How About a Ta-Da List?

Instead of a to-do list, how about a ta-da list? This post is for all compulsive list makers. Don’t worry, I’m one too. Many of my lists stay in my head, but once they become too numerous or too long, I put them on paper or on a screen. Doing so makes me feel organized. It can also leave me feeling discouraged when the lists get longer instead of shorter.

Obviously, discouragement won’t help me get tasks completed any faster so I’m filing away my to-do lists in favor of ta-da lists. A ta-da list can contain anything I accomplish. Sometimes that may be a task from my to-do list. Other times, it could be eating a healthy meal or treating myself kindly.

A ta-da list is a way to give myself credit for all that I do. And seeing it in black and white makes me realize I’m not a slug who never completes a to-do list. I’m a very engaged person who accomplishes an amazing amount then takes on even more.

It also lets me see where my time is going without getting lost in feelings of inadequacy or frustration. That can give the perspective I need to help align my priorities and goals with my activity. Rethinking my obligations shifts from a difficult task to a rewarding experience.

And ta-das are a reason for celebration. It’s so easy to focus on what I’ve failed to do rather than celebrate what I’ve done. Having a ta-da list shows me exactly how many reasons I have for jubilation!

It’s the beginning of a new week and a great time to start. Here are today’s ta-das so far:

  • Dried towels
  • Wrote draft of a children’s book 
  • Did yoga 
  • Contributed to critique meeting
  • Tweeted @Cooking2T 
  • Downloaded and installed software
  • Sorted and threw away misc stuff from porch
  • Made a list of fuses to order 
  • Resized a mat for the RV 
  • Moved kitchen items into the RV

But it would feel much different if I were to compare that to the multiple running lists I keep in color-coded steno books: Pink=personal, White=work, Gray=house projects, Teal=landlord projects. So, I think it’s best to create the master lists that will guide the overall direction of my personal, work, house, and landlord projects and then file them away for the week.

I’ll only work with my ta-da lists until an appointed review time. It will take some experimentation to determine whether weekly or monthly review will be most effective. At review time, I’ll compare my ta-da lists to my to-do list. What I’ll be looking for is a ratio of goal accomplishment to self-celebration that feels satisfying, positive, and encouraging. 

If I find I’m celebrating so much I fail to achieve any goal, I’ll adjust. If I see that I push myself so hard I don’t enjoy anything, I’ll adjust. If I only used to-do lists as a reference, I’d be more likely to measure success or failure and move on without analysis regarding improvement. The slight change in the system makes me more likely to become more and more efficient and effective.

It must be working already. It sometimes takes a whole day to write a blog post. It’s only 12:35 pm and I am ta-done!

Keeping Track

Finding a pattern requires keeping track. Identifying foods that irritate your system may involve a lengthy investigation. A fasting diet can help, but when issues linger after the primary culprits are eliminated, things get a little more complicated. Recording the foods you ingest each day can reveal unexpected patterns that can help.

It’s easy to think that we’ll remember what we’ve eaten without recording it. If you’ve ever been on a calorie-counting diet you probably know that’s rarely true. You simply have to write it down somewhere or you’ll miss some little something along the way.

When looking for irritants, you also need to record how you feel each day. Cross-referencing the two can bring the greatest insights.

It took me awhile to figure out Cheerios caused my dermatitis herpetiformis to flare because I was intermittently consuming another problem product that used optical sorting of oats. The effect of the combination was misleading at first, but watching the pattern over time helped me figure it out.

You don’t need anything fancy to keep track. A notepad and pen with some highlighters will do the trick. It’s more important to tailor your system to your habits. What will be the most accessible, easy, and least interruptive way to accomplish the task?

If you want the ability to sort the information in a variety of ways, consider a spreadsheet program. In a pinch, you can put each day’s meals into the notes app on your phone.

Beyond that, other diet apps can do double duty, helping you to see the nutritional composition of your diet or the number of calories consumed while also helping you keep track of what you’ve eaten. It will be best to choose an app that allows you to record how you feel as well as what you’ve eaten and has a way for you to easily recall or export a history.

If you want to reduce the typing, spend a couple of weeks creating a checklist of everything you eat. Let that be your master list so that you can just checkboxes on the list for each meal. It will be helpful to alphabetize the list and leave room for the date and notes on how you feel.

You can record symptoms after each meal or just in general for the whole day. Often symptoms will be delayed and impossible to relate to a specific meal so a daily recap can be effective.

Don’t just record expected symptoms. Note if you feel lethargic, fatigued, foggy, itchy, tight in your skin, or irritable when touched. These can all be early clues that occur before more significant symptoms. If there’s a pattern, eventually you’ll be able to see how quickly they appear after ingestion of certain foods.

Reviewing monthly and looking for patterns should be sufficient. If you find none, it’s okay. But when you do, every minute of time and effort will feel worth it. Any piece of the puzzle that lessens symptoms and improves how you feel is worth keeping track.

