Cooking is my yoga.
One week to go! And I think it is time to start reflecting a little on my experiences. I started this because I wanted to check out the hype for myself. I didn’t think it would radically change my diet because I thought I already ate pretty paleo. To a certain extent that was very true, and people haven’t noticed a big difference- even my partner comments that it doesn’t really look any different to what I eat anyway. So I wasn’t expecting big differences, but a little part of me was hoping this would be the food equivalent of finding world peace. I haven’t found world peace, but I have found out some things. One of those things is my emotional responses to the Whole30 are not really about the Whole30 or food, but very much about other things that are happening in my life. This probably isn’t a huge revelation, but in the moment it is difficult to remember it isn’t all about food. After all, even the Whole30 plan says it starts with food. Food is easy to blame, as is a clean eating plan you decided to do. Here is how my thought process goes:
- Today was shit.
- I feel shit.
- I want wine.
- I can’t have wine.
- Fuck you whole30, if I could have wine then I wouldn’t be feeling like this.
- I can’t have wine.
- This fucking diet is stupid.
- I’m not having wine.
- Fucking fizzy water/herbal tea is fucking rubbish.
- I’m going to bed
- Brain, “ Hey Victoria, let’s go back to step number one, and while we’re at it why don’t we take a step down memory lane and re-visit everything bad that’s ever happened ever”.
Substitute wine for chocolate/bread/cheese or all three (plus wine) and this has been a sometimes quite circular and repetitive process. However, when I have calmed down and thought about it (which can take minutes, hours or days) I have realised it isn’t Whole30 I am angry with, it is a situation and/or my response to it. It is much easier to get angry with food than it is to think about a difficult situation and/or a difficult response. These reflections have not become automatic; I am not a Zen master. I still rant and rage and swear vociferously (and I think creatively), but the reflection is happening. Slowly.
I have also stopped using food/wine as an emotional crutch. Sort of. I think this statement needs to be qualified. Food has always been part of my emotional response to situations. But I don’t necessarily comfort eat when I am stressed or upset (although sometimes I do). I comfort cook. This first became obvious to me when I was on study leave for my GCSE’s which was many moons ago. I baked every single day. It started with recipes I knew well, and regarded as simple and were family favourites such as Victoria sponge. And I had to make them all by hand. Creaming butter and sugar by hand is surprisingly hard, but it was very therapeutic and it took my mind elsewhere. My mum went to the shops daily to re-stock the fridge with eggs and butter, less frequently to stock the cupboards with flour and sugar, but she did start bulk buying. Creating food that other people could eat and enjoy was also very important, and my brother still reckons that I make the best Victoria sponge he has ever tasted. As time went on, the food became more complex, peaking with a tiramisu cheesecake that, including hand-making the chocolate stars to decorate it, took 5 hours. (As an aside, none of this seemed to detract from my GCSE results, they were pretty good). The first items I bought after separating from my ex were two mixing bowls, wooden spoons, a set of scales and a hand whisk just like my mum had in the kitchen drawer. And I baked.
Clearly I haven’t been baking on Whole30, but I have been cooking. A lot. And I have spent a lot of time thinking and reading about cooking. My new wind down at the end of the evening is to think about new recipes, or plan new combinations of flavours. So food is still an emotional crutch, but it is not the kind of crutch that feels unhealthy. Doing something you enjoy to relax and focus is a very healthy way to deal with stress. Cooking is my yoga.
One of the things about cooking that is relaxing is the aromas that drift around while you prepare, and while the cooking is happening. Smells and sensations ground you in the here and now. If you don’t believe me try cutting up a juicy lemon just after you gave yourself a paper cut, or rubbing your eye just after chopping a chilli. You will be very focused on the immediate, very immediately. Preparing a slow cooking dish enables those aromas and sensations to float around for several hours, which has the added benefit/torture of making you hungry. Cooking focuses the mind on the present, gives you space and requires concentration and physical action to create.
Braised lamb with pepper and paprika.
Usually I would cook this in the oven, but mine is broken, so I used a heavy bottomed frying pan with a lid.
- A nice big chunk of lamb neck fillet.
- Coconut oil- about a tbsp.
- Water- about a pint
- 1-2 tsps. Smoked sweet paprika
- 1-2 tsps. Hot paprika
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1-2 tsps. Nutmeg
- 1-2 tsps. Cinnamon
- 1-2 tsps. Garlic granules
- 1-2 tsps Onion flakes
- 2tbsps tomato paste
In the big frying pan heat up the coconut oil and place the lamb in the pan- it should sizzle in a comforting crackly log fire in a story book sort of way. Let it snap and crackle until the edge is seared caramel brown, and turn it over. If it is sticking to the pan, you might want to give it a couple of minutes longer- meat seems to know when it is ready to turn and conveniently stops sticking to the pan with so much determination, bowing to the inevitable. Once your lamb is seared, turn down the heat and add the water and spices and paste to the pan- the liquid should come about half way up the lamb. Stir them around. Bring to a simmer and then leave with the lid off, to puff wisps of steam around, diffusing warm and spicy comfort through the air. Let this happen for 45 minutes, maybe an hour and the liquid should have reduced significantly. It should be thick and reminiscent of terracotta in colour. Remove the lamb and slice into thick chunks. Place the chunks on a plate and spoon over the sauce. Serve with whatever you like. I like this with sugar snap peas and baba ghanoush. The best ever baba ghanoush recipe is Nigel Slater’s, and I’d like to add a thank you to Mr Slater. Not only has he taught me to make the most amazing baba ghanoush, he has been an inspiration.