Archive for April, 2014

April 26, 2014

Never Enough Time to Cook? Don’t Cook at Mealtime!

If you never seem to have enough time to cook and get a meal on the table, why not stop cooking at mealtime? No, I’m not saying starve. And I’m not saying eat a bag of chips on the run. In fact, as you’ll soon see, I’m not even suggesting that you eat out or throw together a sandwich.
green clock

The other day, my mom was lamenting how long it takes to cook everything from scratch. She’s on permanent dialysis and my stepfather (let’s call him NewDaddy) is on a healthy regimen due to recent bypass surgery and prostate cancer.

What’s funny about this is that Mom has told me for years how healthy she eats, but really she consumes mostly saltine crackers, lettuce without adornment, and the occasional piece of cherry pie. She has finally given up the Dr. Pepper that was her fourth dietary staple.

Mind you, no medical professional has ever really questioned her nutrition because her weight fell in the ideal range, or at least it was ideal until the last couple of years. Now she spends a lot of time in the hospital where she’s encouraged to eat LOTS of calories because she’s so thin. Instead, she adds a protein supplement to the handful of supplements she takes every morning and talks a lot about how much she eats, but she does seem to be cooking more often.

I’m sure compared to grabbing a cracker, preparing an entire meal from fresh food feels like it takes all day. Mom’s not alone. A lot of us just can’t figure out how to fit cooking into our already overburdened schedules.

With the exception of Mom, my entire family tends to get fussy when we’re hungry. It can be pretty hard to face the idea of standing in the kitchen whipping up a meal when I’m both feeling irritable and listening to Ben’s grouchy tone.

I recognize that what we need is food as quickly as possible and I want it to be fresh, healthy food, but I also recognize that the pressure of preparing a meal at that moment may make an uncomfortable situation worse.

I suppose this would be no big deal except that I often get focused on a project and fail to recognize it’s time to eat until I’ve already reached the too hungry phase. It seems that I create my own problem, so I figured I should create my own solution. Hopefully my solution will work for you too!

Here’s what seems to work best for me – cooking when it’s not mealtime. Prepping and cooking when there’s no pressure and I’m feeling good means that the food will be ready when I get hungry. It also guarantees I’ll have a more pleasant cooking experience. And it helps keep everyone on schedule since there’s no delay in getting a meal on the table.

Sometimes I can just leave dinner on the stove until the next meal. Sometimes I have to put everything in the fridge and reheat it before serving. Other times, I’ll combine some cooked items into new configurations when I’m reheating.

The good news is that cooking during in between times means a meal is always ready when I need one. This makes me feel calm and happy.

Try it. If you feel calm and happy too, let us know by commenting below.

April 21, 2014

Easiest Egg Salad Ever!

The day after Easter is a perfect day to make the easiest egg salad ever – Cooking2Thrive® Easy Golden Egg Salad! The key to your success with this recipe is choosing a high quality balsamic vinegar with a rich caramel flavor.

The boys and I used to have an Easter party every year. Held on the day before Easter, it involved bunny ears, friends without children, egg decorating, and the occasional Jell-O shot in the shape of an egg.

Easter Egg

I love to dye Easter eggs, and so do my artistic friends, but some of them had no children and felt weird about dying eggs for themselves. That’s how the idea of the party was hatched – they’d borrow my kids to hunt the eggs after they were decorated. Of course this event left us with LOTS of boiled eggs the next day.

After culling any cracked eggs from the bunch, I’d make egg salad. It was usually the traditional kind prepared with salad dressing, mustard and celery. The result was always good, but I have come to prefer the subtle richness of this non-traditional version:

Easy Golden Egg Salad

Serves 4

One dozen eggs, boiled, peeled, and rough chopped

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

3/4 cup sour cream

2 tbsp high quality balsamic vinegar

Place eggs in large bowl. Use a dough blender to mash the eggs to desired consistency. Stir in salt and pepper. Add sour cream and balsamic vinegar, then mix well.

That’s it! You’re done. Serve with gluten-free crackers, bread, or rolls, or use it to stuff some celery.

Have an egg salad recipe you love? Share it with us in the comments section below.

