Low-fat math skills

I’m officially on a diet and have been counting calories the way scrooge counted out coal for the stove. The goal is not ‘skinny;’ it’s simply to fit back into my old clothes. Frugality supersedes body image. I hate the idea of spending any more money on things that look better in the warped dressing room mirrors of the department stores than they do in the random group photos that friends take when I’m front, center and feeling particularly bloated or even just thick in the arms. Please leave my arms out of the photographs. 

The closet, a holding space for my varietal A-cut linen dresses and busy floral prints, has its corners stuffed with the jeans whose zippers can’t close and pants whose seams threaten to give way. The shirts with buttons that struggle to hold things together are tucked behind the oversized boyfriend style sweaters. Going up yet another size in any of the afore mentioned is not on my to-do list. It’s just not an option so I am going to count calories and exercise-ish myself back into my old clothes. 

I just wish I liked my old clothes better.

I also wish I could remember how to hula hoop.

Counting calories during the work week is easy. My Monday thru Friday is so repetitive in its routine that looking up the caloric content of every single hunger pain craving is a form of entertainment. Coffee with honey has 76 calories. Coffee black has none and ruins the joy of having coffee in the morning altogether, so that’s 152 calories every 7am that I kiss goodbye like the lover I wish I had. 

Six ounces of white wine has 145 calories whereas a white wine spritzer knocks 38 calories off but is only available in a plastic cup, costs $15, and sides with festival favorites like smothered fries, funnel cake and a hotdog with everything. 

A slice of cheesecake has 401 calories whereas cheesecake flavored yogurt only has 180. Woo.

Berry balls and undiscernable little white things add to 180 calories of not very good.

It’s fair to say I tried the yogurt. It tasted like Frankenberry cereal and for a moment, I was eight again and sitting in my grandma’s kitchen, wishing I had had a bowl of Count Chocula instead. The artifice of crunchy, tiny, berry balls fooled no one. Better luck next time, Chobani.

It got me to thinking about the cost of things. Is a slice of real cheesecake worth the additional 221 calories? Those extra calories are equivalent to a three-mile walk or forty-five minutes of hard yard work. Add both chores together and not only do you have a slice of cheesecake with twenty calories left over, but also a cleaned yard and a happy dog. A resounding yes to the worth of it all and a Saturday well spent. 

Worth it. Every last bite says “yes”.

A glass of wine is equivalent to one-half an hour of housecleaning. This is calculus I can do. 

The math mission is designed to squeeze the allotted calories each day into a single digit pair of jeans. Comfortably. 

It’s adding and subtracting to balance out proportions of satisfaction and self-worth. I love the bounty of beautiful, curvy flavors but prefer them to not impact where my denim rips or why. 

It means exercising like I mean it instead of renaming my regular chores of folding laundry as “yoga”, vacuuming as “calisthenics”, or cleaning gutters as “working the stairmaster.” 

Though all these things count in the calorie bonfire, none of them, even added together, amount to a single donut or a piece of coffee cake, so Saturday mornings kinda suck now.  Just like that, a lifelong tradition gets thrown out along with the stuff left behind from last year’s boyfriend. (To be honest, it’s been closer to 18 months and the stuff got thrown out by day two of the breakup). 

To be clear: I’m not losing weight because of him. He has nothing to do with the dynamic duo of a diminishing metabolism and poor will-power. Those are all mine. Where he has influenced me, however, is that there was some part of me that attracted and accepted a very unhappy and self-defeating person into my life. As much as I hated to admit it, in the closet behind the baggy dresses, was hidden a part of me that aligned with this. People meet in their broken places, and I met that guy. 

It was a reflection that I certainly didn’t want to see but could no longer un-see.  

Frugality, it turns out, was a creative way to disguise my unworthiness. It looked a lot like a busy floral print.

Self-repair, in the time since, has looked like a dog, a new pair of running shoes, a yoga video, a therapist, a self-help book or two, fifteen or so amazing girlfriends, roller skates, a hula-hoop, highlights, whiter teeth, a longer patio table, more chairs, and a quest for a low-fat cheesecake recipe. 

I’ve been adding and subtracting the sums of what I want, what I don’t want, how I want to be and how I’m going to get there. There’s no calculator involved. It’s pretty simple math that starts with knowing that no matter what size is embroidered into the label on my clothes, I am always worth a full slice of real cheesecake with real strawberries on top and that the crunchy little berry balls will never cut it in a life inclined towards happily-ever-after.

