mind your own plate and bod, please.

Today I wanted to take a little break from the fun of writing about cake and faraway places to talk about something that I have been thinking a lot about: how I let my interactions with other people affect the way that I feel about myself. With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts about how people talk to one another about the food they eat and the way they look.

 1.     Commenting on other people’s plates.  

 Please don’t comment on what I am, or am not, eating. 

Think about the last time you were at a dinner, or at a party. Did anyone comment on how much food you were eating, or not eating? Did they push you to eat more, or suggest you eat less? I hope not, but I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did.

In our culture and society, we are constantly policing one another’s eating habits, whether it be commenting on calorie content or portion size of someone’s chosen foods, or overall “healthiness” or “unhealthiness” of someone’s diet. When we make comments about what other people are eating, we position ourselves as being an authority on their health, wellness and lives. But do we ever have the right to be in that position?

In my own work in the health promotion field, I recognize that there are a wide range of interconnected factors that influence what people eat. These include individual factors (like personal knowledge, skills, and beliefs), social factors (like family norms), and physical and macro-level environments (like distance from stores, food marketing, and government policies). The point is that you never know why someone is eating what they are eating unless you are that person (okay, or maybe that person’s parent if they happen to be really young!). 

With respect to eating disorders, this is a particularly sensitive and tricky subject. When a loved one is afflicted with any form of eating disorder, it must feel extremely hard, frustrating, and scary for their family and friends. To my knowledge, there is no “right” way to comment on what someone is eating. However, there is definitely a wrong way. Questions and comments about how much or what a person is eating can not only very embarrassing, but also extremely triggering. 

My advice? Talk about literally anything else during meal time.

2.     Commenting on other people’s bodies. 

Please don’t make comments about my body shape, size, or appearance. 

My body – like many women’s – has changed a lot over my lifetime. This is to be expected as we age and develop. When I think back, I was actually quite happy with my body in my younger years. I ate what I wanted, moved as I pleased, and was generally content with how I looked and felt. However, I can distinctly remember many body-specific comments made to me in my teens that made me look in the mirror and question if my body was acceptable. As an adult woman, I wish I could say that others’ comments about my body have stopped, but they have only become more frequent.

Unfortunately, I highly doubt that I am alone here. In our society and culture, it has become quite normal to make comments like the classic “you look great, have you lost weight?” We are hardwired to view weight loss as an inherently good and admirable endeavour, and we regularly comment on how other’s bodies look. The problem is that unless you are that person, you have no idea how they truly feel about their body. Someone that looks “too thin” to you might agree, but be having a tough time putting on weight. They might even have a serious illness that is beyond their control. Alternatively, someone who looks “too big” in your opinion might be the healthiest and most confident they’ve ever been. You just don’t know, and quite frankly it’s none of your business anyway.

I recently became aware of how easily comments about other people’s bodies slip out of my own mouth, whether it be complimenting someone that I perceive as having lost weight, or a man that has appeared to gain muscle. No matter how well-intentioned, it is never anyone’s place to comment on other people’s bodies. Commenting on body shape and size can be quite upsetting and damaging to others self-esteem and wellness. For example, when someone like me hears “you look skinny,” I hear “you look good, keep losing weight to look better.” On the other hand, when I hear “you look healthy,” I hear “you look so much bigger, start losing weight to look better.” 

My friend Mel is a dietitian with an incredibly healthy and admirable approach to this subject. She recently explained that she makes it a point to never comment on other people’s bodies. Ever. Even in her practice, when people look to her for a pat on the back for losing weight (“see, I lost 5 pounds!”), she will shift to a topic that is not related to the person’s physical appearance (such as how they feel and how much energy they have). Mel’s approach is a revelation to me, and it has made me reflect on how I, and others, should complement others on features that have nothing to do with their body. 

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday; a day when many friends and family get together to share in a meal and be with one another. At my family dinner, I know I will avoid commenting on anyone’s body or how much – or how little – they put on their plates. I hope you will consider doing the same. 

cupcakes: 3 flavas.

