My Food & I: A Romance. Kinda.

Hi!

I am back. And regular posting shall now commence!

I had a wonderful weekend with my friend, and we got a chance to “talk shop” a lot — we shared recipes, struggles, good moments, etc. all related to our journey with Weight Watchers. She’s working hard at getting her whole family on board, despite their resistance. I’m proud of her. Remember the day I told you all to thank the “Chelsea” in your life? Think about how much harder it is for folks who DON’T have an ally at home. Instead, my friend faces a fridge stuffed with unhealthy items, a kitchen not conducive to the cooking she wants to do — and folks around her who aren’t willing to help. Sigh. Many hugs to her.

As always, when I count my blessings, I count Chelsea at least five times.

So remember when I posted that recipe about the buffalo cauliflower bites? And I said I wasn’t convinced there wasn’t a way to do it without batter? I was totally right. And the answer was not as far removed from my reach as I’d thought! I’ll post it in its own post, after this recipe. Turns out, you can season ’em however you want and just pop ’em on a tray and bake. And cauliflower, might I add, is mad filling.

I’ve not tried to actually EAT this new recipe yet — it’s baking in the oven now as part of my late lunch — but I have high hopes.

But as I was chopping up the cauliflower, pulling the greens off the bottom, carefully slicing away, I remembered — and wanted to tell you about — one of the most wonderful parts of Weight Watchers and eating healthier: the relationship I’ve come to have with my food.

Lots of folks who struggle with their weight say they have an “unhealthy relationship” with food. That horse has been beaten to death so many times it’s not even a horse anymore. But I think, really, when people try to consider the converse of an “unhealthy relationship” with food, I feel like most considerers wouldn’t explicitly say “a healthy relationship” with food.  Sure, it’s the obvious opposite — but I think we believe often that only obese or unhealthy people have “relationships” with food (and “unhealthy” ones, at that) — we don’t think about the ways in which we can really bond with what we eat and cook and consume. It’s my gut hunch that a lot of people, without directly saying so to themselves, have a feeling that the opposite of an unhealthy relationship with food is… not having to think about food as a relationship partner. In some ways, sure, that’s the triumph of being at a weight and/or in a body that doesn’t require extra attention. In other ways, that’s sad.

The idea that our food can be a beautiful, interesting, surprising and wonderful part of our life, instead of something with which we must struggle or be ashamed, is still fairly new to me. But it’s life-changing.

Here’s how I came to learn:

This past April, Chelsea and I moved into our first house. We rent, sure, because eventually, PhD in hand, I’ll be scouring the entire country for jobs. So we don’t own it. But it’s a whole house, with a beautiful (no, really, it’s gorgeous) yard and a basement and a garage and a front porch and all the trappings of suburban family life. We have neighbors we adore. All that jazz.

All this is to say: finally, I’ve got a little bit of land. Saying so reminds me of a song I love — “She Don’t Like Roses” by Christine Kane — “She wants a treehouse / She wants a garden / A little bit of land to put her hands in / It smells like lavender / In her apartment / It’s always on your clothes / Every time you’re going home.” Beautiful song.

Anyway.

I knew, when we got the house, that I wanted a garden. My mom LOVES to garden — flowers are moreso her passion than veggies though — and I really love my mom. When I think about home, and being a woman who takes care of her family and the space where they live, I think about my mom. And I think about her garden. And I think about the moving and poignant process of planting a thing, caring for it, watching it grow. I think about a kitchen simmering with meals she planned and made healthily (I didn’t even know what Gushers were until like seventh grade; no crap at Chicky’s house!).

It was time for Chelsea and I to really make a home; I wanted a garden; I wanted to embrace that next step of womanhood and life that involves connecting with myself, with the people I love, and with the earth.

So with my mom’s help, I planted tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and okra. I wish I could tell you it all went really well — but the squirrels stole all my cucumbers, I could never tell when the okra was ready to pick, and I only grew two peppers. But the tomatoes…

I ate them as snacks. I put them in salads. I brought some to everybody I knew who might possibly want some. I was so proud of them. I helped make them. Eating them felt like communion instead of just food.

As this was all happening, I was exploring cooking much more. Chelsea and I literally do not ever eat anything at our house that didn’t come from a recipe book — no “wingin’ it” here — because we don’t trust ourselves to count the exact points otherwise.

Within a year of using recipes and buying groceries ONLY FOR THOSE RECIPES and planning our meals, I went from a gal who thought PB&J required skill to cooking really incredible food.

And it wasn’t just incredible because it tasted yummy: it was incredible because I felt like I was a part of it.

And as I cooked the food, I grew to love it. I learned the right way to chop cabbage — how to angle the knife to avoid that bitter core. I learned the quickest way to dissect a rotisserie chicken. I learned to love the messy and truly beautiful chaos of peeling and de-seeding a pomegranate. I came to love vegetables in a new and almost weird way — they came from the Earth. They were alive, in some way, to me. They weren’t prepackaged or anything like that; they weren’t processed. And as I learned to cook with more vegetables — for example, like making those cauliflower bites! — I felt the way I felt about my tomatoes: connected, invested, in charge, in a deep sense of bonding with my body and with the food that nourished it.

The same patience and tenderness that my mom has put into landscaping and maintaining her garden, I’ve put into my own little garden and into cooking the food that comes from it.

Yes, cooking takes time. Not everyone has time. I work four jobs (full-time PhD student, I teach two courses at the university, I’m the Program Coordinator for a local non-profit and I’m a private tutor) and I still found time to get more involved with my food. The recipes I love the most are mad fast and mad easy; I’m no maestro in the kitchen and I don’t have hours to slave.  I began to try anyway.

But by investing myself and my time, and by putting myself out there to experience that “earthy” connection with growing my food and/or eating mostly things that are born into and thrive in the same planet where I live, too, I came to love my food. To feel proud of my food. To feel invested in my food.

And to feel invested in myself, and in my small role in the fascinating, powerful world and the life-giving miracles it provides us with, both in veggie form and in human.

The journey toward healthfulness, I’ve decided, is not just one of starvation or punishment or change or re-vamping or whatever.

It’s one of investment, patience, and deep connection.

It’s kind of like learning to feel alive.

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