Good morning, everyone! I hope that you’ve all been enjoying a restful and sunny weekend.
It has been a very domestic week here. Without class to rush off to, I’ve had the pleasure of interrupted time for work, and I’m savoring the opportunity to feel creative and immersed. It’s easy to disregard how important continuous stretches of time are for the creative process (whatever that may be–for me, it’s writing and recipe creation), but the past few days have reminded me that the quality of my work is a lot better when I’m not multitasking.
This week has also presented me with an opportunity to dive back into cooking. In spite of how much I was looking forward to this, it wasn’t immediately appealing. Cooking is a funny thing: it has been a central part of my life for over a decade now, and yet each time I stray too far away from it I find myself fighting off some resistance as I journey back.
Over the course of this past month I was well aware that not cooking was making me feel somewhat creatively stifled and disconnected from food. And yet there’s something undeniably freeing about not having to chop onions, smash garlic, wait for things to boil. When the time came to get cooking again last Sunday, I found myself coming up with all sorts of crafty reasons as to why I should defrost something or call in takeout instead.
But I picked up my chef’s knife anyway, and I got chopping, and as I put together that meal (the first complete, homemade dinner I’d had in at least a week), I was reminded of how soothing and pleasurable the cooking process can be when you fight through the initial resistance. It’s sort of like what people say about exercise: the tough part is always getting out the door.
I was also reminded of the fact that cooking is not simply about taking pleasure in a finished product (though enjoying a homemade meal is always a pleasure): it’s also about the ritual and experience. Usually Steven and I chat while I make dinner; even if he’s working or studying and I’m chopping furiously, we’ll periodically peek up to comment on something or share a thought. It’s a ritual, a part of our life together that we both miss when it’s not around, even if we’re not really aware that we miss it.
For me, there’s something sacred about the rhythms of putting together a meal. I spend most of my time in words and (because of school) formulas, facts, and figures. And I tend to live inside my head anyway. The physical nature of cooking–the fact that it’s a manual experience, even if plenty of thought and creative energy goes into it–is an important counterpart to the rest of what I do. And the fact that it forces me into my senses–touch, smell, observation, and taste–matters. I’m sure I’ll always experience some tug of war (as I’m sure all home cooks do) with cooking and the time/energy it demands, especially when I’m busy. But picking up the habit again always feels a little like coming home.
Alright. Enough meditation: speaking of cooking, here are the recipes (and reads) that caught my attention this week.
It has been a good long time since I craved a smoothie, but I’m sure that summer weather will change that, and the first blend I’ll be making is Sneh’s rich and delicious nutty cacao smoothie. Perfect for berry season!
I’ve tried cilantro pesto, avocado pesto, hemp seed pesto, arugula pesto, walnut pesto, and a lot of other pesto varieties, but asparagus pesto is a new concept to me. I love Chickpea Magazine‘s vegan asparagus pesto recipe, which is heavy on the nooch (just the way I like it).
Also in the category of fresh and beautiful springtime food, Ana’s spring gratitude salad is bursting with seasonal produce, and I love the addition of wild rice for some extra texture and heft.
I am a bowl addict, and I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and combinations. Sophie’s quinoa buddha bowl with miso gravy looks so satisfying and nutritious. The gravy alone is worth bookmarking, and I’m excited to try it as a change of pace from all of my usual tahini and nut based dressings.
Finally, it’s hard to believe that cupcakes this pretty, this easy to make, and this decadent could be both vegan and gluten free! A fabulous recipe for vegan cupcakes with chocolate frosting from Kelly of The Pretty Bee.
1. There’s been a lot of discussion in the media this past week or two about weight regain and why it happens–prompted, in part, by the New York Times article about Biggest Loser contestants and the struggles they face after the extreme measures and pressures of that show are over.
Here’s a smart, succinct, and on point article from dietitian Carrie Dennett about why weight regain is so common. I think she singles out the most important reasons, including the fact that many popular weight loss methods are far too extreme to result in lasting change (and indeed, their extremity heightens the chance that weight will be regained). She also addresses the fact that many people have unrealistic expectations of the weight loss process or (more significantly) the likelihood of maintaining certain weights over time.
I often find myself gently telling a client that if a certain weight has never been possible without a great deal of effort (dieting, unsustainable levels of exercise, etc.), then it probably never will be. It’s a tough thing to say, and I know it’s a tough thing to hear. But it’s often true, and I believe that realistic expectations and weight loss goals are an important part of finding balance with food. There’s a lot more to say about this, but in the meantime, these articles put the issue into relief.
2. Like many people, I tend to see procrastination as being at odds with productivity. I spend most of my work day trying to accomplish as much as possible, packing in tasks and avoiding breaks (with the exception of the necessary ones, like eating).
