Monthly Archives: April 2015

If You Work on This, You Won’t Need a Recipe for Every Meal You Make

Recipes become less important when you learn a few other things!

Recipes become less important when you learn a few other things!

I want to talk to you about something that has made meal planning and cooking so much easier for me and I think it will be helpful for you too. Planning meals and figuring out what to eat for dinner is something almost everyone struggles with. Even if you’re a good cook and have plenty of time to prepare a meal, it can be difficult to come up with something appetizing and nutritious day after day, week after week! It’s no wonder so many people choose to eat out or get takeout so often.

I first learned to cook mostly by watching the Food Network shows a decade ago when I first moved in with John. I was working part time and had a decent amount of free time on my hands. I thought it would be fun to attempt to cook for John a few nights a week so when I was home during the day, the TV was almost always on a cooking show (Barefoot Contessa, Everyday Italian, Good Eats and 30 Minute Meals were my favorites). I’d watch these folks cook and then run to the computer to get the recipe, hit the store for ingredients and cook!

While fun, cooking was also kind of stressful at first because I really had no idea what I was doing and felt I had to stick to the recipe and follow every little word or it would be a disaster. Most of what I made turned out ok and I gained confidence and a new hobby that I loved. I had always been a foodie and now I could actually make my own stuff! After a while I was cooking every single night and got better at planning meals without a TV show telling me what to make. But something that I had a hard time letting go of was the idea that I needed a recipe to get started. I focused so much on what I was in the mood for or each little step and the amount of ingredients that I missed something that is essential to becoming a good home cook – learning cooking techniques.

Instead of learning techniques, I learned to follow and rely on recipes (and felt glued to my recipes like they were a safety blanket). Meal planning was sometimes frustrating if I couldn’t think of a recipe to make.  I knew how to make complete recipes if I followed them to the T, like: gorgonzola and mushroom lasagna rolls, lime cumin salmon with corn and pepper salad and chicken marsala burgers with arugula and onion salad. But if someone asked me how to cook salmon I had no idea. How to grill a burger, I had no idea! If I hadn’t been hyperfocusing so much on the details in the recipes, I would have noticed that most of these shows actually teach basic techniques that all cooks should have and recipes is secondary to having those skills.

If you learn some basic techniques and keep a well stocked pantry and fridge, you can whip up a decent meal pretty easily and without too much fuss.  Will it always be inspired and fun? No, even the most accomplished cooks have flops or meals that are just boring.  It happens!  But if you learn some basics and get confident with them, you’ll never have to worry about what you’re making anymore.

When it comes to meat, poultry and fish, some of what you’ll want to know how to do is grill, bake, broil, pan fry, poach or braise. With vegetables, to start off it’s good to know how to steam, saute and roast. For sauces, learn to make a simple marinara / tomato sauce and how to do a pan reduction (delicious gravy from the juicy bits from the meat you’ve cooked).  It’s also good to know some basic prep skills – like how to chop an onion, or the differences between chopped, minced and julienned. Learn to make homemade broth and stock – you’ll be able to make soups and sauces easily and with more flavor!

There are a lot of different places where I’ve learned techniques over the years and I thought about creating a big resource here with lots of links for specific things but I think that might feel overwhelming to some of you, especially those who might just be starting out!  So I’m going to keep it simple and give you just two links to focus on:

Stella Culinary School – How to Cook
This is an amazing resource. It’s full of free professional videos on everything from how to blanch veggies and clarify butter to really advanced stuff like curing your own charcuterie!  The videos are short and easy to follow.  There’s a forum if you have questions and they videos are available for free on itunes too so you can take them with you! There’s even recipes that put together all the techniques you will learn and some videos on flavor profiles which is helpful if you are someone who isn’t sure just yet what herbs and spices go well together.

Food Network – Good Eats
I love me some Alton Brown. This show is no longer on the air but there are still some episodes up on the Food Network site and  I think Hulu also has some too. While some of the show is super silly, Alton goes over the science of why he chooses the methods and ingredients he does for each episode which can really help you lock down some basic and amazing skills. This is the man that taught me how to caramelize onions properly and everyone who has ever eaten them will tell you that they are amazing. He’ll teach you how to cook a turkey and how to slow roast ribs on the grill – once and for all.

