Happy Mistakes (Oops! Blueberry Banana Bread Recipe)

We all make mistakes. Some teach us valuable lessons. Others, we wish never happened. Happy mistakes are serendipitous.

This scene from the movie Serendipity defines them well:

Jonathan: This is the ultimate blend to drink. How’d you find this place?
Sara: I first came in because of the name: Serendipity. It’s one of my favorite words.
Jonathan: It is? Why?
Sara: It’s such a nice sounding word for what it means: a fortunate accident.

Believed by some to be acts of fate, these “fortunate accidents” are all around us: the “wrong” relationship, or relationships, that lead us to Mr./Mrs. Right; the incorrect turn that lands us at a fabulous site; staining our favorite top so we must get a new one. 😉

The other night after placing a pan of banana bread in the oven, I had that “something’s not right…” feeling. Eggs. Completely forgot them. Rather than take the loaf out and scramble some in (not that I’ve done so before…or anything…), I left it. It still looked banana-bread-ish, after all. I threw in a few chocolate chips, because most everything tastes better with chocolate, and chalked it up to an experiment. Everyone who’s tried it has gone nutso over it. Gotta admit, I dig it, too.

So…next time life gives you brown bananas, but perhaps no eggs, why not bake this?

Oops! Blueberry Banana Bread 

  • 1 cup whole wheat four
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk w/1 T. vinegar* (I use almond or soy milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3.5 – 4 medium-sized ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (no need to thaw)
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (opt.)

    *To make a healthy buttermilk substitute, place 1 tbsp of vinegar in a half-cup measuring cup, then fill it to the top with low-fat milk.

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a standard-size loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Stir flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar.In a medium bowl, combine oil, milk/vinegar mixture, vanilla extract and mashed bananas. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Gently stir in the blueberries. Pour batter into the pan. If desired, sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean.

Nutritional perks: Rich in fiber and antioxidants, low in sugar and saturated fat and cholesterol-free. The canola oil adds healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in brain function and moods.
What about you? Any happy mistakes to share? Recipes gone wrong the ultra-right? Perhaps we should start an “OOPS” cookbook… 😉

Meeting Deadlines with R & R

What do you do when you have several important deadlines upcoming? I say, take a break. Better yet, take several. I’m in this boat right now and plan to take half the day off.

I realize that this may sound contradictory. (“Lots of work ahead? May as well party!”) But bear with me; that’s not exactly what I mean…

Like many of you, I’m a workhorse, easily put into overdrive. What can we say? We’re excited, right? We love our work and are gosh darn going to complete it ASAP, as in yesterday. These attributes can become our Achille’s heal if we’re not careful.

Consider the following:

  • Allowing ourselves time to recharge, through active or inactive rest, brings freshness and sharpness to our creativity. Plowing through without breaks, on the other hand, can cause the words on the page to go fuzzy, disrupt our memory capabilities and have asking questions like, “Does ‘dog’ have one ‘g’ or two…?”
  • Relaxation techniques, like meditation and breathing exercises, can reduce stress, pain, anxiety, headaches and insomnia, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Any one of these ailments can hinder our deadline-meeting skills.
  • People in Germany work an average of nearly 400 fewer hours per year than Americans and live longer, more productive lives.
  • A study at Cornell University showed that workers alerted to rest and take short breaks from the computer typed the fastest and made up to 40% fewer mistakes than their non-resting counterparts.
  • The fact that Americans are taking continually shorter and fewer lunch breaks is of grande concern to experts like Dr. Rallie McCallister, who said, “Skipping any meal is detrimental. The brain is what most workers rely on and it does not have storage tanks for energy.”“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”Sydney J. Harris
Ways to work R&R into your day:
 
  • Eat balanced meals and snacks at regular time intervals, preferably in a calm, relaxing atmosphere. (Or at least without your laptop, cell phone or TV…)
  • If you feel stuck, stale or the need for rejuvenation, take a short walk around your block or neighborhood.
  • Work when you tend to feel energized and productive. Rest during the rest.
  • Take short breaks between each segment of your work–this could be pages, chapters or whatever measure you decide. If writing is your second or part-time job, take a break before shifting gears. Spend your break however you’d like, just make sure it’s enjoyable.
  • Take yourself on an “Artist’s Date.” The practice made famous by Julia Cameron’s bestselling book The Artist’s Way involves weekly R&R–just you and your artist self. Take crayons and a sketch pad to a park. Have your nails done. Take your pick.
  • Exercise. Regular physical activity relieves stress, boosts our moods, energy and mental focus. It also provides a great form of active meditation… Your mind wanders as your body moves. Valuable epiphanies can strike at any time.
Have you found a link between R&R and your craft? What do you do to relax?

Writers’ Gains from Whole Grains

White bread and noodles and chips, OH MY!

Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting that you fear these foods as Dorothy feared wild animals. But upping the ante in your grains department can benefit far more than your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, particularly if you’re a writer.

(Psst! A healthy food pyramid does not look like this.)

Most of us have read a book or watched a movie that lacked substance, right? A predictable plot, blase characters or a seemingly pointless climax or resolution can leave us feeling cheated, wanting for more, hungry for it. (God forbid we ever write one!)

Think of refined grains like disappointing stories. The most nutritious parts have been stripped away, leaving us with something grain-like. They may look or taste good, but what do they provide? “Empty calories”—calories (units of energy reaped from food) that lack nutritional substance, i.e., vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein and fiber.

While whole grains promote positive energy levels, brain function and appetite control, refined grains leave us wanting for more. They can offset our blood sugar levels, zap our energy and leave less room in our diets for nutritious fare, making way for nutrient deficiencies.

