Archive for April, 2012

April 30, 2012

The Benefits of Cooking – Part 1: The Food

One of my kids recently asked why we’re called Cooking2Thrive rather than Eating2Thrive? Given how much all of us like to eat, it’s a valid question. Not only that, but say the word cook and lots of folks want to run for the hills ’cause it sounds time consuming and difficult so why would we want that in our name?

Since the question has been posed, I’m going to answer it with a series I’ll call The Benefits of Cooking.

So here goes – The Benefits of Cooking – Part 1

The Food

I like to focus on rewards, and one of the rewards of cooking is having great tasting food to eat. When I say cooking, I am referring to the act of preparing food using basic ingredients like meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, rice, polenta, honey, herbs, spices, milk, cheese, and yogurt. If you grew up eating home-cooked meals, your mouth may start watering just thinking about Sunday dinner. It’s hard to argue that food made from fresh ingredients does not taste better than food that has been processed to stay consistent in appearance through weeks or months of transportation and shelf-life.

I grew up helping my grandmother in the garden. Every time I see a pale, hard, overly trucked tomato in the grocery store, I cringe as my memory plays the contrasting picture of a soft, dark red, full flavored tomato just plucked from the vine. You know, the kind that sends juice running down your chin when you take a bite! It’s the sort of memory that has many of us attempting to grow tomatoes on the porch when we don’t have a yard. I still miss my grandmother’s tomato juice canned in glass and sitting on a shelf in the basement. That tomato juice started with those vine-ripened tomatoes and ended up as a critical ingredient in my grandmother’s chili or sometimes disappeared as I gulped it thick and sweet from a glass when it was chilled.

tomatoes

The juiciness of a strawberry, the brightness of a sugar snap pea, the crispness of a golden delicious apple with tender skin – all are better when ripened before picking and prepared fresh. As a child, some of my favorite dishes were corn-on-the-cob, fried okra, baked sweet potatoes, green rice, and beef & noodles. Oh, and don’t forget the lemon meringue pie. I requested it for every birthday. My sister preferred cherry pie made with bing cherries from a tree in the yard. One year my mother discovered a fresh peach pie recipe. We bought local peaches in season, peeled them, sliced them, and placed them in a sweetened gelatin atop her flaky piecrust. Topped with whipped cream, this cold pie showcased the uncooked peaches perfectly.

These days I’m quite fond of boneless skinless chicken thighs seasoned with jerk spices, seared in coconut oil, and baked in a cast iron skillet with a little chicken broth, curried pork chops and polenta, mashed butternut squash, roasted cauliflower with a hint of crushed red pepper, steamed sugar snap peas, and my own version of my grandmother’s chili. Since cooking is the easiest way to consume my favorites often, I’m happy to spend some time in the kitchen.

Not only does freshly prepared food taste better, it makes it easier to avoid flavor enhancing chemicals, high sodium content, preservatives, and excess sugars. Even if you’re a great label reader, when you purchase processed food products, you may be consuming chemicals that are not required to be listed or specified on the label. Obviously, most of these won’t kill you on the spot or people would be dropping like flies, so there’s no need to be alarmist and say never ever buy prepared convenience foods from the store or eat what a friend is serving at a party, but it is naive to believe that these chemicals do not alter your body chemistry or affect your brain’s response to food.

And it may not take a large amount of an additive to change how you feel. A study cited in the April 2010 “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” reported that runners who rinsed their mouths with a carbohydrate solution right before and every 15 minutes during an hour-long treadmill session ran faster and further than those who rinsed with a placebo. The brain senses incoming energy “which may lower the perceived effort,” says Ian Rollo, PH.D. one of the study’s authors.1 Since it appears that a little dab will do it, here in a nation with increasing amounts of chronic disease, more studies of the potential negative effects of chemicals in our diet on long-term health are direly needed. In the meantime, it is up to you to decide how much risk you’re willing to take.

Cooking from fresh ingredients is also the easiest way to avoid allergens, gluten, and lactose or limit sodium, sugar, and starchy carbs. Of course, just because you cook the food doesn’t mean these items will magically be absent, but it does mean you have control over what’s included and it can eliminate the effort of reading and rereading labels.

If the word cooking scares you, remember that many fresh ingredients require little or no enhancement. Zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, lettuce, arugula, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, bell peppers, avocados, radishes, and snow peas for instance can be eaten with just a tiny sprinkle of salt or nothing at all. Fruit may only require peeling.