I recommend picking one or two techniques to learn every few weeks. Decide what you want to learn to do (perfectly grilled chicken? Baked fish in parchment paper?), watch the videos and practice the technique. Focus on how each technique is done and try it a couple of times until you don’t have to think about it anymore. Then try something new.  Before you know it, you’ll have a huge arsenal of fancy cooking talents that you can brag about to all your friends (or keep to yourself!).

If you’re like me and like to read sometimes instead of watching videos, I’m a big fan of Cooks Illustrated Magazine.  The subscription is a little pricey but the recipes are excellent and it’s different from other cooking magazines in that they explain how they came to their version of that recipe (through many attempts using different methods). Your local library may even have copies you can borrow. It has taught me a ton!

I realize that learning techniques still leaves some of that “but what should I make?” question unanswered, but if you can cook protein, a vegetable and a complex carbohydrate of some sort (and use some fat and spices) – dinner is done. Don’t over think it. Techniques like broiling a fish fillet will save you on those days when you just can’t fathom being creative. I wish someone had told me to focus on techniques when I was learning. It would have saved me so much frustration and time!

While I still have days when I just don’t feel like cooking, I have the skills now to put something together in just a few minutes and no recipe is needed.  John comes home from work and has a tasty meal on the table that he thinks I slaved over, all because I know how to do a few things well.  You can too – and then eating healthier will be way less of a challenge!

What has helped you become the cook you are? Where do you still feel you need to improve? Share with us in the comments!

Why Choosing Foods that Nourish Your Body is Good for Your Soul

It's about the food . . .but it's not really about the food.

It’s about the food . . .but it’s not really about the food.

I want you to think for a minute about what sorts of things factor into your decisions when it comes to choosing the food you eat. Is it about what’s on sale? What the kids will eat? What you’re craving? What is comforting? What you feel is nutritious? What it convenient? Whatever is in arm’s reach?

What do you think might happen if you approached most food opportunities by thinking about what might be most nourishing for your whole being?

I can’t even tell you what a difference looking at food in this way has made in my life. When you’ve spent the majority of your life thinking about the toll of every little bite, every calorie and obsessing over how your flesh looks or feels on any given day – finding something that allows you to relax around food instead of tearing yourself down is amazing. Amazeballs amazing. It’s not a quick fix – it’s a mindset that I think takes some time and creativity to get to but it’s so freeing. I look forward to nourishing myself with food daily, instead of looking forward to what feelings I could satisfy with food. It sounds subtle but it has a big impact. I’ll explain why.

When we start choosing food that is physically nourishing, a positive side effect is that it often becomes emotionally nourishing as well. You begin to feel good about what you’re doing for your body, you start to notice how much more energy you have, how much better you feel eating this way, how much more stable your moods are etc. Soon you’re eating better not just because it’s “good for you” but because you actually want to. With each nourishing meal, you reinforce positive feelings associated with those choices, which makes you want to continue to make good choices, you continue to feel good and so on. Soon, foods that you never thought you liked before start to taste pretty good – not only are you more open to new flavors, textures and combinations but taking good care of yourself “tastes” so much better than any of the crap food you may have been eating before.
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When we are eating lots of “not so great foods” day in and day out, we can’t even fathom not eating them. It’s scary to give them up (or at least eat less of them). It feels impossible to stop eating that way. It seems crazy that anyone would want to eat more vegetables and less of the “fun” stuff. When you’re eating this way there is no nourishment. Sure, on some level, these are “comfort” foods that we reach for after a long day or a bad week – but how much comfort are they truly giving you after the opiates you receive from eating them have worn off? I bet the answer is NONE and in many cases you feel far worse.

When our diet isn’t nourishing us physically and emotionally, our bodies AND souls suffer. And when both suffer, well your life suffers. Your goals suffer. Your relationships suffer. It all feels out of control. And you thought it was just food!

The food we put in our bodies is so incredibly important but we’ve been taught that quality doesn’t matter (in fact, who talked about the quality of food up until the last decade??) and that the only thing that does is calories, carbs and fat grams. Every cell in our body is made from the food we eat – how can our bodies, our minds and our souls not be affected by it?

