Posts tagged ‘Kitchen’

January 9, 2018

Make the Kitchen Your Happy Place

If you want to improve your family’s eating habits, make the kitchen your happy place! Watch any home improvement show and you’re sure to see a lot of emphasis on kitchen design. Even tiny house occupants often insist on full-size appliances. This could lead you to believe that Americans love to spend time in the kitchen. But according to former consumer packaged good consultant Eddie Yoon, only 10% of Americans love cooking.

Why do we go to all the trouble and expense of large refrigerators, stone countertops, and multiple small kitchen appliances if we don’t want to be in the kitchen? It doesn’t make much sense. On some level, we must still believe the kitchen is important. Since the only way to really know what’s in your food and thereby ensure you are meeting your health and nutrition goals is to begin with fresh food, it would be good if we enjoyed our time in the kitchen.

So, how do we take a basic space or a beautifully appointed kitchen with a custom pantry, elegant countertops, decorative backsplash, and ample refrigerator and turn it into a space we want to use, a space that draws us in, a space that feels like our happy place?
pancakes
Make it Yours

Forget all the sparse, neutral images you see on TV and online. Those are just showing you a blank canvas waiting to be personalized. Let your kitchen become a place filled with things that make you feel good.

Personalize
Put your grandmother’s cookie jar on the counter and keep it filled with homemade cookies just like she did. Add a wireless speaker to the top of the refrigerator so that meal prep can be choreographed to your favorite dance tunes. Get a spoon rest that makes you laugh. Buy a handcrafted cutting board that makes you feel connected to the outdoors. Get cabinet organizers that reduce frustration by making everything easily accessible. Get rid of appliances you never use so you don’t feel guilty for having them. Buy a small appliance if it will invite you into the kitchen to use it (for more than the first week or two). Add a collection of decorative objects you love. A kitchen does not have to be cold and clinical to be functional and efficient.
teapot
Add Color
Don’t be afraid to add some color!!! All white, mostly gray, or somber black and brown can dampen my mood! Unless your house is listed for sale, there’s no reason to be hesitant about adding something bright and happy to your kitchen. If you’re not comfortable with painting the walls or cabinets, bright curtains, a painted island, decorative plates, unique pottery pieces, wall art, vintage salt and pepper shakers, flowering plants, or potted herbs can help make you feel happy to spend time in the kitchen.

Get Comfortable
If you love to converse while you prep veggies, add a bar stool or a comfortable chair near your prep space. Share a cup of hot chocolate, hot tea, or coffee and conversation with a friend, neighbor, partner, spouse or child while your hands are busy. They don’t necessarily need to help. They can just keep you company. This can be a great time to exchange recipes or share cooking techniques.

My great aunts used to shell peas together. They’d gather at my Aunt Nola’s house, sit outside in metal chairs with a bushel basket in front of them and talk while they worked. They actually did many things as a group – crocheted, quilted, and painted ceramics. The grandkids ran free in the yard or around the farm while the women stayed in touch and made work seem like play.

Experiment

If you’re new to cooking from scratch (without the use of something that is already prepared or in existence), but love to play around with color, texture, and flavor, the kitchen may soon be your favorite place! I tend to visualize how flavors will taste together in my head before I try them in real life, but I also get inspired to pair flavors when I taste something that excites me.

A cucumber, jalapeño ice lolly I ate on a hot day inspired my recipe for Chilled Honeydew Soup, a delightful and refreshing combination of honeydew, cucumber, with a hint of jalapeño. Soon after eating that ice pop, I began experimenting with ingredients in varying proportions and possible additions until settling on the best combination. After that, the recipe faced 2 more tests in order to meet the Cooking2Thrive quality standard. For me, each of the experiments was fun!
tomatoes
Good Taste

Even if experiments don’t excite you, It’s hard to resist a room filled with delicious food. Remember, many ingredients do not require cooking to be scrumptious! If you are reluctant to cook, consider constructing simple salads. These following salads rely on flavorful fruits for their flavor and texture. They do not require cooking and they are both delicious.

No Cooking Required
Tomato and Avocado Stacked Salad
Layer tomato slices, avocado, and mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, chopped basil, salt, and pepper. Add a slice of crispy prosciutto if you like.