Even if you purchase water-packed tuna or smoked brisket from a BBQ restaurant and only “cook” a salad to go with it, you can add a tremendous amount of fresh flavor and nutrients to your diet. If that leads you to explore new combinations of flavors and preparations, then you’ll have captured the essence of being a cook. A little curiosity, a bit of practice, and a willingness to sometimes throw the whole thing in the trash are where most great cooks start.

And we all have near disasters or major failures along the way. Most of us burn ourselves, catch a dishtowel on fire, cover the floor in flour, burn cookies, leave out the baking powder, or put too much salt in something from time to time. Often it is from those failures that we learn the most.

I’m going to let this conclude Part 1. As you can see, the benefits of cooking include: Great tasting food and easy elimination of chemicals, allergens, inflammatory foods and lots of label reading. But wait, there’s more! Next up: The Benefits of Cooking – Part 2: The Fun. If you think I’ve forgotten about baking, think again. This is a series, remember, we’ll get to that in a bit.

You’ll find the rest of the series right here at Cooking2Thrive. Look forward to having you back!

Sincerely,
Cheri

1 Rollo, Ian, Matthew Cole, Richard Miller, and Clyde Williams. “Influence of Mouth Rinsing a Carbohydrate Solution on 1-h Running Performance.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2010 – Volume 42 – Issue 4 – Pp 798-804. American College of Sports Medicine, Apr. 2010. Web. 26 Apr. 2012..

 

April 9, 2012

Will the chef hate me for being gluten-free?

Hi everyone!

If you ever hesitate before saying yes to a lunch date, dinner date, or wine dinner at a fine dining restaurant because it feels like you’ll be imposing on the chef, you’ll want to watch this interview with Chef Matt McClure.  In the video Chef Matt gives us some tips to make the experience better for both you and the chef.  Before you give up your social life, say no to your colleagues, or limit yourself in any way, please spend a few minutes learning more about gluten-free dining from the chef’s perspective.

Bio

Chef Matt McClure was trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.  He worked in the Boston area at fine dining restaurants: No. 9 Park, Troquet, and Harvest before becoming the Sous Chef for Ashley’s at the Capital in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Chef Matt has been named Executive Chef for 21C Museum Hotel opening in 2013 near Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.  Congratulations, Chef Matt!

Chef Matt McClure

Chef Matt McClure

 

 

April 8, 2012

How can change begin when you’re struggling?

First I started feeling frightened – a sort of antsy, anxious feeling at the edge of my awareness.  I noticed that I felt hungry, but I wanted to be very disciplined about my meal times so I decided to wait awhile before eating.  I passed the time by reading an article on anorexia (interesting choice don’t you think?) and looking at some photos of me that I had just uploaded to my laptop.  

 Soon after daylight savings times begins each year I have one of these days.  I feel like my natural body rhythm is out of sync.  Oh who am I kidding, I have days where I feel out of sync at least once a week, but I like to blame daylight savings time.  Anyway, it was Saturday and I hadn’t made a plan for the day.

 I found myself feeling hungry and dissatisfied with how I looked in the photos punctuated by a vague awareness that I may share some emotional characteristics with anorexics, plus I felt anxious and unproductive without a goal for the day.

 How often do I feel this way?  Not often.  But to ask how often and stop with that is to miss the point. The reason I don’t often feel anxiously unproductive is that I manage that anxiety by preventing it.

 A preventative approach?  “That’s good, you say.  How do you do it?”  Now before you get ready to start making a list of what I do so you can do it, please read further.  

 I’m a pretty smart cookie and I can make even the most convoluted adaptation sound good – especially to me. Remember we’re talking about fear of change.  So here’s my pattern:  I fill each day with a To Do List no one could possibly complete.  Once I’ve gotten through 75-80% of the list, I allow myself to feel okay about stopping from exhaustion.  I also congratulate myself for being productive thereby making me more likely to repeat this pattern again and again.  Don’t get me wrong, I get lots of outside affirmation for this pattern of behavior as well because I can handle massive amounts of work without blinking an eye.  No one has ever called me lazy.

 The pertinent question isn’t whether I’m productive or whether I’m well-adjusted to societal expectation.  The real question is:  Is this structure that I’ve created to keep me from feeling anxious also preventing me from being true to myself, experiencing joy, and connecting with people in a fulfilling way?  In other words, is my self-protective system for anxiety prevention actually keeping me anxious and stuck along with preventing me from making change?  

