Institutional food brings out the two-year-old in me. What about you?

Who decides what you eat? Like me you may find that on a not-too-stressful day when you have the time and the awareness quite a kind and creative part of you makes your food choices. The inner two-year-old feels safe and cared for. Build in a row with someone you care about or a sudden work problem and that kind and creative part may be more difficult to access. What happens then? The two-year-old starts to feel wobbly and I find food is my first go-to means of feeling better – or that’s what I hope as I open the chocolate digestive (substitute your own comfort). Sometimes that can be a quick fix, a little hug that I can give myself and sometimes … well we all know what happens sometimes. Sometimes that blessed child has eaten the whole packet before you notice and then there’s a lot of shouting and shaming. All that and on the outside you are that well-groomed adult going about your business.

So what if you’re in a situation where your food choices are limited by your canteen or the conference centre or the hospital you work in? What happens when circumstances force you to change the time of your main meal from evening to lunchtime or vice versa? You may remember I was looking forward to a bit of a detox at my retreat last week but I had reckoned without my reaction to being a Dutch conference centre with no access to a kitchen! I suppose that’s not as bad as having no access to a bathroom but it’s a close run thing for us cooks.

Let me be clear. There was a huge choice of food, much of it healthy, much of it not but very little of it made my heart sing. It was catering on the large scale and catering never lends itself to a little something arranged on a plate but rather to things that you dollop onto your plate with a spoon. Portion control already a problem, you see. Grazing around the endless tables of food that doesn’t appeal means I easily eat vastly more than I usually do and it’s food I don’t even like! This made me angry in itself – with myself and, unfairly, with the Dutch. When someone else is in charge of what is available it can bring up a very young part and I found I was quietly having a tantrum amidst all the peaceful spiritually aware crowd. It was their fault I was eating too much and not even enjoying it. Before long I hated everyone and the rotten chairs we were sitting in too.

Fortunately at a retreat you get a lot of time to process your reactivity and after a couple of days I got wise to what was happening. I stopped blaming everyone else (mother, take a bow) and took myself off to the supermarket to buy lots of fruit and that was enough. Having heaps of fruit for breakfast meant the other two meals were fine. However it made me really feel for people whose whole lives involve institutional food which can be very tasty and very heavy on the calories. When the food is a break between work periods (or meditation periods) it feels as though you deserve something nice and you do. The trick is to take care of yourself and look out for the two-year-old within drumming its heels and howling while you cast around for something to shut it up. So at the risk of repeating myself here is salvation on a plate. The eternal fruit salad. Enjoy.

 

fruit-salad

Stress and Addiction Eating

Under stress our addictions pop right up again even when we thought we’d sorted all that. If you’re under stress (who isn’t?) look after yourself. Here’s how.

Have in a wide range of food in healthy proportions. (That means a packet of biscuits in the tin, sure, but a fridge and a fruit bowl overflowing with fresh raw things. Cheesecake is not a raw thing.)

  1. If you feel the need to eat and it’s not a meal time reassure that anxious part of you that it’s not going to starve and lay your hands on as much fruit as you can. Eat it straight or arrange it like a still life first. Don’t want fruit? Always have access to some tomatoes and miso soup, maybe a hard boiled egg too. Keep reassuring the anxious part which is not your stomach. If your anxious part is afraid of the food, reassure it just the same. There isn’t going to be any force feeding. There is only kindness. Sense into the part of you that panics. How old is it?
  2. If part of you is always afraid of being deprived, eat off large plates. A large plate filled with raw foods and a small amount of protein/carbohydrate/fat (meat, fish, cheese, bread, mayonnaise, salad dressing, butter etc) . This feels generous and is less likely to send that hungry frightened part into orbit.
  3. Equally if your small and hungry part is frightened by food, make it a small and tempting plate. Imagine you are looking after a toddler.
  4. Make it tasty! Anchovies, lemon juice, fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, coriander on your salad mean you don’t need so much oil.
  5. I’m all for healthy eating but this isn’t the time to start giving up salt. If you’re trying to eat sensibly in terms of quantity make it delicious. If you try to revolutionise your eating in one go (from a Full English diet to no-salt, low fat)  you are asking to fail. One thing at a time. Don’t feed the part that believes in all or nothing. Feed the grown-up part that knows to take it slowly. Someone needs to look after that toddler.
  6. Make soup. Make soup often! Making it is incredibly therapeutic and eating it is pretty good too. My current favourite is root vegetables such as carrots, swede and parsnips – whatever you have in but go easy on the potatoes. Chop and saute and onion. Peel and chop your root veg and add to the pan with enough Marigold vegetable stock to cover generously. Cook until the veg are soft and then liquidise. Freeze some and meanwhile season what you are keeping out for the next few days. By seasoning at the time of eating you can vary the soup. I like to add cayenne and curry powder for quite a spicy taste, then add some good yoghurt or a dash of cream to your bowl when serving. Next time you can add ginger and lemon and parsley or some other wonderful combination you’ve discovered.

