I remember a few years ago having a text conversation with someone while I was cooking dinner. I was having a rough day, mentally and emotionally speaking, and was trying to explain to my friend why cooking dinner was helping. "It's my therapy," I finally wrote. "I find it helps to settle my mind, the repetition of chopping and measuring, stirring and mixing calms me down and makes me feel better. It puts my head in a more settled state. I can make clearer decisions".
This statement probably won't resonate if you're not a cook, if putting dinner on the table is a chore right up there with scrubbing toilets or mirrors, and that's ok. But for those of you out there who "get" me, those of you who find a simmering pot of something savoury a comforting and peaceful thing to enjoy making, know that we are not alone in this.
There have been studies done to confirm why this is so, apparently. And it boils down to something called "behavioral activation", according to this article.
The next time you're having a rough day and find yourself cooking something to settle your mind, know that you're not alone. I'm probably doing the same thing, too.
Until next time, friends!
Fall in central Alberta means crunchy leaves and crisp evenings. It's not quite winter but you can feel it in the air. The geese rise up suddenly from the river, honking their way overhead as they travel to warmer climates, and you realize suddenly that as quickly as it came, it's on its way out.
Fall in Alberta means apples and cinnamon, pumpkin spice, roasting turkey, and cheerful cups of steaming hot chocolate while warming up from an evening stroll. It's heart-to-heart quiet conversations with friends and shared meals. It's getting ready to settle down for the cold embrace of winter.
Last weekend I spent some time walking as the sun was setting. It was beautiful, and I was grateful to see it before the snowfall over Sunday night. While the eastern half of Canada still sits in summer weather, we're back to winter already. This morning, for example, windchill makes it feel like -12!
Over Thanksgiving weekend I cooked a chunky applesauce in my slow cooker alongside the turkey dinner, and now I get to enjoy applesauce for a few days. It smelled delicious cooking and cooked down beautifully. If someone gave you apples from a backyard tree, this is the perfect way to use them up. If not, use whatever apples you've got and see how it goes!
Enjoy your week, friends.
I love soup so much, you will seldom see a meal plan of mine that doesn't include at least one dinner made up of a soup of some sort.
And the leftovers...soup leftovers make me happy too. For one thing, they seem to taste better the second or third day. And you can always pair them up with a sandwich or salad and have another dinner or hot, quick, and satisfying lunch. It freezes beautifully, too, which makes me happy because then it means I've got some meal starters in my freezer.
I love soup because it can be as fancy or simple as you'd like. Soup doesn't require a recipe, most of the time, and it's a fantastic way to use up bits and pieces of ingredients that need a meal to be useful, which also means it's an economical thing to cook at the end of the food in your fridge and pantry.
However, my family doesn't love soup. It used to be the only way I could get my second son to eat a balanced meal- if it was in soup, he'd eat it. Now, however, he's older and wiser and realizes he doesn't like soup very much. Putting soup on the meal plan twice this week is a big gamble, but I'm hopeful that because one of the soups is from my freezer and new to them it will be tolerated, the best outcome I can hope for with this family.
I've been making adjustments to my love for soup against the preferences of my family, and I have come to the realization that if I turn my favourite soup flavours into a one-pot skillet meal they will eat it. It seems to be the broth they object to. Last week I made minestrone minus all the lovely broth and both boys gobbled it up without a word of complaint. I can add as much broth as I like to make my own brothy bowl, the way I like it best. This week I aim to take the leftovers from my curry soup and turn it into a potato casserole of some kind. I will keep you posted.
How can you marry the food you love with the disdain of your family in a way that makes everyone happy? Feel free to let me know!
I'm just a message away if you're looking to make happier changes in your meal times!
Enjoy your week, friends!
It's not a cold.
If you haven't had the flu, it's impossible to imagine that you can feel that bad. And I've had the flu before, but I'd forgotten just how bad.
Having just gone through the worst of it and coming out the other side, I can tell you it is really awful. There's no way you can have the flu and not know it.
I'm sure each strain is a little different and effects everyone a little differently, but mine started with a headache. I kept it at bay for several days but after a sleepless night it came roaring in...congestion, whole body aches, and then the fever- that fever that just kept going up and up, and stayed there. I spent literally an entire day in bed, and then most of the next as well. Today's day 5 of symptoms, and I'm still not well enough to go to work or do much housework of any kind. This illness requires time and rest to recover. We'll see how long that process takes.
For a complete discussion on the Flu, check out this article.
In the meantime, I wanted to share some practical real-life tips for meal planning and cooking ahead. Doing that helped us survive the flu, because there was literally no way I could have cooked beyond pushing a button on the microwave.