There’s no need to change it all overnight.  Studies show people make more lasting change when they make changes slowly!  You make something a long term habit first and then it becomes just a part of you and your life. Where to start? Think about what you can add to your diet, rather than what you can take out. 

It’s springtime here in the North East so I recommend adding some of these nourishing spring time foods to your diet to start: asparagus, leeks, avocado, fennel, peas, watercress, swiss chard, beets, fiddleheads, mizuna, strawberries, dandelion greens, chives, parsley, dill, ramps, radishes and lemons. Choose one or two to add to your diet this week, note how they make you feel and then next week try adding something else.  Focus on adding IN nourishment and see if you feel a difference. The rest will fall into place over time.

How much more awesome would your life be if you were nourished physically and emotionally? What do you think you’d be able to accomplish that you are struggling with now? Share in the comments. And as always, if you want help tackling the physical or emotional side of nourishing yourself with food – you know where to find me.


How to Get Back on Track after a Weekend of Overeating

Overeating doesn't have to be a major disaster.

Overeating doesn’t have to be a major disaster.

I hope you had a nice Holiday!  I love the holidays – fun times with friends and family, lots of good food to eat!  But it can also be a highway to days of overindulgence! Even if I’ve done a great job of eating high quality meals, I find that just the sheer quantity of treats laying around can make it difficult for me to not go overboard while waiting for guests, cleaning up etc. Snack, snack, snack! What’s one more, right? But a day or two of overeating doesn’t need to turn into weeks of crappy eating.

One of the things I hear most often from my clients is that they struggle with stopping once they’ve started on a poor eating cycle (bingeing, emotional eating etc). If you’re eating sugar, you’ll crave more sugar and on and on it goes. Today I’m sharing with you some of the things I recommend to my clients when they are trying to get out of the cycle. Those who follow these recommendations closely, do very well!

Here’s how you pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get back on track (or at least out of the dark holes of emotional eating, binge-eating, brain fog, self loathing and depression):

1. Get rid of the most troublesome foods. That’s right. If your Aunt Mary’s frosted sugar cookies are impossible for you to resist (and just one or two isn’t enough), freeze them, give them away or throw them out. Maybe do a combination of all three. This is especially important if you are the type who will keep going back for more until they are gone. I know you’re panicking a little at the idea of throwing them out – you’re thinking, but “Aunt Mary spent time and effort making these, it’s really crappy to throw them out!” or you’re thinking “It’s a waste of money to throw out food!”. Aunt Mary doesn’t need to know the remainder got thrown out.  And it doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate them. As far as it being a waste of money, I know that guilty feeling all too well. Food is crazy expensive today (I can’t even share how much I spend at the grocery store some weeks, it’s obscene) and yes there are people starving all over the world – we are fortunate to be able to afford a luxury like cookies. But the cost to your physical and emotional health if you finish a whole batch of cookies is greater than what is wasted by tossing them. Sugar and refined flour are virtually devoid of nutrients other than calories – so it’s highly unlikely that eating them will benefit you in any way. If it seems too much to throw them all out, wrap one or two individually and store them in the freezer for a special treat on another day.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sweets occasionally but plowing through a couple dozen over a few days gives us a major emotional hangover, spike blood sugar which will make us store fat and upset the balance of our gut flora (which can cause digestive and skin problems and increase the chance that we’ll get sick). Remember: You’re not a bad person for throwing out food that will harm your health.

2. Start the day with a big glass of warm water with lemon and apple cider vinegar. Mix 1 to 3 tsp of Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (I like Braggs Organic) and 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from a lemon, not from a bottle) into a 16 – 20 oz glass of warm water and drink it all before eating or drinking anything else. Go easy on the apple cider vinegar if you’re not used to drinking it – the taste can be pretty off putting at first! If you just can’t deal with the taste, add 1 tsp of pure maple syrup or raw honey and stir. Drink this every day if you can.  While we sleep, our digestive system slows down and drinking this tonic first thing helps to wake everything up.  The lemon juice is good for stimulating bile production in the liver, the apple cider vinegar supports healthy blood sugar and slows gastric emptying, water of course is hydrating and the warm temperature of the water can help stimulate peristalsis.  All of these things are good for preventing constipation which happens sometimes when we eat weird stuff or too much! Another thing that is great about this drink is that the sharp flavor, while a little jarring at first, is palate cleansing and can help kill your cravings for sweet or rich food.  A Tip:  If you decide to drink this daily, consider using a straw to protect the enamel on your teeth from the acid in the lemon.

