Tag Archives: cooking

Introductory Nutrition

17 Jul

The one class I took this summer was Introduction to Nutrition. A standard requirement for every nursing school and most PA programs. The summer course was a condensed version. Instead of three months, it was over a course of five weeks. Note to self to never sign up for one of those condensed courses again.

I wasn’t sure what a Nutrition course would entail. Foods? Diets? Disorders? Why did every program require this class? THIS course was an overview of what can in and of itself be a degree program. We studied macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), the way the body processes and uses them, disorders that arise from them, the standard American diet (acronym SAD!), and food issues around the globe. We also had to track everything we ate through nutrition software and submit reports on our health and our diet.

From the first class, I was a little irked at my professor. I could tell 15 minutes in that she was a vegan and that she wanted us to be vegans and that every subject that we discussed would circle back to her main thesis: meat/dairy is BAD, EVIL, WRONG. I was angry that she seemed to be forcing an ideology on her students instead of teaching us the subject matter.

Maybe it was the condensed nature of the course, but I slowly began to drink the vegan kool-aid. Vegan diets lead to a reduction of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. I read a study that put vegan blood in a petri dish with aggressive cancer cells, and the blood KILLED the cancer cells. Blood from meat eaters (even healthy ones) only killed a tiny percentage of the cancer cells. The vegan blood killed almost all of them. Outside of the health aspects, I was affected by the environmental impact of meat production and the treatment of the animals in these facilities. I felt enormous guilt that I spend all day taking care of animals, then I spend money eating animals that were tortured their entire lives. I had also developed skin issues over the last year. A combination of acne and rosacea that only seemed to be getting worse. I saw two dermatologists who both told me the same thing. “This is caused by dairy, red meat, and alcohol.”

So I gave it a shot. I could do it. I could be vegan. But about a week in, I found myself leaving the grocery store with a bag full of hummus and veggies. Outside the store was a taco truck. I stopped and looked at the menu. Quesadillas, tacos, tortas, burritos. All full of meat and cheese. Not a vegan option in sight. About ten minutes passed as I stood there in my trance of cataloguing all the delicious things I was giving up. Cheeseburgers, wings, pizza, tuna melts, BBQ, hot dogs, chicken tacos, turkey sandwiches. grilled cheeses, brie on crackers. I felt so sad. Yeah, I was eating a lot healthier, but what’s the point of life if I can’t enjoy anything. As Dr. G told me, “We all dig our own graves.” Something is going to kill you one day, and it’s all about making choices with the risks we are willing to take.

I brooded on my diet for about a week. I tried to come to terms with what I believe, what is best for me. I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe that eating meat is morally wrong. But I do think the way we produce meat in this country is. A couple of years ago I vacationed on a cattle ranch in New Mexico , where I got to see cattle roaming free, living a happy life with plenty of fresh air, quality medical care and healthy, natural feed. They had a good life, and I felt no guilt about eating them. But unfortunately that’s not the life that the majority of livestock in this country lead. That being said, I couldn’t go vegan. I just don’t know how. There had to be some type of in-between.

So I created an allowance for myself. 5 instances of dairy/eggs per week. 3 instances of meat (including fish). Two weeks in, and I think it’s going well. I’m still eating a mostly vegan diet, but when I’m out with my friends, I can have a buffalo wing. Or I can have a small ice cream cone on a summer day. At least I know I’m reducing my intake and making sure it stays low. Since I decided to do this I’ve noticed that my skin has almost completely cleared up, I’ve stopped having stomach issues, I need less sleep at night, and I feel as though I’m forced to eat more fruits and veggies which is never a bad thing. Overall, I think it’s going swimmingly.

I’ve also noticed a lot of push back from the people around me. I’ve had some friends dramatically scold me for my new diet. They tell me that I’m not going to get enough protein (not a problem if you eat smart), or that I’m being annoying/crazy, or that it’s worthless, that my eating less meat isn’t going to make that big of a difference. I don’t understand why people get so defensive about MY eating choices. So I’ve decided to stop talking about it, to just do my own thing, eat my own way, and let that be. I earn my paycheck, as modest as it might be, and I choose to divert my money away from meat/dairy and toward more whole foods. That’s my choice. My small difference to make in the world.

