Tag Archives: meat

The ramblings of a very frustrated person

I am frustrated about a ton of stuff right now.

And it all feels completely overwhelming. Like there is nothing that can be done. No good choices. All compromises. Hard compromises. Imperfection.

Historically, personally speaking, this has been the worst time for me to write a post. But it is so maddening that I can think of nothing better than writing it all out.

Where to begin?

I guess I will start at the food industry. It pretty much sucks. Alternatives are not always affordable. I already feel like our grocery budget is completely outrageous compared to most people. And then we are supposed to afford all this other stuff, like preschool.

Which brings me to that topic. And how it is completely agreed upon that every child should go to preschool, that it has many benefits and children who go thru it are more successful. And how Kindergarten teachers I know that see on a child’s history that they didn’t go to preschool and automatically label them from the beginning as a problem child. But it is, in many cases, prohibitively expensive. So in our case we are settling for something mediocre, but barely affordable and even then my husband is making a big deal about the cost.

And the housing market and how we bought at the worst time ever and our house is now worth 45% less than when we bought it. And we don’t even get to live in it. Or how we’ll never be able to afford to live in a house in this city.

Or how PETA is complaining about how makeup brushes are made with animal fur and bad for animal welfare and skin so here use these other kinds made with taklon which is a polyester synthetic petroleum product and petroleum is bad for the environment too.

And how this city is too close to LA and everyone is so driven and aggressive and I find it highly annoying trying to compete with it.

And how I basically want to drop out of life and live in the middle of nowhere and just have a farm and barely make out an existence, but who cares because then at least I would have complete control over all the inputs into my family’s diet.

Or how everyone goes on these nice vacations to foreign countries and Disneyland and we don’t even have passports or the ability to go anywhere pretty much ever and every time we do go on vacation it results in arguments about money stuff for the next several months afterwards which completely negates any relaxing or fun effects of a vacation.

Or how vacations are just exhausting and means you usually have to deal with a lot of annoying people at airports or on the road or at Disneyland or at a children’s museum. Which is just annoying because life is already full of enough of that.

Or how my cloth diapers that are supposed to be environmentally friendly by reducing the amount of trash in our landfills (1 ton per kid per year) are made out of petroleum products and probably caused more harm to the environment while they were being made than if I just used disposables all along. But then how disposables are super expensive and we’ve already invested in cloth. And how the diapers won’t let go of their funk and it has been frustrating me for about a year now.

Or how I have made converts out of people with regards to cloth or food or homebirth, but what does that say about my ability to evangelize “the things that have eternal importance” and how most people just see me as another angry environmentalist wacko with too much time for research on my hands who’s faith is secondary?

And speaking of faith, how just when you think you’ve found what you are looking for the Church fails you again and you realize that no matter what there are really hard compromises to be made and how you believe in Jesus and all that but pretty much have started to hate church in general. Because it is sucky people making sucky mistakes and being generally sucky and I just want to be a hermit on my farm in the middle of nowhere.

The end.

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My food journey, part 3: Life changes and bumps in the road

I was completely revulsed by what I read about the food industry in Fast Food Nation. I was also overwhelmed. Back in 2003, you couldn’t just walk into any store and find free-range, grass-fed, organic, rBST-free, etc. type stuff. There were only a couple places you could find it in Bakersfield and it was expensive. My husband’s income from his first post-college job was not huge. But I knew I just couldn’t put regular meat from the grocery store or from fast food restaurants into my body knowing what I knew about the meat industry in particular. Despite reading several passages aloud from the book, Stephen was not really convinced or impacted. So I retreated back to vegetarianism and continued to prepare meat for him and nearly gag every time I did.

But as with any shock to the system, we humans get over it and tend to go back to our old ways with time. And that is what I did. Stephen and I were busy with work, church, and life. Sometimes it was just impossible to find the time and energy to cook decent food and actually sit down together and eat it instead of shoveling crap food into our faces as we rushed down the road to the next activity.

We need reminders and wakeup calls from time to time to get back on track and do what we know is right. For me that next wakeup call was watching the movie, Supersize Me. Stephen and I were both really grossed out after watching that movie and basically didn’t eat any McDonald’s level fast food for over a year.