3. Have a plan of attack when it comes to food.  So we all know how it goes, when we’re super hungry we’ll eat just about anything, even if we resolved at breakfast was to eat nothing but plants for the rest of the day! Walk into the kitchen starving after a long day and if there’s any Easter /Halloween candy, Pumpkin Pie etc left you know you’ll be eating that first (and probably also second and third). Instead, plan out specifically what you’ll eat ahead of time and make it as easily accessible as possible. Pick up some frozen vegetables or pre-washed salad greens or diced vegetables. Grab a can of tuna or beans or even a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (fast protein during high temptation, I wouldn’t recommend those chickens for your regular meal rotation). Grab an avocado, microwave a sweet potato or cook some quinoa (takes 12-15 minutes tops!) and serve with a drizzle of good olive oil and a vinegar of your choice. If you know what you’re going to eat and you have to do minimal work to prepare it, you will be less tempted by the junk when meal time rolls around. Same goes for avoiding temptation at work, social events etc. It’s all about preparation and planning! There’s nothing wrong with deciding to indulge sometimes and not follow a plan but when you’re trying to get off the smack that holidays are fraught with having a firm idea of what you want to eat is the difference between getting back on track or gaining 15 pounds and wondering how it happened. Remember:  Have a plan to keep temptation in check.

4. Get some movement. I know you don’t feel like it but I urge you to get some form of movement, exercise or activity as soon as possible after overindulgence. It is well documented that exercise releases endorphins that result in a mood boost (so important for our morale after eating poorly) and getting blood circulating will give you more energy and move things along in your digestive tract. I don’t even care about the fact that it burns calories – that’s not nearly as important as getting ourselves feeling better after we over do it (so that we don’t do it again out of feeling like crap).

In addition to chocolate and potato chips, I also ate cake and rolls on Sunday both made with wheat flour, something that I very rarely do because it is both a food I’m physically and emotionally sensitive to. Because of that, on Monday I felt puffy, achy, foggy brained and irritable. The last thing I wanted to do was exercise, but I knew if I didn’t, it would mean I was less likely to get back on track quickly.  2 days of overeating would surely turn into a week of it. I’ve worked too hard on my emotional eating to let old habits sneak back in.  So, despite majorly not feeling like it, I rolled out my yoga mat and did some exercises. I started slow and probably didn’t go as hard as I normally would but that’s not the point – the point is I did something good for my body when I really didn’t want to and that will pay off in a multitude of ways. Remember:  You don’t have to go hard or long, it’s not about the calorie burn today – it’s about being gentle, supportive and nourishing yourself. Roll on your foam roller, do a few yoga asanas, go for a short walk. Just do something!

5. Avoid extreme measures. I understand the feeling of wanting to fix something right away but doing extreme stuff (like drinking only juice for 12 days, eating only 500 calories a day and taking hormone drops for 3 weeks out of every month etc)  isn’t the healthiest thing you can do for yourself, both emotionally and physically. Extremes usually bring on more extremes and if you ever want to be able to just relax around food, it’s really important to learn to practice responding in moderation.

Think about the body like a balance scale. One one side we have over indulgence or bingeing, on the other we have dieting, restriction or extremes like over-exercising.  If you go to either extreme, the body is going to try to bring you into equilibrium (or balance) because the body works best when it’s getting a certain amount of nutrition. Too much and we’re putting a lot of stress on every system in the body to process the food properly, too little and the body may not have enough energy to do all the things that keep our body running properly. The more you fall onto one side of the scale, the harder the body will need to work to get back to balance. That’s why extreme diets almost always bring on a bout of overeating. That feeling of deprivation and urgency to have a “cheat meal” is ultimately the body saying “hey, I need more energy than this!” just for it to do its job.

