out because if he was going to “spend” that many calories on something, he preferred to really enjoy it.

I asked him to stick the rest of the chocolate-covered caramel marshmallow mini-eggs in the freezer for me so they wouldn’t tempt me tonight.  “Why?,” he asked. “So I can have one if I really want one sometime,” I replied.  He responded, “If you really want chocolate sometime, put on your running shoes and go get your very favorite.”  My husband is a very smart man.

I learned several valuable lessons from the maple egg:

1) Don’t spend your energy on things you really don’t want.  When you indulge, make it worthwhile.

2) Childhood memories are powerful motivators.  We will willingly endure even things we don’t enjoy to re-experience fond moments from our past.

I’m not sad that I bought the maple egg.  It brought back some very precious memories.  I haven’t thought about Mom’s Easter chocolates in a long time.  Next time, though, I will go to the candy store to smell the maple, and I’ll bring home just a piece or two of my very favorite.

Take the [Lunch] Bucket Challenge!

I was thrilled recently to learn that the Vermilion, Ohio chapter of the Salvation Army will be launching a backpack program for students in January of 2015.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a backpack program supplies children from households that are food insecure (not enough money to ensure enough food is in the house) with a backpack that is filled with food items for the child to consume on the weekend when there are no school lunches and breakfasts.

Second Harvest Food Bank partners with several local charities that sponsor backpack programs in other nearby school systems.  A donation to Second Harvest or to Vermilion Salvation Army for the backpack program is a great way to get this project started.

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The Ice Bucket Challenge has gotten a lot of press lately.  Thousands of people have taken the challenge to either donate to a charity that funds ALS research or to douse themselves with a bucket of ice water (or both!)  Whether you think the idea is ingenious or lame, there’s no question that the challenge has raised millions for ALS charities and raised awareness of the illness and its challenges.

September is Hunger Action Month.  I’ve turned my Facebook Profile orange for hunger awareness.  Those of you who know me already are aware that fighting hunger is an issue that is important to me – especially as it relates to children who are hungry.

For the month of September, I’m starting the Lunch Bucket Challenge.  I will not eat at restaurants / fast food for the month of September.  Instead, I will eat lunch at home or pack it in my lunch container and donate the savings to a local hunger program at the end of the month.  Each day I will photograph my lunch and ask others to join me in this challenge.

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Wednesday September 3, 2014

Seasoned grilled chicken with strawberries, blueberries, mushrooms, sliced almonds and honeyed goat cheese on a bed of romaine lettuce with a blush raspberry vinaigrette dressing (prepared and consumed at home).

I will be posting details shortly about a second fundraising initiative for hunger.  Please check back for details!