Simpleberry Salad
Combine fresh blueberries and blackberries with sliced bananas and tiny cubes of cantaloupe. Dollop with sour cream or plain yogurt and top with grated nutmeg. Add a dash of cinnamon if desired. You can also sprinkle with a granola crumble if you like some crunch.

Bake Something
When you add baking to the equation, the kitchen will fill with warmth and the smell of browning cookies, yeast bread, pizza dough, and cake. Yummmmmm!! Who can resist the kitchen then? It’s like having your own personal bakery.

Add the Family

The smell of fresh baked cookies, pork tenderloin, or a casserole will bring the family running. A kitchen filled with all ages creating a meal is a wonderful place to connect and bond. Food is a source of comfort. Connection is another source of comfort and joy. When you begin to associate cooking with comfort and joy, it automatically becomes your happy place! Even the cleanup process ceases to be work when it’s a shared experience of laughter and fun.
dough
When my kids were growing up, there was always someone sitting on a counter in my kitchen. Sometimes it was my kids. Sometimes it was their friends. Sometimes it was me. One or two of us would be preparing a meal and the others would be engaged in the conversation while warming the counter. I don’t know why this seemed natural in that particular house, but it was. During cleanup, the roles reversed. In between, we enjoyed a meal together. This didn’t happen every day of the week, but it happened enough that that’s how my kids remember meal time.

Both of my sons are good cooks. Not only can they fix pancakes or steak and blacken Brussels sprouts, they bake yummy pies and cakes. They feel no limits when they’re in the kitchen. It’s a place they’ve always felt comfortable. I didn’t emphasize cooking back then. It was just a regular part of our lives, but it set the stage for them to cook in their own homes. That’s the benefit of making the kitchen your happy place!

My grandson DJ and I read “Green Eggs and Ham” on a regular basis. Whenever he balks at a new food, I simply say, “Try them, try them, and you may. Try them and you may, I say.” He knows exactly why I’m saying it. If you have never really gotten your hands dirty in the kitchen using fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch, but don’t think you like cooking, I’d probably say the same thing to you, “Try it, try it, and you may.”

And if you don’t, every family needs a cleanup crew in a happy kitchen!

https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-grocery-industry-confronts-a-new-problem-only-10-of-americans-love-cooking
http://time.com/money/4370620/food-spending-restaurants-versus-groceries/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3471136/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-1-the-food/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-2-the-fun-2/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-3-the-lessons/

March 2, 2014

I Can’t Stand Cleaning Up the Kitchen!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand cleaning up the kitchen. Ever think it would just be easier to throw away all the dishes…or all your clothes…or everyone you know and start over? It probably would be easier. But would it really accomplish anything?

Clean pans

I have to say I’m not in love with cleaning up the kitchen. Being in love with cooking, this creates constant internal conflict for me. It creates external conflict as well. I can’t stand to see dishes in the sink or crumbs on the floor so if I wait to clean up the mess, I feel irritated every time I walk through the room.

Now I know this is a silly dilemma because it takes very little time to remedy the problem. I have a dishwasher so it’s not like I have to wash each and every plate, bowl, or spoon. My All-Clad pans are easy to clean even when I’ve burned a sauce onto them. And, I don’t feel this way if I’m helping a friend clean up after a party at their house.

So what is my real problem? I let things sit and think about them too much.

I don’t have this problem when I do the dishes during wait times while I’m cooking. I just rinse, scrub, fill, dry, and put away as if it’s no big deal. When I think about it, it’s the same with laundry. If I move the wet clothes to the dryer in the morning when I reach for a clean towel, it feels natural to refill the washer with dirty clothes and turn it on. Boom! I just made progress on two loads of laundry before even having a cup of coffee.

It’s no different with paying bills, doing sales tax reports, watering the plants, or mowing the lawn. The more I put off the task, the more I think about it. The more I think about it, the more daunting it seems. The more daunting it seems the more likely I am to put if off causing me to think about it more making it seem more daunting, and well, you get the picture. I’m going round and round in a vicious circle until my mind begins to believe that it’s simply too overwhelming to tackle the project.

If I travel around the circle too many times, I may even begin to feel a need for relief from the mountain of work I’ve created in my mind. I may spend 30 minutes or an hour zoning in front of the TV, or ranting to a friend, or taking a nap to avoid that overwhelmed feeling.

If I’m facing a task that takes longer – cleaning out a closet – I may practice avoidance behavior for months or years. At some point I begin to feel justified because the obstacle has grown so large in my mind it truly looks insurmountable.