 

Today’s recipe is for Pasta with Prawns.

Prawn Spaghetti

 

Chop finely some parsley and garlic and put in a small bowl with the prawns (room temperature), the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper. Heat some good olive oil in a small pan and when your pasta is drained and ready add everything from the bowl with the prawns in it and a teaspoon of Harissa pasta or a sprinkling of chilli flakes. Warm through and divide between the pasta dishes. This also works beautifully with crab meat or sautéed courgettes or roasted broccoli instead of the prawns.

Detox Cooking

detoxThe Detox Kitchen has put its recipes into print.

This cookbook was on my Christmas list and I have tried out a good few of the recipes and whilst they are not quite as delicious as the food they sell in the Detox Kitchen in London that may be because they are even healthier! However what I have really got to grips with through cooking with this comprehensive book is that the use of fresh herbs and lemon juice is really underrated – at least by me to date.

What are the toxins I am trying to get rid of? My belief is that my body mostly expels things it finds toxic all on its own and that my job is to keep my body healthy enough to take care of itself. So I got curious. The toxin I identified with the help of this cookbook was the toxin of two double binds I hadn’t spotted previously.

  1. I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to use fresh herbs and lemon (unless other people were coming of course) because I hate buying those little packets of fresh herbs in the supermarket. For why? Because I feel I ‘ought’ to be growing them.  It won’t come as a big surprise that many of them grow best in hotter and drier places than an Oxfordshire garden so, to be clear, I was doing without because I had an idea that they should be perfectly sourced. Madness.
  2. The second thing that stood between me and cooking with finely chopped greenery  was a laziness I wasn’t conscious of. An aversion to the labour of chopping properly, a resistance to tracking down the lemon squeezer and and washing it up afterwards meant I was depriving myself of deliciousness and some health benefits too. Letting go of the notion that I had to grow the herbs myself means I can cook with herbs! Letting go of the notion that it is too much trouble to wash the lemon squeezer means I can cook with fresh lemon juice!

Just doing the things that seemed ‘too much trouble’ has sidestepped the double bind and this seems a radical detox to me. Try it because, as that woman on the TV says, you’re worth it.

In the consulting room I am always listening out for the toxin of undermining ourselves and punishing ourselves in the name of being better people. If there were one magic wand I would like to wave for my clients it is the magic wand that would dispel all these forms of self-hatred (because, yes, that’s what it actually is). Not thinking I’m worth taking trouble for is a form of self-hatred. Likewise there is no kindness in improving your diet out of a desire to be good. If you want to be a better person, start by weeding out the self-hatred which lurks behind some ‘good intentions’ and imposes a regime of self-chastisement which breeds rebellion.

Meanwhile back to the herbs. You won’t believe how great it is to have a beautiful pile of finely chopped parsley or coriander and garlic to strow over your simple sautéed chicken breast.

Here is the chicken with herbs and lemon juice shown with either lentils (I’m afraid they were tinned as I was in a hurry) or saute potatoes. The Spring cabbage is done in the microwave for four minutes with a knob of butter and a little salt.

Of course if you don’t eat chicken you can do the self-same thing with courgettes or carrots or roasted squash (when it comes out of the oven).