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

-Edward Everett Hale

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29 Before 29: Make Jambalaya

8 Dec

In my 29th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

This year for Thanksgiving, I got to go back to Reno and spend the week with my parents. It was a rare treat as traveling to Reno from New York is a full-day affair. I hadn’t been back in two years, and I was shocked by how much I enjoyed my respite in the desert. Shopping with mom, watching football on their beautiful new entertainment unit, cuddling with their new dog Holly, karaoke at 2am in downtown Reno with my ladylove Danguole, and of course lots of eating.

One of the nights I was home, my mom and I collaborated on producing a beautiful Jambalaya recipe.

My adorable mom and your little sous-chef Holly.

My adorable mom and our little sous-chef Holly.

I adore a good jambalaya. It’s a perfect comfort food. All that starch from the rice, good flavorful protein in the shrimp and sausage, healthy vegetables, a kick of spice. We used this recipe from Barefoot Contessa, and my mom and I spent a lot of time debating whether Ina Garner is creepy or not. She’s a great cook, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something insidious about her.

Before adding the rice. So colorful!

Before adding the rice. So colorful!

Cooking at my parent’s house is such a treat. So many beautiful bowls and gadgets. Everything is so clean and organized. My mother’s kitchen is a Type A heaven. There’s also something so nostalgic about cooking with my mom. One of the million things I’m grateful for in my upbringing is how much effort my mother always put into having a healthy home cooked meal for us almost every night. I always wanted to help, and she would give me an innocuous task that she knew I couldn’t mess up, like spinning the water out of the lettuce or rinsing the vegetables. But I’m an adult now, and she lets me chop! She lets me stir! We consult and confer! It’s that amazing transition from your mother being your guardian to your mother being one of your best friends.

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Look at this beautiful spice drawer. The organization and cleanliness makes me weak in the knees.

It turned out pretty good. The shrimp lacked as much flavor as the rest of the dish but overall it was everything I wanted jambalaya to be. And leftovers! Being young and poor, it’s important to me to make foods that heat up well the next day, so I can get the most bang for my buck. I think the jambalaya would reheat well. Of course, I never got to test that theory as we were soon swept away in the binge eating of Thanksgiving. I gained almost 5lbs while I was home. A successful trip indeed.

Finished product.

Finished product.

 

Cooking with Chrissy

27 Mar

That’s what I’d call my cooking show if I were every offered one by the Food Network. But that’s ridiculous, because I’m not that good of a cook. But it doesn’t stop me from talking aloud to myself when I cook, pretending there is a camera on me.

I love going out, and I do it quite a lot. But going out as much as I do makes staying in that much more wonderful. One of my favorite things to do when I have a night in to myself is to cook.

It’s odd that so many people in my generation don’t know how to cook for themselves. Not even that they don’t know how, but they almost seem proud of it. I think for women it’s some sort of defiance against traditional roles of domesticity, and for men it’s falling victim to gender stereotypes. I recently had an inebriated gentleman telling me how he knows how to cook, how he could cook amazing things for me. I could tell by the look in his eyes that I was supposed to be impressed, that most girls swoon. All I could think was, “I cook fine on my own, thank you very much.”

I used to be one of the masses that survived on boxed mac and cheese and microwave quesadillas. Then I went to Prague and met a girl in our program named Shauna. She was older than most of us by a couple of years and loved to have us over to cook us dinner. The first time she cooked for me, personally, I was blown away. Roasted potatoes, steak with homemade sauce, sauteed vegetables. I hadn’t had food that good in such a long time. She told me about how she was dating a guy in the military when she was younger and taught herself to cook on a hotplate he had. Her skills grew from there.

As soon as I got back to the States, I set out teaching myself to cook. No classes, no Food Network, no fancy cookbooks. I just found some recipes on the Internet that seemed doable and went from there. I’d say the first year of cooking I averaged 50/50. Half of the things I made were decent, and the other half were hopelessly flawed. I think this is where most people give up. They make a couple of bad recipes and decide they just don’t have the cooking gene. Not true! It’s like making a batch of pancakes, the first flapjack is always bad and must be tossed. Likewise your first lasagna might be watery, your first stir fry might be completely bland, you might burn the chicken the first time you bread it. You learn what not to do, you figure out little tricks, you figure out what you LIKE in food, and best of all you learn a way to add creativity to every recipe you touch.