The truth is, I could put a box and a notepad in the corner of my closet and get rid of one thing per day and have the closet clean in a month or two. It would take so little time I wouldn’t even notice.

The same pattern often prevents us from beginning a fitness program, cooking healthy food, giving up gluten, changing jobs, or learning ballroom dancing to please our spouse. When it comes to all the small things that would improve our lives that we feel daunted by, Nike has it right. The best advice is JUST DO IT!

Now, I must leave you because I have dishes in the sink and you know what that means. No, I’m not going to take a nap.

dirty dishes

What is it that you just can’t seem to begin and how can we help you?

 

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.”

Web Launch

August 12, 2013

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.

Tomato-300x225.png

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!

Do you experience benefits from cooking? We’d love to hear them!

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..

May 20, 2012

The Benefits of Cooking – Part 2: The Fun!

Some of you are probably reading this just to see how really crazy I am.  I get it.  Your initial thought when hearing the word cook may be more along the lines of: time consuming drudgery, additional work, pots & pans to wash, a disaster waiting to happen, or too much trouble…blah!   I’m with you. Those phrases don’t sound fun. So where is the fun to be found in cooking? Let’s explore the possibilities!

 In addition to providing sustenance, cooking can lead to compliments, camaraderie, spoon licking, new creations, toys, play, shopping, new friends, and chances to learn about other cultures.  Much more appealing terms to be sure, and really…is there anything better than licking the spoon?

 My fun often begins before I ever reach the kitchen. I’ll grab a reusable shopping bag and walk to the local farmers’ market.  If, like me, you enjoy fresh air, sunshine, walking, and the smell of seasonal flowers blooming, you’ll be having fun as soon as you hit the door.

 Most farmers’ markets are filled with an assortment of brightly colored fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are mouthwateringly appealing. Some also offer grass-fed meats.  Others have live bands performing and sell handmade baskets, jewelry, soaps, and clothing.  A morning of shopping and people watching often gives me enough funny stories to last all week.  At the very least, I know I’m supporting the local economy and going home with beautiful, healthy ingredients.  

 Farmer's Market Produce

 Shopping at an outdoor market can add fun when you travel as well.  I once drove through the North Island of New Zealand in an RV.  Along the route were incredible outdoor markets full of kiwifruit, silverbeet, asparagus, and oranges.  Not only were these items fresh, flavorful, and inexpensive, they provided a unique chance to meet people.  On the edge of every town was an RV park with a community kitchen.  The kitchens were stocked with pots and pans larger and more numerous than the RV kitchen could carry.  They also sported industrial size sinks and running hot water for doing dishes.  

 These $15 per night RV parks also offered electrical hookups and large community bathrooms with showers.  They were affordable and popular.  That usually meant sharing the kitchen with several locals.  There’s no better way to find out where the trout are biting, what kind of flies to use to catch them, and where you can buy the best flies.  Even though I’m not a big one to chat with strangers, the common denominator of food made it easier to strike up a conversation.

 Shopping and cooking in a foreign country can leave you with a rich cultural experience that you will never forget.  One of my favorite things to do when I travel outside the US is to visit indigenous grocery stores.  I notice the similarities to, and differences from, what I experience at home.  Some European package design is totally charming making me want to buy products on which I can’t even read the labels. 

 In the same vein, I find it fun to visit the ethnic markets in my town.  I recently tried Milk Cake upon the recommendation of the checkout girl at the Asian market.  A combination of buffalo milk and sugar, this cake is moist and dense.  While it didn’t turn out to be my favorite dessert ever, it provided a good deal of entertainment at a neighborhood dinner party when I took it in the original packaging.

 Some of us could shop ’til we drop, but then we’d never get any food on the table.  Perhaps it’s time to move on to the fun found IN the kitchen.  For those of you who love gadgets, the kitchen can offer an endless supply of specialized toys.  There are blenders, mixers, openers, graters, grinders, peelers, processors, choppers, skewers, colanders, sifters, tenderizers, muddlers, ballers, mortars and pestles, mandolins, juicers, whisks, knives, rolling pins, tongs, herb mills, thermometers, corkscrews, molds, cutters, stones, smokers, and special grapefruit knives.  Available in electric and unplugged versions, many of these can be purchased in bright colors for an additional element of fun.  If you love toys, you’ll love playing with them too.  I’m ready to chop, puree, macerate, pound, slice, cream, cut-in, muddle, grind, juice, measure, smoke, mix and match.  Whew!  Recess was fun.  Is it nap time yet?