 

Begging Bowl

Picture a little girl at the centre of a circle of people. She wears a pretty dress, a winning smile and she holds out a bowl, inviting gifts as she goes around the circle. What is not pretty in this picture is what you cannot see. The child is starving. She is not begging for sweets or treats but for her life. She may smile but these people mean nothing to her but the food without which she will die. Starvation robs her of her humanity. (The antique among you may remember the film  They Shoot Horses Don’t They? ) 

What is the food this ruthless child needs? What will relieve the pain of her starving? It is not food in the usual sense. It is admiration, to be made to feel special, kind words which connote value. Lacking any sense of her own value, she seizes upon those who might briefly make her feel of worth. People who do not find her charming are dead to her, in fact they are barely people. Perhaps you have a mother like this, or a boss, or a sister or even a best friend? Someone who drains you of all good will and leaves you feeling used? We read a good deal these days about narcissism in terms of others but not much about what is it like to be so needy, so deficient in self-esteem, so uncertain of one’s human worth that we put all our efforts into the facade of self we want others to see. The facade may be to do with what you look like or it may be looking like a certain kind of person – clever, generous, imaginative, creative, self-sacrificing – fill in your own adjective. One thing is for sure. It is not about thinking how great you are. It is the opposite.

We call the food the little girl is seeking with her begging bowl ‘narcissistic supplies’. Blaming and shaming her cannot prevent her from doing her rounds. She wants to stay alive! Relieving this suffering in the consulting room or in ourselves is slow work because it is about standing our idea of reality on its head. We must begin to entertain the idea that we are valuable human beings independently of that facade we painstakingly tend to. We must loosen the compulsion to interfere with how we actually are, begin to accept that we are human.

It is easy to see how this suffering plays out in what we eat and how we feel about our bodies. Here too we must discover that our worth is not related to what shape we are or what we eat or don’t eat. There’s a new year coming up in which we have another opportunity to listen to our bodies and open our hearts. You could do worse than start with this wholesome dish below.

Mirepoix is the underlying flavouring of some of my Italian Christmas cooking : ox cheek, osso buco, pasta in brodo. (Recipes to follow.) Every culture has its own version of the mirepoix or soffrito but  they include substantially the same basic ingredients known as aromatics.

 

mirepoixMirepoix

Dice finely at least 2 each of carrots, sticks of celery, onions and any other vegetables you may want to use up (leeks, fennel, parsnips, swede, celeriac) and put them in a heavy pan with some olive oil. Chop some garlic and any fresh herbs you can get your hands on and add these too. Saute over an extremely low heat for half an hour to an hour so that they all but melt.

This will give you enough of a flavour base for a casserole of soup for 4-6 people. If you make more you can freeze the extra until you need it.

Lentils with Burrata or Cotechino from the Polpo cookbook.

You can use this mirepoix as an addition to cooked or tinned lentils. Heat the lentils gently with the mirepoix and heap a serving into each large pasta bowl. Now add to each a few slices of some very good sausage (cotechino made from pigs trotters is traditional in Venice) or burrata cheese (or buffalo mozzarella if you can’t get burrata) or ). The burrata will melt into the hot lentils. The sausage is good with mustard or mostarda (fruits preserved in mustard syrup) if you can get it.

Instant Gratification Monkey

peppers-2Carluccio’s Stuffed Peppers. Recipe below.

Yes, I will be coming to the stuffed peppers but bear with me. I bring news. I recently discovered a wonderful blog site called Wait But Why and along with that a Ted talk on procrastination by the brilliantly funny Tim Urban. If you need a small pick-me-up this Sunday, do visit his talk. A gifted humorist, in explaining his own procrastinating Tim divides his brain into three : the Rational Decision Maker, the Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster. I guess we all know those three and here’s how they work. The Instant Gratification Monkey overrules the Rational Decision Maker whenever there is fun stuff to do so that the hard but sensible stuff is for ever put off. That Monkey pushes us to a cliff edge of disaster and then the Panic Monster steps in to save us from public humiliation and catastrophe.

But when it comes to eating the Instant Gratification Monkey (which only likes easy and fun) is less amusing than when it is just getting in the way of boring but necessary tasks like filling out our tax forms. As Tim says towards the end of his talk, where there is no deadline involved the Panic Monster is never called upon to step in and save the day. In those situations procrastinating becomes truly self-destructive. Procrastination about things that need doing in favour of instant gratification can lead to a life wasted and full of regret and curiously devoid of gratification.

If you want to learn Greek or lose weight or save up enough money to travel to the other side of the world the Panic Monster is never going to come to your aid because there is no point at which achieving those things becomes a matter of life and death. (And in fact for some people even when their weight does become a question of life or death there still isn’t enough panic to kick start them into changing something.)