Tonight for dinner I tried out a recipe for Chicken Parmesan that I found on epicurious.com. Not a difficult recipe but the results were amazing.

2013-03-27 20.18.46This was unbelievably delicious, I stuffed myself to the brim, and I have two lunches worth of leftovers. But the thing about cooking, it isn’t just the end result of a satisfying meal that makes it worth it. It’s the process. I like to put on my Professor Longhair/Muddy Waters Pandora station, pour myself a modest alcoholic beverage, and wear my polka dot apron. I shimmy around my kitchen, shaking my butt to the blues, taking swigs of my drink when I have a moment. It’s easily one of the most relaxing, enjoyable things to do at the end of the day.

Today was an average day at work, and there is nothing particularly stressful or bad going on in my life. But during those times, cooking becomes so important. Eating is such a primal need, and when I set out to make a recipe, my brain kind of shuts off all other worries and concerns. It’s comforting to know that sauteeing garlic and onion in butter is going to create a heavenly aroma, that breaded chicken is going to beautifully sizzle over medium heat, that if your soup is too thin, grab a bit of corn starch and fix it.

If you don’t know how to cook, don’t worry. You are totally salvageable. Just grab a recipe and start going.

Mango Chutney

30 Dec

imageWelcome to a lazy Sunday in Queens. I have been a complete recluse of late, and as I’m typing this, I’m realizing by “of late” I mean one week. I haven’t gone out in one week. I’m used to going out a lot, and the last week, my bed and a pile of books is just much more appealing to me.

Today I decided to break the spell of constantly ordering in by cooking something in my crock pot. It’s a crock pot kind of day. Throw something in there, get a bunch of stuff done around the apartment, then have a beautiful home-cooked meal. I decided upon a “Sweet Chicken Curry.” I put on my winter coat and began the 10 minute walk to the nearest grocery store.

A word about my neighborhood. I live in a little-known area of Queens that is the intersection of Asian, Indian, and Latino communities. Everyone in my building is Chinese, and most everything around me is Chinese in one way or another. The markets are small and niche, they have plenty of rice noodles, but no cheese. I need cheese in my life, so I typically walk the 10 minutes to the Latino neighborhood that has a somewhat larger grocery store. It usually has what I need, but it is also niche and doesn’t have major things like fish.

So I arrive at the grocery store and find everything on my list, except mango chutney. I needed half a cup of mango chutney. I started beating myself up. How could I be so stupid as to pick a recipe with an ingredient so classicly Indian. Of course my Latino grocery store wouldn’t have it. They have bags of rice labeled “Arroz” not “Basmati.” I had left my cell phone at home (because I sometimes need to prove to myself that I’m not a slave to it) and was trying to rack my brain for what I could use to replace it. It’s just a jelly-like thing, right? Could I use jam? Could I use fresh mango and extra curry powder or something?

Then I realized how silly I was being. It’s a 15-minute walk from that grocery store to an Indian neighborhood. I can tough it out. So I put some “Exile on Main Street” on my ipod and began the journey. I stopped in every grocery store along the way, just to check and was amazed at what I found. There’s this gigantic Asian supermarket close to me with an amazing fish and meat market, free samples of dumplings, every sauce imaginable. It made me realize how foolish I am to spend so much time on American foods and not taking advantage of what is around the corner from me. I make it to the Indian markets and wander in and out, finding mint chutney, mango puree, pickled mangoes, and even more specialty markets I wish I’d taken advantage of sooner.

So I stop into my seventh market of the day, scour the aisles, until I found a promising section with glass jars. There it was, the above jar. I thrust a mittened fist in the air in victory. I was the idiot white girl in line at the all Indian-store and absolutely all smiles.

My spicy chicken curry is slowly warming in my crock pot, and I feel so accomplished today. I’ve been reading a lot of books about redemption lately, about people going to far away places or doing crazy things to save themselves. But sometimes even the smallest adventures are equally redemptive.