1. Double your Meals.
Some foods are meant to be pulled out of the freezer and used in a pinch, and these are the ones to double. Think versatile.
My favourite one this time was meatloaf. I haven't been hungry, but since everyone got sick at different times, there were hungry people needing food. The best part about meatloaf is you can slice it into sandwiches or chunk it to be eaten with steamed vegetables and toast or tossed into a bowl of broth- the versatility that doesn't require a lot of effort earned it a gold star from me this time around.
2. Don't forget the Soup.
So here's the thing...I had no soup in the freezer. I had tons of stock, but no soup made already, and that was entirely too much effort for me. I had people wish me well and say things like "good thing you know how to make good soup!"- which I do, but the irony of getting this sick is the inability to put a meal together. A simple soup was simply too much. When you make soup try to put some aside in easy-to-thaw containers in small portions so you can just push a button on the microwave and have something nourishing to eat.
3. Batch Cook Proteins.
If you cook a roast- beef, pork, turkey, whatever- keep some meat aside in portions that are easily used and sliced exactly as we did with the meatloaf. It may be a simple thing to pull a bag of cooked chicken out of the freezer and eat it like that but at least it's food, and a nutritious one at that.
4. Score points with Casseroles.
I had a brick of shepherds pie frozen for just such a time, and I didn't pull it out the night before or have any sort of pre-thought about it at all. Instead, the oven got turned on to 350*F, it got covered with foil and sat on a cookie sheet in the oven. Eventually it warmed all the way through and got hot enough to eat, and it was big enough there was enough of that for 2 days of meals.
5. Order in.
Normally eating out is not the most nutritious food, especially when you're sick. But if you need to, just do it. And don't feel guilty. We ordered pizza last night, having exhausted all our frozen food. And I picked up a big batch of that Pacific Rim soup from OJ's when my husband was fevered so he had some hot soup to eat in between fever spikes.
6. Ask for help- and if it's offered, accept it.
A new friend asked me if she could make me some congee. I've never had it, but I was happy to say yes. It was such a sweet gesture and a welcome gift. And she made muffins for my family, too, and added a huge bag of citrus fruit for us as well. I'm eternally grateful.
Do what you can when you are well to help yourself when you aren't. Because I had no idea I'd be too sick to even make soup- it's hard to fathom being that unwell when you feel fine.
Until next time, friends, enjoy your day and stay warm...and well.
I haven't done a lot of research on the history or background of this soup. A friend of mine suggested I make turkey pho with my turkey leftovers one year, and I haven't looked back.
This recipe helped return us to more healthy meals after the over-indulgence of Christmas, and was the perfect comfort food when my husband caught the flu. It provides plenty of fluid, lots of vegetables, and is gentle to digest.
Like many recipes, I think this one leaves a lot of room open for individualization. It reminded me of the Sunday soup I used to make in college, where I'd open the fridge and use up whatever I had ready to cook.
I cooked the noodles in my soup rather than separately not only to help flavour them, but also because I didn't want to add more dishes then necessary to my washing up pile.
My recipe may not be exactly traditional, but I enjoyed making it and we enjoyed eating it.
8 c good quality chicken stock
6 c assorted chopped fresh vegetables
4 garlic cloves. minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp anise seeds
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1-2 c sliced chicken or turkey
handful of rice noodles
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp coconut oil
Lime slices, garnish
Bean sprouts, garnish
Fresh cilantro, mint, and green onions
Fresh ginger, garnish (optional)
Melt coconut oil and add onions. Saute until translucent. Add garlic and stir in spices. When beginning to brown, add fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Mix well, and add warmed stock. Bring to a boil. Add noodles and vegetables, and bring back to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender crisp. Add turkey, stir to combine, and remove from heat.
Before serving, stir in chopped handfuls of fresh cilantro, mint, and green onions, or sprinkle over each serving. Add bean sprouts and lime slices.
Serve with freshly grated ginger, freshly ground salt and pepper if desired.
This week I'm playing with the Thai Basil that I am growing in my herb garden. We're going to run a late #testkitchen this week (today rather than yesterday if all goes well!), making Thai salad rolls for dinner tonight and a Vietnamese noodle soup with chicken and vegetables for dinner tomorrow.
But why bother? Why change to a different kind of basil? Why not stick with the old one that is known and loved?
Over the years I've observed there are 2 basic kinds of eaters in the world: people who can eat the same thing all the time and be perfectly content, and people who want to eat different things all the time and rarely eat the same thing twice. I don't think either extreme is healthy or sustainable. In our family, we encourage a bit of both for a few different reasons:
By now you all are used to me talking about incorporating a variety of different colours into your food but we don't usually emphasize reasons for different flavours. I'm going to hone in on one reason this morning: "...waking up your taste buds".