In psychotherapy we have a slightly different take on these three structures. The Instant Gratification Monkey is your internal two year old with no self-control, no vision of the future, no memory of the past. The Panic Monster is a great name for the super-ego which devotes itself to making sure we deliver when it’s really important and makes our lives a misery with its constant warning. Trouble is the Panic Monster is just that, a monster. It knows no perspective and blows up having a little pleasure into the Crime of the Century. In reality the super-ego is pretty constant in its criticism and that means we operate in a miasma of feeling bad.

So where’s the Rational Decision Maker in my picture? Well, I like to think that as we learn first to make contact with, then to cultivate and to trust our internal wise adult we can moderate the self-destruct button that the Monkey likes to play with AND we can stand down the Panic Monster. So if you recognise that Monkey and that Monster in your own behaviour it’s time to get in touch with that third part which can transform your life with wisdom and kindness. Think of it not as Being Sensible or Healthy or Good (these terms put the Monkey into overdrive). Think of it as giving yourself a present. Give yourself a present today of doing something kind for your body that you don’t usually do. Meanwhile, here is my present to you.

This recipe is for Stuffed Peppers which are great hot when you’ve just made them and only improve overnight. The recipe is adapted from Antonio Carlucci’s online recipe for the same.

 

Ingredients
4 large yellow or red peppers, or a mixture

250g fresh white breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon salted capers, desalted
1 tablespoon finely chopped pitted black olives
3 large tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and finely diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and finely chopped *
125ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

You can add grated Parmesan cheese to the stuffing or as a topping or top with Mozzarella if you prefer.

Add some water to the breadcrumbs and then wring them out so they are just damp. Mix them with all the other stuffing ingredients including half the olive oil and spoon into the halved and deseeded peppers. Place in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle with the remaining olive oil before roasting in the oven until they are done to your liking. Serve with bread and salad or roast meats.

  • Vegetarians can omit the anchovies and add extra cheese.

Eating in the Now

Have you all heard about the now? It’s kind of big at the moment, if you’ll excuse the tautology. It’s big because mindfulness has become so fashionable that even the government thinks it might be good for us and that’s usually about the time that a craze is o-ver. But let’s not hold that against the now. At the risk of being annoying I would just mention it is all we’ve got. Yesterday, you will have noticed, has popped off somewhere you can’t get at it any more and tomorrow, well we all know about tomorrow, that temptress who never delivers.

in-the-now

If you’ve been told you’re too fat since you were just a child you may be standing at the fridge eating just because you can! There’s no-one to look at you and make you feel uncomfortable. Overeating can be a way of having your own back on your past but because it’s not very kind to your body, it is a strategy that could do with some adjustment. Overeating can also be an unconscious behaviour. When there’s a serious derailment of our connection with our body we often behave unconsciously. Smokers who light two cigarettes at the same time are unconscious. Over-eaters on autopilot are unconscious as they wolf down a burger on their way home to a Weightwatchers dinner they spent their weekend making.

So what does eating in the now mean? It means not eating off other people’s plates, or straight from the fridge, or standing at the kitchen counter without getting a plate because those are ways we sort of pretend we’re not actually eating. You know that joke about food being calorie free if someone else ordered it? It is just a joke, sadly!

Eating in the now means being present as you eat, enjoying what you eat, noticing that you are eating, noticing what you are eating and how you feel when you start and how you feel when you stop. As I am writing this I realise that it means being grown up around food and if that feels scary take as much time as you need, as often as you need to look after the part that isn’t ready to grow up.

Let’s own up to eating! We’re allowed! Let’s make pizza and eat it in full consciousness and without apology. What is the right amount to eat if you’re not having your own back or pushing yourself but having a good time?

Pizza!

pizza

Bread Dough

500g strong white flour

1 x sachet easy bake yeast

0.75 pints of hand warm water

Salt to taste

  1. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and bring together with a flat knife into a dough that you can eventually tip onto the counter.
  2. Knead briefly and scoop back into the bowl. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour.
  3. While the dough is proving make your passata by barely simmering some good chopped tinned tomatoes, or over-ripe chopped fresh tomatoes, or bottled passata with a garlic clove, a little salt and a good splash of olive oil.
  4. When the dough has grown and has visible air bubbles in it after about an hour put your oven on its highest setting and set a shelf half way down the oven.
  5. Tip the dough back onto the counter with some flour and knead it back and forth until it feels like a baby’s flesh, soft and springy. Roll it out as flat as you can and put it on a parchment lined baking tray. Use your hands to stretch it to the edges of the tray.
  6. By now your pasta should be thick and oily and you can spoon it onto the dough and spread it to the edges.
  7. Again leave for about half an hour – because it’s pizza not bread we don’t need the full rise.
  8. Now you can add your pizza toppings of choice, bake on high for 20 minutes and eat. More delicate toppings like mozzarella or prawns can be added half way through the cooking.

