The Highest Form of Self-Care
Do you engage in self-care? There are many ways to engage in self-care with or without indulgence. What does self-care look like for you? Is it a manicure or pedicure? A walk with your dog? Lunch with a friend? Daily coffee from your favorite shop? Nourishing your soul comes in many forms and, if you are like me, that nourishment varies day to day. Let me ask you this: have you ever considered cooking a meal for yourself or your family an act of self-care? In my mind, self-care starts here. It starts with the conscious decision to invest in your overall wellbeing.
“Wait a minute! I don’t have time to cook” you say. Okay, but just a moment ago you nodded “yes” to making time for the occasional mani-pedi, regular coffee stops and lunches with friends. Social media is another way many of us choose to decompress and escape. If these things are nurturing to you, then I am not suggesting you stop doing them. Everything we engage in requires our time and attention. Each day we make choices and set our priorities. Saying you do not have the time to do this or that is an admission that whatever you did not have time to do was a lower priority for you.
When I think of self-care, I think about experiences that are relaxing and take me away from distracting thoughts and burdens. Being present in the preparation and cooking of a meal can do just that. Have you ever surrendered stressful thoughts while washing lettuce? Or have you lost yourself in the rhythmic motion of chopping a carrot? Or noticed the total relaxation you feel when you inhale the scent of a perfectly ripened peach before biting or cutting into it? These moments are only the beginning of the self-care experience when you prepare a meal. Making time for these experiences can be as fulfilling as other acts of self-care; the benefits you reap last longer as is evident in improved health, energy and vitality.
When I talk about cooking for yourself, I mean cooking a dish, from scratch, with the best ingredients you can afford. This is where the genuine act of self-care comes into play. It is not just the act of preparing the food that is nourishing; it is being in control of the ingredients that empowers us to do better for ourselves, and to feel better after we eat it. When you prepare the meal, you get to choose the type of oil and how much; the amount of salt and other seasonings; and the quantities of each ingredient you select. These choices may seem daunting at first, but a little planning ahead takes the stress out of meal prep. I understand that food seems complicated and that the messages about what is healthy and what is not are often mixed, but if you cook for yourself with whole foods, you will seldom go wrong.
Remember when you lost yourself in the rhythmic chopping of the carrot? Now it is time to get lost in aromas, textures and flavors as you sit down to the meal you created. To experience self-care, the task need not be fancy, nor does it need to take a lot of time. You can put a great meal on the table with fewer than ten ingredients in 30 minutes. The practice of utilizing your creativity in the kitchen instills a sense of pride, and is both satisfying and contagious. Cooking for yourself is an unapologetic affirmation that you are worth it, accountable for your health, and the best person to decide what your body needs. It is about self-love. Whole foods that you select and prepare with minimal additives give you more energy, help you lose weight, and improve your overall health.
It takes a keen awareness to realize what processed foods are doing to us. These foods lack the nutrient density we need to sustain us throughout the day. Even the products that claim to be “healthy, reduced fat, low salt, homemade, fresh, and minimally processed” have ingredient lists longer than your arm. Further, processed foods are chemically manipulated to encourage us to overeat; they hijack our neurotransmitters, specifically our pleasure centers, while offering little nutritional value. The result is high-calorie intake with low energy density. We are satisfied only temporarily before our body cries out for more.
Sugar, salt and unhealthy fats (trans and saturated) taste good going down, but how do they make you feel once you have eaten these foods? Have you ever wondered what the long-term impact on your health, from regular consumption, will be? All you need to do is look at your fellow Americans to answer this question. We are sicker than we have ever been with ailments that are more complicated. Our vital organs are being clogged and taxed by the foods that make our lives convenient in the short term. Food processors and restaurant chains are smart, but you can be smarter.
You can love yourself enough to say “no” to someone else’s handiwork. You can love yourself enough to read labels and recognize that if you cannot pronounce one or more of the ingredients, it probably isn’t your best choice. You can love yourself enough to connect with your food by preparing it just how you like it. And you can love yourself enough to recognize that being in control of your food is to be in control of your health.
