New York Faves

New York City has no shortage of things to do and places to see. I’ve lived in the heart of Manhattan for a little over 2 months and I still have yet to do everything that I want to do. However, I’ve experienced the privilege of going to many wonderful places during my time here. Here’s just a few of my favorite NYC places (in no particular order):

  1. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
  2. John’s of Bleecker Street Pizza
  3. Green Bo Deluxe Shanghainese Restaurant
  4. Holy Innocents Catholic Church and Shrine to the Unborn
  5. Central Park Zoo
  6. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  7. Ferrara’s Bakery
  8. Little Italy
  9. Koreatown
  10. Chinatown
  11. Central Park
  12. Greenwich Village
  13. Chelsea Market
  14. Fifth Avenue
  15. Tiffany & Co. Flagship Store
  16. Ichiran Ramen (Brooklyn or Manhattan)
  17. Spa Castle
  18. 9/11 Memorial
  19. Broadway / Herald Square
  20. Flushing, Queens
  21. New York Public Library – Bryant Park

What are your favorite NYC sites? Where should I go next? Comment below and let me know!

The Thing About Weight Loss

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In June 2017, I underwent bariatric surgery in Tijuana, Mexico. After over a decade of struggling with my weight, I knew I had to do something about it. In a previous post, I mentioned how I had “done it all.” Literally: Weight Watchers, ear stapling, low carb/high protein, personal training, supplements, visits with nutritionists, and more.

I jumped into something I never said I would do (bariatric surgery), in a place people believe you shouldn’t go for surgery (Mexico). But, when your insurance probably won’t pay for a $30,000+ surgery because your only condition is obesity, you have to take matters into your own hands. That’s what I did. The Saturday before my surgery, I went received the Sacrament of Confession and went to Vigil Mass. The next day, June 18th, I boarded a plane with my mother and flew to San Diego, crossing into Mexico later that evening.

I never looked back.

I was at the end of my rope, which apparently led me to a Tijuana hospital room while watching cars line up at the U.S./Mexico border. Finally, on the night of June 19th, as I was wheeled away for surgery, my heart was pounding out of my ears. I could see blood coming into my IV from my rapidly accelerating pulse. As the doors on the elevator closed, I repeated in my heart like a record, “All you saints and angels, pray for me.” As the surgical tech helped me onto the operating table, I begged Our Lord to get me out of the operating room alive. I knew it was too late to back out. Once the anesthesia hit, I don’t remember anything else.

Nearly $5,000 and six months later, choosing bariatric surgery (sleeve gastrectomy) for my health needs was one of the top five decisions I’ve ever made. I’m happier, healthier, and there’s a bounce in my step that wasn’t there before. As of the writing of this post, I am down 72 pounds from my pre-surgery weight. Am I now a paragon of perfection regarding nutrition and exercise? Absolutely not. When the surgeon took out 75% of my stomach, he didn’t bother take out the part of my brain that craves enchiladas.  It’s still a daily struggle, but not as much as a fight as it used to be.

In all of my success, I’ve particularly enjoyed buying new clothes. For someone who’s been the same size for most of their life, this phenomenon may be hard to imagine. But, for someone who has been a size 24 in pants and dresses, it’s a whole new world. In a matter of months, clothes that were always off limits to me were now within my realm. From June 2017 to November 2017, I had dropped 10 sizes, going from a 24W to a 14 regular. I could now wear “regular” women’s clothing. I walked in the nearest Macy’s and walked out with a haul that cost more than I care to think about. It was a wonderful, terrific, feeling. Who knew size 14 could be so fun?

In the midst of all of my positive transformations, I started to notice other changes as well. Not positive, not negative. Just changes.

For example, I had updated my social media photos to newer head shots. Nothing racy or revealing, just pictures at festivals or out in the sun. Within days, I received unsolicited messages on Facebook and Twitter from men inquiring about my marital and relationship status. Just today, my “other” inbox in Facebook lit up with another lonely heart looking for a connection. 72 pounds ago, this rarely (if ever) happened. Guys openly flirt with me now in public. It’s bizarre. Still, another change is the attitudes of the people around me. When I venture beyond my home, those who would rarely speak to me now go out of their way to make conversation. Formally cordial acquaintances now say little-to-nothing at all. It’s not everyone, though. In fact, it’s a handful of people. Maybe it’s in my imagination. But, it’s noticeable.

