Cooking for One

Is there a point in cooking for one? The common consensus may be it’s too much trouble to cook for just one person, but is it really? So many of us now find ourselves alone, it’s worth revisiting the question.

Obviously, the benefits of cooking apply whether you’re cooking for one or cooking for six. The question is whether the ratio of effort, ingredients, time, and cost outweigh the ease of popping open a package and grazing. The truth is, you will have to weigh this for yourself and there are many things to consider.

As with most things, the process of thinking through the answer to the question will be revealing and provide insight. That has value no matter what the conclusion.

What are the considerations?

Health

Fresh food prepared at home is the easiest way to eliminate preservatives, artificial coloring, and other additives. It’s the easiest way to make food compatible with your specific dietary needs. It’s the easiest way to control sodium intake and minimize ingesting potential carcinogens. Preparing your own food gives you more control over its healthiness.

Time

The pandemic has overloaded already full schedules with tasks that were previously unnecessary. Some people may have temporarily discovered extra time to bake bread, but most people I know do more dishes, double-up housework and work, have more time-consuming errands, and have had to revise their method for approaching every area of life. Time is an even more precious commodity than before.

Preparing your own meals does take time that you might otherwise spend on something else. If cooking results in food that makes you feel more energized and satisfied, less lethargic and bloated, and less distracted by gut pain, it may well be worth it. There are also ways to maximize efficiency so that the time spent on food prep is minimal.

Cost

If you purchase large amounts of fresh halibut, you’ll spend a fortune and call me crazy, but in general, purchasing individual ingredients is more cost effective than buying prepackaged convenience foods. This is especially true when it comes to gluten-free packaged food.

And you don’t have to strictly buy one or the other. You can make your own macaroni & cheese using store-bought gluten-free pasta. You can keep frozen chicken nuggets, or ham, or pimento cheese on hand for days that plans unexpectedly change and you need something quick.

Taste

I don’t think you can beat the taste of a fresh tomato or peach. In fact, I’d argue that perfectly ripened, they’re best eaten unadorned. Fresh spinach from the garden tastes like a whole different green. Recognizing the inherent scrumptiousness of fresh food cam mean you feel less pressured to go to great lengths to enhance something that’s wonderful on its own. This will save both time and money.

Waste

Perhaps the most frequent argument against cooking for one is that you’ll waste too much food. That is a possibility. But there are many ways to counter this.

I frequently share dishes with my neighbors. Once I hit the point at which I recognize I am tired of something, I throw the balance in a jar and deliver it to the porch next door.

Recently, I made a pie in a pan that a friend left at my house long ago. I needed to test a recipe and I needed to return the pan. I made the pie, took out one piece, then called my friend to come get the rest of the pie thereby accomplishing both.

Occasionally, I freeze something to reheat later. If you’re willing to freeze cookies, then why not pesto chicken, chili or lasagna? And when I don’t want to freeze, I repurpose.

Braised boneless pork ribs become carnitas tacos. Chicken becomes chicken salad. Breakfast sausage and spinach land on mashed potatoes for an upside-down version of sausage shepherd’s pie. This list could go on forever. I repurpose often.

Rather than waste food, you can always share with strangers. There are plenty of children in my neighborhood who can use extra food. While I have not determined the best way to get it in their hands yet, I am constantly making assessments that will contribute to a plan.

Looking at health, time, cost, taste, and waste are somewhat measurable. Cooking also offers intangibles that can’t be objectively measured: warm feelings, pleasing aromas, aesthetically pleasing visuals, family memories, creativity, a feeling of accomplishment. It is the intangibles that pull me into the kitchen. It’s the taste that keeps me there. And the health benefits are a major bonus.

I cook for one. For me, it’s worth it. Let me know if it’s worth it for you.

Planning for a Win

Well, here we are smack dab in a new year and it’s time to start planning for a win. I’ve always hated the term strategic planning. It’s often thrown around in corporate settings along with an eyeroll that means we’re generating a big report no one will read and we have no intention of following. In spite of that, planning is critically important for improving our health, our enjoyment, and our lives!

