Green Tips: Buy Local & Shop for a Cause

Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering a theme I like to call “Shop with a Cause”. It’s about supporting local businesses, companies, and products that work for you, your health, and are sustainable or provide opportunities for others to lift themselves up. I’m all for donating to a good cause (here are many of my favorites), but in the words of the much more eloquent Nick Kristof: Because trade often benefits a country more than aid. I’m a strong supporter of foreign aid, but economic growth and jobs are ultimately the most sustainable way to raise living standards.
Today I want to focus on supporting your local community. Why buy local? Think about what you want to put your money towards – the CEO of a giant big box chain or the local family-owned store that has been a landmark in your town for generations? The prices may be a little different, but think of it as making a donation to improve your community, and you still get your goods or services on top of it! I always choose to buy local, and you can get more information from the 3/50 project here. When you buy local, everybody wins.One striking fact from the 3/50 project stays with me: For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through payroll, taxes, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 dollars stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.

So there you go. You can help out your local community, support sustainable products and solutions, and contribute to businesses and companies that work to improve the situation of everyone on the planet. All by shopping! Keep an eye out over the next month as I cover shoes, chocolate, clothing articles, and, as always, whole foods!!!

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More reading: Africa on the Rise, by Nicholas Kristof
The 3/50 Project: Saving the Brick and Mortars Our Nation is Built On

Food for Thought #3: Trust Yourself

Health has a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual component. I’m a huge believer in holistic health, addressing issues from all four sides, because all these components are related. You can’t try and fix one alone and expect to heal. Physically, I’m challenged with the autoimmune disorder Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Mentally, the complexity that comes with having an endocrine disorder sometimes leaves me with doubt that I will ever be fully “whole” – that is to say healed. Emotionally, the toll of eating foods that were fundamentally damaging for my system – for instance gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar – left me with patterns of emotional and stress eating habits that I still struggle with even on my new, healing diet. And spiritually, all of these factors sometimes take a toll on my hope for the future, though that is becoming less and less of a problem as I work through my issues while writing this blog and striving to help others.
If you go to My Story, you can get the background on my struggle with weight loss, body image, and depression. When you are eating foods that you are intolerant to, everything becomes a greater struggle. These foods are working against your body, against you, and this can really mess with your emotions. So much of my depression and lack of self-worth came from the damaging cycle of eating foods that I could not tolerate. This created a terrible cycle of eating and depression: being addicted to trigger foods, which caused me to be depressed and to eat more as a way to “deal” with my depression. Then I lost self-confidence because I thought I didn’t have enough willpower and that I didn’t deserve to be healthy, when really my body was just not getting the nourishment it needed.
People get an adrenaline rush from foods they are intolerant too, producing intense cravings. Learning that fact was insanely liberating. There was nothing fundamentally “wrong” with me because I craved carbs and sugar and binged on them all the time. It was not my “fault” that I didn’t have enough “willpower” to resist eating these foods. It was just my body reacting to being constantly under attack.  Releasing myself from these toxic, health-damaging, distressed emotion-triggering foods was one of the most important things I did for my physical and mental health.
When I was eating addictive and damaging foods like simple carbohydrates and massive amounts of sugar, I felt like I was fundamentally “wrong” as a person – flawed because I had to force myself to complete super-hard workouts, expend an enormous amount of painful, strict, self-berating willpower not to eat foods that were “bad”, and fight myself all the time in order to lose weight. In reality, my body was fatigued from the stress of combating constant attacks on my immune system (a result of eating those foods) and  hard workouts that further exhausted my malfunctioning adrenal glands. My body would respond to the harsh mental vice I put myself in by craving the “bad” foods even more. So I thought that I was battling against my body and my mind. The real problem was that my damaged system was not getting foods that were nourishing, but rather toxic substances – again, gluten, dairy, soy and sugar – that were destroying my physical and emotional well-being.
Through eliminating foods that hurt me and supplementing with the right kind of exercise, I’ve gotten better over the years about fighting against myself, because the foods I eat are no longer “fighting back” but rather working with my body to heal. But years of troubled eating habits had left an undercurrent of doubt running deep in the channels of my brain. The emotional toll of eating a Standard American Diet was so stressful for my body and mind. Though I started to eat healing foods, mentally I still blamed myself when I wasn’t getting healthier (or skinnier) fast enough. Every time I learned about a new issue that someone struggled with in weight loss, I thought it might apply to me. Oh, maybe I’m a night eater? An overeater? Do I have this disease? I was covering up my real fear by trying to diagnose myself with all these issues I didn’t have. I was terrified of trusting myself.

