Posts tagged ‘cooking to thrive’

September 26, 2017

Food or Feud

In my family, it can be food or feud. The simple solution is for us to eat on time. But what happens when things aren’t simple?food or fuedI am sitting in 3000 square feet of emptiness looking up at the ducts on the ceiling 22′ above me. My head is hurting. I planned to be here until 1pm. Now the heat & air installers say it may be 4pm. I am hungry for more than the cheese and crackers I brought to tide me over until 1. It may be fall, but it is hot!

Hot, hungry, and tired with a headache that won’t quit can be a recipe for a family feud or at least a lot of misunderstanding! When someone in my family starts to become easily annoyed, we immediately look for food. We know that we’re grumpy when we’re hungry. Because of this, we’re pretty good planners and we always have a snack handy, but the unexpected can still sometimes catch us unprepared.

If you’re one of those folks who can go all day without a meal, you’ll have no idea why this is significant. If, on the other hand, you begin to feel shaky, confused, sweaty, and sick if you don’t eat on time, you’ll understand why I’m writing this.It’s hard to count the number of times I’ve told a travel companion that I’m hungry only to have them stall me for 3 or 4 hours. Long before that time is up, I feel like I’m going to throw up my guts. I physically hurt. I cannot think straight enough to tell you what I want to eat.

What I’m describing has happened to me all of my life. It also happens to my son. It probably happened to my grandfather who could not tolerate sugar. He never ate cake, pie, cobbler, or cereal with added sugar. He would occasionally eat chocolate covered cherries. I don’t remember, but I’m guessing he ate those after a meal when they would have less effect.
I say this because that’s my experience with sugar. I can tolerate some after a meal, but feed me pancakes with syrup or a glazed doughnut for breakfast and I will be puking them up in 5 minutes. I will feel a horrible sinking sensation, then wretchedly nauseous.

My grandfather and his sisters who shared this sugar sensitivity were never diagnosed with a condition or disease. I have had blood work done just after two of these episodes. It is always in the normal range. My body may struggle to break down sugars because of celiac disease, but no one has been able to tell me that with any certainty.

That’s the thing sometimes. You know how you’re feeling isn’t normal, but whatever you have isn’t showing up, isn’t being tested for, or falls in the “normal” range. That can feel really frustrating. But life goes on. You learn to recognize when you’re approaching critical and do your best to stay ahead of the problem.

But when a plan suddenly changes, things run late, or there is an unexpected problem, what I most need is for you to believe me when I say I need to eat. I may say it matter-of-factly and without drama, but I need for you to understand that it will soon be more than I can do to remain calm if you ignore repeated requests to stop at the next place we come to.

I know that you may be trying to get to a better restaurant 10 miles down the road, but what I need for you to get is that once I hit a certain point, I do not care whether the food will taste good, I just need it in my tummy. Telling me to hang on because there’s a great restaurant in the next town is like telling me you’re going to break my arm. If I respond as though that’s what you’ve said, it is because that is how it feels to me.

When I am using my energy to stay calm, ask politely, and try not to puke or cry, it is overwhelming to ask me to choose a restaurant, name what I want, or really to communicate at all. Keep in mind that I will have attempted to address the oncoming problem I am sensing before I get to this point. If you did not recognize that those attempts were important, you may not recognize that I want to cooperate, but am feeling as though my situation is dire. Boom! Argument, misunderstanding, or meltdown may be imminent.

While I may get into a situation in which grabbing a handful of crackers from the table is tempting, since becoming gluten-free I have never made that choice. And that adds a second layer of distress when communication becomes difficult.
Today, when I began to feel vague hunger pangs, I ate some cheese and crackers. An hour later, I was getting seriously hungry. About that time, I received the news that my stay would be extended several hours past what I had planned for. I recognized that it was important to either stop the crew and go get food, or find a way to get some brought to me.

I did not wait until I could no longer think straight. I made a short list of people who could help, decided what I would request they do, and proceeded to call the list. Before the next hour was up, I had eaten lunch and no longer had a headache.
Today, things worked out well. Other times, they have not. Most often those have been times that I was accommodating a group or an individual with little insight or empathy. Occasionally it has been at times that I was forced to deal with a person who simply can’t be reasoned with or does not value how I feel.

What’s the best plan in those instances?

Recognize that not everyone you come into contact with has your best interest at heart. If there are people in your life who are routinely difficult and make it hard to take care of yourself, avoid situations that make you dependent on dealing with them. Take a separate car. Choose a different work group. Volunteer for a different committee. Say no if you have to.
Know that you will never be able to make an unreasonable person be reasonable. They must come to a point where they choose to see their contribution to a situation that distresses you before you can reach them. How you feel can be communicated and cooperation can be requested, but it is helpful to know that you cannot force understanding.

