Foodie Firsts: Kumquats!

wooden spoons-001

Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try!  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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Kumquats.

If you’re in a space where you’re able, I encourage you to say this word aloud.  It’s a word that feels a little odd to say and hear.  A peculiar word, it is, with sharp sounds that force you to enunciate.

I would venture to say that the experience of saying and hearing kumquat is similar to what it is like to eat one.  Sharp.  Deliberate.  Peculiar.  Maybe even a tad exotic.

in bowl 2 - edited

I have, of course, known of the existence of kumquats for a lifetime.  I’d heard of them without ever really knowing what they were.  They seemed so unusual and foreign – not something I would happen across on an average day.  I knew that they were a type of citrus, but I had never really considered what they would taste like.  I knew they were quite small, but never stopped to ponder how to eat them properly.  They were totally and completely mysterious to me.

Until last week.

Last week, I was wondering through the produce aisle at New Seasons Market (my favorite of all markets), looking at the abundance of various citrus that flooded the bins.  There were navel oranges, blood oranges, sumo oranges, tangerines, tangelos, grapefruits (white and red), lemons, Meyer lemons, limes . . . you see where I’m going with this.  The final stages of winter were producing a citrus bounty that was quite stunning, actually.  Nestled among the cases of plump navels and grapefruits was a slim, almost unnoticeable bin of kumquats.

Intriguing.

slices with knife - edited

Here was the perplexing little fruit that I knew next to nothing about, but I decided to scoop some up.  Taking home a handful, I put them on my counter and sort of stared.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.  I needed to do some research, but was impatient and wanted to just try one right away.  So I did.

Now, please don’t laugh at what I’m about to tell you.

Okay, laugh if you must, but just don’t tell me that you did.

Alright, so I took a kumquat – barely the size of my thumb – and set out to peel it.  This was my instinct.  You eat citrus after it’s been peeled, right?  I tore into it and ripped off the outer flesh, tossing it into the bin.  Left with what was truly a miniscule bit of fruit, I bit in.  It was tart.  REALLY TART.  Not bad.  But more tart than seemed reasonable to eat on it’s own.

I closed the bag, left them on my counter, and decided I needed to seek out answers on how to eat these tiny fruits from the those in the know – random people on the Internet.

The problem was I got busy and it took me a few days to get around to it.  When I finally did consult the all-knowing Internet, I had waited too long.  Once of the first things I learned was that kumquats don’t last long at room temperature and can turn rancid and moldy.  The second thing I learned about kumquats was that you don’t peel them.  You eat them whole – skin and all.

Oh.

Oohhhhhhh.

in bowl on window sill 2 - edited

That makes so much sense, because let me tell you, peeling a kumquat is not an easy thing to do well.

Plus, the skin actually is crucial to the taste experience.  As it turns out, the inside of the kumquat is very tart (as I had experienced), but the peel of a kumquat is very sweet.  When you bite into one whole, you get both together, creating an entirely different (and more balanced) foodie experience.

Oooohhhhhhhhhh.

Well, I felt a little silly learning this, thinking how I had torn apart my first one, but I was determined to try again.  Back to New Seasons I went, where I purchased a new batch of kumquats.  This time they went into my refrigerator for preserving freshness.  All except for one, that is.  That one I promptly washed and ate, standing right over my kitchen sink, skin and all.

Wow.  What a different experience.  There was tart again, sure, but this time there was so much more than that.  It went something like this.  When I first bit in, I was hit with the tartness of the body of the fruit, but then, after just a moment, as I ate it, the sweetness from the skin is released and they come together to provide a complex, layered flavor that was unlike any other citrus I’ve ever tasted.  It was exotic.  It was peculiar.  It was delightful.