I still am a little bit.

I wanted to CONTROL the way I ate, because when you have an auto-immune condition,  it can feel like your body is spinning out of whack and all you can do is hold on and brace yourself for the crash. The only control you have is over the food you eat, or so it seems. Years of eating foods that triggered a vicious cycle of depression, overeating, and more depression covered up my body’s intuitive ability to seek out foods that were nourishing and healing. I felt like I couldn’t trust myself because somehow, if I let go of my rigid brain control, my body would find its way back to all those trigger foods and I’d be lost in that horrible cycle again. Really, trying to control my body, seeing it as separate from my mind, was working against my weight loss goals. Instead of weight loss, now I focus on health and working with my body, not separating myself from it.

The stress of maintaining such rigid mental control, seeing myself as a divided house where mind and body were at war, manifested itself in emotional eating. By trying to use mental control to lose weight, I wasn’t addressing my holistic health, just patching up one issue and tearing open a giant side effect in the next. I used eating as a way to combat anxiety and stress and also to avoid simply feeling certain emotions. I didn’t know how to deal with fear or loneliness, so I ate in order to avoid feeling things that I “shouldn’t”.  In those days of gluten depression, sugar mania, and dairy-and-soy hormonal rollercoasters, I thought I didn’t deserve to feel certain things because, compared to the rest of the planet, I was so lucky in life. What right did I have to be depressed when I was privileged enough to have more than most people ever hoped for?  It made me feel weak that I wasn’t living enough with all the bounty that I had. Also, this is where some of my depression regarding the environment came into play.

healthier ways to celebrate, eat, and enjoy life – sweet potato layer cakes

This disconnect that I had between my mind and my body was physically disrupted by the food I was eating. The disruption I experienced in my endocrine system, through hormonal imbalances, put me on an emotional rollercoaster. Mentally, this turned into a struggle to control the seemingly uncontrollable things that were happening to me. Spiritually, I began to doubt myself.

I felt like whatever I did was wrong. I harbored guilt from those days of depression and my lingering patterns of stress and emotional eating,. I had thought it was my fault that I was depressed, that there was something wrong with me, and then I discovered that the food I was eating played a huge role in my depression. So that meant I associated food with all my ailments. Now, while I am recovering from PCOS and living with Hashimoto’s disease, I still fall into the same trap of thinking food is the root cause of all my problems and that I am at fault for eating those foods and preventing myself from healing. I ate some carbs before bed, maybe that is why my adrenals are pumping and I can’t sleep at 3am?? What did I do wrong? What am I doing (eating) wrong? What will I do (eat) wrong? That brain tap-dance of self-blame and always thinking you are “wrong” or at fault is incredibly draining, physically and emotionally. Concentrating solely on weight loss and obsessing over what you are eating adds to that fatigue. I’ve shifted my focus to regaining my health rather than losing weight. I am alleviating my fear of not trusting my body by educating myself about my relationship between my brain, my body, and my food.

And the final component, the key that has been missing all these years, through a diet that was making me sick to a diet that is making me well, through a complete lack of exercise to finding the right balance of exercise, through letting go of the ideas of blame, fault, wrongness, lack of self-worth and embracing the emotions that make me feel terrifyingly vulnerable and alive, that key ingredient is self- love. More on that next week. Please tell your friends.

Food for Thought #2 Don’t Let Your Brain Beat Down Your Heart

Food for Thought #4 Self-love, an introduction

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Further Reading

Food Addiction Harder to Kick than Cocaine – Paleo Pepper

Curing Psychological Drivers of Binge Eating with a Paleo Diet – Paleo Pepper

Disordered Eating – Paleo Pepper

Neuropeptide Y, Appetite Macronutrients, and Yo-Yo Dieting, or Why Restriction Breeds Carb Addicts and Disordered Eaters – Paleo for Women

The BEST Way to Eat Meat

I have many reasons for eating the way I do. I have food allergies. I care deeply about preserving the environment. I’ve struggled with depression, weight issues, and health concerns. But the most important reasons? 1. So I can be happy and 2. Because it tastes so damn good.