B-O-R-I-N-G. I can feel your eyeroll reading this. The thing is, a lack of planning will rob us of safety, leisure, and time down the road. We know this so well we have the cliché: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can’t prevent unless you know what you’re preventing and make deliberate efforts toward doing so. In order to be deliberate, you must think through the process. This, is planning.

So, how can you motivate yourself to do something that seems useless until you need it?

Observe someone else

What’s difficult to see in ourselves is easy to see in others. Every time you tell your teen that cleaning her room would go faster if she’d organize, remember that organizing is implementation of planning logistics. Every time you tell your son that his homework will be easier if he’ll do his hardest subject first, remember that increasing efficiency by minimizing your weaknesses is planning.

Shop

If you love shopping, get yourself in planning mode by clicking through product pictures that will make your tasks easier. Always running out of printer ink at the most inopportune moment? Find a storage container you love to store extra. Eat too many chips because you forget to buy crunchy vegetables? Favorite a couple of crunchy vegetables in your grocery app so they’ll come up as suggestions next time you shop.

Use the shower

If you feel you can’t spare the time to plan, do the mental work while you’re in the shower. When I designed for clients, most designs started in the shower. I’ve solved a lot of problems there too. I often plan product production in the shower. The only problem is my autopilot isn’t perfect and I sometimes forget to use shampoo.

Find something pleasant

As you open your mind to planning in spite of internal objections, notice if there’s one tiny thing you enjoy about the process. For some of us, hand writing lists in a leather journal with a favorite pen is enough to bridge the gap between reluctance and progress. Planning while sitting in your favorite chair with your favorite beverage can also be pleasant (or fun or dangerous depending your favorite beverage and the amount consumed, no judgement).

When it comes to a workout plan, finding the specific activities that make you feel good will help you adhere to a schedule. In fact, if a workout makes you feel better there won’t be a need for a formal plan. You’ll seek it out. Swimming and yoga are my favorites. Truthfully, I’d rather be doing yoga right now that writing, but that does not fit my plan for today.

Solve a puzzle

Life is a puzzle that’s always adding new pieces. Solving a what-would-I-do-if puzzle can be a great mental exercise. When I see some disaster on TV, I devise a plan for what I would do if faced with that circumstance. I don’t get obsessed by this or start ordering 50 years of supplies. I just think through the possibilities and make a mental checklist. For instance, I have a procedure for the steps to follow if the bridge in front of me is suddenly gone and I can’t stop my car before it plunges. Disaster response is a puzzle to solve. Planning also seeks to put the pieces of life in order.

Reward yourself

A reward at the end of a task isn’t as motivational for me as the inherent benefits of planning that I will enjoy later, but not everyone is like me. If rewarding yourself with two hours of binge watching once you’ve finished the task at hand, then do it. Have food delivered rather than cooking another meal or order a pair of earrings you’ve been eyeing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with incentives!

Be flexible

Any rigid plan can feel stifling at some point so allow yourself some flexibility. You may have saved planning for a rainy day that turns out to be sunny. Don’t strap yourself to your desk, get out and enjoy the sun! You’ll feel more invigorated and motivated later.

Run across an interesting article while you’re researching something? Go ahead and read it, then come back to the task. Too often we read the article, but then punish ourselves for not sticking to the plan. That just demotivates us for the next planning session. Incorporating flexibility instead, frees us to enjoy a digression occasionally without feeling bad.

Be honest

How many of us say we hate planning and then invest hours scoping out the perfect vacation spot with a smile on our faces? Do we really hate planning or is it tolerable when we’re doing something we consider leisure rather than work? Owning our individual quirks, motivations, and tolerances will make every decision easier and more understandable. And it will ease the internal struggle that prevents action.

Bring your sense of humor

No matter how much you plan, some things will go awry. The universe, family, or a boss will throw you an unavoidable curve ball. When plans fail in ironic and silly ways, it’s okay to laugh. If you recognize you’ve become too attached to a plan you didn’t want to make in the first place, it’s okay to laugh. It’s not so much about the plan. Plans often have to be revised. The thought process, expectations, and intentions that show us the path forward are what matters.

Just do it

There is a lot of wisdom to the Nike slogan. Sometimes the first step is all we need to get us going. If you can muscle yourself through one step, just do it and see what happens. Often, the second step is easier and by the 10th you won’t even remember your objection.

