Take a breath, slowly. Then another. Stay in the moment. And don’t try to change too much too soon. This is the advice I give readers and clients. It’s sound wisdom anytime, and during this time of heightened uncertainty and strangeness, it is CRUCIAL.
Spending more time at home without the comforting rhythms of usual routines, minus the personal contact we now realize is crucial to wellbeing, and with the repetition of news loops running on the TV, computer, or just in our own minds can mean increased frequency of stress-eating and perhaps nutritionally poor food choices. I think most of us have been heeding the comfort-call of simple carbs this past month. These choices will inevitably be followed by panic, remorse, and the use various strategies to throw the engine in reverse.
In modern times, the most oft-sought strategy has been the diet. No secret that I gave it up years ago, but its evergreen allure still looms large in our collective psyche. Even though it’s now-common knowledge they not only don’t work, but dig us further in the trap…they still beckon us to give it another shot, like Lucy holding the football for an eternally naïve Charlie Brown.
The clever diet industry, however, has adapted to consumer cynicism, concealing the useless strategy of going on a diet under the guise of sensible trends or ‘Hear-Ye, Hear-Ye’ health mandates. I won’t name any names because you may be taking refuge in some of them, or are perhaps, even found them to be helpful. I only wish to remind you that the conventional wisdom of the diet industry, best-selling authors, talk show hosts, etc. should NEVER usurp your own wisdom. Who knows your body better than you? No one! Ditto for the mind and heart.
Springtime is the perfect time to shed our skins, outdated habits, ways of thinking, and belief systems that no longer serve us. Not that we can’t learn from one another; of course we can. Just don’t flip your own innate ability to discern what feels good to you to the off switch. Take new information in if you’d like…and see if it’s a fit. What better time to try on a new way of being?
What’s something you are ready to shed?
I’ll go first: worrying about the future and obsessing on carb intake…
During this unprecedented time of global lockdown, depending on whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you’re either aglow with contentment or climbing the walls. Even a life-long bookworm like me is having challenging moments. While I’m content to curl up with a memoir or writing project, there’s no denying that the why of our lockdown is disturbing to the core.
I’ve limited my news-watching, but also refuse to lift off into la-la land. What I see on TV and on the internet often freezes me in my tracks with dread. I take the necessary steps to protect myself. I check on loved ones and urge them to do the same. I say prayers for the afflicted and medical and military personnel on the frontlines doing the brave work of heroes.
Sometimes I find tears welling up out of nowhere. Or sudden irritability gushes forth like Old Faithful and I’m silently criticizing everything from politicians and celebrities to the ads on TV (which have swiftly switched gears to capitalize on the nation’s collective anxiousness).
And as a longtime emotional eater, I observe myself. For me, this is a sort of emotional temperature-taking throughout the day, done without criticism or scorn. I simply notice what I’m feeling and when helplessness or frustration may (as they sometimes do) propel me to seek comfort in food. There’s no doubt our present-day situation is napalm for the emotional eater. Lots of time on one’s hands coupled with stress and uncertainty can spell a beeline for the comfort food.
Bill and I have noticed on our most recent grocery shopping expeditions that the cookie and candy aisles are decimated while the produce section is chock-a-block with fruits and vegetables. Interesting. And not surprising. Salads were never my go-to comfort food, and they probably never will be. That’s why, when it comes to fine-tuning comfort-food tastes towards whole foods instead of processed junk food (and that takes good old-fashioned time) it’s best to cater (no pun intended) to your personal preferences. I’ve largely accepted that I don’t like raw vegetables. I’ll eat salads to be virtuous, but they’re something I’d rather do without. Instead, I alchemize the world of vegetables into soups and stews, and there are lots of delicious recipes in my archives here.
Today’s missive is about touting one of my new favorite clean comfort foods: Hot cereal. Don’t laugh! Think about it. Hot cereal is an unsung (and often improperly rendered) hero that, when made the right way and with the right accompaniments, can nourish and satisfy…WITHOUT skyrocketing your blood sugar or decimating your liver. With the majority of my adult life spent as a hardcore binge-eater, I’m amazed I never needed a transplant. So now, I spend my days eating foods that nourish me thoroughly which I also happen to enjoy. Take it from an experience yo-yo dieter, nutrition is just a hologram if you don’t enjoy what you’re eating.
There are actually several versions in my archives, but my new favorite is rice-based. Brown rice, that is. Quite simply, it’s one of nature’s most perfect foods. And don’t get hung up on the fact it’s a carb. It’s a complex carb (not a white one) and that means it comes with fiber, nutrients, and even a little protein. And according to my wonderful nutritionist, Nancy Guberti, it’s also anti-inflammatory. Now, it is a carb, which doesn’t mean license to go nuts, but when I want something warm, creamy, and comforting, this fits the bill.
It may seem like a lot of work to mill it from scratch but you’ve got nothing but time right now, so what better opportunity to see if hot cereal might be your new go-to. And as far as time investment into food-prep goes, the way I look at it is: when I’m the one doing the processing in my kitchen, it means I’ve eliminated processing that would otherwise take place at a factory, so who’s the winner?
There really aren’t a lot of rules for hot cereal, other than, make the base non-dairy if you can. Flavoring is up to you. Today, I used a blend of cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Turmeric is wonderful as well. I take my hot cereal unsweetened, but if you want, add some maple syrup, honey, or Stevia. Oh, and you can even up the nutrition with chia seeds, ground flax seeds, or hemp heart seeds. Trust me, your body will love all this and ask you why you didn’t do this sooner. And…this freezes beautifully, giving you yet another option for healthy fast food.