A whole foods diet comes down to that for me. The food just tastes better! And I’m happier when I eat healthily – my body and brain are in sync and working together to help me enjoy life, rather than “fighting food”. Fighting food for me means struggling with guilt, emotional eating, or cycles of ups and downs triggered by sugar, gluten, and other foods I am intolerant to. It is your choice to prioritize your health or the planet’s health, and I choose to do that in the most enjoyable way I can think of – eating awesome food with a clear conscience.I’ve never been a huge red meat eater. I’ve also avoided jumping into the meat topic here because I am friends with so many vegans, but the reality is I eat meat and so do many people. If you do eat animal products, I think you have the responsibility to do it in a sustainable and humane way. That is what I mean when I say eating food with a clear conscience. And bottom line? Sustainable meat always tastes better, because it is higher quality.
Sustainable meat usually means grass-fed or free-range, but there is such a labeling stigma that I want to break it down further.  I’ve decided to cover red meat in this post, moving on to pork next and maybe even updating my previous post on chicken down the line.“Regular” meat that you see in stores is a product of commercial farming or factory farming. Animals no longer live out a happy life with sweet old farmers, plenty of sunshine, fresh air,, and grass. Rather, meat production today has turned into a profit-driven market, where animals are force-fed genetically modified corn and soy along with discarded garbage or even animal waste, kept in dark, extremely overcrowded feedlots or pens, and pumped full of artificial hormones and antibiotics because of unsanitary conditions. Cows contribute more pollution than transportation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Environmental Working Group has released an extremely worthwhile and helpful report called the “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.” I’ll give you a quick summary, but I think you owe it to yourself and your health to read it through.- Lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and salmon are the worst for your health and the environment. Commercial farming of these products creates more manure and pollution. Eating meats with concentrated greenhouse gases exposes you to toxins and leaves you at a greater risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

What to do? Eat pasture-raised, completely grass-fed beef, lamb, and dairy products. True grass-fed beef raised with organic practices has more nutrients and reduces your exposure to toxins, pollutants, and artificial hormones. Choose wild caught salmon and try eating more sustainable seafood choices like sardines, anchovies, or local fish.

– Commercial lamb, beef, and cheese production emits high amounts of methane gas, which is twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide.

– Manure leaks pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics and metals. Factory farm slaughterhouses dump millions of pounds of toxic pollutants – nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia – into our waterways each year. That means that not only your meat is dirty, but water and other crops that the waste runs off into. Ever wonder why there is so much E.coli in spinach?

– Because conventionally-raised meat is raised and fed in essentially a pond of it’s own manure, overuse of antibiotics on these animals leech into the meat we consume and our groundwater. This also  creates “superbugs”, viruses that are more difficult to treat because they are resistant to vaccines. Conventional meat also contains artificial hormones that increase cancer rates.

What to do? Eat free-range, pasture-raised animals for a scrumptious way to lower your risk of bacterial infection and cancer. How great is it that if you prioritize your health, not only you will reap the benefits but the environment as well.

Sustainable meat choices conserve soil, reduce soil and water pollution, preserve biodiversity and wildlife, and eliminate our overdependence on chemicals while promoting pest and weed resistance.

What if I can’t afford it?
1. First, assess your priorities. Think of your health care costs down the line if you wind up needing heart surgery or lifelong treatment for diabetes. Find other things to cut back on in your life and use the money instead for better quality, better tasting food.
2. Use meat as a side. Mark Bittman is a huge advocate of this, and he has many recipes that use meat economically and in a way that still lends great flavor to dishes.
3. Order meat in bulk and split the cost with a friend, family, or neighbors.
4. Eat less meat. If there really is no room in your budget, than reduce your consumption of meat in favor of more filling vegetables, squash, lentils, beans, and other plant-based proteins. It’s better to eat good quality meat twice a week rather than terrible quality meat every day.
5. Buy tougher (and cheaper) cuts of meat and use slow cooking methods like braising to yield mouthwatering results.

