For many years, a lot of my time and passion has revolved around food, nutrition and health. In many ways, this has been a valuable passion that has taught me a lot, helped me improve my personal health and allowed me to help others pursue their goals of healthy living. I love cooking and reading recipes is a favorite pastime for me.
I love the we, as a culture, are learning to focus more on our health. It scares me how much we have let ourselves go as a population (guys, in 2010, 75.1% of adults in America are overweight. 42% are obese. OBESE!), so my heart is warmed when I see people making choices that put their health above their comfort or physical desires. Any time I see someone that is clearly out-of-shape out running, I have to fight the urge to roll down my window, pump my fist and cheer them on as they have made the difficult and uncomfortable decision to work to improve their life.
But what happens when you take it too far?
What I can no longer deny is that health and nutrition have frequently become idols for me. Struggles with body image have won the battle of priorities in my life at many times, which means that God and His image of me has taken the backseat to my own earthly image of myself. Even though it has been a while since I have been statistically overweight and even though I know that I am of a healthy weight and size, I still struggle to avoid criticizing myself, to approach food and cravings in a healthy way and to remember that food and nutrition are made for our bodies, not the other way around.
I am very careful to avoid ‘fitsipiration’, a new social media trend (mostly Pinterest) where you use inspirational images and statements to inspire you towards fitness goals. Surely keeping yourself motivated toward fitness goals is not a bad thing; however, most of them feature photos of women with absolutely ripped abs, toned and defined backs, strong and chiseled hips, or men with bulging, billowing biceps, huge and shredded pecs, the quadriceps of Hercules. As much as they can inspire you toward improving your fitness, they can equally remind you just how far from ‘perfection’ you are. It is a reminder of just how far you are from being worthy of being called ‘fit.’ Continue reading
But really though, is it? When will it be ready? I thought you were supposed to be done by now? When can we eat? It looks good already, can we just eat it now?
Don’t pretend you haven’t heard these questions before. Probably, you’ve even asked them before, perhaps even to yourself about your own cooking! A meal is taking a bit longer than you expected, you’re really hungry and that stew really does look pretty good. Why not just eat it now?
More often than not, we need to practice patience in our lives. Sometimes it is just waiting for dinner to be ready, sometimes it is waiting for results from your new diet plan, sometimes it is waiting for God to answer prayer. Our prayers come in many forms and are never answered in the same way. Almost never are they answered on our timeline or in ways that we understand. Because God’s time is not our own time, we frequently find ourselves asking, “When? Weren’t we already done with this? Isn’t this taken care of already?”
So here’s a stew recipe that asks you to wait, even though it looks like it is ready.
Hatch Green Chili and Pork Stew
2 lbs lean pork, cubed
2 Tbs fat (I use olive oil)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c tapioca starch (you can use flour or cornstarch if not observing a such a diet)
1 can diced tomatoes (14 oz)
6-8 roasted green chilies, chopped*
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 c chicken stock
- Heat the fat over medium heat in a small dutch oven or stock pot. Add the pork and lightly brown (don’t worry about it being cooked through, it will cook later).
- Once the pork has browned, add the onion and garlic until translucent.
- Stir in the starch to coat the pork, so that everything is sticky (this is your thickening agent).
- Add the tomatoes (you can drain them if you like, but I prefer them undrained), green chilies, jalapenos, salt and pepper. Incorporate thoroughly and allow to simmer briefly. Then add the stock, bring to a rolling simmer.
- Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and simmer for at least an hour, best at least two hours.
*You can typically get these roasted in-store, but if you live in a place like I do, where they only roast one, maybe two, Saturdays out of the season, I just roast them on my own. This is easy– line a baking sheet with foil, line out the peppers and roast at 400* for 20 minutes. Then turn the peppers and return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Then allow to cool, remove the stem, skin (should be papery) and seeds.