Toppings

sliced mushrooms

salami or ham

tuna or crab or prawns

basil or oregano

roasted peppers or aubergines

cheese : mozzarella, goats’ cheese, cheddar

cooked spinach

Eating What You Are

Over the disconcertingly long time that I have been giving this some thought, I have come to realise that our lives are all about eating in different dimensions. For physical growth we need food. For psychological growth we need food and the food we eat is our selves. What do I mean by that? I mean that in order to grow our work is to digest the defences that we put in place during our formative years. With support we gradually allow ourselves to feel things which were too big or conflicted for us to feel as small children. We allow those parts of ourselves which we abandoned to come back to life, to thaw out. We feel into what caused those defences to form in the first place. In my work I encourage sensing into the body which is where all those experiences are stored.

And what has this to do with food? Two things. Firstly the process of digesting our psychic structures is remarkably similar to our physical digestion. When emotional work allows insights to arise and awareness to increase it can feel as though you are digesting the old ways of seeing. With practice you can actually feel it happening. Secondly addictive behaviours around food are like every other addiction. They are strategies, albeit misguided, of delivering pleasure to the brain when it is in emotional distress. Usually they are accompanied by self-punishment AND THE PUNISHING FEELINGS RESULT IN MORE OF THE ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOUR. You will notice that I am shouting and with reason. The first step away from addictive behaviour is to challenge the self-punishing and bullying thoughts and acts and replacing them with love from you to you.

Clients often ask ‘How do I do that?’ and the answer is very simple. Your own internal bully is much the same as a bully in the external world and the same techniques work.

How to Deal with Bullying

There are more than two parts of you (the bully and the victim) there is also a wiser, more adult part that can step in. Make use of this. Treat that bullying voice which belittles you and goads you in just the same way as you would handle a bully in real life. Treat the cowering part as you would a frightened child. (There is excellent advice about overcoming bullying here.)

These conversations can take place in your head or somewhere you can shout if you need to. (If you run it can be a great time to have this out!) They need to become a second-nature routine whenever the voice starts up. Here are your strategies. Rotate them.

  1. Ignore – don’t listen. (Mentally) walk away and keep walking. Don’t play the victim and don’t reason or argue with the bully.
  2. Stand up for yourself – really get angry with that bullying part so that it isn’t the only part of you with any energy. Remind the bully that bullying arises out of fear and weakness not strength. Tell the bully where to get off.
  3. Tell someone who can help – locate that third, authoritative and wiser part of you that can mediate.

These are the internal processes, boringly simple, which can bring the bullying to a less damaging level. Don’t be put off by the simplicity. With practice this works.

And now for todays recipe which also works.

Blackberry and Apple Cheese

blackberry-apple-cheese-2

Just a quickie to make you feel that even if you live in a city centre you can participate in making lovely things in jars. I made a couple of jars of this one morning when I had some left over stewed apple and some supermarket blackberries and blueberries in my fridge which were going to go off if they weren’t used pronto. It is a good way of making very expensive berries go a long way.

1. If you need to start by making your stewed apple peel some Bramleys and core and slice. Put in a microwave dish with lid and cook on medium to high power for 10 minutes until blitzed.
2. Now see what berries you have to hand. Blackberries, blueberries or raspberries, red or black currants. Fresh or frozen will do well.
3. Weigh the total fruit you will use and put it in a large heavy pan.
4. Add the same weight in sugar.
5. Heat gently  until the sugar is dissolved and then bring to the boil.
6. Stir often and simmer as high as you can without it boiling over for 10-15 minutes.
7. Start testing for setting. If a droplet hangs down instead of falling off a clean wooden spoon, it is nearly ready for potting. If a droplet on a cold saucer forms a skin after a few minutes which wrinkles to the touch, it is likewise ready.
8. Sterilise your jars in the oven, the dishwasher or rinsing out with gin or vodka.
9.For a true cheese you should really sieve the jam before potting but it’s really just as nice with all the lumps and bumps.
10. Eat in cake, on scones, on toast or alongside some sharp cheese.
blackberry-and-apple-cheese