What if I can’t find it?
1. Look for a meat CSA. You can start here at the Ethicurean, or search the directories at LocalHarvest and the Eat Well Guide.
2. Check out your local farmer’s market or ask local farmers. Buying local supports your community and reduces the impact of transportation costs on consumer prices and pollution.
3. Ask your grocery store to start carrying sustainable meat choices! Let’s make this mainstream – consumer demand is a powerful thing.

What if I can’t cook it and I’m afraid to screw it up?
1. Get a friend or mentor to help you out with the cooking or show you some techniques.
2. Check out this helpful site and recipes.
3. Use your crockpot! It is the most forgiving way to prepare meat. There is less risk of burning it or drying it out. Stay tuned for the recipe tomorrow!
4. Email me with any questions. I’m here for you.

A word of caution. While grass-fed beef is a better health alternative for you, it’s full environmental impact is currently up for debate. I still think it is 1,000 times better, taste, health, and environment-wise, than factory farm meat, but I believe in moderation when it comes to red meat.

Check back tomorrow because I am going to introduce you to your new best friend – the slow cooker – and my favorite sustainable meat choice!

Tuesday Green Tip #1: Reusable Bags!

Hey everyone! A few of you have requested more eco-friendly tips, so I am starting Tuesday’s Green Tips to help you make easy changes to a planet-happy lifestyle. My first one? The reusable bag!

I’m a bit of a reusable bag fiend. I like to collect really cute ones. I always have one with me : rolled up in a purse, in my backpack for school, my desk at work, in the trunk of my car (when I had one). At first I forgot once and a while on my way to the grocery store, but I left reminder notes and hung the bags on my front door and eventually it became a habit: keys, wallet, reusable bag, cell phone, check! Once and a while I STILL manage to forget a bag, so I just buy a new reusable bag and then gift it to a friend, neighbor, shelter, person-in-need, or whomever could use it!

Having a reusable bag will eliminate a lot of paper and plastic waste. Here are a few short facts about plastic bag waste!

Plastic bags are a waste of resources

It is estimated that 12 billion barrels of oil and 14 million trees are required to produce the 380 billion plastic bags Americans consume each year.[1] Each bag has an average life span of 12 minutes[2] before it is thrown away, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste[3]. Oil is a non-renewable energy source, and plastic bags do not biodegrade, rather they are broken down into particles that pollute soil and water and are taxing and difficult to clean up.

 

Recycling plastic bags is inefficient

Less than 1% of plastic bags are recycled.[4] Moreover, the process of recycling plastic bags costs city and state governments large amounts of money and is grossly inefficient. According to the Sierra Club, it costs $4,000 dollars to recycle one ton of plastic bags, which can be resold for only $32.60.[5]  According to the Clean Air Council, “The state of California spends about 25 million dollars sending plastic bags to landfill each year, and another 8.5 million dollars to remove littered bags from streets.”[6] At a time when states such as California are facing enormous debt and cutting costs, it seems prudent to eliminate such wasteful practices before eliminating essential services like teachers and public workers.

 

Plastic bag fees work

San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Ireland have implemented successful plastic bag fees, ranging from 5 to 17 cents in America and 37 euro cents in Ireland. Fees are ONLY required if a person does not bring their own bag. In Washington, D.C., one month’s revenue from fees, $150,000, was used to clean up the Anacostia River. Ireland experienced a 90% reduction in plastic bag use since implementing the plastic bag fee in 2001.[7] China banned plastic bags and saved 1.6 billion tons of oil with an 80% compliance rate. [8]

Single-use bag fees cover both plastic and paper bags, encouraging people to bring their own bags from home and eliminating a huge source of waste and money drain.