Brown Rice Cereal:
2 cups cooked brown rice
about a cup of warm unsweetened almond milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Blend all ingredients in a Vitamix or blender until smooth. Depending on how thick you like your cereal, adjust the milk – I like it on the thinner side. Bake in a covered crock until warm and bubbly or heat over medium-low heat on the stove, stirring occasionally.
Love, love, LOVE my Vitamix!
I prefer baking it, but that’s just me…
With life being what it is today, both Chef Bill and I are finding it not only easy, but therapeutic, to turn to our outlet-of-choice: cooking! That means whipping up some of the old stand-bys, as well as creating recipes anew.
You may remember from my first book, Clean Comfort, and past blogs, I kinda have a thing for Risotto. Always have. I grew up in the 70’s and that meant dinners rife with never-should-have-been-invented convenience foods like Minute Rice. Naturally, when I had my first hypnotic bite, circa age 30, of that creamy wonder known as Risotto, it was a transformational moment.
Yes, it’s a simple carb, the kind I usually advise be regulated. And sure, it takes a more time and effort to make, but it’s time I find enjoyable. Some people choose jigsaw or crossword puzzles, or perhaps a game of darts or shooting hoops to elevate into a state of concentrated focus and temporarily leave the world and all its attendant messes behind. I’ve always done this at the stove, and the nature of cooking short-grained Arborio rice requires focus and patience to achieve that magical Goldilocks middle ground of soft but still structured rice. This can take practice and it’s humbling. But that’s another reason I adore Risotto. The hunt for the end-game instills me with a sort of sweaty-browed pride. I have to work for the reward. Sometimes, the outcome has been less than stellar, but it only serves to sharpen my skills and infuse me with resolve for the next venture.
With this extended time we all have at home, what better opportunity to give a Risotto recipe a go? Truth be told, as a writer who works from home and have for years, my life isn’t all that different now as it is for some, but I still consider the imposed slowdown a gift. I appreciate my home more than ever, I savor each meal, as well as each can and jar in our pantry. And when I created this new lemon-infused riff on the Italian standard, it reminded me it was time to follow the lead of so many inspiring citizens of the world I’ve seen since things have shifted into an unignorably intense gear: it’s time to step up the sharing and caring…in whatever way I can. A new recipe’s a nourishing start, and I hope you not only enjoy it, but find the process a pleasant distraction.
If not for my evergreen love of butter, this would be a flawless vegan recipe. And if you want it to be, simply use a vegan margarine or vegetable oil of choice. Where heavy cream once rocked my world, there is now coconut milk. The addition of coconut milk makes the dish even more creamy and because only one can is called for, there’s no overwhelming coconut taste.
We all have it. A soundtrack from our childhood. At no time was that soundtrack more embedded into my longterm memory than during my 7-week sojourn at summer camp, a yearly adventure which took place from 1971-1978.
The counselors all had transistor radios in their quarters – rabbit-eared lifelines to the outside world as well as the cherished Top 40 loop. Listening to pop songs both quelled and aggravated homesickness, but overall, I was grateful for the music. Especially the really good stuff.
And like all great music, it stands the test of time irrefutably. I could pick at least a dozen songs I loved from back in the day, but Melissa Manchester’s 1975 ode to vulnerability remains a song that both dazzles me and puts a lump in my throat. Melancholy and hopeful at the same time, the lyrics, though probably intended as a romantic overture, seamlessly apply to any intimate relationship run aground where the heart is invested. Never heard of it? That’s OK kids. Take a listen and hang on to your hats – and maybe a tissue. “Midnight Blue” is from the era when it mattered not what a singer looked like or how risqué her burlesque act was. The currency of the day during the ’70s was channeling the essence of your soul into the microphone.
As I listened to “Midnight Blue” again recently, letting the chords bring me back to a place that no longer exists, I realized something: everything I need to know about vulnerability, I’ve learned from the songwriting team of Melissa Manchester and Carole Bayer Sager. Throughout the song, Manchester remains boldly honest as she explains, unapologetically, that she wants continuity in a relationship. She values the other enough to, well, admit it out loud.
I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood recovering from my childhood. What that’s meant for my relationships is a lot of ups and downs. Many moons ago, I possessed a simmering mistrust of people that bordered on hatred, and it had been earned. There weren’t many people in my corner during my formative years. As an unconscious means of self-preservation, I tried to quit humans, many a time. Dogs were better…OK, they still are. But as innocent and unconditionally loving as canines may be, they’re still not my species.
Grudgingly, I had to admit that maybe it’d be in my best interest to make peace with people. That maybe I even n-n-n-need them. Yes, Virginia, I do need connection with other humans. As fraught with risk as it is, it’s crucial to emotional wellbeing – like it or not. It was a learning process to accept we’re all imperfect. Forget Hollywood and the corny scripts of perfectly curated dialog and sunny scenarios abounding. This is real life and as such, human intimacy means both inhaling the fragrance of a rose and getting punctured by its thorns.
Troubled waters, tensions, and disagreements aren’t relegated only to romantic liaisons. There are so many variables when two humans decide to join forces: DNA patterns, personality types, and family history to name a few. Whether it’s in friendship, blood-relations, romance, or in business, relationships can get messy. There’s no varietal of relationship conflict this song can’t be applied to:
* Mother-daughter tensions – check
* Sibling rivalry – check
* Friendship worn down by lack of proper maintenance – check
* Rift with a co-worker because of a conniving boss who loves being subversive – check
When the boat gets rocked, the answer isn’t to throw a relationship away or passive-aggressively neglect until it dies a natural death. Nope, if it’s an alliance worth saving, I’m now brave enough to say so.