Also, I’ve noticed a change in myself. Now that I’m thinner and nine pounds away from my goal weight, I treat myself with more respect and dignity. I think more highly of myself. When I was nearly 300 pounds, thoughts about myself weren’t as respectful and dignified. While I didn’t hate myself, I hated my body. I hated my eating habits and I hated how I had let stress take my body to a place it shouldn’t be.

While I didn’t frequently read women’s magazines, I hated how I didn’t resemble those women in the pages (even the token plus-size models). Even though I wouldn’t admit it, I had been trapped by society’s expectations, if but in a small way. It took losing nearly 75 pounds for me to realize that I was in a cycle of distressing thoughts and practices. I was like a fish in water: I didn’t know how I had been hooked by secular standards. For me, it was normal.

Finally, the thing about weight loss is that it’s not just your body that changes: it’s your life and your world. Some changes are wonderful: your health improves, your outlook is more positive, and your body is at ease. Some changes, not so wonderful: friends and family may treat you poorly because they think you’re a new person (and they don’t like it). Maybe others are threatened by your drastic transformation. You may realize that maybe you weren’t the best to yourself. It’s normal, and I’ve been there.

Yet, given my success in my journey, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Dear Lord,

When we believe that our bodies don’t fit the mold the world offers us, it’s easy to despair. We forget that we were thought of and created by You in Your infinite wisdom. Forgive us when we fail to recognize that our value comes from You, not the size of our dress or a number on a scale. Help us to take care of the bodies You have given us so that we may glorify You more and more. Thank You for creating me.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

 

Fun Stuff: Spaghetti Neapolitan by Ochikeron

Four years ago when I visited Japan, I ate a lot of pasta. More specifically, Fettuccine Alfredo with lobster meat at a Tokyo Denny’s (I wrote about my experience in the Tokyo Denny’s here). One of my favorite YouTube personalities, Ochikeron, makes fun Japanese food with easy-to-follow instructions. Surprisingly, Spaghetti Neapolitan is a huge hit in Japan. When I saw her video for the pasta dish, I wanted to share it with you.

Often, we don’t think of Asia as a hub for pasta enthusiasts. Also, when prepared by chefs from Asia, these dishes have their own Eastern twist. For example, I visited an “American-style” burger joint while living in Korea, the burgers were topped with a hard bun and bean sprouts! It’s very much the same with pasta in Japan: you’ll see raw eggs on mounds of spaghetti and ketchup as sauce. Would you try this Japanese twist on a traditional spaghetti dish?

Enjoy!

Coffee Fix

Y’all, today’s post has nothing of spiritual value. I just wanted to talk to you about my new kitchen appliance: the Keurig Hot 400-series. Over the past few weeks, I’ve mentioned the Keurig machine probably once a day to anyone who will listen (read: my mother). In an gracious swoop of early Christmas cheer, my parent lugged a big box into my house and said that this was my Christmas present.

It was a Keurig Hot 400series:

 

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walmart.com

Y’all, I am not a huge coffee drinker. I like one cup per day, maybe 1.5 cups at the most. But, I am really proud of my Keurig. Now, I can offer my adult company something to drink other than water, water with Crystal Light mixed in, or lactose-free skim milk. That, and I don’t have to brew a whole pot just for one cup of coffee. And yes, I know, I could brew one cup for much cheaper than buying Keurig cups. But, I make my own money, and I want to spend my money on conveniently packaged coffee pods. You only live once.

Today, I’m going to Eucharistic Adoration. Then, I’m going to Walmart to buy a Keurig cup carousel and sugar-free Coffee Mate vanilla creamer. I have not had this much excitement in my life since I visited a Long Island church for holy hour and confession, while simultaneously hitting the free holy cards jackpot and then stumbling upon a Korean-language bulletin all within 90 minutes.

Life’s amazing.

A Very Good Body: Romans 12 and Weight Loss

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

Since this summer, I have dropped a significant amount of weight with the assistance of bariatric surgery. The decision to undergo a major, body-altering operation came after years of frustration: multiple stints at Weight Watchers, a round with inner ear staple acupuncture, visiting nutritionists, flip-flopping between gyms, and simply abstaining from food for a set period of time.  I was tired, and I knew something had to be done. I couldn’t climb the steps at my office without losing my breath. My body and my mind couldn’t take it anymore.

