When does food taste the best ? When do you feel nourished by what you eat ? When was the last time you felt truly happy after eating... I mean a happiness that was free of any discomfort in the body, sleepiness or guilt that somehow you could have done better. On this page I share my own journey with food...
There was a time I was young and I ate what my mother gave me. A diet which was full of fresh ingredients, prepared with the love of family, and I ate with joy and happiness. It was never a formal "Grace" but there was an acknowledgement of the many people involved to bring my meal to the table. There were stories around the seasonal nature of the ingredients, the farmer who had cultivated the crops, the market vendor who had the best fruit in town. Food was honoured, never wasted and seen as a gift from nature.
As I left home this ancient wisdom was soon forgotten. In my exploration of becoming an adult soon eating became an inconvenience I had to accommodate to survive. I discovered the world of food that needed no preparation time on my part. I found an energy buzz from sugary, floury foods, and would combat the energy slump that followed with coffee in a variety of forms... espresso was the best. As the years went by I didn't always enjoy what I ate. I experienced bloating and symptoms of IBS. I learnt to manage it with the same precision I did my work. I could do what I wanted to do well, yet I was increasingly detached from eating to be well. I loved to cook, yet I seldom made the time to cook for myself. Cooking was reserved for parties to feed others.
A few years ago I watched a food summit and was amazed by how little I really understood about nutrition. I found the world of healthy eating, dieting and food guru-ism frankly confusing - there were so many theories, so many fads, what was really true ? Here I was a medical doctor confused about food! To rediscover truth from myth I embarked on a journey to understand nutrition...and I am still learning! I read books, journal articles, and watch many programs. I took the initiative to shape my own path and I encourage you to do the same.
In the end I returned to ancient wisdom.. which was simple yet profound.... mindful eating. Everyone's body is unique and to find what works for that exquisite uniqueness needs time and investigation. Finally I stopped running and made time. I felt a bit like Julia Roberts in the movie Runaway Bride.. I did not know which eggs I liked best for breakfast.
I broke it down to some simple steps
1. I committed to improve the quality of my ingredients
2. I took time to understand what I really liked and made me feel well
3. I added love into the moments of preparation and meal time - I made time to cook for me
4. I focused less on precise recipes and more on flavours and cooking methods which could retain nutrients, be creative and fun
5. I gave gratitude for and blessed the food I ate
This lead me down an interesting path. I discovered I was intolerant to gluten. It is not an easy thing to cut out completely however, minimising it really helped me. I found out I did not really like meat very much. Twice or three times a month I would feel the urge to eat some red meat - I would often choose some good quality lamb. This was about all I needed. I found out that my body did not like sugar at all. For someone who had a sweet tooth this was a revelation. While my body felt energised after eating fresh fruit - the sugary high carb snacks I ate for energy actually had the opposite effect. Yoghurt and Kefir really did make my gut feel at ease. And I loved tea... all sorts of tea ...much more than I loved coffee!
Improving the quality of my ingredients took time. It is still a process of trial and error, yet, I can honestly say it has been a 180 degree change from what I once ate and I feel so much better for it. I now look out for local farmers and support them by buying my food from them. I focus on variety and learn new recipes all the time. In large supermarkets I try to buy food that is closest to its natural form. I buy good quality cooking oils. I include nuts and seeds always. I talk to friends and learn where the best quality comes from. May I encourage you to explore and find what is really right for you. And to have fun... making your food tasty, nutritious and an enhancer of your life. Think of how you support the food industry and your local farmers / businesses. They appreciate your help and thoughtfulness.
I share some of my top tips for breakfasts, lunches, suppers, drinks and snacks.
Find a bowl that makes you feel special. Add a layer of yoghurt / kefir, sprinkle some nuts and seeds (at least one each for variety) and a cup of fruit. Sprinkle some cinnamon, nutmeg, cacao or any other spice you fancy.. Make it beautiful like you are creating a present for yourself.
I used to think salad was for lunch or dinner. Now I discovered creating a rainbow on my plate topped with a good quality marinated grilled piece of protein and a few avocado slices is one of the best ways to start the day. The secret to this is to prepare the proteins earlier.
Green smoothies with a scoop of good quality protein powder is my go to breakfast on a day I have little time. My greens (spinach / kale) are already prepped in small bags and kept frozen/fresh. I add almond milk, a scoop of vanilla protein powder, my bag of greens blend & go!
A bowl of porridge is one of my favourite ways to start the day. To allow me to have a flying start I always put milk oats and some dried fruit and spices mixed into the fridge the night before.In the morning I simply warm it up add the fresh fruit, nuts, or keto granola and have a feast. Sometimes I add cacao and make a decadent chocolate feast.
