Cooking – ABCs of a Passionate Life

Cooking for a Passionate Life by Marissa Campbell
Cooking by Marissa Campbell

Disclaimer: I don’t like cooking.

There. I’ve said it. It’s out in the open (I also dislike cleaning, laundry, and organizing but perhaps that’s best left for another post.)

Here are a few things you might need to know about me:

  1. I teach yoga.
  2. I dislike vegetables.
  3. ‘I don’t like cooking’ is such a weak phrase, I’m going to try that again—I hate cooking.

As a yoga teacher, people often assume that I love nuts and seeds and binge on berries and pomegranate, all the while sitting cross-legged. While I can certainly eat cross-legged, I can’t eat nuts and seeds, since they irritate my IBS and cause all sorts of debilitating intestinal distress, and I really don’t like pomegranates. I love berries, though. You have me there.

The truth of the matter is, I eat like I did growing up. My mother wasn’t a fan of cooking either, and I often lucked out at super time with delicacies like Kraft Dinner and Chef Boyardee. To me, that was fine dining (and way better than the stews and pot roasts my brother and I would occasionally have to endure.) Dinner was often served with canned or frozen peas and/or corn and mashed potatoes. I really hate peas. Even more than I hate cooking.

With such a varied diet, I never developed a taste for vegetables. At all. Couldn’t stand them. I even went to a hypnotist to try and convince myself I liked vegetables. I didn’t work. What did work was a concerted effort to add these foreign substances to my plate, bit by bitter bit. Several years and many failed attempts later, I can now tolerate Caesar salad, garden salad with balsamic and olive oil (this garden salad btw is just lettuce, nothing else, all right, maybe a shredded carrot ribbon or two, but no other weird crunchy substances.) I can abide mushrooms on my pizza, maybe even adding a roasted red pepper or two, or sundried tomatoes with spinach. I’ve even developed a fondness for onions, though only the Vidalia sweet ones. Regular onions continue to haunt me long after I’ve eaten them.

I love potatoes: mashed with garlic, baked with butter, scalloped with cheese, roasted with oil and herbs. I even enjoy sweet potatoes roasted or julienned for French fries. Of course, a nice chipotle mayonnaise dip is a lovely addition too.

Due to my lack of vegetables, I’m happy to fill the void with carbs and sweets. I love cakes, pies, cookies, tarts, ice cream, turnovers, cupcakes, fudge, brownies, chocolate, candy … am I missing anything?

Are you perhaps sensing a theme? I eat like crap. I’ve known for years that my bad eating habits would one day catch up with me, and I knew I had to do something about it. So, I decided to embark on a quest.

I wanted simple eating, cooked simply.

I gobbled up lots of information on the Mediterranean diet, but there were so many recipes that involved nuts, seeds and fish, I couldn’t do it. Oh, did I forget to mention, I dislike fish as well? 🙂

All my research and internet poking and prodding brought me to Lisa Leake and her book: 100 Days of Real Food. http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/ Lisa’s book is all about eliminating refined sugars, grains, and cooking oils and focusing on foods that contain a maximum of five ingredients (the number of ingredients are actually flexible, but they should be things you can pronounce and elements you would use in your own kitchen.) This seemed reasonable.

Armed with the book, my husband and I headed to the Whole Foods Market (a thirty minute drive from our house) and bought whole wheat pastas, organic vegetables and fruits, healthy spaghetti sauce, natural white cheeses and whole wheat flour. We even drove thirty minutes in the opposite direction to visit a mill to pick up organic whole wheat pastry flour.

With our cornucopia of plenty, we enlightened our children as to our new diet and met an explosion of discord. They would not give up their granola bars or their chocolate chip cookies. This diet was grounds for mutiny. Things seemed pretty shaky.

After listening to their grievances and realizing the amount of work involved to bake cookies and granola bars to appease their adamant taste buds—all the while juggling a wholesome dinner, oh, yeah and a life outside the kitchen—I decided a compromise was in order.