I ate a couple more this way, reveling in this whole new flavor experience.  I had also noticed online, though, that a common use for them is in salad.  Well, I’m a girl who loves her greens and I eat 1-2 salads a day.  Perfect.  When dinnertime rolled around, I decided to slice a couple up and add them to my salad.  Combined with a combination of power greens (romaine lettuce, kale, baby chard, and baby spinach), cucumber, tomatoes, and raw red onion, they made a beautiful looking salad bowl.  Then, after drizzling with white wine vinegar and sprinkling with salt, pepper, and sunflower seeds, I dug in.  They were a WONDERFUL addition to my standard salad.  They added a refreshing brightness and zing that was absolutely delicious.

Salad - edited

Final Thoughts:  Kumquats are a fantastic find.  I’m utterly astounded that something so compact can pack in so much exciting flavor.  I’m definitely glad I gave these little fruits a try (despite my initial misunderstanding about how to eat them!).

Serving Suggestions:  Try them raw, as I did, to just get to know them a bit.  Certainly, slice them up and add them to a salad – you won’t even need much dressing with their added flavor.

I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve also seen them used in cocktails.  I kind of like the idea of a little muddled kumquat with some dry gin, a dash of bitters, and maybe even a splash of grenadine – served with a slice of kumquat on the rim or floating on top for visual appeal.  Sounds like a good happy hour to me.

Lessons Learned:  Do my research.  I can laugh at myself for the ridiculousness that was me trying to peel that tiny little thing, but I could have saved myself some time, trouble, and a whole batch of spoiled kumquats if I had done my research first.  Let’s hope I can remember this in the future.

Foodie Firsts: My First Vegan ‘Cheesecake’

wooden spoons-001

Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try!  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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Welcome to the inaugural entry in my new weekly series.  I’m excited to continue to push my boundaries with food and cooking and share it all here.  I commit to sharing each adventure, whether it is successful or, well, disastrous.

It pleases me to no end, however, to say that this first post is one of success!  I decided to start off this column big.  I feel like I really went for it this week.

Homemade.  Vegan.  Cheesecake.

partial whole cake pic 2 - edited

I went into this little experiment totally prepared for it to fail.  Not expecting it to, but prepared for the possibility.  Let me give you some history.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Move Eat Create for introducing me to cheesecake to begin with.  I had never tried it until well into my twenties.  Blasphemy, I know!  Here I was, going through my life, thinking that cheesecake was absurd.  Why on earth would anyone make a cake out of cheese??  What was this horrid concept???  Were people mad????  Mr. Move Eat Create was, because he was a fan.  A big fan.  So he had some; I tried it, and my world was never the same again.

Now, you may think I’m being dramatic (and maybe I am), but it blew me away.  I had never tasted anything like it.  I wanted to devour it all the time.  I tried to restrain myself, but cheesecake was always a wonderful treat.  A rich, decadent reminder of how many things I had yet to taste in my life.

Whole with slice cut out - edited

These days, as you may know, I eat a mostly clean, healthy and plant-based diet, so cheesecake is a very rare item on my plate.  For a while, I’d been tossing around the idea of trying a vegan cheesecake.  I’ve seen several versions featuring vegan cream cheese (which I’m sure are delicious and I WILL try sometime), but, I was feeling sort of . . . ballsy.  I decided to go all out when I came across this recipe for a raw strawberry cream cake at The Veggie Nook.  A soft, creamy cake that mimics the experience of a cheesecake, but totally vegan?  I was in.  No questions asked.

So, as I stated, I was prepared for this to be a fail simply because I’ve never, ever eaten or made anything like it before.  Plus, the crust (which is yummy) is made solely out of almonds, dates, and salt.  The last time I tried to puree dates, I had a bit of a disastrous gooey mess that went quickly to the garbage can.   The recipe indicated a strong food processor would be needed and ours is a fairly small, simple model.  Would it do the job?  And, would my cheesecake-loving boyfriend enjoy this for what it was or would I be eating it all by my lonesome?