Plastic bag fees DO NOT negatively affect low-income individuals and families

Lower-income communities, in fact all communities, already pay for plastic bags or single-use bags through taxes and increased food and retail prices, all from absorbing the cost of cleaning up after single-use bag pollution. These communities also often have the worst plastic bag litter, and “every bag fee policy currently under consideration at the local and state level would either subsidize reusable bags for low-income residents or exempt low-income residents from paying the fees.”[9]

 

Plastic bags are one of the biggest sources of pollution, especially for the ocean

“Plastic trash entangles, suffocates, and poisons at least 267 animal species worldwide.”[10] It is estimated that 80% of all marine litter is plastic, which never biodegrades. Rather, “when the small particles from photodegraded plastic bags get into the water, they are ingested by filter feeding marine animals. Biotoxins like PCBs that are in the particles are then passed up the food chain, including up to humans.”[11] So it is not only the animals that suffer, but ultimately humans polluting our own food sources.

A plastic bag fee will CREATE revenue, not hinder it.

In addition to the outright cost for city and state governments, also bourn by the consumer through taxes, retailers suffer out-of-pocket costs from single-use bags, which is also transferred to the consumer through higher prices. It costs the city of San Francisco 17 cents to clean up each plastic bag[12], the city of San Jose $3 million per year to unclog drains filled with plastic bag litter[13], and retailers factor in 2 to 5 cents for each plastic bag and 5 to 23 cents for each paper bag for consumer prices, which can add an extra $30 per year per person.[14] Eliminating our use of single use bags will save individuals, retailers, and governments millions of dollars each year, as well as lower carbon emissions, save on resources, and be kinder to our environment in general: “Bags clog storm drains and recycling equipment, costing cities millions, and bag litter lowers property values and degrades recreational areas.”[15] We will all save money, resources, the health of humans and animals, and overall improve our quality of life if we eliminate our false dependence on single-use bags at the cost of literally pennies on the dollar.


[1] Lem, Erin. “The Truth Behind Plastic Bags.” Care2 – Largest Online Community for Healthy and Green Living, Human Rights and Animal Welfare. Care2.com, 29 June 2011. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-truth-behind-plastic-bags.html&gt;.

[2] “Myths Vs. Facts Regarding Single Use Bag Bans And Fees.” Www.projectgreenbag.com. Web. 1 Feb. 2012. <Myths Vs. Facts Regarding Single Use Bag Bans And Fees>.

 [3] Clean Air Council. (2009, May). Why Plastic Bag Fees Work.

 [4] Bushnell, K. Plastic Bags: What About Recycling Them? The Sierra Club. Retrieved June 2010 from http://www.sierraclub.org/sustainable_consumption/articles/bags2.asp

[5] Ibid

[6] Why Plastic Bag Fees Work

[7] Lem, “The Truth Behind Plastic Bags.”

[8] Pasternack, Alex. “As U.S. Cities Waver on Plastic Bag Tax, China’s Bag Ban Saved 1.6 Million Tons of Oil.” TreeHugger. Discovery Communications, LLC, 9 June 2009. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/as-us-cities-waver-on-plastic-bag-tax-chinas-bag-ban-saved-16-million-tons-of-oil.html&gt;.

[9] “Myths vs. Facts Regarding Single Use Bag Bans And Fees”, projectgreenbag.com

[10] Ibid

[11] Bushnell, K.

[12] Ibid

[13] “Myths vs. Facts”

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

Kitchen Failures

don’t get discouraged – you can cook!

I absolutely love it when I can convince my friends to cook more at home or persuade anyone that homemade is better than from a box. I guess I was born with a kitchen gene, so when a few friends mentioned they were downright afraid to try and cook I was flabbergasted. I can’t understand it. Cooking is just very natural to me, because when I was about 12 I had to start helping out in the kitchen. In middle school I loved to watch Emeril Lagasse’s cooking show, before the food network was The Food Network. I continued to watch cooking shows throughout high school and pitch in at home, then research recipes on the internet in college, and finally we have arrived at the glorious age of food blogs. Now, if you’ll allow me to be so bold, I just like my food better, haha. I know what is in it; I like the taste; and I feel great eating it. But the last thing I want to do is discourage anyone with my blog posts!

So I have been trying to think of ways to take the fear out of cooking. I haven’t found a magic answer yet, so I would appreciate any feedback in the comments. But one thing that seemed to encourage my friend was actually hearing about all the times I have messed up in the kitchen. “Even you?!” she said. Oh my Lord, you have no idea. I’ve been making mistakes in the kitchen since 1998, and it is only because I kept going that I’ve come to be where I am today. And please don’t think I assume to know everything about cooking. Not at all. I just love to do it, so what I lack in skill, I make up for in enthusiasm and the desire to try new things.