You will never be able to make crazy behavior make sense. It is not necessarily important to understand why someone does something. If they exhibit a pattern of behavior that is detrimental to you, it is enough to know they do it and that it is not acceptable to you.

Once you determine that, you have many choices for what to do next:
Set and enforce better boundaries.
Minimize your exposure.
Leave behind friendships, romantic relationships, jobs, or distant relatives that hurt you.
Become realistic about your contribution to any friction in a relationship and apologize for your part in a misunderstanding.
Refuse to be lured into apologizing for taking care of yourself so long as you have managed to remain calm and kind and have tried your best not to inconvenience anyone else. You cannot control every circumstance.
pork roast
On the flip side, you also have choices about how you view another’s actions:
Extend the benefit of the doubt. Some people mean you no harm, but will inadvertently hurt you anyway.
Be present. We are all less likely to hurt each other when we are fully aware of the effect we’re having in the moment.
Allow yourself to see and feel the discomfort of someone else’s distress. Being attuned to subtle signs will change how you respond. Isn’t this what we want from others?

I wish for a partner who understands my physical limitation to the extent that in a pinch he is willing to voluntarily bring me something to eat that doesn’t take much energy to digest – a banana, a glass of milk, or some Greek yogurt. It sounds so simple. I’m sure any man who has failed to do so would read this and say, “I would do that.”

Of course you would if it seemed important at the time. But what if you got distracted by a work call or the kids throwing a fit or trying to figure out how we’re going to pay for replacing a heat & air system we haven’t budgeted for? What if you felt annoyed when I repeated a request for food when you’re planning to EVENTUALLY honor that request? What if you were in the mood for a really good meal and thought I’d be ruining my appetite by eating before our 9pm reservation? What if your mother believes I am trying to avoid eating the meal that’s taking extra time to prepare because she’s making it gluten-free for me? What if you simply don’t believe how sick I feel because you’ve never experienced it and my test results are normal?

We all like to see ourselves as reflected only by our best moments. In real life, we’re experienced by those around us as a sum of our level of presence, our tolerance for vulnerability, our priority in the moment, our insight, our ability to empathize, our reliability, our helpfulness, kindness, and thoughtfulness, our flexibility, stability, and mindfulness, our willingness to entertain different points of view, our truthfulness, genuineness, respect for others, and our courage to make the difficult choice. Other’s experience of us may not match up with what we believe about ourselves.

So what?

We are surrounded by evidence that many of us have difficulty taking care of ourselves. If we were consistently receiving the message that we matter, we are important, we are valued, others wish us well, and our loved ones are willing to help us, would we have a rapidly increasing number of pervasive, preventable, chronic health problems? Would we ignore simple lifestyle changes that can give us the ability to live longer, more productive, more comfortable, and more joyous lives? I don’t think so. I think part of the struggle to eat in a manner that maximizes our health comes from the messages we receive on a daily basis.

Why does that matter?

Only you know how significant, painful, overwhelming, exhausting, or stressful something is to you. You may communicate that clearly and still find yourself without assistance. That does not mean there is something wrong with you, that you should not take care of yourself, or that you do not deserve help. It could mean you need a better communication strategy, or it could mean that you are surrounded by relationships that need to be reexamined.

For my family, it’s food or feud, so there are repeated opportunities to observe, examine, and improve our interactions. Most of us accept each other’s limitations and work together to take care of each other. We also accept that some family members will choose to make things more difficult and that we have many options for dealing with this. Those options may not be easy choices and may require some self-sacrifice to maintain a relationship. We accept that at some point a relationship could become be too harmful to continue. At that point, we can choose to let it go.

Eating on time may not be a feuding issue for your family. Your point of contention could center around eating gluten-free or vegetarian It could be that a battle breaks out every time you try to convince your sister that your diabetic mother doesn’t need carbs. It could that no one but you lives near Grandma, but the rest of the family condemns you for wanting to put her in long-term care.

The specific issue may vary. The importance of expressions of empathy, kindness, helpfulness, thoughtfulness, care and concern, and acceptance for ourselves and each other cannot be overstated. These expressions are critical to our health, our families, our communities, and our nation. They make a difference. They can make THE difference, especially when things don’t go according to plan.

September 20, 2016

Avoid Leftovers With Component Cooking

radishesIt’s easy to cook efficiently and avoid leftovers with component cooking. I eat a lot of leftovers. I like them. I like one pot meals cold from the refrigerator. I like them warmed up again. I like to pull a pork chop out of rice, chop it up and turn it into something totally different. Of course I realize not everyone is as keen on leftovers as I am. I’ve dated a lot of men who hate them. Okay, let’s qualify that before you start calling me Fleabag (love that show by the way). I haven’t dated that many men in general, but a high percentage of those lucky gentlemen haven’t liked leftovers.