From my surgery date, I’ve dropped nearly 60 pounds. I’m at my lowest weight in nearly 15 years. In 40 more pounds, I’ll be at my ideal weight for my height. This is very, very good news for my mental and physical health.

In today’s second reading in the Mass, we read a small part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. As seen in the quote above, Paul exhorts the Romans to offer their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God. This also ties into today’s Gospel reading where Jesus tells his disciples that in order to follow Him, they must die to themselves first. However, in our culture, sacrifices and giving up anything is a foreign concept. Our culture promotes self-preservation and the promise of unlimited happiness if you buy enough of the right products.

Sacrifice is not a cultural value. Yet, over and over again we hear Jesus, and later Paul, admonish readers to die to self and to transform their minds and physical bodies for the sake of holy living. Upon hearing these parts of Holy Scripture, I ponder how the Physiotherapy, Weight Training, Dumbbellalteration of my body has led me to become more dependent on God for my daily nourishment.

Before the surgery, food was my primary coping mechanism. Not in times of doubt and negativity, but also in times of happiness and celebration. Food is everywhere, and unlike drugs and alcohol, is not illegal and can be found almost anywhere. Therefore, I relied heavily on food for my emotional and mental support. I would, of course, pray and read my Bible, but food was a much more pleasant and sensory experience.

Immediately after surgery, this all changed. I now have a stomach that can hold anywhere between two and five ounces of food when I eat a meal. As I am still in the recovery mode for the next week or so, my intake is still restricted. I eat soft foods in portions that would better suit a toddler. I can no longer binge eat because one, my stomach can’t hold it and two, my stomach can’t handle it.

Yet, I still struggle with the infamous “head hunger” that haunts many patients of weight loss surgery. You may know the feeling: You’re full, but due to some external force, your brain still says you’re hungry. So, more often-than-not, you eat to satisfy the mental urge. This was me for many, many years. Now, with my surgery, while I could still cave in to the head hunger, I know it will provide physical side-effects that can be unpleasant or even painful. Ultimately, this has forced me to rely on God rather than food.

This switch, while beneficial, has sometimes wreaked a small amount of havoc in my life. For years, I knew food would be there for me. All I had to do was go through the drive-thru at a local fast food restaurant or stop by a gas station for my emotional fix. Now, I have to deliberately tell myself that I am not hungry and my body doesn’t need what I want to put in it. I also have to say “You’ve just eaten, you don’t want another thing. You’re at capacity. What you want is bad for you.”

Instead, I will find my first instinct after avoiding the urge to eat is to simply pray. Or, if I’m at home, I will read my Bible or other inspirational readings. Sometimes I will close my eyes and just think. Anything to reorient my body towards Christ, to live as a living sacrifice. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, this is hard. It’s hard to be a living sacrifice in an imperfect body that’s trying to shed old, detrimental eating habits. Sometimes, I fail. And I remember, that there’s always tomorrow. And unlike the days of old when the tomorrow of new eating habits never came, I have many new tomorrows to reset my dietary routine.

Dying to self, living as a sacrifice is against our own nature. Refusing temptations such as abusing food, alcohol, and drugs (or illicit sex, lying, theft, and poor treatment of our neighbors, to name a few) is a difficult to overcome due to our original sin. Yet, in Christ, there is mercy, grace, and forgiveness. When we drop the ball as living sacrifices, when we abuse ourselves and others: Christ is there, time after time. Sometimes, we may have to rearrange our bodies physically (as I did) to understand this grace. And in our darkest instances, when we believe there is no other way to rearrange our lives and bodies, Christ shows up to teach us again how to walk and live in His blessed way.

 

 

Vacation Sandwiches

I’m currently working on a post about my conversion to Catholicism. It’s taking a while to get from my brain onto the page. For now, enjoy a post about the finer delicacies in life.

For those who travel often: you know the feeling. The suspension of time, the bluer skies, the world is on pause. Also, your taste buds are heightened. The things that you love outside of the space-time continuum of vacation are suddenly even more delicious. Heck, even foods you may not like, for some reason, are infinitely better while away from home.