Life is absolutely crazy right now. As a more-than full-time PhD, a part-time research assistant, the owner of a high maintenance dog, and someone trying to recover her health, coordinate international travel, plan a major move, AND maintain relationships…this year has been quite something. Now, this may sound like complaining but I swear that is not my intention. It may even sound like bragging,…but I am also not trying to “busy brag” as is so damn common in Western culture. You know…when you ask someone how they are and they reply “I am sooo busy.” It makes my eye twitch. I have willingly taken on my workload and know that it is entirely unremarkable. Plus, I fully admit that I enjoy and thrive off of going from one activity to the next.

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The problem is that I have a hard time creating boundaries and often feel that I need to commit more time to “me” and to non-work-related hobbies to balance the scales. So, in spite of my other time commitments, when a co-worker asked if I would be up for making some cupcakes for her daughters baby shower I jumped at the opportunity.

Baking is something I do as a hobby because it is enjoyable. It is also a challenge, and I find it is a great way to escape my own mind. Baking takes precision, and I find myself being less focused on my to-do list when I am in the kitchen with bags of flour and sugar.

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For the cupcakes I could have just gone with 3 dozen vanilla but where’s the fun in that? After a search on one of my most trusted baking blogs - Sallys Baking Addiction - I settled on a combination of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Ok, just realized I made Neapolitan. Huh.

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The cupcakes took a lot longer than I expected, but I figure that time away from work was the kind of mental health retreat that we all need now and then. It also warmed my heart when I got a text after the shower telling me the cupcakes received rave reviews and that my co-workers daughter wanted me to do the cupcakes for her wedding. Ok, now I am bragging. Apparently, her daughter also proposed that my co-worker and I go into the cupcake-making business together. Hey, what’s one more job?


Cupcakes: Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.

Each recipe yields 12-14 cupcakes

Recipes from Sallys Baking Addiction:

  1. Vanilla cupcakes

  2. Chocolate cupcakes

  3. Strawberry cupcakes

For the frosting, I made a triple batch of the following:

  1. Vanilla buttercream


oreo sprinkle chocolate chip cookies.

oh, baby!

Towards the end of last year I turned the big 3-0, and with that came a lot of personal changes. I will admit that I became acutely aware that the lines in my forehead and “light blonde” hairs I was seeing for a while were, in fact, here to stay. On a much more positive note, I stopped putting effort into one-sided relationships, stopped caring what other people thought of me, and - as discussed at length in another post - started focusing more on improving my own health and happiness.

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Aside from my personal growth, being “30s” has brought me so much joy because I have witnessed the people I love the most growing and changing as well. Over the past few years, most of my close friends have got married to amazing men and women, and have started creating their own little families. I am in the very fortunate position of being “Auntie Catina”, “Auntie Tina” (a name I hate being called, unless it is by a little human), and briefly “Auntie Kitchen”. One of my favourite things to do these days is see my nieces and nephews and get smiles, hugs, and kisses from the little people that my loved ones have created.

Two of my closest friends K & D recently brought her second child into the world. Already a mom to a hilarious, outgoing little girl, my friend K welcomed her second girl with the same strength, confidence, and grace as she did for the first time around. I am truly in awe of how she, and my other girl friends, have adapted to motherhood and managed stayed themselves while simultaneously becoming even stronger and more loving.

For the newest little one’s shower, I asked what I could bring and was told something baked. No problem. I saw a package of birthday cake Oreos in the pantry that I had been trying to hide from sight to avoid consuming in one sitting, and decided that putting them IN a cookie was probably a safe and smart play. Plus, seeing as how the event was a celebration of a birth, birthday flavoured cookies just seemed to make sense.

I can say that these cookies definitely make sense. Make them for a baby shower, birthday party, or just because you want something sweet on a weekday evening. No judgement from Auntie Kitchen.

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Oreo Sprinkle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields: 2 dozen cookies
Adapted very slightly from Sally’s Baking Addiction’s “The Best Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies”

Ingredients

Wet:

  • 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 3/4 cup (150g) packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar

  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Dry:

  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour 

  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Add-ins

  • 20 birthday cake (or regular) Oreos, coarsely chopped

  • 1 cup (180 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • 1/2 cup (80 g) rainbow sprinkle


Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar together on medium speed until combined and creamy (about 2 minutes). Beat in the egg and vanilla, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of bowl as needed.