About halfway there, you could easily fall into the trap of ‘isn’t it ready yet?’ It looks right and everything seems cooked. Why wait?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about “healthified” recipes. You know the kind of recipe I’m talking about: things like pancakes made with coconut flour or replacing the oil with applesauce in banana bread. What I’ve realized, though, is that these things tend to enable us to continue in our unhealthy habits instead of leading us toward healthy habits. We all love banana bread (if you don’t, we can’t be friends), but let’s be real. I don’t care how many ingredients you substitute, there is no way you can turn it into a health food. You just can’t.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there is no value to making healthier exchanges to our foods. I’m all for that. But here’s the deal– we cannot lie to ourselves and let ourselves believe that something that is meant to be a treat is actually a healthy food. We have many ways of deceiving ourselves into believing that things that hurt us are actually ‘not that bad’ or actually good for us. We love doing this sort of thing! Why? Because we get what we want and are freed of the consequences. What could possibly be better than that?!
Sadly, if our recipes were the only aspects of our lives about which we lied to ourselves, we would actually be pretty decent shape. But the real problem is the way we accept and encourage our own sin.
Thanks to the military, my husband’s schedule is never a sure thing. Aside from long nights and phone calls at 4 am to confirm the paperwork he signed or to call him in to evacuate planes, there’s the constant change in shifts. After nearly a year on the midnight shift (similar to the traditional third shift), he spent about six weeks on days (the traditional first shift) and was recently moved to swing shift (basically second shift) for a few weeks. Once those weeks end, he will be some sporadic days of work and appointments, then some leave and then off to deployment in the desert for four months. Life married to the Air Force, even in our ‘easy’ corner of the world, stateside with minimal danger and longer station assignments, is hardly predictable or consistent.
All that is to say that the last few weeks while he has been on swing shift have been challenging. Our time together is minimal because I’m usually in bed by the time he gets home and he is still asleep when I get up in the morning. We usually have about half an hour together before I go to work. And then he is gone when I get home. It should be no surprise that I highly value the time spent around a dinner table and this schedule makes this impossible. It has put quite the damper on my cooking spirit! When I was single, I still cooked for myself quite a bit, but now that I’ve got someone that I get to cook for, lacking that is such a bummer!
So tonight I insisted on cooking (a bit) and putting together some of my favorite flavors to make:
Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush
(fancy people call it polenta)
1 c yellow cornmeal*
3 c beef or chicken broth (water also works)
2 c cooked, shredded chicken**
1/4 c barbeque sauce (recipe below, or your favorite bottled sauce)
Toppings of your choice, such as:
sliced raw onions
cole slaw/raw cabbage
- Bring the broth or water to a boil in a shallow saucepan. Once at a boil, whisk in the cornmeal bit by bit, whisking rapidly until smooth. Stir quickly and regularly to avoid clumps. Allow to cook over medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes, depending how thick you’d like it. Add a dollop of butter or margarine, if you like it a bit creamier.
- Toss the chicken with the barbeque sauce (below) and spoon over the cornmeal mush. Allow each person to top with pickles, peppers, cole slaw, etc as they prefer their own barbeque. The cornmeal mush is like the cornbread!
Kansas City-style Barbeque Sauce (adapted from Food Network)
Yields 1 quart
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c ketchup
3 Tbs brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs corn starch (+ 3 Tbs water, whisked into a cornstarch slurry)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp liquid smoke
- Bring the oil to temperature in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Before it bubbles, add the onions and garlic, cook until transparent.
- Add all remaining ingredients except for the cornstarch slurry and liquid smoke. Add a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Add the liquid smoke, then slowly incorporate the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Allow to cook for a few more minutes, longer if you like it thicker (it will thicken as it cools, as well).
- Strain, if desired.
*polenta works, too, but it is effectively the exact same thing, just a little more finely ground and about three or four times more expensive
**I use shredded chicken quarters that I boiled to make chicken stock a few days ago (quarters are pretty much the cheapest cut of chicken and have lots of dark meat flavor!)