 Coming up with new flavor combinations or preparing familiar foods in an unfamiliar way offers entertainment for both your mind and your palette.  My grandmother used to grow radishes in the garden.  She would cut the sides part of the way through to form the petals of a radish rose.  These roses formed a garnish on many of her salads.  I don’t like the bitter-hot, biting taste of radishes, and I’ve never voluntarily used one in the kitchen…until last month.  

 Ben has been building greenhouses for an organic garden.  One day he showed up with some arugula and some tender young radishes.  Feeling appreciative of the gift, I wanted to eat the radishes rather than give them away.  Since I knew I wasn’t fond of them raw, I decided to try a sauté. The result was a delicious change of pace.  I quickly consumed two servings and thought of several variations I wanted to try. I requested more radishes from the garden.  

Sautéd Radishes

Sautéing Watermelon and Red Radishes

 The next bunch arrived with the most beautiful green tops.  I decided to see if the greens are consumable.  They are!  Now I had another challenge – what to do with the greens.  I don’t know about you, but I love learning and I love puzzles.  I needed to learn more about the greens, and I had a chance to put together the pieces of a taste puzzle.  I was excited to see what the resulting dish would be.  Creating something new in the kitchen is supremely fun for me!

 The only thing that makes creating something new in the kitchen more fun is to compete with my boys in a cooking challenge.  The informal rules are that we will all cook the same main ingredient in any way we chose as long as we make the recipe up as we go.  We gather in the kitchen and the chaos begins.  We can all be quite competitive and we’re used to combining lively conversation with meal preparation.  The atmosphere in the kitchen is light-hearted and electric.  

 Last Thanksgiving, James and I had a pie cook-off.  Maybe it was supposed to be a piecrust cook-off, but it turned into a full-fledged competition.  Luckily, James wanted to make whipped cream for his sweet potato pie.  I say luckily because he makes the lightest, fluffiest whipped cream ever.  He always puts the bowl and whisk in the freezer before he starts, and he always lets me taste test when he adds the sugar.  Both of us won in the compliment department, but James’ pecan pie beat my parsnip pie as the favorite.  That’s okay.  Next time I’ll challenge with my lemon meringue pie.  And who won was not as important as the camaraderie in kitchen.  I think it’s safe to pronounce that all family fun should be topped with whipped cream!

James' Pie

James Won the Pie Contest with this Pie

 Relaxed family time can provide many moments of fun in the kitchen.  When the kids get excited because they get to ice the cupcakes and then lick the knife, when they jump up and down because you let them add the chocolate chips to the cookies, when your daughter’s friends want to eat at your house because you make macaroni and cheese from scratch, how can you not feel good about cooking? 

 I know that sometimes you’re too tired to cook.  Don’t force yourself.  Eat gluten-free cereal and milk or yogurt and fruit, or tuna straight from the package and a banana. Giving yourself a break when you really need it will leave you free to remember the fun of cooking.  Forcing yourself to perform in the kitchen when your heart isn’t in it will leave you resentful and less likely to get back in there and have fun another day!  

 Just be careful not to fool yourself into thinking that you “can’t” cook, or it’s ALWAYS drudgery, or it HAS TO take way too much time.  Sometimes it’s easier to say these things than to face our real feelings about food or to recognize that we miss the love we felt in our grandmother’s kitchen when we raided the cookie jar. Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge that we feel pressured to DO so many things, we don’t relax enough to find the fun in the routine activities that fill our days. Please recognize that every time you stop yourself before you start, you may be missing out on a chance for a rewarding connection with yourself and with your family and where’s the fun in that?

 Cooking engages all our senses:  sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing.  It can feed our intellectual curiosity, our desire to collect or create, our desire to make order from chaos, or our desire to get our hands dirty.  Best of all, it offers many paths of connection to the earth, our communities, our friends, and our families.  When it comes to cooking, the possibilities for fun that satisfies the body, mind, and soul are truly boundless.  

 Next up The Benefits of Cooking Part 3: The Fixin’ in which we’ll explore the skill sets we master when we cook.  Don’t worry if you’re too busy having fun in the kitchen to read it immediately, you can always go to the archives and read it later.