Single slice with coulis 5 - edited

I officially declare this foodie first a success!  While this is certainly not going to pass for a traditional cheesecake, it doesn’t need to.  It is delicious in its own right and it does provide a similar experience to feasting on cheesecake.  It’s soft, cool, and creamy.  It strikes a chord between sour/tart (from the lemon juice – a very important element) and sweet (strawberries, dates, vanilla and agave) and the strawberry coulis drizzled on top is fresh and bright.  The process of making this was a breeze, really.  I had to puree in batches (so as to not overwhelm my food processor), but the steps were straightforward and unfussy.  Plus, the possibilities with this are limitless.  Chocolate drizzled on top would be amazing.  I can imagine any berry subbing for the strawberries with success.  Vanilla bean mixed in would be rich and luscious.  Skip the berry layer altogether and do a caramel cream with chopped nuts on top.  Endless possibilities.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

The recipe can be found here:  Raw Strawberry Cream Cake  Whole with side of pan off - edited

Modifications:  The only thing I did differently was to use agave and additional vanilla extract instead of stevia.  I didn’t have any stevia on hand and decided to sub instead of purchasing some.  I doubled the vanilla extract and added agave in 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting as I went.  I found that about ¼ cup was the right amount for me.

Lessons Learned:  Simply because something doesn’t taste just like its inspiration, does not make it a lesser product.  Do I still think traditional cheesecake is delicious?  Of course I do.  But this option is so good and so satisfying that it is more than just a substitute.  Plus, the nutritional components mean a lot to me these days and knowing I can feel really good about the ingredients in this dessert is pretty fantastic.

Plus, I am constantly amazed by the humble cashew.  What can’t this little nut do?  Cashews = food chameleons.

Finally, making this taught me a bit about patience.  I don’t have much of it and when I cook, I like to keep things moving, see results, work on the next component.  The fact that my food processor is small made me have to work cautiously and in small batches.  I was forced to slow down instead of tossing everything in at once.  It actually was quite good for me to experience.  To have it pay off in the end was highly rewarding.

A Favorite Soothing Recipe: Slow Cooked Cabbage with Paprika and Noodles

You know those weeks that just wear you down?  Those weeks where by Friday at 2pm, you’re kinda’ cranky, sorta’ grumbly, and hella’ worn out?

Yeah, me, too.

cabbage on plate - 2 - edited

They happen.  They’re part of life and that’s okay.  When they come around, I can tell you that one of my favorite and most effective ways of dealing with them is to make this dish.  But, I must make this dish in a particular way.  It goes something like this:

Step 1: Crank up some music.  I recommend music that is easy to dance around to in the kitchen and can be sung along with.  My favorites for this scenario are: Amanda Palmer and Caro Emerald.  I dump the albums into a playlist on my computer, turn on shuffle, and click play.  Out from my speakers then comes big, strong female vocals with stellar music and lyrics.  I also recommend vintage rat-pack era playlists on Songza (Sinatra and his buddies) for this purpose.

Step 2:  Pour yourself a glass of wine.  I almost exclusively drink red and prefer Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone (in case you feel like sending me a bottle!).

Step 3.  Gather ingredients for below meal and begin chopping.

cabbage cooking - 1 - edited

Step 4:  Follow cooking instructions below, while taking plenty of time to swirl your glass of wine, sip at it frequently, shimmy around the kitchen, and burst into song with whatever verses most compel you to release your inner vocalist.

Step 5:  Lower music and gather around to eat finished meal with company of your choice.  Let the comforting, warm flavors continue to help you unwind and welcome the weekend.

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Slow Cooked Cabbage with Paprika and Noodles

Adapted from The Local Cook

Serves 6

Ingredients: cabbage bowl - 3 - edited

* 4 tblpns light butter or Earth Balance

* 1 large yellow onion, diced

* 2-3 tblspns Hungarian paprika

* 1 large head of green cabbage, shredded

* heavy sprinking of kosher salt, to taste

* 12 ounces of no-yolk egg noodles (or vegan noodle of your choice)

* 3/4 cup frozen green peas

* black pepper and/or red pepper flakes for serving

Directions:

1.  In a dutch oven (preferable) or large pot, melt butter or Earth balance over medium heat

2. Add the diced onion and saute until very soft, about 10 minutes or so.  Take your time with this and let the onion really cook slowly.