When I was going through the worst of my eating issues – the ones full of binge-ing and dieting yo yos, every binge period would result in a point where I’d go “starting tomorrow, I’m only going to eat 800 calories a day until I’ve undone all the damage I did this time!” but my attempts to restrict so severely would be short lived and actually resulted in more binge-ing, weight gain and restriction cycles. It was exhausting and frustrating and far too much of my energy was spent thinking about what I could or couldn’t eat at the moment. If you respond to overindulgence (which is an extreme in itself) with another type of extreme you are setting up yourself for a continuous cycle of ups and downs.  This is stressful on the body and stressful to your emotional well being.  Remember: Responding in moderation to help keep your body and mind balanced.

Image courtesy of Kittisak at

Image courtesy of Kittisak at

6. It’s not that big a deal. Look, right now your pants may feel tight and you might feel as though you’ve gone up a size overnight. Whether you took in 1000 too many calories this weekend or 10,000 too many calories, in the scheme of things, try to remember it really isn’t a huge deal.  So what! So your weight may temporarily go up for a few days or weeks – it does not make you less loveable or valuable.  Your weight/size does not equal your worth. And honestly, much of that weight gain is temporary – water retention from salty foods and the actual physical presence of food before you poop it out! Stay away from the scale for a bit and wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel cute while you recover.

Also, if you respond to the overindulgence with a “oh well” attitude, instead of “oh shit” you will be more likely to treat yourself well with proper nutrition and care. Beating yourself up or berating yourself is the surest way to make sure you continue doing the behaviour that made you feel so bad to begin with. Respond to overeating with kindness and caring for your body as you would for someone you love who wasn’t feeling well and you will mitigate your physical and emotional symptoms (bloat, sluggishness, depression) and reinforce better actions the next time you are confronted with a similar situation.  You’ll be able to remember that an extra cookie didn’t lead to a 3 week meltdown and be able to enjoy it for what it is (just a freaking cookie). There is no diet in the world that one cookie will derail all your goals. It is with this more relaxed attitude, kindness and desire to treat ourselves with love through good nutrition that we begin to heal some of the emotional wounds that can go along with overindulgence. Remember:  A 2 – 3 lb weight gain from overindulgence and often temporary. Reinforce that it’s not a big deal by taking care of yourself in a loving way and avoid the scale for good measure.

Have you ever tried any of these? What helps you stop a few days of overeating from continuing? Please share in the comments!

Autism: Great Worry, Great Love (and Great Misconceptions)

One of the happiest kids I know.

One of the happiest kids I know.

This is a story I wrote in 2010 about my nephew Keyshawn and I thought I would share it here today for Autism Awareness Day. Today he is 15 years old and everything I wrote below is still true of his beautiful personality and of my fears for him and others like him. Both the love and worries have grown over time.

While as a society, I think we are more aware of Autism than we were at the time I wrote this, I think there are major gaps in our knowledge of it and how to best care for those who aren’t able to care for themselves. Our awareness is great but I think in some ways we are being misled. People love to point out all the famous people who are suspected as having Autism (I saw a post recently that listed Al Gore and Bill Gates as probably being Autistic) and how far they’ve gone in life.  It stings a little whenever I see those posts because while I think it’s awesome to give role models to those on higher functioning end of the spectrum (who may otherwise think their Autism is a roadblock to their success because they are a little different) I think it’s important to remember that not all of Autism looks like the quirks of these famous politicians and inventors. Not all Autistic people can communicate articulately (or at all) and run a company or be second in command no matter how hard they work.

My nephew, though I know he has a heart ten times larger than my own and is intelligent in ways I can’t even comprehend, is not going to be one of those celebrated at such high positions in life unless he has some amazing breakthrough in communication or society changes the defining parameters of success.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t promote the incredible talents and wonderful eccentricity of those Autistics who do have the potential to rise to the same level of greatness as Isaac Newton or Mozart.  But let’s not forget everyone else on the spectrum while we’re at it. There seems to be this idea that we shouldn’t think of Autism as a handicap because so many with it are capable of so much and really aren’t held back if they have the right intervention early on. I’m all for those who are capable doing everything they can and not being held back! All for it!! But please remember that that doesn’t paint the picture for everyone with Autism, it’s just the ones we hear the most about.  There are thousands of people with Autism who like my nephew can’t even tie their own shoes or dial 911 on their own. There is still a huge need for awareness, research, emotional and financial support and so much more.