Everybody makes a mediocre meal once in a while. Everybody Googles “How to chop onions…” or something to that effect – that is what the internet is for! Just yesterday I had to Google “cooking chickpeas from scratch” because I hadn’t done it in a while. Everybody fails at some point or another. The difference is you can either go back to eating in such a way that sucks all your energy and resources (convenience food, fast food, etc), and the planet’s resources, or you can take your mistakes/flops/failures and turn them into what I like to call “learning experiences.”

The kitchen should be a fun place, a place of laughter and openness and creativity. Successes are memorable, but flops are funny too and they make for great memories. One of our favorite past times at Johnson family gatherings is to reminisce about Grandma Mary’s extreme standards in the kitchen. Numerous times she wanted to throw out entire roasts or pans of sticky rolls because they were “terrible”.  Luckily we saved her from the trouble on a few occasions – and those sticky rolls were some of the best I’ve ever had! My grandma had high standards in the kitchen, and so do I, but sometimes you can’t take yourself too seriously. I believe in holistic health, nourishing body and soul, and if you are stressed about your food or cooking or think your reputation as a cook is dependent on one meal or dinner party, STOP WORRYING (I’m guilty of the latter). One meal is not a make or break situation. Getting back to the cutting board, no matter what, defines your character as a cook. And everyone can cook something!

So, what follows is a sampling of memorable flops for me. This doesn’t even include all the mediocre meals or so-so things that didn’t come out right. I’ve only come as far as I have because I’ve been working at it for many years, and making mistakes all the time. That is how you learn:

– When I was 13 or so, I made my first meal completely on my own for my family. And the chicken wasn’t done – totally pink in the middle. Everyone sat down to eat and my dad pointed it out. Whoops! We just ate the sides until the chicken baked through a bit in the oven. No big deal. Buy a meat thermometer. It takes out the guess work/hacking into chicken.

– Last spring’s terrible, awful, soggy quinoa chickpea crockpot soup. I shudder to think of the texture. I tried to bake it and salvage it by turning it into a casserole, a technique which has worked for me in the past, and it was still awful. I couldn’t even make myself eat it. Luckily as of last year I had a pretty rockin’ compost pile going. You can’t save them all. Also, the first time you make a crockpot recipe, be home in time to check it when it is supposed to be done.

– Ah the memorable summer where I messed up banana bread THREE TIMES IN A ROW. First I forgot the baking powder, then I forgot the baking powder AGAIN, and then finally I burned the last loaf.  They were all edible ~ the first two were only 1.5 inches thick, and the last one I crumbled down and baked into a trifle of sorts. But honestly, three times in a row?! Next time I will make a recycled brownie smoothie to save a dried out baked good.

– Adding WAAAAAY to much oregano or rosemary to a number of pork or meat dishes. Those two herbs, dried or fresh, are particularly strong. I tend to be heavy-handed on the spices, but I’ve learned I need to dial back on those two.

– Last week I dropped a cake. Rushing around before work, I was transferring pans and SPLAT. Luckily the partially cooked cake (testing failure!) fell into another pan. So I turned it into a crumble – threw some topping on and baked again until it was done. Not an ideal way to make stuff, but it worked. You just have to be flexible and open to, er, creative possibilities. And not be in a rush!

– The time our freezer went out and I forgot about the frozen chocolate chip cookie dough I had in there. I baked the balls a few days later, but they were so skunky and nasty they went right to compost! What a waste of time and energy, all because I left a simple job until too late.

Things I’ve learned:

1. Read the recipe thoroughly before attempting anything. Make sure you have all the ingredients. Double check. As you add ingredients, especially when baking, triple check that you haven’t forgot anything. I like to assign my youngest brother Jake as project overseer when we are cooking or baking together in the kitchen.