  2. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

  3. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with the mixer running on slow speed until combined. Stop to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

  4. Continuing on low speed, add all of the add-ins (minus about 1/4 cup of Oreos) until evenly distributed.

  5. Cover the sticky dough tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge (this is mandatory!) for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

  6. Remove the cooled cookie dough from the fridge and preheat the oven to 350. While you wait for the oven to heat up, line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking sheets (I like these)

  7. Roll dough into 1.5 tbsp balls (this scooper is the perfect size)

  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes. They should be slightly golden on the edges and be extremely soft when you remove them from the oven. Gently press the reserved Oreo pieces to the tops of cookies while they are still warm (this is optional to make them look nice; it’s cool if you dumped them all in at step 4).

  9. After 5 minutes, transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely.

  10. Cookies will stay yummy for about one week, or you can freeze for up to 3 months.

ollantaytambo.

One question has been burning in my mind ever since starting this blog: How do you write about travel when you aren’t travelling? Although I try to travel as much as possible, the fact is that I am not a travel blogger and take off only a few times a year if I am lucky. While I do have upcoming travel plans, I won’t be away for a few more months. Faced with this problem, I’ve determined that the only solution is to go back in time and revisit the places that I have already been. So with that, I am going to start from the beginning. A “throwback Saturday series” if you will.

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Back in 2013, my now husband and I went on our first backpacking trip. The destination: Peru. As an anthropologist, I naturally gravitate towards places of cultural importance and historical significance, so Machu Picchu was obviously a huge draw to the country. But we will talk about Machu Picchu another day.

The place I really want to write about first was my favourite in Peru. It is a little village with a not-so-little name: Ollantaytambo. Now, this was six years ago so I have to rely on pictures and memories, but I will try to do it justice.

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Wikipedia has reminded me that Ollantaytambo is 72 km northwest of the city of Cusco, and is located in what is referred to as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Apparently the village is en route to one of the most common starting points for the famed Inca Trail hikes to Machu Picchu, but we were visiting in September and there were very few other tourists in the village.

Nestled into the valley, Ollantaytambo is surrounded by hills, mountains and impressive Inca ruins. When people think of Peru, I would guess that most automatically think of Machu Picchu. While it is an incredible site, there are fascinating and impressive ruins all over Peru that deserve attention as well. The two Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo are absolutely worth seeing, as they are not only massive but miraculously well preserved.

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As much as I appreciated the ruins, my favourite part of Ollantaytambo was the village itself. In addition to being literally surrounded by centuries-old history, the village itself is a living, breathing historical relic. Ollantaytambo continues to survive on the original stones that it was built upon in the 13th century (!!). The narrow cobblestone streets are lined by homes and buildings that look straight out of…well…the 13th century. I also remember hearing a distinct sound everywhere we went: trickling water. Ollantaytambo has an extensive aqueduct system running alongside streets, transporting fresh water from the mountains throughout the village. It is amazing to me that this Inca invention continues to be useful to people centuries later.

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As far as food, a couple places still stand out to me. The first is Hearts Cafe, where we had a lovely breakfast. Proceeds from the cafe go to supporting the health of children in the Sacred Valley, who I learned suffer hunger and nutritional deficiencies. Due to the remote location of many villages, environmental challenges, and high poverty, many disadvantaged families subsist solely on potatoes. I remember reading that in their menu to this day, and in the back of my mind I still imagine going back one day to get involved in nutrition health promotion programs in the area.

The second place that I remember is a restaurant called Puka Rumi because my husband and I shared a massive bowl of guacamole there. This guacamole was so good that we still bring it up six years later. How can something with so few ingredients be so hard to master on my own!?

Overall, what I remember most about Ollantaytambo is the peacefulness I felt being there. Although I am someone who hates being still for too long, being in this village just made me feel calm and at home. I am thankful that we made it a destination, rather than a place to pass through, and would definitely recommend that anyone traveling in Peru spent at least a night in this sleepy village.


Recommendations:

Stay: Mama Simone Hostel
Eat: Hearts Cafe, Puka Rumi.