One More Bite (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I’m grateful for having the time and available resources to mindfully eat an abundance of fresh, healthy foods. Yesterday, I received a shipment of fresh vegetables from a farmer a few states away, and combined several of them with a chicken and pasta dish I made that included a kumquat sauce. I’d ordered avocados straight from California, and, although they are still ripening, the farmer there packed them with an overflowing amount of kumquats still on the branch! It was a delightful treat and, mixed with the carrots, microgreens and spinach of yesterday’s haul, my lunch today was one of the most satisfying I’ve had all year.

My relationship with food has been the source of both pleasure and pain. I have struggled with anorexia as well as food addictions, so eating a moderate amount of healthy foods is something to which I end up aspiring rather than achieving more days than not. Most likely because of these mental health conditions, few things in life bring me the excitement and joy that food does. I stare at dishes being brought to other diners at a restaurant the way other people stare at people they find attractive. I recall meeting someone several years ago who told me he ate because he needed to eat, not because it made him happy, and I’ve never had such a “who are you?” moment as that one.

All of this to say, living through a lockdown where traversing a grocery store feels akin to potentially being taken out by a sniper in the form of a virus-carrier, my issues with food have only gotten worse. I’m starting to eat beyond the point of hunger and have spent far too much money trying to ensure I don’t have to go without in any capacity during this time. One practice that I am hoping will cut through the anxiety-fueled excess is mindfulness. Taking time to enjoy each bite as well as to honor its origins will hopefully help me to focus more fully on gratitude, and, in slowing down, I will be better able to hear what my body is communicating to me in terms of what it needs. What’s your relationship like with food? How is it being affected by the pandemic?

Mindfully Attending to Eating Patterns (Today’s Daily Presence)

I ordered fresh fruit for delivery this week, as well as a box of “healthy” pre-packaged foods. It has been a while since I ate anything that wasn’t made from scratch and I found my body’s response to be quite surprising. Everything tasted either over-salted or excessively sweet. All of the chips and such seemed overly artificially-flavored, even though it was from natural ingredients.

I wish I could give all the credit for the shift I’ve undergone in my tastes to adhering to my “home-made foods” diet so thoroughly, but the other factor that’s made a decided difference is being on low-dose T. Since starting T, I rarely crave carbs, salt or sugar. I cannot believe how boring a bag of pretzels tastes now; in the past, I could consume a large portion easily in one sitting. I’m primarily interested in eating meat and fruit now, but I would say overall my food drive has lessened.

I am only today starting to settle down from my efforts to get my job transitioned to online work (there might unfortunately be additional developments on this front), so I haven’t been cooking more than the bare minimum to keep myself fed. I am anticipating some exciting meal prep once my homegrown mushrooms and micro-greens and so forth are finished growing. What’s the last homemade meal you created? Have you ever experienced a significant shift in the types of foods you enjoy?

Yesterday’s Labor (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

I made homemade pizza yesterday, preparing both the crust and sauce from scratch. The pan I used didn’t work very well so the bottom of the crust was not cooked to my liking. Today, I toasted slices in my toaster oven and what had been unappetizing became one of my best pizza bakes to date: crunchy, with just the right amount of sauce, dough and toppings.

I’ve written about this before, but I feel a renewed sense of appreciation for having enough time in my schedule and funds to be able to make meals from with fresh, unprocessed ingredients. I used to detest having to eat leftovers as a child, but now, as an adult, they feel like a gift I created for myself that brightens my day. When they are of the “junk food” variety, it’s even better. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel disappointed when I haven’t planned well and take-out is my only option, which is so different from how I used to think about food. What’s the last home-cooked meal you had? What was your moment of gratitude today?

Compliments of Hot, Sour and Sweet (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

In preparing for the potential pandemic looming in my country, I have spent the last month stocking up on food items. An unexpected benefit of doing so has been that I’ve been motivated to try flavors I haven’t had in a while. One of my tastiest creations I revisited this week is a homemade hot paste.

