Back to the Kitchen – My declaration of food independence!

This week-end I spent a number of happy hours barefoot and in the kitchen!  My inner feminist was only slightly comforted by the thought that at least I am not pregnant. Yikes!  I am one small mishap away from being a stereotype!

In all seriousness though, I spent years determined not to have my identity reduced to any pre-ordained gender role, and I am still very much of this mindset, but that is a subject for a whole other blog.  When asked if I liked to cook, I would jokingly respond:  “I have a great interest in eating food but none in preparing it.”  Little did I know that I had succinctly summarized the chief cause of my weight problem! The “Don’t Cook, Just Eat” series of adverts are targeted directly at people like me. However, my recent food adventures have led me to realize how much we give up when we give up cooking.  I have reached the conclusion that every household needs a chef.  If you are too wealthy for your own good, you can hire one.  If you are like the rest of us, someone in the home is just going to have to step up!  If you live with others the role can be negotiated and hopefully shared. If you live alone, it looks like you’re it!

When we turn over the task of food preparation to the food industry, we think we are simply exchanging our hard-earned cash for convenience and tasty food.  Not a bad deal. But we are really giving up a lot more along with our money:

  1. Control over what we put in our bodies.
  2. Variety – ever notice how all fast and processed food starts tasting the same after a while?
  3. Health and proper nutrition.
  4. The pleasure of the creative process that precedes and greatly increases the pleasure of eating.
  5. The opportunity to at least expend a few calories in the process of procuring a meal!  We might not be hunter-gatherers anymore, but at least we can graft a little in the kitchen and restore some of the energy balance that is so absent in the way we consume food today!

Let’s face it – the task of cooking is one that many of us would rather outsource, if at all possible. A troubled relationship with food may, in fact, have begun with a troubled relationship with our kitchens!  My early kitchen memories are mixed: on the one hand I get nostalgic when I remember all the peanut butter cookies and crunchies my long-suffering mother allowed me to bake.  On the other I remember being made to do the washing up and vowing that when I grew up I would never wash a dish again. My plan at the time was to have a child of my own who I could instruct to do this for me – clearly I did not think this through!  However, I would still rather have a root canal than wash a sink full of dirty dishes, and one way to avoid this task is to get take aways that come in convenient throw-away containers 🙂

It has been said that people only make significant life changes when the perceived pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.  If I am honest, it is only because my fast food lifestyle ultimately came with sufficiently negative and damaging consequences that I tentatively took my first steps back into the kitchen.  The kitchen used to be the place where I made tea and toast and got stuff out of the fridge.  It is now the place where all my meals are produced.  Yes, it’s messy.  Yes, there are mountains of dirty dishes left in my wake.  All I can say is thank the good Lord for dishwashers.  But it is also way more fun than I would ever have imagined!

Confession time:  I have a thing for celebrity chefs.  I used to treat cooking shows like a spectator sport.  I know, I know, but as easy as our fetish with the celebrity chef craze is to satirize, it has helped make cooking glamorous again and break down any gender stereotypes about who may occupy this role in the home or the work place!  I am currently indulging in Gordon Ramsay’s “The Ultimate Cookery Course”.  The one where he actually stands in his kitchen and shows you how to cook, instead of being a potty mouth and haranguing hapless restaurant owners!  I picked up some really useful techniques and managed to turn out a couple of really decent meals as a result.  Here is photographic evidence of my latest efforts:

Quinoa pancakes with apple and berry toppings.

Quinoa pancakes with apple and berry toppings.

A lovely Sunday breakfast treat.  Got the quinoa pancake recipe online and the berry topping was inspired by Gordon Ramsay.  I used strawberries and blueberries which I cooked in a pan on the stove with the zest and juice of one lemon, a tablespoon of vanilla extract and a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  Ramsay starts by caramelizing sugar in the pan, but I skipped that and they still came out absolutely delicious.  Simmer until the liquids reduce down to form a nice syrup and you have an ideal pancake topping!

For lunch we had a vegetable frittata, garden salad and some amaranth crackers with organic tomato sauce and cheese.  It was one of those “use all the veggies in your fridge” meals that worked out rather well:

Sunday lunch

Sunday lunch: Vegetable frittata with garden salad and cheese platter featuring amaranth crackers

It is looking worse and worse for me!  I have just confessed to watching celebrity chefs and I am now forced to admit that I am one of those annoying people who photographs their food.  I couldn’t resist this one because I was so proud that the frittata released from the pan and I was able to present it at the table in one piece!  Again, this is thanks to a technique I learned on Ramsay’s show: loosen the sides with a knife and then bang the pan a few times on the counter before tipping it over onto a cutting board, put a plate on top and flip.  These are the small victories helping to build my confidence and inspire my cooking Renaissance!

Although there is so much about The Biggest Loser that depresses me and represents the exact opposite of my approach to weight loss,  I was impressed to note that the contestants have to prepare their own meals while on the show.  Even better, they are given challenges where they need to make this work in real life.  This is encouraging as they are learning a skill that gives them a shot at sustainable weight management when they are no longer being held accountable by television cameras and public “weigh ins.”  If you are going to take any pointers from the show, that is one of the ones I would recommend.