Raising a family of picky children with a husband who came pretty picky himself has been a journey for us. At the beginning of parenting small children I was completely unprepared for picky eaters. The idea of it was as foreign to me as living in full darkness half a year. When I was a child, if my mom put food in front of me, I ate it. To be suddenly faced with gagging, vomiting, tears, and the rest was bewildering.
However, I firmly believe food should not be a fight. Ever. We determine what foods go on the table so we fully control what response we will get. We can talk more about this a different day.
Suffice it to say, providing different flavours to ourselves and our families can allow us to enjoy different foods while we are out and about at various times in our lives. Like it or not, most of us enjoy meals at places other than home. We can't always control what's for dinner, and so it makes sense to train our taste buds.
And that is it for today, friends. If you enjoyed this post, share it! Help me grow my business by getting my name and brand known! Tune in tomorrow on Facebook for a discussion on reverse meal planning and if you haven't "liked" my page yet, please do so- I don't want you to miss anything!
All the best!
Have I mentioned how much I enjoy oatmeal? I was busy all morning, and didn't feel like making any real effort for my lunch. From the banana, this meal gave me protein and fibre, carbohydrates and fat, vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as a bunch of B Vitamins. The oatmeal gave me additional protein, fibre, carbohydrates, and iron. The toasted nuts and nutmeg were an added abundance of nutrition and flavour. It's easy on the budget, and warm and comforting -baby, it's cold outside! So for me, oatmeal for any meal is a win/win!
It's a long weekend for us here, in Canada- Thanksgiving! The kids get an extra, extra long weekend off- they have no school today through Monday, so while I've welcomed the break from stumbling out of bed to get them off to school, I also have a bunch of things to get done- appointments, grocery shopping, cooking and baking, and so on. They're getting fed but other then that are pretty much on their own- I think they know if they complain about nothing to do they'll be put to work!
Our local grocery store had amazing deals on produce today. I was able to pick up 10 lbs of carrots and potatoes for next to nothing, along with a large bag of naturally imperfect sweet peppers. The rest of today will be spent catching up on laundry, housework, cooking, and baking. I've got a large pot of potatoes already on to steam, followed by a pot of carrots. I have plans to make a potato, carrot, and seafood chowder this afternoon for lunches this weekend, and I'd like to bake a hazelnut eggnog loaf tomorrow. We get spoiled with Thanksgiving dinners at both my mother's homes so I'll save my turkey for another time.
It was -7*C this morning when I woke up today, which is 19.4*F for my American friends. There was frost everywhere and they are saying there is a potential for snow this weekend. It seems like the perfect weather to turn on the stove and make the house fragrant and warm.
What are your plans this weekend? I wish you the best!
One year while in college I lived with 3 roommates. We shared a 2 bedroom suite and it was one of the best years of my life.
Every Sunday I'd make "Sunday Soup". Whoever was around could come and eat soup. Sometimes it was just me, sometimes it was my roommates, sometimes guests. It always started with a package of ramen noodles and enough eggs just dropped in to poach for however many people were eating it. Whatever leftovers I could scrounge from the fridge went in there, and sometimes a handful of vegetables. The specifics are long gone, because that was 22-23 years ago, but I remember loving my soup tradition. Plus it was cheap, a very important consideration for broke college students.
Nowadays I don't make soup every Sunday, though I'm thinking I may want to revisit the idea for the fall and winter. Last night we enjoyed Sunday Soup for dinner. It's the time of year when our people are starting to catch colds or just feel under the weather. It's warm outside, but there's still a bite in the air, especially when it's windy. And I worked hard all day and was too tired to really think. Like I said on my interview with Carrie Ann, soup is my all time favourite meal to cook, especially the last week of the month when we're on the end of our fridge food.
Growing up with a mom who didn't usually waste anything, soup is one of those things we ate often. I don't remember her ever using a recipe. I got my Sunday Soup idea from her, and over the years I've cooked periodically without following a recipe as well. I like to know I can stay a little more free-flowing with my ideas, something that's a challenge for me sometimes.
This soup started with some meal starters pulled from the freezer, flavour added to with fresh onions and carrots, and enhanced with basic herbs and spices. It was gentle on the taste buds and delicious.
And sadly I will never be able to recreate this particular soup because I used some of my meal starters- a bit of this and a bit of that from my freezer- some leftover gravy, a baggie of roasted pork drippings, some turkey stock I made last Thanksgiving, and the rest of the pork loin I cooked last winter. A handful of pasta left in the bottom of the box filled it out, and voila! Dinner was served.