 

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

April 15, 2014

Don’t Get Your Wires Crossed…It’s Cross-Contact That’s To Be Avoided

If you’re worried about your gluten-free food mingling with gluten containing foods, it’s cross-contact that’s to be avoided. Don’t I mean cross-contamination? No, I mean cross-contact, and there is an important distinction between the two.

When preparing foods within your own kitchen, you can call the exposure of your gluten-free food to substances containing gluten anything you’d like to call it. In your home, cross-contamination may make the most sense as a descriptive term. After all, what you’re trying to avoid is having a gluten-free item “contaminated” with gluten.

Or perhaps you use the term because you’ve read it in numerous articles about gluten-free diets. A quick Google of gluten free cross contamination yields 305,000 results so you’re certainly not alone if this is the terminology you’ve been using. Within the gluten-free community questions about cross-contamination are frequent.

But why are we asking those questions? Usually it’s to determine how best to avoid a problem with the food we purchase outside our homes. Sometimes we’re worried about packaged food processed on the same equipment as wheat, rye, or barley. More often we’re concerned about whether the kitchen of a restaurant is making sure to use separate prep surfaces, separate serving utensils, separate storage containers and preparing our food away from areas that may have drifting clouds of flour.

We carefully communicate in detail with our restaurant server. We speak directly to the chef regarding our concerns about sauces, dressings, and, of course, cross-contamination. We believe we are taking the proper precautions to ensure a gluten-free experience. In many cases, this communication is sufficient, but sometimes it’s not. Why? It may be because we have failed to become familiar with the terminology used in a commercial kitchen.

Of course I’m not saying you should learn every single culinary term in the book. I’m just saying that there are tons of special dietary needs in addition to gluten-free, so as a gluten-free community we’re asking a lot of a chef to accommodate our terminology rather than learning how best to express our concerns using terms in the manner to which the chef is already accustomed. The easier we make it for the kitchen, the better the results we will get.

In a commercial kitchen, the term cross-contamination means that bacteria has been transferred from one food to another. For instance, if someone uses a cutting board for raw chicken and then chops an onion, the bacteria from the chicken will be transferred to that onion. As long as the onion is then cooked, the cross-contamination cooks away and the food is safe to eat. When you say cross-contamination to a chef, their mind will immediately go to the meaning they’re used to and they may think you are asking them to make sure to cook away any accidental transfer of bacteria or gluten. They will not necessarily automatically understand that you are asking them to avoid cross-contact of gluten-containing with gluten-free foods. This may be especially true when your requests are being heard secondhand from a server during a really busy time.

Making the distinction between cross-contamination as a transfer of bacteria and cross-contact as the inadvertent transfer of gluten (or another allergen) from a food containing gluten to a food that is gluten-free is significant for the gluten-free, but is critical for someone with a peanut allergy where cross-contact can cause a deadly reaction. Since cooking does not reduce the chances that a person with a food allergy or gluten intolerance will have a reaction, the kitchen will often view food handling to avoid cross-contact very differently from the way it views cross-contamination.

It’s probably best not to assume that every restaurant is familiar with the term cross-contact either. There’s no reason to focus on a specific term if it works better to say, “I want to make sure that my food doesn’t touch any food containing gluten or anything used to prepare that food.” Depending on the circumstances, you may have to go into more detail, but keeping things really clear and as simple as possible seems to obtain the best results no matter where you are.

If you’re wondering whether to change your approach, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) encourages use of the term cross-contact.* I feel like it is most important to be aware of our individual levels of sensitivity to cross-contact; to understand the distinction between cross-contamination and cross-contact; to use our awareness and understanding as guides to ask for what we need with simplicity, clarity, kindness, and patience.

 

 

For more information from FARE, visit:

*http://www.foodallergy.org/tools-and-resources/managing-food-allergies/cross-contact?

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April 6, 2014

Measures of Success

This week I’ve been pondering measures of success. Why? I have a friend who is struggling. He seems paralyzed to make a change because he believes he recently failed, as he would characterize it, for the first time.