But this Quartz article is making my rethink the sometimes frenetic quality of my approach to work. It presents good evidence that procrastination–or really, meaningful pauses in the work day–can enhance creativity, insight, and innovative thinking. It’s a good reminder that there is real value in slowing down (something I’m trying to do more often lately).
3. There seem to be more and more studies lately that point to the benefits of a plant-based diet, but I thought this one was compelling enough to share. It’s a review study that once again underscores the link between red meat consumption and mortality, as well as the correlation between plant-based diet and decreased mortality from ischemic heart disease. Worth reading and sharing if you enjoy this research!
4. A touching, candid essay from an anonymous author about her lifelong struggle with having her weight commented upon and used as a foundation for false assumptions. She begins with a childhood story:
I was in fourth grade, sitting in a doctor’s office, the first time my face flushed with shame. I was, I had just learned, overweight.
“It’s probably from eating all that pizza and ice cream. It tastes good, doesn’t it? But it makes your body big and fat.”
I was confused. Dinners at home were usually fish or chicken, rice, and steamed vegetables; breakfasts were cottage cheese and cantaloupe. After all, I was the child of a 1980’s Weight Watchers mother.
“Just imagine that your body is made out of clay. If you can just stay the same weight, as you grow, you’ll stretch out. And once you grow up, you’ll be thin and beautiful. Won’t that be great?”
I felt my face sear with shame. My skin was neon, hot and bright, noisy and garish. I had learned so much in that one moment: You’re eating too much junk food. You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it.
Something was wrong with my body. I’d failed a test I didn’t even know I’d taken.
The author’s negative experience with health care providers, sadly, does not end there. She goes on to detail how routine doctor’s office visits (for an ear infection, for example) have been turned into weight loss lectures, and she even recounts how nutrient deficiencies were at one point missed by health care providers, presumably because it was assumed she could not possibly be undernourishing herself (which she was, in an attempt to punish the body she’d been encouraged to see as shameful).
She shares thoughts on how body shape is used as a (false) proxy for health and healthful behavior, when in fact the issue of weight and how it relates to food and exercise is far more complex than this. Assumptions based on weight, and especially the culture of weight shaming, exerts real and harmful consequences, many of which can never be shaken. As a society, we can find more holistic and meaningful ways to talk about healthy living.
The author sums it up beautifully, I think:
At its core, weight loss is aesthetic. My weight doesn’t tell you what I eat, how much I exercise, how strong I am…It doesn’t tell you how I feel about myself, or what I’ve learned, or how I’ve changed. Judging someone by the size of their body is strictly visual, and it flattens a whole, beautiful, complex body and an unknown, extraordinary person.
There is more than enough at work to reduce us, to make us feel hurt and hardened. Instead, let us do the hard, vulnerable work of unburdening one another, and release our cumbersome shame. Let us abandon the manifest destiny of weight loss, abandon the quest to conquer bodies and the people in them.
Let us soften. Love is tough enough without tough love.
5. Finally, I loved this Eater profile and conversation with legendary cookbook (and literary book) editor Judith Jones, who is largely credited with helping to bring the work of Julia Child, Madhur Jaffrey, Edna Lewis, and Lidia Bastianich to American readers, in addition to several notable poets and novelists.
The interview, such as it is, allows Jones’ own words and perspective to shine through. As a former book editor–a part of my life that I still cherish and often miss–I loved what she had to say about both the writing life and the editorial process. And her musings on cooking and its value are pretty great, too. Some tidbits:
…For a long time, the women — and they were usually women — who wrote about food were treated as second-class citizens. All because they cook! I think that’s opened up. A good writer gets some good assignments, and they’re treated better somehow. It just takes time.
…If you want to write, write. It has to be a passion. When you edit, you’re willing to stay up all night and then be slapped in the face.
…To me, cooking is an art form, and like any art form, you first have to learn the fundamentals. And then, once they’re there, once they’re just part of you, and you get up and do a little dance or something, you don’t follow somebody else’s formula. You can take off on your own, and you learn through doing. Then you can let go of some of these strict rules, and make your own rules. I don’t even think level measurements are such a big deal these days.
…I think what’s going to be in for the next decade is emphasis on food as medicine, until we go crazy and don’t even want to eat food. I hate it! And the shakes! I mean, I like to use my teeth, and chewing is very good exercise.
…You don’t want to get to a point where people think everything’s accessible, because it isn’t. Coconuts are damned hard to whack open.
That’s only a sampling. The whole piece is charming, and I definitely recommend reading it in full.
And on that note, I’m off to do my weekend grocery haul and get down to some home cooking of my own. I’ll be sharing a post on calcium fundamentals on Tuesday–a topic I’m asked about all the time, and I’ve finally put some culinary tips and food suggestions on paper. And on Thursday, I have an easy and very wholesome, calcium-rich recipe to share. Till then, enjoy your Sunday!