Let’s talk about girls. And strength. And self-image.
I obviously can speak authentically only for myself, but having so many talks with so many girls of different religions, races, interests, and body-types, I’ve come to the chilling realization that girls will always either have some problem with the way they look – or they won’t. That seems pretty obvious (either they do or they don’t, a binary choice) but the part that really struck me as ridiculous is that whether a girl has or doesn’t have a problem with her image is completely unrelated to the way she looks. It’s mind boggling. I know girls who hated their bodies growing up, feeling like the curves that are suddenly a part of them are just their body betraying their “real” selves, and others who developed more slowly and resented their flat, bony, prepubescent bodies. It’s kind of ridiculous how most of us can’t just look in the mirror and smile with satisfaction.
And yes, I know guys are also many times not spared the self-hating disease of our generation, but I still think it is easier for them. Guys may feel like they have to go to the gym and pump iron and get jacked, but at least that’s a possible thing to do: you go to the gym, you pump iron, you get jacked. You’re done (or at least done fulfilling what you think society demands of you image-wise). For girls? It’s not so simple. We need to be thin (or at least slim), and not so muscular. With just the right dose of helplessness, thank-you-very-much. **edit: Mr. Graceful and I talked about this for a long time, and he really protested the notion that guys “have it easier.” I guess for me it is easier to just become really strong but I find it hard to just get super-slim (without getting muscular), while some guys out there have the exact opposite “problem”. I apologize to any of my guy-readers if what I wrote belittled what you’re dealing with**
Case in point: I went to an incredible Pilates lesson two weeks ago. The instructor really pushed us to the limit, fixing our form when needed, going into detail about correct breathing and the specific muscles we are supposed to be engaging, and not letting us cut corners or give up even in the hardest of sets.
As a computer science student at Hebrew University, I average about 12 hours a day in the computer lab – programming. Luckily for me, the gym is on campus, so it’s not a problem for me to take a couple of hours off to exercise and then go right back to programming. It does, however, mean that I need to plan my meals and the food I bring with me to school very carefully.
I tend to take a more holistic approach to nutrition, especially since it is such a new science. I try to have a good variety of grains, beans and nuts, eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, and drink a lot of water. But when I exercise, I feel like I need to be a little more specific with my body – that is, try to have protein and some carbs after a workout in order to replenish the lost energy and help the muscle regenerate stronger.
But sometimes, because most of my usual sources of protein require pre-soaking and cooking, I can get stuck without any. And when such a thing happens – I turn to protein powder.
I don’t really like the concept of powders and additives, but I have to admit that in my rushed mornings, trying to pack something for school and frantically thinking, “What will I eat after I work out?” – they can be very convenient.
That’s why I got a little defensive when, as I was mixing my powder with water to drink after my workout, someone I didn’t even know asked me suspiciously, “What’s that?”
“It’s protein powder,” I answered, knowing this would probably be a big deal (everyone here has something to say about everything to anyone who will listen – welcome to Israel).
“Wait,” he said, his eyes widening as he took in my small frame, “You’re a body-builder???”
I knew that this was going to happen, and I really didn’t have the patience to be having this conversation.
It seems that because guys are so used to seeing other guys using those “pure protein” supplements to engorge their already overlarge muscles that they think that anyone who uses it is trying to do the exact same thing. Also, it doesn’t help that on almost every package of those protein powders, there is a picture of some overlarge dude with way more muscle than is normal or recommended. But the truth is, that the type of exercise that you do affects the way your muscles will develop way more than the amount of protein you consume (or do not consume) afterwards.
So no, I am not a body-builder. But. I also am NOT interested in being thin, weak and helpless. I would much rather be “normal” sized, energetic, able to run fast and kick-butt. And unfortunately, even though I think what I described as my aspiration is the right way and the normal way which most people (men and women alike) would agree with, it is still the case that our runway models are still incredibly tall and skinny (while learning to draw fashion sketches I learned that most concept sketches are of women who are nine heads tall, while the sketches made for production for the runway are made for “real” models who are unfortunately “only” eight heads tall. I think I am about seven times the size of my head, and that’s probably only thanks to my huge forehead). Our photographed models are photoshopped into something so far from reality, whether it’s perfect skin or skinny arms or any of those other things. There is no big-name designer who is using REAL women as models – it’s either super-skinny or plus-size, which is ridiculous because the MAJORITY OF US ARE BEING COMPLETELY IGNORED. And it’s not just that the majority of us want the attention of those designers – it’s that we want to stop this madness of everyone, including us (who KNOW we are normal), thinking that this ideal figure that has been created is something to strive for.