Waste Not

I’m sure you know the cliché – waste not, want not. In the past year of grocery shortages, the progression of food moving through my kitchen has felt different. I’m not sure I’ve wasted less food, but I’m acutely aware of how many orders it can take to get a replacement. That means I’m always looking for opportunities to use ingredients a different way so they don’t go to waste.

It seems like every time I buy a jar of almond stuffed olives or banana peppers for an event or recipe, I end up using only a fraction. They last a long time, but they’re not something I use in my everyday recipes. I have the same issue with baby artichoke hearts.

Perhaps the easiest way to use all of these is on pizza. I sometimes keep a gluten-free dairy-free cheese pizza in the freezer for convenience. With the almonds removed from the olives, any of those items makes an appropriate pizza topper.

With the right combination of other ingredients, they are a great addition to salads, flatbread, and chicken dishes. Olives add salt, peppers add heat, and artichoke hearts add a light lemony tang.

This week, my dilemma was what to do with artichoke hearts. After a quick survey of the refrigerator, I sliced some onion and red bell pepper into thin strips, rough chopped some white mushrooms and sautéed all of them in olive oil.

Once everything was tender, I added chopped baby artichoke hearts and kept heat cooking until they were warm. Seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, the lemony top note of the artichokes added just that little somethin-somethin that took this combination to another level. It was delicious!

The following day, I used the leftovers in a chicken wrap by thinly slicing herbed chicken breasts, placing them on a gluten-free chickpea flour tortilla and topping with the onion, pepper, mushroom, artichoke mixture. I then rolled and heated it. I didn’t add cheese, but it’s an easy option if you like cheesy goodness.

After the wrap is warm, you can add some fresh leaf lettuce for contrasting cool crunch if you like that in your wraps. You may even like a drizzle of Ranch dressing on top.

The same idea can be used for a delicious fajita wrap using left-over steak or roast beef. Sprinkle the beef with garlic powder, cumin, and chili powder and slice thin. Heat in a skillet along with onion, pepper, mushroom, artichoke heart mixture until warm. While cooking, place corn tortillas over the mixture so that the steam generated in the skillet heats them.

Once everything is warm, assemble the wraps. Add a dollop of guacamole or some sliced avocado, a squeeze of lemon, cilantro, salsa, sour cream or Ranch dressing. Make it your own with whatever toppings you prefer.

The artichoke hearts are gone. I have avoided any guilt that would come with them going to waste. A new grocery order will arrive on my doorstep momentarily. And the whole cycle will begin again.

My plan is to waste not.

Cooking for One

When It’s Sticky, Does It Taste Icky?

When it’s sticky, does it taste icky? Your first response is probably, NO! Who doesn’t love a sticky bun or maple syrup or a toasted marshmallow? But I don’t really mean the food itself. I mean the weather. Due to high humidity and hot temperatures, we have lots of sticky days here in the summer. And humidity, whether low or high, affects both the making and perception of food.

If you’ve always lived in a humid region, there’s no reason to notice this. The same is true if you’ve always lived in a dry climate. But those of you who have moved around may have seen the results of your baking change.

You can use the very same ingredients and technique but find it impossible to exactly duplicate the results you got in your previous home. When the humidity is high, you may notice that it’s easier to prepare soft breads than crusty breads or that baking takes longer.

Humidity level also affects our perception of taste. The ideal humidity in a house is around 50%. In my house, it ranges from 50 – 60 percent in warm weather. It can even climb higher if I don’t use the dehumidifying feature on my air conditioner. At this level, food tastes good.

When you fly in an airplane, the humidity drops under 30%. At that level, your perception of taste will not be as acute. Airline food vendors may attempt to compensate for blandness, but few of us have every had a satisfying meal on board. Fighting both low humidity and high altitude makes it difficult to create the ideal culinary experience.

Commercial bakeries often employ humidity control devices to improve the consistency of their product. At home, there are a few things you can do to prevent icky food:

  1. When it’s too humid, turn the air conditioner to a lower temperature before you begin to bake. You can also use a fan to dry the air.
  2. Make sure to use your exhaust fans.
  3. Store ingredients in moisture proof containers with a good seal. For more extreme conditions, place the containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
  4. Reduce the moisture in your recipe slightly.
  5. Use the convection feature if your oven has one.
  6. Make sure there’s a vapor barrier over dirt basement floors.
  7. If conditions are often extreme, purchase and use a dehumidifier or humidifier or explore alternate heating and cooling systems.
  8. Don’t use the drying feature on your dishwasher. If you need more humidity, open the dryer door while it’s hot and the dishes are wet.
  9. You can also increase humidity by simmering pots of water on the stove or making soup.
  10. An indoor dryer vent will pump moisture (and heat) into your home.

If conditions are not extreme, go with the flow. Experience will help guide you to add baking time or increase liquid in the batter.

Enjoy the slightly altered density or moisture in a muffin or cake. Savor the differences in your experience of each food. As long as it’s not icky when it’s sticky, it’s all good!