Whole grains provide significant amounts of B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamin E and copper. Deficiencies of any one of these nutrients can cause foggy thinking, poor memory, low moods and a slew of other health problems. And Americans as a whole consume less one-third of the minimum daily amount recommended by theU.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (Perhaps that means we’re all foggy. Hmm…)

Here’s the good news: Swapping refined grains out for whole grains takes care of these dilemmas. And it’s not as difficult as it may sound.

In a study published in the “Journal of Nutrition” in Aug. 2009, researchers analyzed the effects of a nutritious diet, rich in whole grains, on the brain function of 3,634 adults age 65 or younger. A strong, positive link was found between nutritious diets and sharp cognitive abilities.

What does all of this mean for us writing-folk? Eating primarily whole grains can help ensure sharp thinking, creativity and revision skills.

Tips to get you started:

  • Most adults need at least three 1-oz servings of whole grains per day for general health. Although math isn’t my strong suit, it seems pretty obvious that one or more servings with each meal cuts it. At breakfast, have whole grain bread or cereal. For lunch, a sandwich on whole grain bread. With dinner, enjoy brown rice or whole wheat spaghetti. Badda bing! Three-plus servings.
  • Look for “100 percent whole grain” labels on prepared breads, pasta, crackers, cereals and rice dishes. If the word “whole” is first on the ingredients list, you’re likely on the right track.
  • Seek substitutes. What’s your favorite refined food? Brownies? Cookies? Chips? All of these foods are available in whole grain form. I make my own whole grain cookies and chips, but I’m on the far end of foodie-ism. If you enjoy baking, use stoneground whole wheat or white whole wheat flour instead of white or add oats in place of half of the flour.
  • Don’t go crazy with it. Not every grain that passes your lips must be whole. The DGA recommends that at least half of your grains derive from whole sources. More is better, but not necessary.
Tasty Ways to Try ‘Em
  • PBJ on 100 percent whole grain bread
  • Scrambled egg and veggies on a whole wheat English muffin
  • Old-fashioned oatmeal topped with fresh berries and yogurt
  • Homemade oatmeal raisin (or “craisin”) cookies
  • Bean burritos served in whole grain tortillas
  • Brown rice pudding…YUM!
  • Whole wheat pasta topped with tomato sauce and seasoned, diced tomatoes
  • Grilled fish, meat or tofu served on brown rice and veggie pilaf
  • Scrambled eggs or tofu, with quinoa mixed in
  • Popcorn seasoned with natural herbs or spices
What about you? Have you noticed the influence whole or refined grains have on your writing capabilities? Any questions? I have years of work and study as a certified nutritionist under my belt — no pun intended. Feel free to put it to use!
As a reminder, one lucky commenter will win a $15 Amazon.com gift card tomorrow. 🙂

The Dream Diet: The WRITE Way to Success

I had a long chat with a woman today who reminds me so much of my former self: lots of potential but too insecure to recognize her dreams, much less pursue them.

Perhaps the most important lesson my former career as a nutritionist/nutrition therapist and personal experience with weight and body image issues taught me is this: Failure to follow our dreams, to live largely and with gusto, makes way for weight, body image and food issues. And fixating on what we perceive as our primary issue (say, added pounds) will keep us from those dreams like a pack of guard-dog hyenas.

If we focus on the symptoms (those pounds) rather than the culprit (failure to pursue your passions), our symptoms will expand until they swallow us and our emotional well-being whole. Meanwhile, our dreams will slip away until we either forget we had them or keep us from recognizing them in the first place.

We’re not afraid of being large (or other negative adjectives), we’re afraid living large. God forbid we don’t succeed, right? Please tell that inner-naysayer to shove it; bumpy roads lead to success.

And how do these lessons relate to suspense, you ask? (Thanks for asking! Brings me to my next point…;)) We don’t simply want to read and write page-turner novels, we want to live them. Who wants a life in which we do not look forward to the next day while savoring the current one? In which challenges are simply obstacles worth surpassing and learning from–so we can get to all the saucy, thrilling good stuff? 😉 Since the day I claimed writing as my career, I wake up eager for what the day will bring. Heck, I daydream about it before I fall asleep at night. And guess what—food/body/weight “issues” have long since fallen to the wayside. The same has happened time and time again to friends and former clients.

I’m not suggesting that pursuing your dreams cause you to eat more fruits and veggies, swap pastries for whole grains or associate food with gratitude, rather than guilt. Nor will it make you instantly happier with you and your body, precisely as they are. But doing so can ease the process.

Not convinced? Try it. Before each meal, jot some notes down on your laptop or journal about your dreams. Complete the following: “If I had a magic wand I would…” (Sorry, ‘alter my appearance/weight/metabolism,’ is not an option.) Then plot some baby steps to help get you there.

As readers and writers, i.e., lovers of words, I suspect that Julia Cameron’s guidelines in the “Artist’s Way” will serve you wonders. Cameron suggests free-writing several pages each morning—free of self-judgment, whatever comes to mind. If you have no clue as to your personal obstacles, wishes and dreams or other issues you’re failing to face, they will show up in those pages. I’d put money—okay, granola bars—on it.

We love mysterious, suspenseful, thrilling stories…the way they captivate us, make our day’s stresses seem, for the moment, obsolete… (See more on this in my previous post, Thrill Therapy) Well, use your imagination. Your life is a story, of your own creation. Where is it heading? Who is the heroine? Most importantly, what does she most desire? If you’re so bold as to post your responses here, I promise to cheer you on wildly.

If you’ve already learned these lessons (hooray!), I’d love to hear your story.