3. Add 2 tblspns paprika and stir well, so that the onions are coated.

4. Add shredded cabbage and a good couple pinches of salt.  Stir well until the cabbage, onions, and paprika are well mixed.  Take a look at this point, if your cabbage is not well coated with paprika, add up to one tablespoon more until it is.

5. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and cook slowly for 60-75 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is cooked very soft.

6. When the cabbage is nearly done, go ahead and cook your noodles according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

7. Add peas and cooked noodles to the cabbage and stir to incorporate.  Cook 3-4 minutes, until all items are heated through. (Note: If you have an anti-pea person in your home, you can heat up the peas separately and add them to individual servings.)

8. Serve with pepper of your choice for a bit of kick to contrast the sweetness of the paprika.

Recipe: Apricot Muffins (Not, I Repeat NOT Grape Leaves)

I was going to present to you photos and writings about beautiful grape leaves.  Bright, flavorful grape leaves that had been lovingly stuffed, rolled, and cooked over low heat in a slow cooker for several hours before being presented and served as part of a delicious Mediterranean dinner.

Instead you’re getting muffins.

Apricot Muffin trio 5

You shouldn’t be disappointed because these are really good muffins.  I, however, am slightly disappointed because I was really excited about grape leaves.

But I suppose sometimes we all fall prey to kitchen disasters and my grape leaves were a casualty.  I started making them on a day that had been a bit rough for me.  I was feeling frustrated and cranky and worn out.  It happens.

Anyway, I was looking forward to the meditative act of cooking and set to it.  In my funky state, however, I got so caught up in rinsing, patting dry, and de-stemming each individual grape leaf that I didn’t pay proper attention to the filling mixture that was cooking away on the stove-top.  Needless to say when I checked on it, it was too late.  Burnt rice is nobody’s friend.

Thanks to Trader Joe’s being about a minute away from my apartment, I managed to still serve a full dinner by adding on some pre-made TJ’s appetizers to the rest of the food that I was making (my fattoosh salad, homemade paprika-spiced hummus, and pita bread), but my cooking pride took a hit nonetheless.

Apricot Muffin with jam

The next day, I needed to redeem myself, so muffins happened.  This muffin recipe is adapted from a cookbook that I borrowed from my local library.  Loads of tasty looking things live in this cookbook, by the way, and I was certainly pleased about how these turned out.  I am a huge fan of the texture of these muffins, as well as the minimal sugar content.  If you like them sweeter, you can certainly add additional agave or a bit of sugar (I would recommend turbinado or light brown sugar), but I also found that spreading a bit of apricot preserves on them before eating finished them off nicely.

Enjoy them for breakfast or an afternoon snack.  Or, as the cookbook originally suggested, with a cup of tea.  Just please make sure you are feeling quite proper and sophisticated if you enjoy them with tea.  Tea tastes best that way.

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Apricot Muffins

Adapted from The Karma Chow Cookbook

Makes 12 muffins

 

Ingredients: Apricot Muffin with knife 3

1 ½ cups White Whole Wheat Flour

1 ½ tspn baking powder

1 tspn baking soda

½ tspn salt (kosher or sea salt)

1 ½ tspn ground cinnamon

½ tspn ground nutmeg

3 tblspns coconut oil, melted

3 tblspns unsweetened apple sauce

½ cup apricot preserves, jam, or spread (sweetened or unsweetened, per your preference    – I used sweetened because it’s what I had on hand)

¼ cup agave nectar (if you used unsweetened preserves, you may want to add a bit more)

½ cup milk of your choice (I used non-dairy milk – Pacific 7-Grain)

2 tspns vanilla extract

2 tblspns egg replacer + 6 tblspns water, mixed (or 2 eggs if you prefer)

½ cup dried apricots, chopped into bits

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray your muffin tins (you will need 12 muffin cups) with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine melted coconut oil, applesauce, apricot spread, agave nectar, milk, vanilla, and egg replacer or eggs.  Whisk together until ingredients are incorporated.  (Tip: melt, measure and add in your coconut oil last to prevent it from hardening while you prepare the other ingredients) 
  4. Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients.  Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir together to combine all ingredients.  Stir until smooth.  Then, pour in chopped apricots and stir together just a few more times to distribute apricot chunks.
  5. Distribute your batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups (approximately ¼ cup of batter per muffin).  Bake 16-20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick is inserted and comes out clean.
  6. Place muffin tins on a wire rack to begin to cool for 3-5 minutes.  Then, remove muffins and let cool completely on a wire rack.