The next bump in the road for us was when I got promoted to editor at my job (um yeah, I used to be an editor and I know my grammar around here often sucks. Self editing is hard. Don’t judge.) because this meant longer hours for me, particular on production days, work that left me even more drained, and taking work home with me (I would often print off proofs and take them home to edit). We were also really, really involved at church during this time with Stephen leading a worship service on Wednesdays, teaching music theory to upcoming musicians at the church, worship team practices, filling in at other services from time to time, other church events that were held a lot, and Sunday mornings as well.

I was drained much of the time and I didn’t really think it was fair that in addition to working just as many hours at a “real” job, that I was then supposed to cook dinner for both of us and clean up the kitchen and other parts of the house, too. Stephen only really knew how to make a couple dishes though, so the only other choice in the matter was once again fast food and convenience food.  Ugh.

Then I got pregnant and I was so sick that I just really couldn’t cook. So we continued eating more fast food and convenience food. At one point in the pregnancy, Stephen’s mom organized people from the church to bring us meals, but we mainly ate out. Just when I was recovering and getting a good system down of cooking us good food, baking my own bread, getting veggies from a CSA after we moved here, and rarely eating out I got pregnant and felt really sick and tired again. So the fast food and convenience food items returned once more. This time we tried to have more “quality” versions from Trader Joe’s and restaurants like Chipotle, but it was still not the best stuff we could be having.

Since having Sprout I have been cooking more and more. I try to go to the Farmer’s Market at least once a week for our veggies. I plan out our menu around what is in season and I try to only buy meats from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, though I know this isn’t even completely the best stuff that we should be eating. 

Prior to watching Food Inc., though, I often felt like the grocery store was a battleground with Stephen. We have been grocery shopping together since sometime after I became pregnant with Sprout and while I enjoyed the extra help out when it came to heavy lifting, I hated trying to justify every purchase such as the more expensive organic milk versus the regular milk that is just rBST free. The last few times I’ve gone grocery shopping by myself with both kids during the day (which, let me tell you is asking for a meltdown and leaves me feeling half-crazy) just so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

I think this is a thing of the past though when you consider the following conversation at dinner the night after watching Food Inc. with him..

Stephen: So, you know a couple weeks ago when you had me pick up some chicken for dinner?

Me: Yeah.

Stephen: Is Foster Farms an OK brand to buy?

Me: Um, no, I don’t think so. I usually just like to get our meat at Trader Joe’s and I get the organic stuff.

Stephen: Well, they are always the ones advertising that they are more natural or whatever.

Me: Yeah, just because they market themselves that way doesn’t mean it is necessarily true.

The fact that he’s probably thinking, “Oh crap, what did I put in my body two weeks ago?” is a very good sign.

I know I still have a lot to learn about food and can be better, but this is a journey, afterall. Some days are just filled with crying babies that leave me physically and emotionally exhausted. So we do eat out still from time to time. When we do have to eat out, we try to pick places where they say they are serving organic food. We don’t eat at McDonald’s or Taco Bell or Carl’s or places at that level, period.

Looking back I realize that I had a great opportunity during my childhood that I often took for granted. As it stands, I would honestly be willing to give a whole lot to be able to live on a similar ranch again so I could raise my own animals the way I want and plant my own garden too. It may have been a lot of work, but I think the benefits reaped are so, so worth it.

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My food journey, part 2: Teens and young-adulthood

My vegetarianism stints throughout junior high and high school never really lasted long and when they did I often cheated. The thing is that despite growing up around food and to a certain extent, farming, I really knew very little about preparing food well.

My sister, Andrea, recently said to me that she never could understand why anyone would want to be a vegetarian until she started learning how to prepare good food. When you grow up eating vegetables that are frozen or canned and then microwaved, it’s pretty easy to see why.

Processed food was a huge staple of my family’s diet. I don’t blame my parents for this at all. I know that they did the best they could with the knowledge they had and the resources they had to work with. If you’ve seen Food Inc., you know all about how basically junk food is subsidised by our government. Hamburger Helper is cheap and easy to prepare. So please don’t judge my parents for “ruining” what was mainly grass-fed beef with these meals in a box.