Chia is considered a super food but what I like about it most is it is so versatile! It takes on any flavour I give it. My breakfast experiments have ranged from conventional fruit combinations you see above to using a chai, coffee, turmeric latte type flavoured milk for the chia. Once again I prep the night before so my morning is hassle free!
My favourite eggs are a baked savoury version ( a frittata without the potato ! ) I add all the little bits of left over vegetables. I usually do this over the weekend - and its a combination between a frittata and bubble and squeak. I also add a bit of ham or smoked salmon for added flavour.
And eat it with a bowl of salad.
Spices are found in every culture. They define the cuisine that tells our human stories. Their origins and use evolve as the years go by. In ancient time the fusion of regional spices began with travel and trade. The silk road created a passage between East and West. Today the super market shelves, delicatessens, and family run shops bring to our kitchen the spices of the world. There is rarely a lack of availability. Yet, do we know how to combine them and create meals that nourish our bodies and soul ?
A helpful way to think of creating a well seasoned meal is to create a frame work to build the layers of flavour. Every dish needs to have a spice which is the star of the show. There will then be many other spices that are added to give depth and body to the spice of choice.
It is also useful to understand that dry spices need to be cooked - e.g. fried with the onion and oil, or added to boiling hot water to have their flavour fuse into a given dish. On the contrary a fresh spice does best when added at the end.
Sometimes it is helpful to add the spices to a given cooking oil and allow it to stand for weeks and create a flavoured oil. e.g. dry bay leaves and olive oil. Using such an infused oil to create a winter roasted vegetable dish brings a depth of flavour that could not be achieved if the bay leaf was simply added on the day of roasting.
Some spices do not mix. A bit like personalities. There is no point in trying to force the mix. However, understanding what makes some flavours go together can be learnt by studying tried and tested combinations such as carrot and coriander, or apple and cinnamon. Others maybe a bit more recent such as strawberry, balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Others maybe be uniquely your own mix.
To combine spices one must understand the five different tastes. All five tastes must be balanced within any dish to create a tasty outcome. Think of Master Chef - how often have you heard the judges tell a candidate the balance was either off or perfect. This is what they mean. The blending of the five tastes for a smooth, full bodied all round finish.
The only way to master the art of spices is to practice. Every week try and use a spice you are not familiar with. Look up recipes on line and see how people are combining ingredients and map them to the five tastes. Soon you will have a range of ideas to explore and create your own creative kitchen.
When you choose your signature spice ask yourself the question which taste does this spice have ? Then add at least four other spices / ingredients to honour the remaining tastes to build the flavour of your food.
Universally there are five accepted basic tastes that are perceived by our taste buds. There are
5. Umami (Savoury)
Whenever you eat something ask yourself which of the five tastes are present ? Then ask yourself which ingredients are linked with that taste.
The taste test is a given in every master chef competition. Try make it a fun part of your routine especially if you eat something you like. Delve deeper and understand why you like it.
In addition look at the memories and emotions linked with different kinds of foods. e.g. when you were a child were you only given a sugary treat at a family reunion or celebration.
Sometimes when we reach out for a cake or chocolate we are really reaching out for the love we once experienced during that memory.
Once aware of these patterns we can make better choices consciously.
For me the perfect salad is colourful yet simple. It includes a combination of fresh leaves, fruit, vegetables, cold cooked proteins, and nuts / seeds for a bit of crunch. I like my dressings to be home made or bought from a source where I know there aren't several preservatives or high concentrations of sugar. I take the salad layered in a box and mix it at the time of eating. The dressing I always carry separately and pour over the salad just before eating.
A lunch time soup for me is a meal in a bowl. It usually is made out of left over ingredients that are brought together in a light coconut milk and strong combinations of oriental spices. I add beans and fish to add protein and have sautéd onions for depth of flavour. Sometimes I create a soup which is more like a chowder. Occasionally I will create a lighter broth with strips of vegetable and meat. The latter is favoured if I know I am going out for dinner.
A stir fry to me is a warm salad.
I find using a nut or seed oil adds a layer of flavour that allows the classic soy, ginger, chilli, and lemon grass to come alive. I toss in the harder vegetables such as beans first. I add ingredients such as mushrooms last. My cook time is very minimal.
Sometimes I add some red rice into my stir fry. Alternatives include quinoa. I always top my stir fry with some nuts. Tamari coated almonds are a favourite.
light, tasty, nutritious, makes us smile and avoids an afternoon dip in energy.