Without question, the best person to take care of your health is neither food processors nor restaurants nor your doctor; it’s YOU. A significant part of self-care is trusting your intuition about what you need at any given moment. Listen to what your body is telling you. It just might be begging you to head to the nearest produce aisle. Recipe inspiration can be found in a variety of places. Whether it be a book, the internet, a recommendation from a friend or something you dreamed up in your head. Opportunities for self-care abound in this process. I encourage you to experiment and have fun.
Tips for success:
- Plan ahead: find a recipe or two that appeals to you and shop for the ingredients. Alternatively, check the weekly specials ad at your favorite grocery store and see what ingredients are on sale. Then find or create a recipe that will make use of the ingredients you intend to purchase.
- Baby Steps: if meal planning and cooking from scratch are not a regular part of your life, then planning one or two meals per week is a great place to start. Follow your regular routine on the off nights so you do not feel overwhelmed.
- Focus on one meal: is it breakfast, lunch or dinner that you want to change up?
- Be mindful: think about how you feel after the meal you prepare vs. the food you are used to eating. Are you satisfied? Which meal makes you feel fuller for longer? Do you notice a difference in your energy level?
Don’t Know How to Cook? Need a Refresher? No problem!
Check out the websites of your local community center or community college for possible low-cost classes. Also, doing a web search will give you a lot of different options in your area. Most importantly, if you have never taken a knife skills class, I highly recommend them. Knowing how to use a knife well is the difference between enjoying meal prep and hating it. The more efficient you become, the faster you can put a meal on the table. Bon Appetite!
I am so excited to share with you some of the information I have recently learned in my Seasonal Cooking class. It was a great exploration of fresh, seasonal food during this time of bright colors, incredible flavors, sunshine and inspiration. We shopped at different farmer’s markets around the city and subsequently were exposed to a variety of farmer’s, changing produce and a view of the abundance of the land we have right here in Portland’s back yard.
Eating locally is important for a variety of reasons. By doing so we are helping our local economy, cutting down on fuel and transportation costs, reducing packaging waste, creating a real connection to our food by interacting with farmers, educating ourselves about how we can grow our own food and source more locally year-round, and, above all, we are experiencing flavors that are beyond compare.
When food looks and tastes this good, it inspires us to want to prepare it in the best way possible. At this time of year, the preparation is minimal because the freshness needs and wants to speak for itself. Per your request, I have created a menu for you that can be served for your family or for guests. It is simple to prepare and beautiful to present. Most importantly, it will make you look like a rock star in the eyes of those who are lucky enough to participate in this meal.
Sliced melon topped with peaches, nectarines and plums with honey, lime vinaigrette and sliced basil garnish
Grilled True Cod
Grilled true cod topped with homemade pesto served over a bed of sliced tomatoes, and corn, onion and thyme sauté
Triple Berry Tart
Blueberry, raspberry and blackberry tart served with freshly whipped cream
Your winter version of this menu would be. . .
Pear and dried cranberry Salad with orange vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts
Pan Roasted True Cod
Pan roasted true cod served over a bed of curried lentils with root vegetables
Apple Crisp or Tart
Homemade apple crisp served with vanilla ice cream
Note: While I chose true cod as the signature fish, you can certainly substitute rock fish, ling cod or halibut. Any of these can work and will give you flexibility when you see what the fish market has in season. Yes, fish have seasons, too!
I promise that while these dishes sound elegant, they are truly simple to prepare. Chopping is the most time intensive part of the meal. In the summer, we don’t want to turn on the heat of the stove or grill for long which is the beauty of these recipes. In the winter, we are more willing to stand over the stove for a bit longer. Things cook more slowly and can be left alone to do so while you are prepping other parts of the meal.
These recipes are flexible and can be made ahead. For example, make the pesto when you have the time and the ingredients. I freeze my pesto in flexible, silicone mini muffin molds so I can have the perfect serving size to pop out and defrost when I need it. Also both desserts have make ahead components. For the tart, you can make the dough a day ahead and bake it in the morning before it gets too hot. Similar with the apple dessert; you can always bake it ahead of time, and rewarm it just before serving.
For additional inspiration, I encourage you to check out the books and website listed below.
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman is the man. He is a prolific recipe creating dynamo who delivers easy to understand and prepare recipes with great results. I have a few of his books. I love his simplicity and no nonsense approach to food and cooking.