When my parents split up, maintaining the ranch became pretty much impossible. So we moved and my dad got a Costco membership. Enter in even more processed food. We still consumed large amounts of meat that we bought in bulk there, but this was accompanied by the same staples. He also started getting a lot of pre-prepared meals there like the skillet meal in a bag types, frozen lasagna, pasta to be topped with sauces from a jar, chicken pot pies, Hot Pockets, and other things that he knew would be easy for my sisters and I to prepare on our own.

Cable television had always been seen as somewhat of a necessity in our home growing up. I don’t even really remember a time when we didn’t have it. In some ways though, I say thank God for cable television because that is how and where I learned to cook. Watching Emeril started out as a fun thing to do with my dad. For the first time I realized, “Whoa, cooking can be so much fun and so interesting. It doesn’t have to be this awful hard chore.” When they added the Food Network to our channel lineup I was so excited. I quickly had several favorites shows.

Soon after that something just snapped in me and I knew that I could not stand to eat another pot pie or Hot Pocket ever again (OK, well lets be honest here I did when I was desperate and there was nothing else to eat in the house, but still). I remember one day I just got online and started printing off recipe after recipe that I wanted to try on little notecards to fill the little recipe box I purchased at  the drugstore that was around the corner (which sits to this day in my kitchen). Some of my recipes were total flops. For instance, the first time I tried to make alfredo sauce I burned the rue three times (darn old electric stove!) before giving up and making a box of Pasta Roni instead. Other things were really good though, like after one of my dad’s annual fishing trips when I made a seared tuna steak topped with a mixture of tomatoes, garlic and olives in a white wine sauce.  

Processed food didn’t just go away though. Even though I knew freshly prepared food was fairly easy to make and tasted better, I still ate fast food and convenience food when I got too busy or when I was just tired and didn’t feel like cooking. Plus, my sisters were often very critical of my food or because of being guinea pigs were afraid to try new things I would make in case it was a flop.

Then, I married Stephen who basically grew up the same way I did eating lots of processed food and veggies prepared the same microwaved way. It took me a long time to convince him that veggies could be good because of this. In our first apartment, we had the pot pies and Hot Pockets right there in the freezer to be had when I was too busy with school to cook or nights when we had church activities immediately after work/school and no time to cook. We ate a lot of fast food too. Some of it was better than others, but a lot of it was the really cheap gross stuff like McDonalds and Taco Bell.

However, it was a “fast food” trip to Jamba Juice on my way to school one morning that would completely change my life with regards to food. In addition to their smoothies, Jamba usually has a shelf or two of other items available including biking apparel, juicers (of course), blenders, cookbooks and other literature that fit with the Jamba lifestyle. While waiting in line to place my order for a smoothie in the late fall of 2003, I decided to pick up a couple books, they were Consumer Joe (very funny, but not the life changing one) and Fast Food Nation.

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My food journey, part 1: Childhood

Inspired by several of my friends who are talking so much about food right now, I’ve decided to write about the role food has played in my life over the years and where I am at right now with food. For as long as I can remember food has been a big part of my family’s and my life. As one of the basic needs for human beings, I’m sure this is true of most people.

Some of my earliest memories are of family assembly lines producing hundreds of raviolis or several pans of lasagna based off recipes from my grandma. And, despite the fact that we did this every year, my dad had to always make a call to his mom about halfway into the process just to make sure that he was using the correct amount of flour and eggs or other ingredients. To this day my dad will not order raviolis in a restaurant. If someone at the table does he complains about their uniform, machine-cranked-out look which is followed by a declaration that they are not real raviolis.

Others memories of food as a kid were with my mom, baking in the kitchen. I remember going through a phase shortly after we moved to Bakersfield where we baked so much stuff. I would say, “Mommy, today I want to make…” and she would try and find a recipe in one of her cookbooks and we would attempt it. There were some flops, for sure, including the extra chewy cinnamon rolls that would never rise, but I also remember some successes, too, such as several apple pies we made after my dad brought home a ton of apples from one of his grower clients.

It was after we moved to Bakersfield as a kid that I remember really starting to pay attention to and learn more about food. I think part of this was due to the fact that I was finally old enough to start comprehending it, but part of it was also due to the fact that as a tire salesman, some of my dad’s clients included some of the largest farming operations in Kern County. If my dad had to put in extra hours on a Saturday he would often take one of his girls along for the ride and in addition to a fleet inspection of the grower’s tires, we would get a behind the scenes look at what goes on at a modern farm.