 I know some of you will object to the idea that we willfully create structures of protection that we then become afraid to challenge.  Your response may be to say that you know you use anger to protect yourself, but that’s what you learned growing up in an explosive family and while you may lead with anger, you’re never abusive like they were so what’s the big deal?  Your response may be to feel way down deep that you ARE your persona of protection and it is YOU. To allow one thought of you without that persona attached may be to imagine that you will disappear, die, cease to exist, never have love, or be shunned.  If this is the case, it will feel extremely important for you to prevent that thought from reaching your consciousness and you’ll be willing to use any means necessary to prevent such an occurrence.  If that nagging thought should rear it’s ugly head in the back of your mind, you’ll reach for a distraction so fast you may not even realize what you’ve done.

 It is often at this point that our relationship with food enters the picture.  Some of us use food as a distraction from anxiety or discomfort.  We immediately reach for a sweet treat to fool our brain with a sugar-induced euphoria.  Some of us are aware that we need a distraction so we’ll go for a walk or go to the gym.  Then we believe we deserve a reward or can afford a few extra calories, so we’ll eat an extra yeast roll with dinner.  Some of us will add guilt to the formula.  We feel guilty for eating the treat or rewarding ourselves. Then guilt feeds anxiety which sends us back into our protective structure where the surroundings feel familiar.  

 With all these complicated entanglements, our brains may immediately react to a suggested change in diet as if we are being threatened with death.  According to Cynthia Kupper, Executive Director of the Gluten Intolerance Group, surveys of Celiac patients have shown that a high percentage of those diagnosed believe their Celiac diagnosis to be worse than a cancer diagnosis.  In reality those patients are not facing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, a need for dangerous medication, or immediate danger of losing their lives.  It just feels that way.

 Now let’s go back to that recent Saturday I was facing without a plan.  Was it tempting to fall back into my normal pattern?  Of course it was.  But it seemed like the perfect day to explore a different possibility.  I decided to change the question I constantly ask myself from what do I NEED to do today to what do I WANT to do today?

 What did I want?  I wanted to lessen my anxiety.  I decided to begin by feeding myself since for me hunger works as an emotional trigger. I also know that when I am in the kitchen preparing food my brain settles down and that vague sense of hunger subsides so I decide that cooking is a good way to move into the day in a different way. I was wanting a really tasty cheese cracker to eat with the soup I had in the fridge, so I grabbed some cheddar cheese, some parmesan cheese, the almond flour and some butter.  As I began to cook I felt myself relax.  Forty-five minutes later, I  plopped on the couch in front of some reality TV with a bowl of crackers beside me.  Yum, the result of asking what I want was deliciously cheesy and crunchy.*

 How did I feel?  I had a much better outlook on the day.  I felt less scared, more full, and like being more kind to myself for the rest of the day.  I could have moped through the day annoyed and dragging my feet, as I have been known to do when I’m not willing to push myself down the To Do List,  followed by feeling guilty on Sunday thus allowing myself to get right back to needing to prevent anxiety by overproducing. Instead, I began what turned out to be a relaxing, renewing weekend by asking myself a different question and being willing to follow where the answer led.

 Big changes really are that simple. They can begin by simply stopping yourself from what you “normally” do.  Knowing this may help you if you are struggling to remain gluten-free.  Our brains trick us into thinking change is hard because we get stuck in the patterns we formed early on to protect us… and we’re scared… and scared feels dangerous.  Always remember – big change is just lots of small changes added together and it’s okay to feel scared.  Once you are willing to feel your fear long enough to do one thing differently, you will have discovered the secret to embracing change.  Rest assured you will not lose yourself in the process, it just may feel that way for a brief moment as you begin to let go of old patterns of behavior.

 The other thing you should know is that I was able to shift fairly quickly on that recent Saturday because I have spent several years preparing myself and learning how to be comfortable with, and let go of, those stories I tell myself that hold me back.  And you will soon be able benefit from my experience so that you can have success with change in a much shorter period of time than I did!  I have taken those years of experience and developed a set of emotional and social support tools to guide you along the way.  They’re called the Cooking2Thrive® Essential Utensil Support Tools and they’ll soon be released for publication. Wouldn’t it be easier to take that first step toward change if you knew that there was a guide to prepare you for the next step and the next?  That’s just what you get with the Essential Utensil Support Tools.  Be the first to learn the secret to becoming your best, healthiest self without a struggle.  Keep checking back here.  We’ll let you know the minute they’re released and how you can get them!  

 

Cheese Crackers

Empire Waist Cheese Crackers

 

*My cheese crackers are now called Empire Waist Cheese Crackers and they’re fantastic!