Now, get out there and win 2021. It’s going to be a tough one, but that’s no reason not to excel and thrive! Planning now will help later as challenges appear.

Winning is being informed. Winning is showing up. Winning is stretching yourself. Winning is being kind. Winning is embracing change. Winning is seeing the opportunity in every challenge. Winning is loving your flaws. Winning is learning. Winning is understanding your value. Winning is listening. Winning is contributing. Winning is speaking your truth. Winning is granting yourself grace. Winning is granting grace to those you do not like or understand. Winning is accepting love.

Winning is giving. Winning is…limitless.

Steak in the Ground

Where will you put your steak in the ground in 2021? Most years at this time I reflect back on events that have happened since the previous Christmas. This year, my memories have wandered much further back. I’m not sure why, but it seems to be having an effect both on how I view 2020 and on how I plan for the year to come.

I remember the smell of the fire burning before my mom switched the fireplace from wood to gas logs. Christmas never felt the same after that. I remember putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it alone while my parents were at work, then wrapping all the Christmas gifts for the entire family without ever peeking in the boxes for me. Perhaps it’s the similarities between Christmas 2020 and many from my childhood that have taken me back.

For whatever reason, everything seems to remind me of something from the way way back. A food poll published by FiveThirtyEight triggered the memory of an oft told family story reflecting upon an incident in which a relative’s girlfriend was dumped for nothing more than ordering steak well-done (with steak sauce, gasp). I don’t know if that story is true or just a way to elevate the teller’s and listeners’ reputations as a discerning diners.

What does feel familiar is a comparison between the percent of poll respondents who said they prefer their steak medium-rare (38%) to the number of people who, according to Longhorn Steakhouse, ordered it that way from May 30, 2016 – May 21, 2017 (22%). One could argue that this is because Longhorn Steakhouse orders do not accurately reflect the orders of those polled. That is certainly possible but saying one thing and doing another also rings true.

If 2020 has made anything clear, it is that as a culture we’re more than comfortable seeing evidence of something and behaving as if it were something else than dealing with difficult truths. Unfortunately, this doesn’t just keep us from getting the steak we prefer, it can lead to victim blaming, risky health choices, escalating violence, political chaos, and continued social injustice. Because we must first see a problem before we can solve it, denial will forever keep us from making forward progress – personally, professionally, and as a community.

Denial is a powerful tool for maintaining the status quo. But as 2020 has also shown us, change is inevitable. When we face change by holding onto the past with white knuckles, we miss the opportunity to make the future better.

We already know that much of 2021 will be similar to 2020. Given that, it seems foolish to develop a long list of intentions for the New Year. Instead, I intend to let myself see what is and face difficult truths. That is enough. From that pivot point, I can address any problems that arise in informed, prudent, and productive ways. If we use this approach collectively, we can improve all our lives. This is where I intend to put a steak in the ground (and yes, I know it’s stake).

Wishing all of us the strength, clarity, and the insight to improve individually and as a whole in 2021.

Many Diagnoses Come With Uncertainty

Just like this pandemic year, many diagnoses come with uncertainty. Truthfully, they all do. Getting comfortable with not knowing can help lead to the healthiest path for dealing with the coming months or a disconcerting diagnosis.

The contrasts of this year seem especially sharp as Christmas 2020 approaches. The middle road we often cruise has given way to distinct divisions between comfort and danger. And it feels disconcerting because many of the holiday traditions in which we usually find comfort are not currently safe. The pandemic has brought uncertainty we cannot avoid. Too much has changed too fast.

Under normal conditions, many of us shove uncertainty aside. We believe we know what each day will hold. We focus on that and tune out things we don’t expect or don’t want to deal with. We know that there will be minor mishaps – spills that stain a favorite blouse, flat tires, computer malfunctions, etc. We limit our expectations to those and move forward. That works great until an unavoidable life-altering event presents itself.

Big events often mean big decisions. It’s so much easier to make a decision if the outcome is immediate and known. But that’s not really how it works in most life-altering situations. Every choice is a gamble.

So how can we stay grounded and trust ourselves to make good enough choices?