Prior to this “failure”, he had already accomplished great things. He earned a college scholarship, received a Masters Degree, made 6 figures, had a 15-year marriage, traveled extensively, won gold medals, and mentored numerous young men. He still works hard, is an excellent salesman, blogs regularly, writes poetry, loves his children, can do numbers in his head, and behaves ethically in a cutthroat business. I simply cannot see him as a failure. He’s not.

A few years ago, he tried a business venture that didn’t work out and cost him a lot of money. Around the same time, his family situation changed; his work situation became impossible because he refused to lie about his boss. Since that time, his financial situation has deteriorated leaving him feeling powerless to do anything but scramble to try to make the next payment – rent, car, cable bill, electric bill…. He does this by working at a job that he hates in an environment that is toxic. His successes are not celebrated by his boss or coworkers.

From my point of view, he is caught in a loop that goes something like this: I feel like a failure…I could file bankruptcy and be in a better position to make a change…Everyone would see I’m a failure….I feel like a failure…I could get a new job, but it has to pay enough to get me out of my financial hole…I am not qualified for the jobs I see that pay that much so I must depend on someone to give me a break…no one has given me a break…I feel like a failure…I am not a failure…if my ex-wife were more reasonable, my financial situation would be better…she’ll never change and I have no money to legally fight her…I feel like a failure…if I had been willing to lie about my former boss, I’d still have plenty of money…I wouldn’t respect myself, but no one else would see me as a failure…it’s their fault I feel this way…it’s their fault I no longer have that job…it’s their fault I feel like a failure…as long as I   stay at a point where I am struggling, I can blame them for my bum deal…I’m not a failure, I was mistreated…I am miserable, but that is better than me being a failure…I will stay miserable…it is not my fault…I am mistreated…but I feel like a failure…I could take the initiative to change my situation, but then any possible failure would fall directly on me and I simply feel too terrified to fail again…I am a failure.

The seductive part of this loop is that there is some truth in there. He was mistreated, horribly. No one was held accountable for the maltreatment. The internet legacy of uninformed gossip that resulted still haunts him. Why does that result in him feeling like a failure and paralyzed for fear he will fail again?

Some of the blame falls on all of us and how we have come to measure success. The reason that this important is that most of us – me, you, your husband, your wife, your daughter, niece, son, cousin, best friend – run the risk of getting caught in a similar loop. The specifics will be different, but the result is the same. We sacrifice our potential best, healthiest, happiest, most loving and engaged selves to the fear that we will not measure up. We posture, pretend, acquire the outward trappings we (often correctly) believe others use to measure success and we hang onto to those while feeling miserable.

Some of us will make a valiant start out of the loop and then succumb only to start and succumb again. Some of us will attain the culture’s measure of success in our work lives, but fail in our relationships with spouses or children. Some of us will destroy our mental, physical, or spiritual health attempting to appear successful as husbands, wives, bosses, employees, and parents.

I am a less difficult person at work and with my children than I am with a partner. I know this and even now I catch myself behaving in ways that keep me from contributing to a partnership in the way I intend. Why? I feel scared. When I feel scared, I look for outward measures of what is normal or acceptable. Why? I don’t trust how I feel or am simply so caught in fear that I don’t know how I feel. Why? Because I grew up in an unsafe environment.

What I’ve had to, and continue to, learn, and what I hope for my friend to learn, is to no longer measure success in accumulation of money or possessions, working the hardest, being error free, meeting external expectations, having the right answer, having a perfect house, being the most organized, cooking the perfect dish every time, or even in great leaps forward.

My measures of success are now based on whether I stick with my intentions, give myself a break, have compassion for others, manage to be fully present in the moment, learn something when I feel I have erred, live according to my values, stay in touch with my feelings, allow myself to feel fear, practice healthy habits, tell myself the truth, say no when saying no is in line with my intentions, allow others to shift and change, fulfill my obligations, practice courage, apologize when appropriate, communicate my needs from a place of kindness, feel grateful for the lessons difficulty teaches me, celebrate progress, and make baby steps along the journey.

There are still moments I feel like a failure, but as long as I’ve learned something it is hard to get stuck there.

I’d love to hear how you measure success. Let me know in the comments section below.