I remember when “organics” first came out and hearing several skeptical speeches from my dad on the subject as we would drive by an organic farm or see these expensive items starting to pop up in the grocery store. “What a waste of extra money!” he would say followed by telling us girls all about how the organic farm fields were right next to the regular farm fields which, when one considered the large amount of aerial spraying that goes on in Kern County means the organic stuff was definitely getting sprayed too. Or how the large growers that had some organic operations would tell my dad that organics meant they still put pesticides on them, but sometimes it just meant that instead of a spray application it was powder or that instead of an insecticide made from chemicals in a lab, they would use the naturally occuring version of those chemicals from a plant or mineral. Either way the plants were getting chemicals and usually the same chemicals at that.

After we moved to Bakersfield, my sister and I became involved in 4-H. Once again my dad’s farmer friends often helped us out with this by providing animals for our projects at a considerable deal. After our dogs, my first animal project was rabbits which we got from another family in our 4-H group. My sister, on the other hand, decided that she wanted to do chickens. A large chicken farming operation was one of my dad’s largest clients. So one day my dad took us out to the farm where my sister was going to get to pick out a chicken from among hundreds of chickens that were not keeping up with production and going to be sent to the slaughter house.

It was one of the most disgusting experiences of my life and one that left a huge impression on me. The houses were dark and long. It seemed like they went on for miles. Inside they were filled with rows and rows of cages about four feet off the ground. The bottoms of the cages were at an angle so that when an egg was layed it would slide down to a trough below where they could be retrieved easily. The reason the cages were so far off the ground was so that the poop could have room to gather underneath in large piles that were obviously very smelly and swarming with flies. The cages were small and held around 2-4 birds crammed together so that they really couldn’t move. All of the birds seemed to have this crazed look in their eyes. I remember asking my dad’s farmer friend about this and he dismissed it by saying that the birds were just freaked out because we were in their house. My sister picked out one of the thousands of white birds and Penelope the chicken came home with us that day. Penelope was named for one of her favorite cartoon characters, Penelope Pitstop from the cartoon Wacky Races.

Shortly after that our family moved out of the track home we were renting in South Bakersfield and headed east to a much bigger house with some land. As part of this move, it meant that we would drive by a really disgusting dairy on our way to school each morning. It was obvious why the dairy stunk so much: cows knee high in their own waste.

It was here that we really began raising our own animals for food. We had quite the large flock of chickens and two roosters at one point and they were all kept in a fairly large pen that had a chicken house complete with roosts and nesting boxes. Our chickens roamed around all day eating bugs, weeds and the grain that we fed them. We had several varieties including a Holland, Buckeye Rooster, New Hampshire Reds, and some Brahma Bantams. While we never slaughtered our chickens for meat, we did get lots and lots of eggs out of them and even hatched some of our own chicks from time to time. Raising our own eggs did mean that from time to time we’d crack open an egg and find a half developed embryo, which could be quite shocking in a house full of girls. After the experience of raising our own chickens, which never had that panic-crazed look in their eyes, I really began to question the factory farm method of egg laying hens and knew there was much more behind people being in their house to the look.

We also raised beef cows and pigs for meat which we usually fed a combination of alphalfa and occasionally carrots that my dad was told by several beef grower friends would help sweeten up the meat. The cows were out on our large pasture until the last month or so when they would be brought into a smaller holding pen to fatten up a bit at which time we would continue feeding them hay supplemented by a scoop of a grain mixture that included oats and corn mixed with molasses. This was also suggested by farmers that had been there and done that.

Now, having access to what most people in my circle of friends would probably think is really awesome, premium meat, it might be hard to understand why this lifestyle actually was when I had one of my initial dives into vegetarianism.

Well, there were several reasons. I already talked about one reason, here.