It’s time to clean the closet. My jeans are counting on me. 

For the love of cheesecake (part 2)

Cheese and cake wasn’t quite like peanut butter and chocolate.

For most of my life, I thought cheesecake sounded rather disgusting. As a kid, Cheesecake Factory wasn’t around to make the over-the-top, highly-sugared, and indulgent introduction to what would later become the love of my life. No. Not even close. At that time, it wasn’t boys who had cooties. It was cheesecake.

A natural Wisconsinite, cheese was a savory addition to any meal and sometimes even the meal itself: Macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese soup, and on daring days, cheese soup with broccoli. A gravy boat brimming with melted cheese donned almost every mealtime setting and bribed us to eat cooked vegetables or broiled fish with a promise of a pour. 

For everything we didn’t like, cheese was the solution. As I knew cheese back in those days, it was orange, slightly salty, and came in two varieties that I liked: American and Velveeta. 

If we were having a fancy dinner, a green, shiny cardboard tube of Kraft powdered parmesan was on hand and was accompanied with a curt reminder that one cannister needed to grace all the plates at the table. 

Cottage cheese was for people who dieted like my mom, or people who were old like my grandmother. Dieting cheese wore dots of pepper and was spooned out of a bowl with slices of fresh veggies. It was still cheese and could be tolerated if you, for some reason, had to eat it.

Cheese was never part of dessert.

My grandma Dorothy almost ruined cheese in its entirety for the grandkids one year. She lovingly took my brothers and I to a cheese factory to witness the miracle of curds. The glory of our proud dairy heritage was just behind the brown steel door and I thought it was going to be like visiting Great Uncle Guido at the Ambrosia Chocolate factory in downtown Milwaukee. The air at the chocolate factory smelled so sweet that you could walk with your mouth open and feel cavities forming on your teeth. It made you want to lick all sorts of surfaces to see if the whole place was made of chocolate. It was what I imagined heaven smelled like.

No one can prepare you for the smell of a cheese factory.  You definitely want to keep you mouth closed walking into one…probably your eyes, too.

The fetor branded my memory like an iron right out of the fire and I swore off of cheese for a longer time than it took my tiny little nose hairs to grow back.

It’s fermenting milk—an entire building of it.

The idea of cheese and cake in one flavor was about as appealing as a fish cookie, possibly even in that same factory.


My grandmothers, Dorothy and Mary Anne, who didn’t necessarily get along, had a shared recipe for cheesecake that, for whatever reason, I didn’t know was cheesecake until an age where I should have been embarrassed not to know otherwise. 

They called it refrigerator cake.  It was a non-bake version of what I now know is cheesecake and it had enough sugar in it to give the air at the chocolate factory a run in the cavity competition.  This cheesecake showed up at all special occasions such as birthdays, reunions, marriages and divorces. It was there for many a counseling session as I learned all the things love wasn’t and it was a favorite and sought-after dessert by anyone who had ever had a slice,  including me.

I learned to make this cheesecake according to their recipe and finally figured out that cheesecake does not have cooties nor is it disgusting. The recipe has since been modified to meet the particulars of my adult palate, and dare I say it’s even a bit better than its former self. 

The grandmas’ cheesecake, even my rendition of it, was nor is the kind of cheesecake that would inspire a young twenty-year old college kid to declare war on a gender, find truce in the kitchen, and spend the next thirty years threatening to write a book about it. The cheesecake was good but it wasn’t “who needs men anyway” good. It was nostalgia good. It was a simple life good.  It was a hug from grandma good. 

It was the only cheesecake I had known and almost made it to the alter with me, except by that time, I had found another cheesecake…

Taking a risk

Love is a risk. The result of taking this risk and failing as many times as I have is now a book. The book explores my attempts at finding a lasting love, missing the mark, then taking that heartbreak and disappointment to the kitchen where I have found comfort, healing, and kinship with food.

Writing a book is a risk and the end result of that is a bragging right, and if all goes well, a legacy.

While writing the book, I fought writer’s block with a sledgehammer.

working through writer's block
This is what writer’s block looks like.