These muffins can be enjoyed just as they are, drizzled with agave or honey, or topped with additional fruit preserves (I tried them all the ways!).

 

 

Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . To Heal and To Fuel – #5

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

 

I absolutely eat for enjoyment and pleasure.  I love food, after all.  I eat things that taste good and make my taste buds happy.  None of this, however, means that I sacrifice nutrition.  The combination of getting older and discovering my inner long-distance runner has made eating food that nourishes me critically important in my life.  I need to eat food that is delicious – but I also need to eat food that provides sustenance, energy, and valuable nutrients.

Cucumber Sandwich at The Hazel Room

While I was once fairly oblivious to my body’s needs, I have worked to become in tune with them now, and it’s amazing how much my body will tell me when I listen to it.  Instead of making food decisions based solely on what is in front of me and what my pleasure sensors encourage me to snap up, I now make choices that are much more well-informed and in tune with my body’s needs.

With all of this in mind, I want to talk about food for healing and fuel both from my perspective as a burgeoning endurance athlete, but also just as an ‘average’ person with a desire to live a generally healthy life.  Certainly, the running side of me has nutritional needs that may be fairly specific, but I truly believe the values and concepts are fundamentally the same for athletes and non-athletes alike.  Even if I never ran another mile (yikes – that hurts to even think about!), I would still want to be as healthy as I can.  If I have the ability to ward off illness and disease, why the heck wouldn’t I?

Eating to heal – as a runner:

When it comes to healing, I truly believe in the power of food.  As a runner starting to train for my first marathon, I need food that is going to promote repair and regeneration within my body.  Each time I push myself to increase my long run mileage, fervently engage in plyometrics or strength training, or complete high-intensity speed work, my body breaks down a little.  Healing and recovery after those workouts are crucial and I know that what I eat matters above all else in this regard.

Eating a post-workout meal designed to feed my muscles and joints plenty of healthy carbohydratess, proteins, fats, and loads of vitamins and minerals is crucial.  I have (at times) adhered to this plan well and (at other times) ignored it completely.  I have most definitely noticed the difference.  The speed and quality of healing and recovery is evident when I eat nutritiously.  My body feels all that much stronger, all that much faster.  I experience less soreness, stiffness, and inflammation.  This all results in less turn-around time needed between training sessions, less injury, less muscle fatigue, and continued training that is safe, effective, and high in quality.

Chopped Veggies

Eating to heal – as an ‘average’ gal:

Running aside, food is frequently at work healing me.  And, possibly more importantly, it prevents me from needing much healing in the first place.  On a small scale, this is clear when I’m under the weather.  Eating vitamin-rich foods when I start to feel run-down and sniffly is incredibly effective in providing my system the nourishment it needs to recharge and heal.

Since I’ve changed my eating habits, I’m rarely ill.  I battle allergies at times, but true illness happens much, much less often than in my devil-may-care style eating days.  There is incredible research that shows the benefits of certain foods (unprocessed or minimally processed, of course) to prevent major illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and dementia.  If a small amount of extra time and money spent now prevents hospital stays, medical bills, loss of independence, and a shortened life span in the future, you bet I believe that the extra time and effort put into my diet is also warding off more minor ailments, as well.  There were loads of seasonal colds and flus flying around my office in the last couple of months at my office and I am happy to say that I have seemed to avoided the worst of it.

Eating to fuel – as a runner:

Just like I need to heal and recover as a runner, I need to GO.  To MOVE.  When I first started running, I naively didn’t think too much about what I ate and when. Of course, I wasn’t run very long or far at that time, so the relationship between these two wasn’t immediately clear, but that sure changed over time!