I, personally, know the power of vacation taste obscurity. Throughout my life, I have been haunted and delighted by vacation sandwiches. First, I am no stranger to sandwiches. I was raised on sandwiches, my first memories of the kitchen table are of eating sandwiches after church for lunch. Sandwiches, while good, are not at the top of my list. Take it or leave it, it’s a sandwich.

Breakfast, Sandwich, A Sandwich, Toast
pixabay.com

But, on vacation, sandwiches are top of the line. The filet mignon, the Queen of the Food Pyramid, top notch vacation food. What is it about the vacation sandwich? Is the Miracle Whip? Is is something about the way the vibe of the hotel mingles with the vibe of your stomach? What makes a pimento cheese sandwich 100 times better while on vacation, as opposed to life at home? Or, is it just me?

As I write this, I am sitting in a Microtel in Gatlinburg, TN. It’s my first time here in over four years, and may I say that the sandwiches are as wonderful as ever. In true fashion, we brought a cooler with us packed with lunch meat and homemade pimento cheese. Paired with mini King’s Hawaiian buns, homemade pimento cheese is glorious, vacation food paradise. At home? It’s good. On vacation, it’s delightfully amazing and soul wrenching. If you’ve never had your life temporarily wrecked by a pimento cheese sandwich, I cannot recommend going on vacation soon enough.

Happy travels and amazing sandwiches.

Double Happiness: Thoughts on Chinese Buffets

I am convinced – from all of my travels and culinary experiences – there is nothing more homey and comforting than a Chinese buffet. Think about it: savory noodles, fried crust with soft fillings, hodge-podge sushi, and hot soup varieties found nowhere else. In a world of blandly familiar options, with coffee shop express lunches and tepid fast-food iced tea, Chinese buffets are warm haven from the norm.

Throughout this year, I’ve traveled back-and-forth to New York vising my boyfriend. As new-found custom dictates, we almost always visit a Chinese food buffet on Long Island. Throughout my adventures in Chinese buffets, I’ve found them all to have the same fare. Yet, when I bask in the neon glory of a Long Island Chinese buffet, I find slight contrasts from the buffets found in the South.

First, let’s talk crab rangoons. This delicacy, the Queen Mother of All Chinese Buffet Foods, is a delicate golden triangle stuffed with cream cheese and (probably artificial) crab meat. It’s a collision of warmth and deliciousness, and New York Chinese buffets have not received the memo. My first experience at a northern buffet left me shocked. I scoured the rows for crab rangoons, many times over, thinking I had overlooked them. But alas, no. Simply small, cheese wontons with their puckered tops and merely-stuffed bottoms. Eaten and forgotten in one brief bite at every buffet as crab rangoons stay forever in my heart.

As I move from the row of fried and baked foods, I’m approaching salads. In my years as a connoisseur of buffets, I have not run into salad/cold bars at Chinese buffets in the South. Rather, these smaller restaurants often opt out of salads in favor of warmer foods. Even in the smaller buffets in the Empire State, there is almost always a salad bar. Bright lettuces of the romaine and iceberg variety, sliced vegetables, beets, and pasta salads wait eagerly in the bed of ice. Dressings, too. With your chicken lo mein and fried dumpling, you can even out your plate with a salad drenched in ranch. It’s quite beautiful and much different from my norm. Dim Sum, Dim Sim, Food, Hong Kong

Finally, after a pile of noodles, chicken, and rice, dessert is looms ahead. In many Asian cultures, China included, fruit is an acceptable dessert. In the West, we typically eat cake, cookies, or chocolate to cap our meals. When I lived in Korea and visited China, I ate more Asian pears, watermelons, and apples than I had in my whole life. In California Chinese non-buffet restaurants, fruit is brought to the table after a meal. At a Northern buffet, fruit reigns in her throne adjacent to red and green jellos. Often, I’ll opt for orange slices up North, which seem like an appropriate complement to the orange and honey chicken I’ve devoured minutes before. It’s wonderful and it’s sweet dessert.

I often think, as I sit among the din of chatter and the scent of soy-drenched chicken, that Chinese buffets are truly a tradition. My first interests in Asian culture were sparked as a I looked at an exaggerated painting of the Great Wall and a dragon. Even in the differences, with orange slices and a lack of crispy rangoons, any Chinese buffet anywhere in this country is a culinary miracle that I hold dear. As I live and travel, the two different styles of buffets will always provide double happiness.