I demoed and remodeled my healing place—the kitchen. It’s hard to take your heartbreak to a place that doesn’t exist. I took the cabinets out, took the plumbing out, took the floor out and even removed a wall. I was doing the same with my self: removing the walls and trying to build a new and better me.

Getting rid of stuff was easy.

Wall removed in process of being removed
floor is coming out as is the wall. 3 layers of flooring. rotten cabinets…and writer’s block.

Putting it back in was challenging.  Putting it back in so it didn’t look like a DIY fail was even harder.

The kitchen re-do was necessity which was both preceded and followed by an idea.  The necessity was an old leak that had rotted the wall and cabinetry unsuspectedly, in my new-to-me home.  The idea was to tear it all out, tear out an additional wall and build an island where the wall used to be. An accompanying idea was to do it all by myself, which was also a necessity.  In reality, I needed a plumber, an electrician, a contractor to put in a beam where I tore out the wall, and a friend or two to help lift the heavy stuff. The rest I did myself. It wasn’t rocket science or brain surgery.  It was a steep learning curve, occasional cussing, and some damned determination.

The Final Product
New Kitchen. This was a course in determination, for certain! But I did it. There it is. 

I mention the kitchen remodel not to boast about self-empowerment and the tenacity of some women, but rather to be open about taking risks, making mistakes and trying again.  It took me three times to install the flooring and there are still noticeable flaws. I cover them with throw rugs. It took me weeks to get the cabinets plumb and level.  They are neither, really.  There was a compromise and I sealed that imperfect deal with some imperfectly cut countertops. The kitchen looks beautiful despite its flaws and I get to say that I did it. As for the flaws, only I know where they are and when guests come over, I distract them with food.

Food is imperfect as well.  I take a lot of risks in the kitchen, not just by taking down a wall, but also via the practice that I call, “I wonder what this will do” cooking and baking. I throw a lot of food away and consequently have one very happy and very fat racoon. My daughter named him Jeremy.  Jeremy loves my cooking….all of it.

With the kitchen back and in full swing, I’m back to baking and am on a mission to make Jeremy a little thinner.

I’m also on a mission to finish the book and get it published. The book explores love and heartbreak through food. Cheesecake, to be specific and all the recipes in the book are of my own design and are my personal flavor preferences. Some of the flavors are risky.

Recently, I’ve been playing with coconut for flavor.  As a meat, it’s a newly acquired taste and I’m still working on accepting the texture.  As a milk, cream, or oil, I’m on the steep learning curve, still taking chances and still failing often.

Holy F*ck…Epic Coconut cheesecake fail! This recipe is NOT in the book.

Coconut cream, both a bane of my culinary skillset and a favorite flavor, has challenged me more than trying to plumb the cabinets and more than trying to sand the drywall seams to look seamless.


Coconut cream is not pretty. It’s the color of used chalk and can taste like used chalk when you use starch as a stabilizing agent. Not only did the starch not stabilize the cream, but it made it grainy.

Several things went wrong.  To make coconut whipped cream, everything has to be chilled. EVERYTHING:  the can of coconut cream, the bowl, and the beaters. I chilled nothing rather set the bowl over an ice bowl much like I do with cow’s whipping cream. That won’t do the trick. The second thing I did wrong was to add the sugar prior to whipping the coconut cream.  I messed with the fat-to-air ratios by adding sugar too soon.  Save the sweetness until after things have stiffened up. Too sweet too soon and things just stay soft.

I’ve been there before. It’s called the Friend Zone.

Finally, I may have landed on a dud can of cream. I’m not sure how this happens but apparently, according to a quick internet search, it’s a regular occurrence. A dud can is indistinguishable from a non-dud can.  The dud-factor shows up only when trying to get it to peak and it can’t.

There it is again. There’s a reference to my dating life that I probably shouldn’t be sharing details about….but we’ve all been there. We take the risk to love and be loved and we get to that next level of loving when…dud-can.  You can let things chill. You can try to add stabilizers.  You place blame, internalize it or you can begin again. Each effort is a new risk; a foray into the unknown, into vulnerability and also into the possibility of success.

Risks are scary, but in the end, they help to move us into the direction of our dreams, whether a new kitchen, a book that will finally see print, or a love that is lasting and fulfilling.  Without the risk, none of these things will be anything. If risks aren’t your jam, start small.  Open up that can of coconut cream and start whipping. There’s only one way to know what will happen after that.