Safety First & Forever

No matter what activities we undertake, it’s good to focus on safety first, a focus that can last forever. In the kitchen, I’m always mindful of washing my hands, cleaning vegetables and fruit, and disinfecting any surface that comes into contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. And of course, I’m careful to avoid cross-contact with gluten. I also make sure I cook ingredients to a safe internal temperature.

I grew up on a farm. Most of our meat was home grown. We fattened cows and sometimes pigs, then took them to a butcher. A 12 cu ft deep freeze in the shed held a variety of packages wrapped in white butcher paper and stamped with the name of the cut enclosed. Once the meat came out of the freezer, we were meticulous about food safety.

By that, I mean meticulous to the point that our meat was overcooked pretty much every meal. This was deliberate…for safety. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed sushi and prepared sushi-grade tuna to be eaten raw at home. I’ve occasionally gobbled up steak tartare.

But when I’m cooking, I continually have to fight the urge to cook meat, poultry, and seafood to the stage of leather. I’m not as obsessive about eggs. I love a warm, runny yolk. To resist my early training, I keep multiple meat thermometers on hand. And I use them regularly.

In spite of that, I feel an internal struggle when the thermometer registers a safe temperature, but my eyes see pink. And don’t even think about serving me a rare hamburger in a restaurant. I will send it back in a heartbeat.

My mind understands that the romaine salad on which my steak is sometimes perched could pose an equal danger of E. coli. But my visceral response is to recoil from any and all red steak. Light pink feels like a much safer option and no pink, just right – until I take a bite.d

I can’t say I regret this struggle. Erring on the safe side isn’t bad for my health, it’s just bad for the aesthetics of the food. That’s why I make a conscious effort to balance my instincts with reason and use the tools I have to determine safety first, but not instead of, quality.

If you’re uncertain of the safe minimum internal temperature for meat, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service provides a chart on its website. The temperatures vary by type and cut of meat. The charts were updated a few years ago, so don’t be alarmed if you find some of the numbers lower than you’d expect. And don’t forget to include the recommended rest times. The temperature of the meat will continue to rise as it rests.

Reviewing these charts is a way for me to relearn old habits and retrain my brain. This is a great reminder of my I like cooking. It offers so many opportunities to learn, and I love learning. But no matter how much my knowledge expands, I’ll always default to safety first!

Always Keep Kitchen Safety in Mind

When you’re preparing food, it’s important to always keep kitchen safety in mind. Where else in the house do you get to play with sharp objects, open flames, boiling liquids, cans under pressure, and countless amounts of breakable glass? In contrast to the rest of the house, the kitchen is a perpetual accident waiting to happen.

I feel like I’m pretty aware of safety when I’m working in the kitchen, but I am constantly reminded of yet another hazard by an OMG moment! Grandchildren in the kitchen have added yet another layer of awareness.
kit safety
Here are a few safety tips from my kitchen…

Knives

Beyond the obvious keep knives away from fingertips warning, don’t be tempted to leave knives lying on the countertop. This is hard for me. I will chop something on a cutting board, then lay a knife across it because I plan to use it again after I’ve done a few other things. I know the knife is there, how dangerous can it be?

Well, having almost stabbed my foot with a falling knife I’d accidentally jostled a couple of months ago, I’d say pretty dangerous. I was grateful I’d had Stop the Bleed training. I also became keenly aware how difficult it would be to use that training on myself.

I know not to leave sharp or breakable objects on the counter when my grandchildren are around. A curious 18-month-old may reach above his head and swipe his hand across the countertop to see what he can find. He also may reach for a knife from your knife block if it is visible. Luckily, my grandson warned me that he was about to pull a knife out by telling me he needed one for the dish he was “cooking” on his stove. My knife block no longer resides at the end of the counter.
knife
Flames

I’ve narrowly escaped burning dish towels and sleeves by failing to notice until the last minute how close they were to the flames on the burner. In general, long flared sleeves may be adorably cute on you, but they’re a really bad idea to wear as cooking fashion. In the same vein, a dish towel may be the most handy potholder, but if you leave any part of it dangling, it can touch a dancing flame before you know it.

And don’t even get me started on paper towels near the stove. Fry some chicken, cover a plate in paper towels, hold that plate above and to the side of the skillet when you remove the chicken to drain on the paper towels. Sounds like reasonable instructions, right?

The instructions aren’t bad, they’re just not complete. They should include a caution to make sure NO paper towel extends beyond the edge of the plate and that the flame is turned low enough that it doesn’t extend past the edge of your frying pan. If you need the flame higher than that to maintain the proper oil temperature, it’s probably best not to hold the plate so that you know it’s sitting a safe distance away from the flame.

Also, don’t be tempted to wipe that drip off the top of the stove just behind the burner while it’s on. You’ll have to reach your arm over or around a very hot pot near a very hot burner most likely with something wet in your hand that won’t protect fingers from heat. That’s too much risk for the amount of time it will save you later. Of course I know this is a bad idea because I’ve done it.

Always keep a fire extinguisher charged and handy just in case flames get out of hand. Mine lives under my kitchen sink. If you happen to have a small grease fire in a pan, turn off the burner, smother the fire with a metal lid or baking sheet, baking soda, or salt. Do not throw water or flour on the fire. Do not cover the pan with glass or pottery. Do not try to carry the pan outside.