- Anything written by Alice Waters. Alice is the Queen of seasonal cooking. We have her to thank for the seasonal cooking movement which has been embraced by chefs across the country. Alice’s philosophy, advocacy and teaching started school gardens in her community and inspired the movement that is taking hold across the country. She is a pioneer to be revered and someone from whom we can all learn.
- Check out The Kitchn’s cooking school website:
This is an indispensable resource for teaching or refreshing cooking techniques. Clear and easy to follow, they offer great recipes to help you practice the technique. Following their simple steps will give you more confidence in the kitchen. I know that I will return to this resource regularly for reminders and inspiration.
Next week we will plan to go to the farmer’s market together. I will walk you through some other key things that I learned from my market experiences. My big take away has been to let the market tell me what to eat rather than going in with a set-in-stone plan. For example, if we can’t find corn, then we can substitute zucchini and the dish will still be amazing.
Learning from the market teaches us about what the land is prepared to give to sustain us. When we pay attention, and truly think about what we are eating, we realize that nature knows best. This is life changing stuff. Being mindful that the earth has provided for us, long before Nabisco, Kraft and friends arrived on the scene, is important. We deserve better. Cooking for yourself and embracing the seasons is an affirmation that “I am worth it” and will steer you toward the health you seek.
Sarah B. Reynolds, MScN
Food for Thought – A Food Blog
Bananas are a staple in our house year-round. In the summer, however, they go from green to overripe in a nano-second. What to do? Make banana bread, of course! The following recipe is one I share with great pride. It is my healthier version of an oldie but goody from Marion Cunningham’s The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I love Fannie Farmer for her simplicity and her solid results. My version, while no longer as simple in ingredients, has more complex flavor and is infinitely more satisfying.
In making this quick bread, the leavening agent is baking soda. Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, works best in acidic environments. Both the banana and the applesauce (in my version) are mildly acidic which allows the baking soda, in conjunction with the heat of the oven, to create CO2 gas in the batter. This reaction creates steam, and the batter begins to rise.
The baking soda begins reacting the minute the ingredients are combined in the bowl. For maximum CO2 benefit, the mixture will need to be put in the preheated oven immediately. Doing so will create the risen product as well as the tender crumb you are seeking.
Banana Nut Bread:
2 C All-purpose flour
3/4 C Sugar
1 tsp Baking soda
1 tsp Salt
2 Large eggs
3 Ripe bananas, mashed
½ C Walnuts, chopped
1 C Whole wheat pastry flour
¾ C Almond meal
¼ C Nutivia Superfood* (oat bran or wheat germ are also substitutes)
¼ C Organic unbleached sugar
1 tsp Baking soda
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp Ground cinnamon
3 Ripe bananas, mashed
2 Large eggs
¼ C Applesauce
½ C Date crumbles
*Note: Nutivia Superfood is a blend of ground chia, flax and hemp seeds and coconut. It is a delicious addition of Omega-3’s, protein, and fiber. Due to the water absorbing qualities of flax seed, adding more than a ¼ C of this product would result in a dry crumb.
Nutrition Information: Changing the flour from all-purpose to whole wheat pastry keeps the protein about the same but increases the fiber by 3 grams/ ¼ cup. Additionally, whole wheat flour has B vitamins, vitamin E, copper, manganese and magnesium. Almond meal also adds protein, vitamin E, manganese and copper.
Sugar content: in analyzing the added sugar alone, the original recipe had 162 grams of sugar in the ¾ C measurement. In my version, I factored the sugar and the dates as my sweeteners. The ¼ C of sugar adds 54 grams while the dates add 46.5 grams for a total of 100.5 grams of sugar. In addition to the benefit of the lower sugar content, rather than serving up straight sucrose, as the original recipe does, my version, with the addition of the dates, has the added benefit of fiber, B vitamins, vitamins A and K, copper, magnesium, manganese and potassium.
Step 1: Place oven rack in the center. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Measure all ingredients before you begin combining them.
Step 2: Measure all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
Step 3: Whisk to combine.
Step 4: In a separate bowl, mash bananas, add eggs and applesauce. Whisk to combine.
Step 5: Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir gently. Do not overmix.
Step 6: Add dates and gently fold in.
Step 7: Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes.
Step 8: Let cool in pan for about 10 minutes before inverting loaf onto wire rack to cool completely,
Serve with butter or cream cheese. Enjoy!