2.  From the cookies: don’t leave it to the last minute. Don’t leave food in the back of the fridge or waste ingredients because you avoided the situation. Man up, find some gloves, even a mask, and tackle that mystery substance in the back of the fridge. Regularly take stock of your fridge and freezer and note what should be used first. Follow the first in, first out rule.

2a. The banana bread failed for several reasons. I was distracted, rushing, and didn’t check my ingredients. I’ve also made dinner parties way more hectic by buying the ingredients in the morning, realizing I didn’t have everything, rushing inefficiently to several different stores, and then making a huge mess in the kitchen because I didn’t have time to clean as I went. Don’t get in your own way.

3. How? Set yourself up for success. If you find recipes daunting, take it one step at a time. Go grocery shopping Friday – then double check that you have everything. Maybe do your prep work on Saturday: roast squash or vegetables, chop onions, celery, and carrots for soup, or even wash and dry lettuce for your salad the next day. On Sunday, take your time cooking or baking– play some tunes, call a friend over for moral support/dishes assistance, and take it one step at a time. Just break it down into mini goals and manageable pieces. Start small, think big.

4. Plan ahead. But what about when it is midweek and you don’t have the time? Use staple recipes, or very simple ones. Chop ingredients Sunday night so you can make stir frys quickly at the beginning of the week. The same goes for having a healthy lunch. Rushed in the morning? Pack it the night before. It will save your kitchen from looking like this in the morning.

as the Pioneer Woman would say, "keepin it real"

5. I also don’t like doing the dishes. At all. And I usually make a big mess in the kitchen. My comedian of a brother even made a song about it once, set to “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from The Fiddler on the Roof.  So clean as you go ~ don’t leave a big mess for yourself to face at the end of the meal.

6. Maybe it isn’t as bad as you think. Things won’t always go the way you want to – when I experiment with recipes the outcome is often not what I desired. But I like really strong flavors, and often my dinner guests tell me it is really good and they genuinely seem to enjoy it. Don’t get too worked up about things – it isn’t the end of the world if your soufflé flops or your carrots are cut in a dice rather than julienne. Laugh it off and try again. I remember I tried to make a “fruit brownie” (it worked in my head, but in practice brownies without chocolate? What was I thinking) and I didn’t think it would be very popular. I brought it to my cousin’s snowmobile race and they guys loved it! I believe “out of this world” was the phrase used. I agree, it was an alien brownie.

Another time, I spent an entire morning making donuts on a whim, and coercing my flat mates to help make them too. When it finally came to fry them, I couldn’t get the oil temperature right. I was tired, covered in flour, and in desperate need of a shower and non-carby food – all of the sudden it seemed like an incredible responsibility to be group donut leader and I felt horrible for letting every one down and failing. I was ready to give up and throw in the towel, but a dear friend convinced me that, hey, it wasn’t the end of the world, people would still be my friends sans donuts, and, most importantly, to give it one more try. We finally figured out the oil situation, and they were the best donuts we had ever made. Don’t give up! You can do it. I believe in you. Sincerely. I want you to love being in the kitchen as much as I do, creating wholesome food that will make you feel your best.

7. Ask questions – talk to bloggers, produce workers, butchers, farmers, pot luck hosters, your dad, your Grandma, your rabbi’s cousin – there are people out there who want to help you. I’m one of them! All you’ve got to do is take the initiative. Choose to be in control, intend to create great food, and share with others. I want to hear your success stories! I don’t care if it is making a smoothie or peeling a kiwi. If you conquered your fear of the kitchen, share with us and help others do the same!

I’ll be sure to keep posting both successful recipes and flop stories in the future. Until  then, happy experimenting!

Need more help?

Find a mentor – and check out my blogroll for awesome websites!

Stop procrastinating (not just in cooking but in life!)

How to fix 17 Basic Cooking Mistakes : I wish I would have had seen #11 five years ago!

Jump on the healthy cooking train! More American families are cooking than we thought, and Mark Bittman can show you how to do it simply. The man isn’t called the Minimalist for nought!

Free from Gluten, Full of Happiness

Eliminating gluten from your diet, or any other allergen, can be a daunting and slightly overwhelming experience if you don’t have the right coping strategies or attitude. Here are a few tips that have helped me enjoy food without missing a beat!

celebrate life – champagne is gluten-free!

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