Now I can’t imagine heading out for a long run (anywhere between 13-17 miles for me currently) without adequate nutrition.  A Picky Bar is my fuel of choice.  It’s a perfect combination of nutrients and energy to get me going and not upset my stomach.  But in reality, proper nutrition working to fuel my runs happens around the clock, not just 30-60 minutes before I head out the door.  It’s all so clear. If I’ve had a drink or two the night before, I’m inevitably dehydrated during the run.  If I haven’t eaten enough, I’m quickly fatigued and my legs feel like lead.  Too few carbohydrates during the day and I have no kick in my step at all.  Watching the patterns develop between my dietary choices and my running performance with such consistency leaves me with no doubt that making the ‘right’ choices for fuel is crucial for performance (and enjoyment) as a runner.

Biscuit, jam, and coffee

Eating to fuel – as an ‘average’ gal:

I’ve heard people say that because they’re not very active, they don’t need to worry about ‘fuel’ or specific energy gains from food.  I’ve also heard these same people say that they’re often tired, that they feel hungry even though they’ve just had a meal, and that they feel distracted and unfocused at specific times of day.  Daily diet is often a culprit in these issues.

Whether you run a marathon, you ride your bike to work, or you walk little more then to get from your car to the couch, you still need the right combination and amount of nutrients to get you through – that is, at least, to get you through it without feeling miserable.  Life is taxing.  You don’t have to be super active for that to be true.  Even at my most sedentary, it’s a glaring truth.  When I eat too much salt, I wake up with puffy eyes and hands.  Yep.  It’s true and it’s not pretty.  When I don’t eat a balanced lunch, I am a scatterbrained mess around 3pm.  And, I just can no longer function without breakfast.  I get light-headed and cranky.  You do not want to be around me if I am denied a healthy, fresh breakfast to start my day – just take my word for that.

If you are aware of your own patterns with nutrition, healing, and energy, I commend you!  If you’re not, I really encourage you to spend some time paying attention to it.  Tracking your food, your moods and energy levels for a few weeks can be an incredibly insightful experiment.

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 Previous Entries in This Series:

#4 – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen

#3 – Why I Eat . . . Plants!

#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence

#1 – Why I Eat  . . . Thoughtfully

Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen – #4

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

 

I’ve read often how so very many Americans are overfed and undernourished.  I can absolutely understand this.

I used to eat out a lot.  A LOT.  Well, actually, let me clarify that, I used to eat food that didn’t come from my own kitchen a lot.  I ate in restaurants, in my car, and sometimes at home, of course, but the meals didn’t originate there.  It generally arrived via the delivery person or was transported home after being picked up at a drive-thru.  Various factors contributed to this habit.  I was busy, sure.  I was tired, too.  I suffered from a severe lack of confidence in the kitchen.  I barely knew how to boil pasta, let alone cook a complete meal.  Nutrition rarely crossed my mind in these days and my flavor palette had been co-opted by Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Sonic’s dessert menu.

Cookbooks

Eating out had its benefits, of course.  It was fast and convenient.  It could sometimes be cheap (if you don’t know how far $5 can go at Taco Bell, you’ve missed an important lesson in life).  Alternately, it could be indulgent when I wanted it to be (a nice table, waiters bringing me whatever I order, and never having to get up to re-fill my own glass is a pretty good time, after all).  It was familiar and comforting, harkening me back to trips to Burger King with my grandma.  Plus, I couldn’t fail at it.  I mean if the French fries were burnt, that disaster landed squarely on the shoulders of the good folks at Wendy’s.

But, as I’m sure you know, all of this convenience and food delivery bliss had costs, too.  While it could be cheap, it often wasn’t.  There are only so many .99 cent cheeseburgers a girl can eat before she wants a fancy bowl of pasta.  The money flying out of my budget on food costs really knocked me for a loop.  Before being the diligent budget tracker that I am now, I was turning a blind eye to the hundreds upon hundreds of dollars being handed over to those who prepared my meals each night.