You may have experienced the same thing. If you’re in the habit of doing most of your cooking on the weekends, a week without leftovers may sound impossible. Luckily, a tiny change in approach can make cooking efficiently while avoiding leftovers easy to accomplish.

Batch cooking for the week requires some planning. If you’re like most of us, you shop with specific dishes in mind, cook those when you have a block of time and then heat them up later. For some people, this makes a dish less desirable. Instead of preparing finished entrées, I sometimes prep in the following ways. The result is my leftover averse guests are happy and I don’t feel overwhelmed.

I like to think of it as Component Cooking.
First, I start with Basic Proteins.
This component is comprised of proteins cooked with simple seasoning – salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, pork loin, and ground turkey or beef can all be cooked with basic seasoning and then further seasoned later to create delicious “fresh” meals.

For instance, chicken can be cut into strips, additionally seasoned with chili powder, cumin, and onion powder for fajitas, fajita salad, or nachos. Or you can shred it and use the same seasonings to create delicious Chicken Enchiladas.

If you love curry, Basic Pork Loin can be cut into small cubes and added to a curry sauce (the sauce can be prepared in advance as well) along with vegetables and/or rice. Basic Ground Turkey or Beef can be made into lightly baked meatballs that can later be finished in red sauce for pasta or meatball sandwiches. The same meatballs can be finished in Sweet-and-Sour Sauce, or added to gravy for a different flavor profile.

And, of course, Basic Ground Beef can easily be converted into taco filling for tacos, taco salad, enchiladas, chili, nachos, Frito chili pie or stuffed bell peppers.

Other fantastic options for Basic Chicken include: Chicken Alfredo, Lemon Parmesan Chicken, Chicken Caprese, Chicken Spaghetti, Pesto Chicken, Chicken Burgers, or any salad topped with chicken.

squashMy second component is Vegetables.
I sometimes like to prep all the vegetables in the fridge when I have a meal in the oven. Let’s say I’m cooking pot roast. I’ll have already chopped some potatoes, carrots, and onion to cook with the roast. While I have the cutting board out along with the vegetable wash and a good knife, I’ll peel any potatoes I may want to use later in the week, wash the broccoli and remove the large stems, clean and cut some summer squash into medallions, and core a red bell pepper and cut it into long strips. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll also peel and chop a couple of onions.

I’m finished in time to clean up my mess and have a glass of wine before the roast comes out of the oven. Then I store the ready-to-use vegetables in airtight glass containers with tight-fitting lids in the refrigerator.

While the oven is hot is also a great time to roast Spaghetti Squash and Butternut Squash, or bake a Sweet Potato. Later, I can combine any of these Basic Vegetables with my Basic Proteins to create dishes like Pasta Primavera with Chicken or I can serve them unadorned steamed, sautéed, or grilled.

Finally, I fill in the blanks with starchy items.
My morning routine is to drink coffee, read the paper, and watch the news. This gives me plenty of time to cook a pot of pinto, black, or navy beans that I soaked overnight. It’s also plenty of time to boil potatoes or cook some rice. By the time I go upstairs to shower, all I have left to do that night is mash some potatoes or add some beans to my chili.

Using only basic seasoning allows me to turn any of these items into anything I want without really planning ahead. The family wants Chinese – I’m ready to stir-fry the veggies and add some pork or chicken; Mexican – I can whip up tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, chili, or fajita salad; Italian – I have the components for pesto chicken, pasta primavera, and meatball sandwiches at my fingertips.

You could argue that beginning with cooked protein isn’t the same as starting from scratch on the day it’s served. While that’s true to some degree, once I’m finished with the meal most people won’t know the difference and the end result has more fresh ingredients, less additives, and is much tastier than a meal at any chain restaurant or fast casual outlet. And I don’t precook halibut, salmon, scallops, or steak.

If preparing components is the difference between eating fresh food or processed food, components win in my book. If preparing components is the difference between spending $240 per month on lunch (5 lunches at $12 each for 1 person) and a $2880 vacation budget, components win in my book. If preparing components is the difference between me feeling overwhelmed and feeling happy to be in the kitchen, then components win again. And component cooking pleases my leftover averse friends and family.

I love it when a plan works for everyone!

August 16, 2016

Travel Tip #16 – Be Kind

viewWhen you travel, it´s important to be kind to yourself. It´s not a bad idea to be kind to everyone you meet either, but why not start with yourself? I´ve been traveling for the past 6 days. Every moment has been packed full of something.

Yesterday evening I could have jumped in the pool, walked on the beach, or gone out for dinner. It was the first time in days that I had nothing scheduled and all of those sounded appealing. Instead, I ate chicken salad and edamame in my room, put on my pj’s and fell asleep watching the Olympics. I was worn out.

When I travel, I feel like I should pack in as many local sites as I can – after all, I´m there and who knows whether I´ll be back. This is not everyone´s approach I was reminded at dinner Saturday night when a portion of our group described their afternoon as primarily consisting of a nap. While they were sleeping, we had toured the courthouse tower, the art museum, and a dedicated gluten-free bakery.