When you slaughter a 1100-1600lb cow or or a nearly 300lb hog, even for a family of six that is a lot of meat. Sure, my dad would give a bit of it away to friends, but we kept the majority of it because that was the whole point to raising your own animals to eat. So that meant that upon the slaughter of one of our animals we were pretty much going to be eating that animal every night for a good long while. Couple that with my parents’ lack of cooking skills (no offense guys) and the diet got to be pretty boring. This is what I remember eating over and over: beef stew and pork roasts that my mom made in the crockpot with a packet of Lipton onion soup, every flavor of Hamburger Helper you could imagine, and beef that was barbecued and very rare which was just the way my parents liked it, but all the blood pretty much freaked us girls out. These things were usually served with sides of garlic bread, canned or frozen bagged veggies heated up in the microwave served with butter and salt, baked or mashed potatoes, or salads of iceberg, carrots, broccoli and shredded cheese drowning in ranch dressing.

The other reason was more sentimental than anything. Living with them as we did for several months, these animals were essentially our pets. I watched the birth of a calf late into the night and mourned with its mother when we discovered that it was stillborn. I was nuzzled by cows and pigs affectionately. They had names that we all came up with. They were companions when there was nothing to do but go sit out in the barn on a bail of hay and contemplate the ups and downs of life or escape the house when there was too much bickering going on.

To then watch these friends be killed was quite emotional, at least for me. To my parents’ credit the animals were often killed during the day while we were at school, but I do remember two slaughters very vividly, one of which was that same mother cow. Upon the first gunshot to her head she did not die, but stumbled a bit and kept walking around, now in a panic looking at those that had cared for her so dearly surrounding her. In complete crazed fear, she spun around and the butcher shot her again. Blood was splurting everywhere at this point. It took three bullets to get her down. The man then went to work. First he strung her up on a small crane. The neck was cut at the jugular vein so that a majority of the blood could be drained out onto the ground. The head and legs were removed followed by the hide. He cut into the belly explaining that he had to be careful not to puncture the intestines and stomach, which if you have seen any war movie sort of just similarly blobbed out quickly into a pile on the ground. The core of the animal was then cut in half down the spine and then in half again to separate the front from the back and hung on four hooks inside a metal locker on the back of the butcher’s truck to then be transported to the larger slaughter house for processing into steaks, ribs, ground beef, tri-tip, etc.

It got to the point where I didn’t even go outside anymore when I was home because I just couldn’t deal with becoming attached in any way to animals that I knew would end up in our freezer and subsequently on our dinner plates. This reclusiveness and the “very weird” (for Bakersfield) vegetarianism actually earned me a nick-name from one of the neighbors, “Third Rock from the Sun” which implied the popular NBC show about aliens disguised as humans living on our planet.

This is getting pretty long so far, so I think I’m going to have to do this as a series. I didn’t realize I had so much to say on the subject! Hopefully you find this interesting and enlightening and stay tuned.

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Best of Both Worlds Lasagne

If you want to be a vegetarian, you kind of have to like vegetables. Like a lot. Obviously.

As many of you know, I have been one off and on over the years. So I definitely like my veggies. When it comes to many dishes, I usually like the version with extra veggies over the meat version.

My husband on the other hand is an, “eater of meat,” as he puts it. Definitely a carnivore. Tends to complain when I make a meal that doesn’t include meat. If he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t go back for seconds or chow down on the leftovers the next day, for sure.

Since I do like meat in addition to my veggies, I sometimes am torn between which version of stuff I should partake in. You know the situation… you’re at an event with lots of people and lots of food and there is a veggie pizza and a meat pizza, veggie/cheese enchiladas and chicken enchiladas, etc. Often I don’t want to choose so I end up eating way too much because I have to have a little of both.

Well, that is where this lasagne recipe comes in. It combines the two so you don’t have to choose! It definitely isn’t really gourmet either because I used preshredded cheese and store-bought sauce as a base. You could fancy it up and make everything from complete scratch if you wanted to though.

Best of Both Worlds Lasagne

Ingredients
-1 jar Pomodoro Rustico sauce from TJs
-2 sweet Italian sausage links
-1 cup bell peppers, chopped
-1 cup frozen artichoke hearts, chopped
-1 cup carrots, chopped
-2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
-1 box lasagne noodles
-1 bag shredded mozarella
-some shredded Parmesan

Directions
Preheat oven to 375.

Cook sausage links over medium heat until browned and cooked through. Remove from pan and chop into small pieces.

Add carrots to pan and cook until softened. Return sausage to the pan and add sauce, artichoke hearts, and bell pepper. Cook until warmed through.