Pot Holders and Dish Towels

We just touched on one downside of using a dish towel as a potholder, but it’s also good to remember that a damp or wet towel will not provide insulation from heat. Any towels or potholders should be dry before grabbing a hot handle.

Dish towels may have to be folded multiple times to be thick enough to protect your hand. This can result in a wiggly (technical term) grip. Heavy skillets like those made from cast iron increase the risk a wiggly grip poses.

I use my pot holders so much, they get thin in the middle. I usually discover this when I grip a skillet of cornbread and start to lift it out of the oven. The heat transfer is gradual, but over time I’ve learned when it feels hotter than it should in the first few seconds I should immediately put the skillet back down on the rack in the oven. Muscling through the heat to lift it to the counter is a D-U-M-B thing to do.

Storage

Don’t store anything in the oven that isn’t oven proof to the temperature you’d use to bake a frozen pizza. Sometimes I just need a quick place to hide something in the kitchen. Of course the oven works beautifully…until days later when I’ve totally forgotten the plastic tray in there and preheated the oven. Ugh, you get the picture. I actually preheated the oven this morning with a skillet & sheet pan in it. I do this on the regular, so I know I have to outsmart myself and only store oven proof things.

If you have pets, storing anything on the top of the stove can be risky. A former customer of mine put a basket on top of her stove to at night. One night while everyone was sleeping, her cat jumped on the stove to investigate. In the process, the cat’s foot turned on a burner starting a fire. Luckily, a smoke alarm awakened the family quickly, but the whole kitchen burned.

Having a system that tells you how long a bottle of olive oil, soy sauce, or maple syrup has been stored open in the pantry can prevent you from eating spoiled condiments. Of course, it’s good to do the same thing for the salad dressing, mayonnaise, pickles, jelly, and ketchup in the fridge. Discarding these in a timely manner (with hot sauce, timely means you have years to spare) is a great safety precaution.

I’ll admit my discard system is haphazard. When I’m testing recipes, I use everything so fast this isn’t an issue. When I’m cooking less, I periodically throw everything away that I can’t remember opening and start over. I’m about to have one of these purging sessions in my pantry.

Microwave

I’m sure you know not to put metal in the microwave. You may not know that putting a honey bear in there to heat up crystalized honey can result in serious burns. If heated too long, the bottle can explode when you remove it and you can end up covered in molten honey. This happened to a friend of mine, but a Reddit thread tells me it’s happened to others as well.

When James was about two, I microwaved a cup of water. I took it out of the microwave then had to go check on his crying baby brother. Before I left the room, I made sure the cup was toward the back of the counter where James couldn’t reach it. Being resourceful, James pulled a chair up to the counter, climbed up, got the cup and spilled a full cup of boiling water down the front of his shirt. It all happened in a matter of seconds.

James proceeded to run around the house screaming at the top of his lungs because his shirt was burning him. When I finally caught him, I grabbed the shirt and quickly pulled it off. The skin of his entire chest came off along with the shirt.

Yes, it looked as bad as it sounds and I’m sure it was as painful! After a visit to the doctor, we kept the wound clean and coated in Silvadene and it healed. The only scars left are in James’ memory and on my Mommy record.

Coffee

Unplug the coffee grinder before you use your finger to scrape out the grounds that didn’t fall into the lid. I mean it. Unplug the thing. More than once I’ve had coffee grinders come on unexpectedly and get stuck on. One of them was recalled because of this problem. I’ve seen plenty of otherwise smart people dig out grounds with the grinder plugged in. It makes me cringe each and every time.

Unplug the coffee maker when it’s not being used. I once watched my coffee maker shoot sparks into the kitchen. It was plugged in, but not turned on. The fact that I was there to see it (and prevent a fire) was a happy accident. I switched to a French press.

Timing

I use the timer on my stove, but it’s not very loud. If I’m leaving the kitchen, I know it’s a good idea to set a corresponding timer to carry with me. The one on my phone works great. I also have a stationary one on the desk in my home office.

It’s also a good idea to set a timer if you decide to chill a can of soda in the freezer. I rarely do this, but when I do, I consistently forget about that can for way too long. Usually I catch my error at the point the top of the can begins to bow out, but I have had to clean up the freezer after a can explosion. I can assure you that cleaning the freezer is not my idea of fun!

Other Things

-Read labels for allergens.
-Disinfect anything that touches raw meat.
-Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat reaches a safe temperature.
-Don’t eat raw eggs.
-Wash fruits and vegetables.
-Kiss Caesar salads goodbye for awhile. The romaine problem has gotten out of hand.
-Refrigerate leftovers in a timely manner.
-Turn pot and pan handles toward the center of the stove.
-Wipe spills up quickly so you won’t slip and fall.

Clothing Optional

I’m fine with you doing whatever you want to do in the nude, but this post is about safety in the kitchen. Soooo, don’t cook naked. Like ironing naked, it seems like a good idea until it’s not. By that point you’ll probably have frozen or burned something you really don’t want to freeze or burn. At least put on an apron. A simple apron with heels can be the perfect cooking outfit depending on the guest list.

Every cook I know burns themself at some point. Many cut a finger. Most of these injuries are minor. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to have a watchful eye and always keep kitchen safety in mind when you’re having a kitchen adventure.

https://www.firerescue1.com/firefighter-training/articles/223446018-How-to-put-out-a-grease-fire/

https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/index.html

https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/index.html

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/make-the-kitchen-your-happy-place/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/pare-your-kitchen-down-to-the-basics/

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!