I have also observed several of our group wincing in pain, wilting from thirst, and too hungry to decide on a restaurant. How can you avoid these traveling pitfalls? Be kind to yourself. How?

palm-Wear comfortable shoes.
-Pack light when laundry facilities are available.
-Pack a day tote in your suitcase to use for snacks, a change of shoes, a jacket, etc.
-Drink plenty of water and always have a bottle with you.
-Time meals and snacks with your home time zone in mind.
-Give yourself time to ease into the day.
-Carry food on day trips and when you fly.
-Wear sunglasses.
-Take naps.
-Be willing to say no when you´re tired.
-Map locations in advance to avoid annoyance when the GPS is slow.
-Take your time and enjoy what you´re doing.

Just a little kindness goes a long way toward enjoying a vacation to the fullest whether you relax or pack in as much as possible.

August 1, 2016

You Don’t Need a Competition to Have a Winning Experience in the Kitchen

chicken and riceYou Don’t Need a Competition to Have a Winning Experience in the Kitchen. When it’s time to cook dinner for the family, you don’t have to make the best dish in the least amount of time and plate it perfectly. You don’t have to precisely recreate your grandmother’s beef stroganoff or her cherry pie to deliver a delicious meal. It’s not necessary to have expert knife skills, know how to make perfect icing rosettes, or to have ever even heard of durian fruit to create a satisfying meal.

If you get most of your cooking lessons from television, you may mistakenly believe that speed is critical to the equation or that all dishes must look beautiful on the plate to taste good. It’s easy to see why you’d think that. There’s no shortage of cooking shows in which contestants must make difficult preparations in extremely short periods of time. Chopped, Top Chef, MasterChef, Food Network Star, Iron Chef, and Cupcake Wars are just a few of the many available at the end of the remote.

A little binge watching can be fun, but it can also be intimidating. How many times have you walked past beautiful Swiss chard, fresh baby ginger, soybeans on the branch, or rich purple eggplant at the farmer’s market because you had a sudden glimpse in your head of rushing to try to get them prepped, cooked, and on the plate that led to an immediate fear that you’d never succeed? It’s a bit ironic that the construct of these shows gets us interested in cooking and compels us to watch a complete episode, but may hold us back in our own kitchens.

With cooking, as with anything in life, you don’t know what you can achieve until you get in the game and you never know how good you can be until you’re willing to learn from failure. If you’ve read my series on the Benefits of Cooking, you already know many of the incredible skills that can be learned in the kitchen, but beyond fractions, ratios, chemistry, and process thinking, resilience may be the most valuable lesson of all.

Even a failure in the kitchen may be delicious – an overcooked caramel takes on a bitterness that some people prefer; an accidental charred edge on lasagne or even kale can be the best part of the dish. Even slightly burned rice takes on an interesting dimension of flavor.

So, with no fear of competition, how about we get in the kitchen and give this simple, hearty dish a try? This was one of my go-to recipes as a working, single mom with kids to feed. You don’t have to hurry because this is so easy and cooks so fast, you’ll have dinner ready in less time than it takes to drive to a restaurant, ordering, and getting your food.
Chicken and Rice
Serves 4

2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups quick cooking Royal Rice Blend
1/4 white onion
1 package of boneless, skinless chicken tenders
Ground black pepper
Garlic powder

In medium pot, combine water, rice and onion. Add chicken tenders. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Turn burner to high and allow water to come to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to medium or low and simmer for 15 minutes. You want a low boil in the pan as you simmer. Continue to cook for 2 – 3 minutes if needed to boil away any extra liquid. Turn off heat and allow to sit with cover on for 5 minutes. Remove onion if desired. Serve hot.

The addition of a simple green salad or a fruit salad topped with yogurt turns this into a full, nutritious meal. Of course there are other options as well. While the Chicken and Rice is simmering, there’s time to steam some fresh broccoli, asparagus, or sugar snap peas. If none of those sound like a fit for your family, you can also play with the Chicken and Rice.

Chop a few baby carrots into small pieces and add to the rice before you turn on the heat. The carrots will cook right along with the rice. Don’t like carrots? After 10 – 12 minutes of simmering, add some frozen English peas to the pot and continue to cook as per the recipe. Another option is to give this dish a more spanish flair by adding some precooked black beans, a bit of Rotel® Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, and a sprinkle of cumin and a sprinkle of chili powder. One-third cup of both the beans and Rotel should be adequate, but use more or less depending on your preference.

I cooked this last night and it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. I say that only to illustrate that this is a great throw-together entrée for a busy night. If it takes you 45 minutes or an hour, that’s fine too. Thank goodness you don’t need a competition to have a winning experience in the kitchen!