Any Italian will tell you that you have to taste the sauce during the cooking process. It really is just a must. Bean was hanging out with me in the kitchen while I was cooking and in an effort to make her feel involved, I let her taste test the sauce. Doing this with her brought back so many memories as a kid getting to taste test the sauce with my dad.


She’s saying “hot”.


Mmmm….

Next you’ll want to layer your ingredients in a big casserole dish.


Sauce on the bottom so that the pasta doesn’t stick…


…uncooked pasta next…


…another layer of sauce and then some of your spinach leaves…


…the cheeses…


…and on and on until you get a full pan like this.

Bake covered for 40 minutes and then uncovered for another 5 minutes.


Remove from oven and enjoy.


If I ever want to become a serious food/recipe blogger, I’m going to have to get better at plating my food.

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The latest, afternoon of May 24

Last night for a couple hours all of my pregnancy symptoms completely disappeared. It was like someone shut off a switch and I was feeling completely normal.

This freaked me out.

As well as the much more intense cramping I experienced. And the spotting which had turned pink (new blood).

Basically my options were to go to the ER/Urgent Care and get blood work and an ultrasound done or wait it out. I chose wait it out.

This morning things were the same until about 9am.

Then I started feeling nauseous again. Stephen has never been so excited about me feeling that way. He went to Jamba and got me a protein infused smoothie while I put Bean down for a nap.

After I had my smoothie I realized that my cramping had disappeared too. A check in the bathroom revealed that the spotting had stopped!

However, my tummy ache was only getting worse despite downing the smoothie that had a double protein boost in it.

My stomach continued to churn and churn.

And well I’m sure you can guess what happened next. First time in the whole pregnancy though so not that bad I guess considering I think I’ll be 9 weeks along tomorrow.

Oh and meat is completely disgusting and I won’t be eating it for quite some time. I had a bean and cheese burrito for lunch.

This started a few nights ago when we had spaghetti with sausage and the sausage tasted like dill pickle to me. Sick. Not what sausage is supposed to taste like. It wasn’t bad, just me.

Then we had tacos another night and that meat was so greasey and bleh.

Then yesterday we ate at IHOP for breakfast because our kitchen was (is) a complete disaster. I knew I needed some protein to go with my big stack of blueberry pancakes so I order a side of ham. The most greasey looking stuff came out on a plate all its own. Seriously did not know ham could even be that greasey. I choked it down. I still don’t know why.

Last night we had really yummy pasta with sausage at my sister in law’s house. And it didn’t taste like dill pickle. But still. I think all my recent bad meat experiences have totally ruined it for me.

Just the thought of meat makes me want to gag right now. Hence the smoothie for breakfast and the bean burrito for lunch (please stay down!).

We skipped out on church today so I could rest and take it easy still. And that’s still the plan at this point even though the bleeding has stopped.

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15 weeks 2 days

On and off through all four years of high school I was a vegetarian. I took a brief break for couple years and then I read Fast Food Nation and once again found myself meat free for about 2 years.

In all the years of being a vegetarian it was never because I abhored the taste of meat. Well I take that back… initially it was because I got tired of eating beef or pork every night whenever we slaughtered one of our ranch animals. But there was also the part of actually seeing those animals killed that really bothered me. There’s nothing like seeing blood pour from the slit neck of a defenseless being to turn you off to the practice of meat eating.

I eventually got over that, especially once I learned to cook my own meals and experiment with recipes. Then, after reading Fast Food Nation I once again could not bring myself to eat meat because I was afraid of what might be in it based on the accounts of our nation’s slaughterhouses that are found in the book.

After a couple weeks of being vegetarian though I’d always go back to craving meat. It was when these cravings became unbearable that I usually gave in and either cheated a little or gave up the practice altogether.

To completely detest the idea of meat, the taste of it, etc. was really weird these last couple months. I mean, I’ve always liked rice and beans, but not that much.

So today when I had a craving for one of these:

I knew that everything was definitely going back to normal. I even drove halfway across town just to sink my teeth into one today.

Craving In-N-Out cheeseburgers was something I expected from my pregnancy, losing 14lbs and the rest of it was not.

It’s good to be normal again.

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