It’s important to note that good enough choices aren’t always perfect choices. We can move toward health by making informed, if imperfect, choices. When we feel confident in our choices, we lessen the fear and anxiety created by uncertainty.

Fear triggers the urge to fight, flee, freeze, or fawn or hey, if things are really bad, all four! Just recognizing this can lessen the impact of the feelings when they arise. And there are ways to help calm your lower brain so that you can move in and out of fear deliberately and effectively.

Here are a few techniques to try:

Grounding – plant your feet firmly on the floor and press as if you’re getting ready for the starting gun of a race. If you still need to calm down, look around the room (leave your feet planted) and count all of the red you see, then green, then black, etc. You can continue by looking for shapes.

Tapping – Memorize a simple sequence of tapping. When you feel distress coming on, tap the sequence until you feel better.

Feeling your body – gently squeeze your arms noting how the skin feels and how the muscles feel beneath your arms. Continue with your legs or feet. Sometimes resting one hand on your chest just below your throat can feel calming. Feeling your body will help bring you into the present moment instead of getting lost in a panic of “what if”.

Breathing – stand in mountain pose and breathe. What I love about this pose is that you can do it anywhere without inviting the stares that downward dog would bring. If you’re at home, try alternate nostril breathing.

Once you develop successful methods to calm yourself, you will be ready to explore leaning into the feeling of fear. What works best for me is to allow myself to feel scared and to stay in that feeling as long as I can stand it. Having done this many times, I know that there will be a point at which things will shift and I will no longer feel afraid. If I can’t stick with it that long, I let it go for the moment knowing I can move in and out of fear as needed.

I don’t try to figure anything out or make any decisions when I’m leaning into fear. I just feel it and observe how my body responds. I trust that things will seem more clear once I’ve worked through some of the fear. When dealt with directly and immediately (or deliberately over a relatively short period of time), fear doesn’t have a chance to turn into long-term anxiety. It simply dissipates and goes away.

You can’t expect yourself to work through the fear brought by a diagnosis while you’re in the doctor’s office. At that moment, or any time you need to make immediate decisions under duress, I compartmentalize. I understand that many mental health professionals may not support that idea, but it works for me. The key is to create time and space soon after to feel my way through what has happened.

In other words, I compartmentalize temporarily. That gives me the clarity to proceed to another step of feeling confident in my decisions: gathering information. I set my feelings aside to ask the doctor as many questions as I can think of. I also ask the process for submitting questions that may come up once I’ve processed a bit longer.

Once I leave the doctor’s office, I research my options until I reach the point that I feel comfortable working with my doctor to devise a care plan. This sometimes includes getting a second opinion. Having the knowledge of more than one expert makes me feel more confident moving forward. While there is no way to know for sure whether we’ll achieve the outcome I desire, making informed plans builds my confidence and comfort level make uncertainty feel more tolerable.

Uncertainty can still weigh heavy. That’s when I like to get outside. Or on days like today, a trip outdoors offers an opportunity to bank good feelings to pull from when I need them. It’s such a gorgeous day! The work view I’ve chosen is from the porch overlooking my back yard.

Multiple birds chirp as they shuffle in and out of the wisteria on the arbor. Crows caw in the distance. Sugar snap peas extend their small white blossoms above the fence into a net trellis. The sun is full on my face and I’m comfortable in a light sweater. At sunset, we’ll be able to see Jupiter and Saturn align into a bright Christmas star. How could anything be bad?

Of course I’m aware of the perils of delivering gifts to my friends. Any other year, we’d be sharing food, wine, and laughter along with our gift bags. This year, we’re navigating quarantine just to get them to each other’s porches.

But while I sit under a brilliant blue sky, I don’t have to think about that. I can simply soak in the sun, the sounds, and the smell of BBQ when the breeze shifts just so. The smell of smoke from that nearby BBQ pit is a peril in itself. Live here long, and you’ll crave barbecue for breakfast.

As we move through stunted holiday celebrations into more months of pandemic uncertainty, some of us will receive unwanted diagnoses with the potential to increase anxiety. Having tools to reduce discomfort can mean better decision making and more peace of mind.

That’s my wish for all of us through the holidays…peace of mind and spirit!