On this Autism Awareness Day, I ask that we remember that Autism doesn’t always look like quirky successful yale grads and billion dollar global business owners.

Now to my original post which was my reason for writing today. 🙂

Autism: A Story of Great Worry and Great Love
April 2, 2010

Today is Autism Awareness Day. I’ve realized over the years that there are a lot of people who don’t know anything about Autism, other than what they’ve seen from the movie “Rain man”. Autism has many variations and each autistic person is unique, like a snowflake, most of them are nothing like Dustin Hoffman’s character. I thought i’d tell you a little bit about my own experience with Autism.

I have an Autistic nephew. His name is Keyshawn. We knew something wasn’t right shortly after he was born. He was 6 months old before he was able to hold his own head up and he didn’t crawl until he was about a year and a half old but boy could he talk! My sister Shauna and I often babysat him and were amazed at how quickly his speech was developing despite his physical delays. We loved showing off how smart he was by pointing to things and having him name everything. He even associated each of us with the car we drove by saying our names and pointing to matchbox cars that were the same color.

All of a sudden that changed. He was becoming hesitant to talk and wouldn’t say anything when prompted. We thought he was just getting shy around strangers, as many 2 year olds do. His mother took him to several specialists and each time they said it was probably Autism. Autism? No way, we thought, he’s social and loves hugs and kisses. Autistic people hate to be touched and don’t smile at you! We were in denial but slowly it became clear that this was Autism. It was just not what we thought autism was.

I see him struggle to communicate with those around him because he lost most of the ability to speak at 2 years old and has regained very little of it. I watch people stare at him because they think his clapping and stomping is the result of a lack of discipline. They don’t understand that it is something he does to soothe his anxiety. He doesn’t know how to calm himself down otherwise. When people he’s never met before say hi to him, he just looks at them out of the corner of his eye with a blank expression on his face.

He’s now 10 years old, yet he can’t do a lot of the physical activities that other kids his age can do. He has hypotonia, or low muscle tone, something that is very common in autistic children. His hypotonia makes him clumsy. The muscles in his limbs don’t have enough tension to support some of his movements. His sense of pain is dulled considerably. His baby sister used to bite him on the arm so hard that it left big purple bruises. His mother didn’t know what was causing the bruises until she witnessed the toddler biting him. Keyshawn just sat there not responding. A normal child would scream in pain and move away from the source. His brain doesn’t interpret the biting as pain. The lack of sensation to pain and the low muscle tone mean that he could seriously injure himself and not even know it.

I worry about what his adult years will look like. Will he be able to hold down a job? Will he be able to live on his own someday? What will happen to him if our family doesn’t have the financial means to take care of him, especially as we age ourselves? Will he ever be able to read a book? Will he ever again be able to tell us verbally what he’s thinking? Will he be able to stop someone from hurting him? It breaks my heart that the answer to most of these questions is probably no. That’s not true for every Autistic, but it’s the likely story here.

I look at him in awe because he is fascinated by things most of us wouldn’t give a second thought to. My heart melts when I see his face light up with sincere love for those he has grown to trust. And it makes me laugh when I see him interact with someone he clearly doesn’t! Keyshawn’s BS meter is well oiled and fine tuned, even if some of his other skills aren’t. There is no fooling him. His laugh is joyful and infectious when you tickle him. He’ll say “more!” (one of the few words he still uses) when you stop. He loves to sit at the kitchen table with his Aunts and just watch and listen to them talk. He can’t join in on the conversation much but it’s very apparent he understands what we’re saying and wants to be a part of it. His sisters adore him and it’s clear that he is equally fond of them. They are much younger than him but they understand that he is a delicate little soul that needs extra love and protection. I worry about him so much but I don’t doubt that he will affect those who enter his life in a positive way. I feel very lucky that the autistic in my life is one who can show and accept love. There are many who can’t. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that he can.

Autism is difficult to understand and there are daily battles that are both frustrating and baffling but it’s not a death sentence. It’s not something to be embarrassed by. Do I wish we understood the cause? Do I want there to be a cure? YES! But I don’t wish that Keyshawn was any different than he is. He is a unique, perceptive & lovable child and I am so happy that he is a part of my family. He is a daily reminder that we are not all the same and that we need to be more tolerant & accepting of each other.