We saved money cooking in rather than ordering in. We used up leftover bits of food from the pantry and freezer, and took advantage of meal starters I'd been keeping track of and organized. This meal was more nutritious then anything we could have brought home and was less expensive than ordering food for the family from any local establishment- and as an added bonus, we get to enjoy the leftover soup for lunch.
What's your go-to homemade meal when you're at the end of your energy? Do you have a favourite Sunday Dinner tradition?
Enjoy your week, friends.
Travelling with kids puts a new spin on "hangry".
I know in my last post I discussed why food shouldn't be the "cure all". I still stand by that. However, after a couple of long days of travel with some significant meltdowns I'm more aware of the signs of low blood sugar related tantrums. Experiencing them first hand gives me a new appreciation for teachers who work with these little balls of energy all day, every day.
Some common signs of blood-sugar related "hangriness" include:
Filling up with high glycemic foods (such as the above examples) doesn't keep them happy for long. These foods typically lack fibre, which means they digest quickly and can leave the person feeling worse than before. This is due to an insulin spke that occurs after ingesting foods that are high in refined carbohydrates- white flour and loaded with sugar are the usual suspects.
I'm writing this as much for me as for my readers. We had a long drive here, which means a long drive home. Avoiding similar hangry outbreaks will make a much more pleasant drive.
Some of the ways we can avoid these types of meltdowns begin with common sense. I did pack snacks for the kids between stops, but most of them began and ended with high-gi foods- I know better, but they're so much easier to pack and distribute in the car. I think there is room for easier snacks- let's be realistic about the trials of long car rides- but if we support those higher in refined carb foods with a good variety of healthier choices, the sugar spikes and insulin crashes will be significantly reduced.
My plan for the way back has shifted as I think about it. We'll probably follow the same path we took to get here, which means being on the road for about 7 hours the first day, and 10.5 the second- 9.5 of that is driving time, with a few breaks scattered throughout. We have a plug-in cooler, which we'll load up and store on the seat between the kids if we can. We will stock it with sliced whole-grain cheese and meat and plain old peanut butter and jam sandwiches, sliced apples, cheese strings, baby carrots, snap peas, and yogurt. We'll throw in some nuts and raisins, dry cheerios, and bottled water, too. For the less than stellar choices they can eat a granola bar, crackers, or snack bags of potato chips.
On our way down we stopped at whatever random town we were passing through when we were hungry, which meant we ate at Tim Hortons, Wendys, or McDonalds.
Hopefully the way back is more relaxed and less hangry than the way here! What have your experiences looked like?
Enjoy your weekend, friends.
Comfort food- it's a common concept in the world, isn't it? We end a significant relationship, and drown our sorrows in ice cream, chocolate, and/or alcohol. Or perhaps we are sick, get up on the wrong side of the bed, or feel whatever somewhat negative emotion, and we turn to food. Sometimes we choose healthier options, like chicken noodle soup. But often less than stellar choices, such as fried chicken, poutine, or pizza, make it into our bellies. Even though this is something I'm aware of, I can tell you from personal experience that food is often something I turn to "for comfort".
I try, as a parent, not to equate food with emotional upheaval but it's an uphill battle. Our society uses food for everything- celebration to mourning, reward for a job well done to coping with tragedy. Yesterday my youngest son was feeling sad because his older brother didn't want to play. I can understand the big brother's choices - I used to find it a hassle to play with my little brother, and there were far fewer years between us - but my youngest son felt sad and heartbroken.
I snuggled with him on the couch and asked if he wanted to go out with me to run errands and stop for a cookie. "Cookies won't make it better, mom". "No," I said, "I know. But it's a special treat for you and mom. We get to spend some time together and, after we get our work done, I'll have a coffee and you can have a cookie and some milk before we come home". He agreed to come with me although he was quick to remind me that it wasn't as much fun as playing with his brother. And I know that but it was all I could think of at that moment to stop him from crying so hard.
I know, I know. I used food not only as a treat, but also as an emotional respite. However, after thinking about it for the last day I can't come up with another solution. I don't think it's my job to try to make him happy all the time. I know we need to equip our kids with the ability to recognize emotions, accept them, and find a way to deal with them. Overall he is pretty good at it - he recognizes feelings as they happen, such as anger, disappointment, happiness, and sadness. He can assess situations and identify what other people are feeling. It's difficult to teach our kids how to deal with emotions, especially the negative ones, in a healthy way when I myself am still learning these lessons.
I don't have a ready answer but I think just being aware of the issue is a step in the right direction. If any of you have any suggestions or comments that relate to the tendency to self-medicate with food I would be happy to hear them and share them.
All the best, friends!