Another cost of this fly-by-night, eat on the run lifestyle included developing a really unhealthy love/hate relationship with food.  I was in LOVE with that box of donuts as I they pretended to be my perfect dinner all the way home, but I HATED them about 10 minutes afterwards, when my stomach felt sick from a combination of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and overindulgent-food guilt.  I didn’t have self-control, so I ate ALL the donuts or nothing at all.  I ate the ENTIRE super-sized quarter-pounder meal or nothing at all.  Not one single aspect of this cycle was wise or cost-effective.  It was damaging and had high costs.

I also paid for these food choices with a disconnect to what I was eating.  Rarely did I really enjoy a meal.  I seldom actually tasted exciting flavors and enjoyed sharing a meal with others.  I was too busy.  Too gluttonous.  Too quick to do more than eat and run.  I was pretty numb to the process.  I was full of food – too full of food most of the time – and incredibly undernourished (both literally and figuratively).

Recipe Cards

When I started eating meals at home, this began to change.  Slowly at first, with meals that were hardly REALLY homemade (rice-a-roni, anyone?), but small food changes were beginning to shake things up.  Even sitting down to a bowl of pasta with a jar of Ragu tossed on top began to change my relationship to food.  Pretty soon, I tinkered with the Ragu.  I added extra peppers or sautéed some garlic into the sauce.  Before I knew it, I would just make the darn sauce myself!  My cooking skills were growing, and with them, came a deeper understanding of flavors and techniques.  I watched cooking shows.  I read food blogs.  I began to figure stuff out for myself and my culinary savvy was starting to flow.

I’m still not the type to whip up a meal completely on my own, with no other guidance.  I usually find a recipe, make changes to my liking and go from there.  But, it’s a big change.  In my home, I eat homemade meals for dinner pretty much every single night of the week.  I take the leftovers to work for lunch.  Even breakfast, though simple, is something taken to work from my own kitchen.  Healthy grainy bread, natural almond butter, maybe a homemade muffin I baked over the weekend.

Meals out now are generally saved for two occasions: special events or celebrations and Sunday morning brunch.  The latter is just a fairly new tradition that I quite enjoy – a time to honor the luxury of eating out, rather than take it for granted.  Otherwise, I’m eating food I know.  Food I purchased with consideration and prepared with care.  I enjoy it more, I can tell you that.  I get to dedicate time to it and share it with others whose company I enjoy.  I taste it more deeply, now that my flavor palate has been freed from the restrictions it had for many years.  My budget doesn’t terrify me in quite the same way it once did.  My runner’s body finds it nourishing, and my health is tremendously thankful for it.  Plus, I’m probably a much safer driver now, too.  You know, now that I’m not distracted by searching for every last French fry in my bag as I navigate the streets!  So, there’s always that.

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Previous Entries in This Series:

#3 – Why I Eat . . . Plants!

#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence

#1 –   Why I Eat  . . . Thoughtfully

A Healthy Reminder: There Is No Magic Answer

I came across this article this morning and I knew I had to share it here.  My personal beliefs about healthy eating (this includes, but is not limited to, being at a healthy weight) have been informed by loads of research, learning, and personal experience.  Ultimately, I firmly believe that there is no magic answer, so to speak, to creating a solid nutritional base and reaching your own personal healthy weight.

So often we are sold special diets as products, we are given partial truths from studies in order to push a new way of eating and thinking, causing consumers to run to the markets, filling their baskets and carts with the ‘healthy’ food of the moment and discarding what they are told is the new enemy (i.e. fat, carbs, sugar).

My approach to nutrition is firmly rooted in the understanding that our bodies need real (i.e. unprocessed or at least minimally processed) food and a balance of various nutrients from a variety of foods.  We need protein, carbohydrates, and fats.  This article presents a clear perspective on one recent ‘health’ trend and why eliminating one key nutrient in order to create an excess of another is not the way to go.

So if you have a moment, check out this article here and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Tuesday!