I loved Lisa’s message. I wanted on that bandwagon, but my family was ready to throw mama from the train. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. When I baked, I would use whole grains (see the gingerbread recipe below.)
  2. I would try and use the bread machine I bought several years ago. Using only whole grains, I was determined to find something that didn’t taste like cardboard.
  3. I would try and cook at least two real, honest-to-goodness nutritious meals a week.
  4. I would blare my music and drink wine while I cooked. Lots and lots of wine.
  5. My kids would eat the strange new food stuffs I was slaving over … for hours … creating a kitchen masterpiece of sauce splashes, scattered diced vegetables, discarded measuring cups and spoons, stockpiled pots and pans, and a smattering of waste products worthy of Jackson Pollock.
  6. My kids could keep one favourite refined, highly-processed treat.
  7. We would try and fill our plates at least ½ full of fruits or vegetables.
  8. I would enjoy more wine. J

This week, I made almond ‘sugar’ cookies http://foodbabe.com/2013/12/22/healthy-sugar-cookie/ and gingerbread cookies http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001536.html. The gingerbread being a bigger hit than the almond ‘sugar’ cookies. With all the strange and new ingredients in the ‘sugar’ cookies, I knew they’d sense something was amiss.

From Lisa’s book, I’ve made Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Quinoa stuffed peppers and you know what? My kids survived. They complained. They wondered what was inside the meatballs: “Is this real meat?” possibly referring to my stint at becoming a vegetarian and only eating tofu. I honestly did try. I survived on tofu nuggets and fruit smoothies.

The concepts in Lisa’s book are not foreign to me. Reducing our consumption of refined, highly-processed foods, eliminating toxins and foods filled with antibodies, hormones, pesticides, and fungicides are things we should all be striving toward. Making time to sit down with our families, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from a meal cooked with love (yes, blood, sweat, and tears too) is a quarry worth pursuing. I can’t say for certain how this scheme is going to end, but this week anyway, I’m determined to give it my all.

So by now, you might be wondering how this affects you. Here’s another C word “Christmas.” In tandem with this festive season comes lofty expectations and constant stressors. Part of that equation might involve cooking for family and friends. For instance, I’m cooking a turkey (truly my nemesis) but I’ve learned that by compromising, by accepting my limitations and not sweating the small stuff, I can make it through this ordeal relatively unscathed.

Turkey is a lot of work, but fortunately, I’ve learned my lesson and my expectations are low. My side dishes will not be ready at the same time as the main event, and the entire process will be long and involved … but I’m not stressing about it. Whatever will be will be. The same with my real-food cooking experiment. Our family met in the middle. I realized cooking for hours every day was going to be impossible and would set up unrealistic expectations that would add a ridiculous amount of stress to my life—something I strive to eliminate and reduce at all costs.

The house doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does the main course and trimmings. Things may not look like what we had in our minds, and often that’s a good thing. We are, many of us, perfectionists by nature and very hard on ourselves when things don’t turn out the way we expected. Lose the image and be happy with whatever manifests. Let go of expectations and the pursuit of perfection. Be flawed. Accept that. Revel in that.

In the grand scheme of things, life is short. Worrying about minor details is trivial and wasted time and energy. Enjoy being with the ones you love and let go of the end result. Living a passionate life is all about going with the flow and loving the moment. Have fun with it. See where things take you.

Remember when you were young? When you used to ride your bicycle down a big hill and you closed your eyes and lifted your hands from the handle bars. Remember the feel of the wind on your face, the sound of the air whooshing past your ears, the sense of freedom, of invincibility, that anything was possible. Life’s meant to feel like that—wondrous, thrilling, exciting, and fun. Find a way to let go of the handle bars. Loosen your grip. Close your eyes and fly.

Who knows where your passionate life will lead you. 🙂 xo

In gratitude,

Marissa

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