The thick, peppery condiment extremely simple to make. I eat it with eggs in the morning or with meat and tofu dishes later in the day. I start with dried peppers, both the large sweet types used in moles like pasilla and ancho, as well as small hot red peppers like guajillo (I’ve learned that only a few of these are needed!). I then add vinegar–either white wine or apple cider–and salt. I pulse in my food processor until a paste is formed, trying to stop before the seeds are chopped so that it doesn’t turn bitter. To create a sweet and spicy version, which I might use more in dishes with tofu, chicken or fish, I add honey. I store in a small jar in the refrigerator and use within a week.

I enjoy fashioning my own condiments to complement homemade food. The condiments sold in stores are often diluted with filler products and/or packed with extra sugar and salt. I find that having a condiment or two on hand helps me to break up the monotony of having the same dish I’ve meal-prepped for three or four days in a row. Do you make any of your condiments yourself? If so, what is your favorite creation?

Enjoying Home-Made Meals (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

As someone with a significant food sensitivity to an ingredient in nearly all savory foods (the allium family which includes garlic, onion and so on), eating a meal at a restaurant or take-away tends not to end in a gut-happy place. Even though it takes more effort and planning on my part, I find pleasure in creating recipes and tasting the results of my labor. The rarest of treats is a friend making an allergy-sensitive meal for me.

Purchasing Ingredients

I’ve changed strategies more times than I can count in terms of how I procure food. I used a home delivery ordering system for a while. Next, I went to the store several times a week. My latest strategy is to go to the store only one time a week, and to buy a few foods that can last until about four days into the week when I make a second round of dishes. This summer, I hope to spend lots of time at farmer’s markets buying the freshest possible vegetables and fruits.

Kitchen Necessities

I have a few weapons of choice in making my own meals, namely, slow cookers of various sizes, a Vitamix, a toaster oven, and cast iron pans. The slow cookers allow me to roast meats, marinate beans and tenderize vegetables. My Vitamix is vital for daily smoothies and rich, creamy soups. I bake breads and reheat food in my toaster oven. I actually do not have a microwave at my house! When the one I’d bought in college stopped working, I didn’t replace it and find that I rarely miss it. Finally, the cast iron pans let me crisp meats and veggies.

Meal Planning

There was a time where I wrote out elaborate meal plans for six months at a time, week by week and ingredient by ingredient. As of late, I am more spur-of-the-moment and less creative with the effort I put into what I am making. I like to have the same breakfast every day and to then vary what I eat through the rest of each day. I always include a lot of fruit, some vegetables (my sticking point), meat and/or soy products and some whole grains. Beans are the food group of which I would most like to increase my consumption. I’ve had a lot of issues digesting pork which is what I like to have with them, so that has made finding dishes in which they work more difficult.

How much do you like to cook homemade meals? If you don’t get to have them as much as you’d like, what barriers get in the way? What are your methods of buying food items? Which cooking tools must be in your kitchen? How do you meal plan?

A close-up of the center of a loaf of soda bread with an X cut in the middle.

Soda and Seed Bread (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For several months, I’d been making sourdough bread. I loved the taste but got tired of the amount of time it took to feed the starter and proof the bread. I’ve since been experimenting with soda bread, which requires no rise time at all. Anything I can make in less than a hour has to be a winner!

Ingredients

500 grams flour (1/2 white, 1/4 rye, 1/4 whole wheat)

300 ml 2% milk + 2 TBS apple cider vinegar

2 TBS each raw sesame seeds, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds

1 TBS baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Pour the vinegar into the milk and let sit while you mix the dry ingredients.
  3. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. If you’d like, you can toast the seeds and nuts before adding to the flour, salt and baking powder.
  4. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Wet your hands if needed and pat the dough into a flattened disk.
  6. Cut an X into the middle of the dough.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes.
  8. Let cool before slicing.

This recipe makes a dense, hearty bread that is great with soups, jams and plain butter! If you’ve made soda bread, what is your favorite recipe?