We can survive a while without food, however dehydration will kill fast. Subtler levels of dehydration make us more tired. Increasing my water intake was easier than I anticipated. My body loved it and felt better. Hence, I felt encouraged to drink more. I bought a water bottle which had a water infuser. This allowed me to add lemon, mint, cucumber, apple, basil and other fruit slices that gave my water a refreshing twist. Drinking two glasses of water with lemon first thing in the morning is now a daily ritual.
I try new combinations everyday and aim to drink `2-3L of water per day. I drink tea and coffee in addition to my water consumption and my skin looks much better. I also find that good hydration minimisers food cravings and eating unhealthy foods.
To help drink more water - get a beautiful water bottle that inspires you. Look at your daily routine and plan when you will drink the water. It really is worth the effort. Have fun making your own water infusions.
I used to be a big fan of snacks. I often ate at my desk and my drawer was full of 99 calorie somethings... usually chocolatey ones and I would eat them unmindfully. Only to stock up my drawer and eat again. Or I would venture down to get a latte and have something else sweet with it. When I started cutting down on gluten I quickly found all my snacks no longer made the cut. I started making swops ... I also learnt to combine healthy fats with veges ... hence my snacks turned into
1. A slice of avocado and a boiled egg.
2. A celery stick - where I filled the groove with a nut butter or soft cheese from a farm shop
3. A mini pot of yoghurt or cottage cheese with fruit
4. A banana sandwich (banana replaces the bread) and I carry it in a special banana case.
5. A handful of nuts with an apple
6. Vegetable sticks with hummus
7. Toasted lentils
This went well until recently I was introduced to the work of Dr Jason Fung and fasting. Fasting is well known in Eastern culture. Growing up I rarely had snack food. I had good meals and long gaps between them. In my family Sunday lunch was a family affair. It was when we always made a special meal and ate together. Then Sunday dinner was a light broth. Monday morning I would start the week with a hearty breakfast again. We used to say no more food - allowing lunch to clear.
I am now reading Dr Fung's work and hope to share more as I learn. I am reducing my snacks and enjoying warm herbal teas between meals. I think there are no definite rules and our bodies tell us when we need a snack. Yet giving the digestive system a break every now and then makes sense too.
Modern life is busy. If we don't try there will seldom be time a family eats together. If one is living alone try to eat with friends or make dinner special by lighting a candle. Try not to eat unmindfully while watching netflix or youtube videos. Growing up dinner time was when we sat down together and shared the stories of the day. The meal itself was relatively light. There was a sense that one should not over tax the digestive system and allow for a good nights sleep. Yet there was much consideration and planning that went into our family dinners.
As I reconnect with that wisdom once again I find some kitchen appliances very handy. A slow cooker is a really great way to have a warm meal ready for me when I come back home. A steamer helps me prepare my vegetables quickly. I have one I use on the hob. Baking trays allow me to cook my seafood and meat with ease. A wok allows a quick stir fry.
I also have a food processor. Once a week (usually on a Sunday) I chop up everything I need for the week. Hence it is easy for me to put together the salad or root vegetables I hope to eat. I watched chefs on youtube and improved my chopping skills. It is a fun way to learn to cook better. Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay have great ones.
As a general rule I try not to clutter my kitchen with appliances however I find having these has made my dinners much easier.
3. Food processor
4. Soup blender
5. Good quality kitchen knife set
6. Chopping boards
7. Glass storage jars
What I used to find difficult was the time between leaving work and cooking dinner. When hungry and tired I ate all kinds of rubbish. By the time my good dinner was ready I was no longer hungry.
Now on arrival I drink a cup of tea or bone broth. I eat a few nuts. Then I put my dinner together. This little change has saved me from the mistakes I made before. I eat a small snack before I leave work. This also stops any unhealthy munching. I like to light a candle when I eat and prepare my dinner meal. I give gratitude for the day and bless my food. I both eat diner and sleep so much better now.
I wake up much more fresh.
I am very attached to a warm drink before going to bed. Something that soothes me and prepares me for sleep. My favourite night cap is chamomile with honey and lemon. I find sipping this tea with all my technology turned off leads to a beautiful deep sleep. Try creating your own night cap. Something uniquely you.
However big or small your kitchen may be, keep it clean and tidy. Make the space personal and soulful in a way you feel uplifted. My mum always emphasised the value of a tidy kitchen. It took me a long time to appreciate the wisdom of her house rules.
Now I enjoy keeping my kitchen space tidy, full of life and soul. The space grows with me as I grow.
The time I invest in creating it really does make my life more beautiful. I used to be a messy cook. And I mean really messy. My deal was if I cook for the party others can do the washing up.
Now I do it all for me. If others help that is great (not mandatory). My kitchen has a rest and is welcoming to arrive at, the next time round.