Why the Kitchen is the Happiest Room in my House
I confess; less than two years ago I barely used my kitchen. Oh, I kept the refrigerator and freezer stocked as well as the pantry. I heated up my frozen entrees, or put together simple meals that were basically just heated up in the microwave and just as quickly noshed down.
In fact, I have lived in homes where the kitchen was barely a small closet but managed to thrive as I didn't have any real interest in cooking or preparing much food from scratch. I often used my oven as storage for other kitchen items because it wasn't going to be needed for baking!
I justified this behavior because I was a single person and cooking for one just seemed wasteful. Why on earth would I have wanted to spend time making a meal and then cleaning up the dishes, when I could just as simply flip a few switches and have a single plate and fork to clean?
Well, I will share with you how I came to not only use my kitchen more but to find absolute joy in doing so.
Finding the fun in food
To explain the transition from seeing my kitchen as a room to store food to my favorite place in my house I need to go back a bit.
In 2013 I felt that I was living a pretty healthy life overall and that my diet was pretty healthy too. I look back to that time now and realize that while I was making some healthy choices in my diet and in my life, there were many unhealthy choices that were keeping me from my best possible health.
For one, I ate too many prepared and packaged foods. I would try to make reasonable choices from these options of prepared foods, but ultimately how healthy can one be when the food is loaded with preservatives, GMO's, sugar, fat and sodium? It may be quick to prepare and have the "right" number grams of protein and fiber, but also too much of what we don't want for the health of our bodies.
One of the first changes I made was to cut out the packaged foods in favor of whole, fresh foods. Yes, this meant that now I would have to actually turn on the light, and flip a few other switches and maybe spend more than 5 or 10 minutes getting a meal.
At first blush, this didn't feel like a change I wanted to make. But, I knew that I was on to something so I went forward any way.
As I began taking time to cut up fresh fruit and vegetables and make a fresh salad, or stir fry something I began to feel better physically. I also started experiencing increased energy, improved digestion and clearer skin.
One success breeds another, so I kept practicing and trying out new dishes that were vegetarian and even occasionally vegan.
Now the fun could really begin! Here I was, never what would be called a "great cook" but fixing meals from scratch and finding that with a modicum of effort I was turning out some really good meals!
Getting "Jiggy" with it
Over time I managed to come up with about three or four recipes that were my "go to's" for healthy meals. I discovered a lovely Eggplant lasagna and a Crock Pot recipe for Quinoa and vegetables.
Now I have a confession to make. I don't like Quinoa. There I said it. I know as a Health Coach and Vegetarian to admit not liking Quinoa is akin to admitting I'm secretly a Republican and dye my pubic hair!
I tried making it every which way and try as I might I just can't get past the texture. But, the good news is there are so many other wonderful foods that I've discovered that also pack a huge nutritional wallop!
Brown rice and wild rice both now feature in my meals with stir fried vegetables and on occasion I'll make a Thai stir fried rice that will make your mouth water!
I don't use much in the way of grain these days however. But, I've discovered Chia seeds and ground flax. Maple syrup and honey as natural sweeteners.
When I shop my cart is about 90% fresh vegetables and fruit. I no longer eat meat and dare I admit it but I'm not much for working with Tofu, and it's cousins of meat substitutes. I have had some might yummy Tofu and other meat substitutes prepared in restaurants that were exquisite. Somehow, the versions I prepare just end up tasting like "fake" meat and so I find other sources for protein.
Much like tofu, I find the pseudo cheeses to be lacking. I think for me it's more of a texture thing. But, I do one day want to live completely Vegan so I will keep an open mind as I learn to live without cheese.
In making the kitchen your happiest home, it's less about the food you choose and more about the attitude toward the food.
Let's get cooking!
I recall a time about 6 months into my kitchen attitude flip when I was setting up the makings for my dinner that night and talking to my dear Mom on the phone.
Suddenly I just felt this wave of absolute comfort and joy about being in the kitchen and making dinner. I shared with my Mom. I said "You know Mom, I think the happiest moments in my life these days are those preparing food in the kitchen". She was so delighted to hear this. After all, my Mom was the original kitchen genius! Mostly though I think she was just happy to hear that I had found a way to find happiness, and it just happened to be in the kitchen!
My dear Mom has since passed on, but now when I prepare my meal for the evening I remember that conversation and smile. I truly feel my happiest when I'm whipping up something to eat. I now do my own Juicing on a daily basis and what used to feel like this huge chore and lengthy job, now is simple and fulfilling. I use my Nutra-bullet daily and I prepare fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. There are days that I spend maybe 5 hours in the kitchen and don't even notice the time. Now, there was a time that I might have spent 5 hours in my kitchen over the course of a week! Who knew that something so basic could fill my heart with so much joy?
I believe a lot of the joy comes from doing something positive for myself. Like many people in a helping industry, I often tend to put my needs last. So, when I get busy in the kitchen I am saying to myself "You are worth the time this foods takes to prepare and the nutrition it will provide". That act of self love is an important one. By golly, I'm worth whole fresh foods! I am worth so much more than a sodium laden, sugar loaded microwaved entrée`!
Make your kitchen happier
I realize not all people are vegetarian's and still eat well. And many people are simply too busy with jobs and families to feel they have the time to invest in their kitchen.
But, if like me you are wishing to maybe find a bit more joy in the time spent in the kitchen there are some ideas I can share to help you along.
Find a few recipes that seem easy enough to tackle and really get you excited about making them. When shopping for the items, imagine the flavors you will taste and how good the food will be for you. You can start the dining experience when you make your list!
You might need to inventory your kitchen and fill in any voids that might keep you from enjoying your kitchen time as thoroughly. For instance, a good cutting board, a decent knife or two, recipes that you can read easily (or reading glasses kept handy as in my kitchen) and some basic staples you can keep on hand.
For me that would be things like almond milk, salt, pepper, seasonings, chia seeds, flax seed and natural sweeteners. I try to always have some fruits and vegetables in the house that are fresh. If you live where there isn't ample or ready access to fresh produce, frozen can be a second best choice. I like to keep a bag of frozen peas, some frozen edamame and more in the freezer. In the pantry I always have a few cans of beans and tomatoes.
You don't need to be fancy either. You can put together a few basic items and make some great meals. And, don't be afraid to make an entire meal even if it is only for yourself. I am fond of the saying "Cook once, eat twice". In my case it would be eat three or four times. I will make up a big batch of Moroccan Lentil stew (for instance) and have a bowl for dinner, and left over another meal or two. Meanwhile I have frozen half of it and there is another 2-3 meals when I take it to thaw.
We aren't all born to be Julia Child or Rachel Ray, but that is just fine. Just roll up your sleeves and get busy and soon you will be well on your way to experiencing your kitchen as a happy place too!