Tasting and Smelling Delicious Food (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I am still sick with a respiratory illness but am hopeful that I am on the road to recovery. My sense of smell has been severely impacted and I’ve eaten meal after meal in which the only aspect of the food I could appreciate was its appearance and texture, because I could not taste anything. Today, some scents and flavors are getting through, so my lunch felt like an incredible luxury solely because I could enjoy more than how it looked!

I created a whole-wheat pasta dish with spinach, salmon and home-made pesto sauce. I started by cooking the pasta on one burner while I wilted the spinach on another in a cast-iron pan. After removing the spinach, I then pan-fried the center-cut salmon, skin-side down, in the cast iron. Finally, I toasted the pine nuts and then blended them with locally-grown basil, avocado oil and Parmesan cheese in my Vitamix (I am allergic to garlic but most people would add it in here). After sprinkling on a pinch of salt and a dash of oil, I served the dish in a large ceramic bowl I use for my more elaborate meals.

The creamy texture of the sauce, combined with my renewed ability to detect actual scents like basil and salmon, was so enjoyable. It makes me think of the tens of thousands of meals I’ve eaten in my lifetime and leads me to wonder how many of them I’ve scarfed down without any consideration or appreciation for being able to bring all of my senses to bear. A good meal is my quintessential simple pleasure. Have you cooked anything tasty in the last week? What’s your favorite or go-to lunch? Do you have any mealtime rituals that enhance your enjoyment of food?

Creating Pup-Pie Treats (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been getting a little overlooked between my return to work and my illness, so I decided to make him some homemade treats today. I’ve never attempted to do so before, even though I let him have tiny “people-food” snacks far too often. I settled on a baked treat being the safest bet.

I first measured and then cooked 1 sweet potato by cutting it up and boiling it in water. It came in at 260 grams, so I measured out equal parts of that in rolled oats as well as in dry roasted, unsalted peanuts. I pulverized the peanut-oat mixture in my Vitamix until it formed a loose paste. Once the sweet potato was cooked through, I used the Vitamix to puree it. I mixed the wet and dry ingredients together along with two eggs. I then pressed the dough into a greased ceramic pie pan and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty-five minutes.

After the initial cook time, I cut the pie into one inch by one inch squares, and baked them at the same temperature on a sheet for 10 minutes so that they would be as dried as possible. I think they could have gone longer but I was too lazy to experiment. Weirdly enough, I unintentionally created the start of a gluten-free biscotti for humans, were I to add perhaps coconut butter and a source of sugar. All in all, not bad for a spur of the moment experiment!

A white ceramic pie pan containing a light brown cookie with chunks of sweet potato. The cookie is cut into small pieces.
Mid-way through the bake process.
A small purple bowl sits empty on a couch cushion. In the upper part of the photograph, a blurry image of a Yorkie is visible.
The empty bowl after offering the treat.
A Yorkie dog is standing on white carpet eating a treat.
Nibbling away!

Making a Plan to Try Something New (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Typically when I think about trying a new experience, I think about joining in a pre-planned social event in which I can meet new people while completing an activity. For today’s simple pleasure, I decided to go in a different direction, as I am not in a particularly social mood. I will be centering my planning on crafts and homemade items that I would like to learn how to make. Last year, I taught myself how to make candles and sourdough bread, and found the process to be enjoyable. Perhaps I will try my hand at making my own incense! What homemade craft projects do you recommend?

Soaking in Water (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Taking a warm bath relaxes and satisfies many people’s need for a simple pleasure. I, however, become nauseous from the heat. Hot water only works for me in small doses, so my version of a bath involves involves soaking my feet in water infused with a homemade bath bomb containing essential oils and dried herbs.

As I did this today, I found myself able to reconnect with my body and temporarily less aware of my chronic pain as all my energy went into finding the right temperature that was soothing rather than scalding (I recommend using a thermometer for this if you have any conditions such as diabetes that could affect your ability to perceive temperature in your feet). My feet feel smooth and pampered after my treatment, which allows the rest of my body to come to a place of calmness and comfort. What is your favorite way to soak in water?