So where do you stand on the whole kitchen thing?  Are you an occasional visitor, or regular fixture?  Does it take days to fill up your dishwasher, or does the poor thing struggle to keep up with your capacity to dirty every dish and utensil that you own?  If you are concerned with your weight or your health, I suggest you make friends with your kitchen.  Or at least make friends with someone else who knows their way around and doesn’t mind sharing!

Tick Tock Goes the Clock!

One of the most effective marketing strategies of the food industry has been to collectively convince us that “we don’t have time to cook.”  Basically none of us have enough time for anything these days, so if someone came along and said “hey, you don’t have enough time to breathe, let me do it for you” we would probably sign up, no questions asked! And so we let a bunch of drug pushers take over our food preparation and keep us addicted, sick and miserable. The “no time” belief has become so firmly entrenched in modern culture that we hardly even question it anymore.  I see it in action every time someone hears about the changes I have made to the way I eat.  Almost without exception they say: “Oh that is so great, but I just don’t have the time to do all that!”

I completely understand!  For most of my life I have believed the “no time” lie with as much conviction as anybody.  Preparing my own meal, let alone a meal for anyone else, was the absolute last thing on my agenda.  I lead an extremely busy, pressured life just like the rest of you.  I probably would have continued believing the lie until my dying day if it were not that the state of my health finally forced me to make time.  If you don’t have time to cook you better consider if you have time to manage a chronic disease like diabetes!  Trust me, a few minutes of food prep pale into insignificance compared to the stress, inconvenience and time wasted on managing a totally avoidable, lifestyle induced illness.  And then there are the insane number of hours of exercise I am going to need to do to get all this blasted weight off my body!  Exercise is great, but the amount I need to do to effectively lose half my body weight is daunting, to say the least. When a personal health crisis forced me to reconsider my time and how I spent it I suddenly realized how ridiculous the “no time to cook” deception really is.  It struck me that if I continued to buy into this myth, I better make time to be sick, exhausted and ultimately prematurely dead! A few minutes of cooking a day is a small price to pay for years added on to my life!

Here’s the thing: after a bit of initial reorganizing and re-education, preparing food from scratch at home is not nearly as time consuming as the food industry would have you believe.  In fact I am prepared to race you on the time it takes for just about any fast food option you can think of and a home cooked meal, and in many cases I believe I can not only equal your time but beat it.

Here’s an example.  Timed my last trip through a McDonald’s Drive through:

10 minutes to get in the car and drive there.

20 minutes to get to the front of the queue and place order.

10 minutes in the “waiting” bay for my veggie burger to be prepared.

10 minutes waiting for them redo part of the order they got wrong.

10 minutes to drive home.

Total time: 1 hour

Time taken to prepare lunch yesterday:

2 minutes: Get ingredients and cooking utensils together.

10 minutes: Cook Quinoa Pasta

While pasta is cooking: Chop artichoke hearts, pink oyster mushrooms and cherry tomatoes and sauté in a pan with Coconut Oil.  Season to taste with herbs and spices and a pinch of Maldon salt.  Grate an ounce of Mozzarella Cheese.

2 minutes: Strain pasta and plate up with veggies and cheese.  Sprinkle generously with Alfalfa sprouts for extra crunch and yummyness!

Total time: 14 minutes

So the pasta won hands down, not only on time, but also on flavor and even on cost!  And it goes without saying that it was much higher in nutrition and lower in calories than the burger and chips from MickyD’s!  It was so delicious in fact that I think I will have the same for lunch again today but I honestly don’t care if I never eat another meal from McDonalds in my life!

What about having your take aways delivered to your door, you may ask?  Certainly an option if you are willing to add on the delivery cost and tip.  But guess what, I also have my food delivered, and not only one meal at a time but enough for a whole week!  After a bit of googling I found this wonderful service that delivers in my area: The Ethical Co-op.  My last order included a family sized box of organic vegetables, kale chips, flax seed crackers, organic coconut palm sugar, raw chocolate, pink oyster mushrooms, spelt bread and amaranth.  More than a week’s worth of food for less than the cost of having pizza delivered for a family of 4.  (Luckily the price of healthy food in my country still compares favorably to that of fast food.) You might not be lucky enough to be able to conveniently buy healthy food online and have it delivered to your door, but then again maybe you can and you just don’t know it yet!  Certainly worth researching and you may be surprised to discover a wealth of local, alternative food vendors right in your neighborhood!

So you can make a great big ordeal out of cooking if you want to, but it really isn’t necessary.  After a day or so of cleaning the junk out of my kitchen and restocking with the good stuff, the rest has been surprisingly easy.  Here are some tips that have made it a breeze:

1) Maintain a shopping list of foods you use in your diet and restock as needed so that you have the right foods on hand and are too broke to buy any junk food!

2) Stock up on BPA free tupperware and Ziploc bags and save your glass jars for easy food storage.

3) Spend a little extra time on the week end preparing food for the week that will keep in the fridge or can be frozen.

4) Google for recipes and local food suppliers.

5) Try at least one new dish a week to grow your repertoire.

If you do all of the above I promise you that you can walk right over to your own kitchen and grab a fabulous meal in 5 to 10 minutes during your work week, or spend an hour on something fancy on the week end if you feel like it.

So there you have it, one ridiculous lie of the food industry debunked.  I am off to throw together the most fabulous berry smoothie you will ever taste.  Wish you were here – I might even consider sharing!