Hopefully, little by little, we will all regain our sanity again, become strong and proud, and when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror, a little smile will find its way onto our faces.
Like Jelena Abbou said in an interview about her modeling for M.A.C, “The frail and starved are being replaced by the fit and powerful.”
This next cake I bring to you is actually a HEALTHY cake. I know I’ve bragged before about how much I like to make desserts and sweets out of unconventional ingredients, watch people devour the entire thing and then disclose the secret ingredient… But I realized lately that for people who are “afraid” of healthy things, it’s better to just not disclose it. Ever. It’s not really my job to educate them and “prove” to them that healthy CAN mean tasty… Actually, in most cases those people will just lose my trust and start getting suspicious even when I present them with a completely normal chocolate-peanut-butter cookie. So yes, it may be trickery, but it’s for a good cause. Right?
These brownies are made out of… Lentils! Red lentils, to be exact. They are soaked for at least two hours and then cooked until completely soft. In the process, they lose their lentil-y flavor (and most of their color). The brownies are gluten-free, have no refined sugars (except for the dark chocolate) and are packed with protein. Best of all, they are super fudge-y and gooey… And spicy! It’s amazing how well chocolate and chili go together. You can easily omit the cayenne pepper if you and spicy don’t quite get along, or adjust the spiciness to your liking. These are best served with ice cream, to soften the spiciness. Actually, I take that back – these HAVE to be served with ice cream, or else it’s kind of pointless to have them be spicy.
Look in the mirror wearing your best smile. What is (at least) one little thing you absolutely love about yourself? Don’t be shy, you will NOT sound vain. Nothing wrong with a little bit of self-love, especially given the current situation of our generation. We girls (and boys!) NEED to hear other people loving themselves!
Spicy Aztec Chocolate Brownies:
Serves: makes about 18 squares
Estimated Time: 2.5 hours prep (can be done ahead of time) + 20 minutes actual work + 35 minutes bake
Kosher Classification: Neutral
1.5 cups red lentils
1.5 cups pitted dates (choose the super-juicy varieties, like Majhool)
1/2 cup raw tahini
150 grams dark chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 to 1/2 Tbs. spicy chili pepper powder – depends how hot you like it!
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Start by soaking the lentils in plenty of fresh water, for at least two hours. The lentils will double in size as they’re soaking, so be sure to use a big enough bowl.
After at least two hours, the lentils will be much softer, but not soft enough. At this point, they can be used in salads or eaten as a snack.
In order to be able to use them as brownie batter, we need to cook them down even softer. Cook the lentils until they are completely soft, and have lost some of their color. This also somewhat eliminates their lentil-y flavor. This takes about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils through a sieve and give them a good wash.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).
Place the lentils, the pitted dates, and the tahini in the bowl of your food processor, and process until completely smooth.
In Israel, they sell pre-pitted dates that are vacuum-packed in 500 gram packages, which comes in really handy for recipes like this. If you can get your hands on that, great! You just saved yourself about 5 minutes of pitting. If not, pit away. I will say though, from experience, that using these packages works best the first time they’re used – once they are opened their contents kind of harden and it’s much less convenient to use.
While it’s processing, mix all the dry ingredients together (except the chocolate) in a small bowl).
Pour what by now is sweet lentil batter from the food processor into a mixing bowl:
Pour the mixed dry ingredients into the lentil-batter and mix until completely uniform
Chop the chocolate coarsely, and sir two-thirds of it into the batter.
Line a baking pan with parchment paper, and pour the batter into it. My parchment paper tends to pop out of the pan and move around no matter how tightly I try to line it, so a small pre-step that helps me keep it in place is to spoon a large dollop of batter into the center, to serve as a weight. (A paperweight?)
Sprinkle the rest of the chopped chocolate on top, and press it down gently so the pieces are slightly embedded in the batter.
Bake for 35 minutes, then take out and let cool to slightly above room temperature. Serve warm, with ice cream.
**A great, big Thank You to my friend Jazz for letting me use her extra-awesome camera for this post!**
- Soak 1.5 cups red lentils for at least 2 hours, then cook until very soft (about 20 minutes).
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).
- Process the cooked lentils with 1.5 cups pitted date and 1/2 cup raw tahini, until completely smooth. Pour out into a mixing bowl.
- In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 to 1/2 Tbs. hot chili pepper powder, and 1/4 tsp salt, and mix into the processed lentil batter until completely uniform.
- Chop 150 grams dark chocolate and stir two-thirds of it into the batter.
- Line a baking pan with parchment paper and pour batter into it.
- Smooth the top, sprinkle on the rest of the chopped chocolate, and press down gently.
- Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool until a bit above room temperature. Serve warm, with ice cream.