I have just come back from my kitchen. It’s Monday morning, Nico is at school and I have a cup of tea. I have just put the lentils on to cook with some star anise. Do you do that? Is that a thing? How will it taste? I have no idea, but I am feeling quite proud that I actually remembered to soak the lentils last night and I prepared some extra lentils for sprouting – they are in my bathroom cupboard as I write.
I am reflecting on recent changes about what it’s like when you don’t know what to eat. Never in a million years did I think I would be the type of person to soak lentils for sprouting, experiment with spices, and lovingly prepare overnight oats with cinnamon, hazelnuts, banana, and chÍa seeds – I didn’t even know what a chÍa seed was until 6 weeks ago, FFS!
Yet here I am wondering why it is good to have rice with lentils or turmeric with black pepper, how can I incorporate more black beans into our meals (tried them last night and they are amazing – I had no idea!) and what on earth I will do with the aubergine I bought on a whim yesterday.
I lie in bed dreaming of curly kale, chickpea sandwiches (also a thing) how to get more greens onto our plates, the perfect way to flavour chicken that doesn’t blow our heads off, and what I can do to stop my 12-year-old from snacking on cakes at midnight – clearly I am still starving him. But I am quite impressed that he added dried cranberries, and chÍa to his own oats this morning!
I am also reflecting on how this need for knowledge and support, the experimenting with what to put in my mouth, (careful!) the rollercoaster of emotions, standing in my kitchen feeling completely lost, and lurching from feeling giddy with excitement to so overwhelmed I could cry within the space of an hour, is not dissimilar to the journey I went on when I quit drinking.
Swapping Beer for Cake
Before I quit, I never imagined that I would be here over four years on, completely confident and certain in my sobriety and thanks to my sobriety, be much more able to cope with this new chapter in my life. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be helping my husband recover from a stroke at 48 which is what led to this newfound
struggle adventure with food!
I’ve always loved food and thought that as a family, we did pretty well and ate quite healthily. I have always cooked from scratch and would never ever dream of buying a ready-meal or frozen lasagne. I make my own hummus, cakes, and pastries and even my pizzas are homemade, base and all.
Right from the start, I’ve tried to feed my kids well and when they were babies’ their weening foods were mashed potato and broccoli, homemade apple puree, fish pie with peas and carrots, or a full-on shepherds pie, pureed and spooned into ice cube trays for freezing. I never bought a jar of baby food in my life and Annabel Karmel was my Goddess.
It was food that helped me when I quit drinking, I swapped beer for tea and cake. Chocolate became the new way to treat myself and relax and despite going through God knows how many crisps and biscuits, I still managed to lose about 10 kilos in the first 3 months of alcohol-freedom.
I thought what we ate was fine, just fine!
So to be faced with having to completely change (in my panicked state anyway) what I thought was already pretty healthy eating was a bit overwhelming, to say the least, never mind helping my husband with his recovery at the same time.
Why the fear of food?
In the hospital, the food was awful, not surprisingly. My husband’s diet was low in cholesterol and ‘sin sal’ so everything tasted, well, of nothing! Seeing a chicken leg and veggies or bolognaise or even a beef stew one day was quite encouraging, but the taste was always disappointing.
I didn’t want to just cook the same old stuff but without salt. I didn’t want my husband (or us) to miss out on great-tasting food. Truth be told, I just didn’t know what to cook.
The challenge I faced was trying to fit blood pressure and cholesterol-reducing foods (whatever they were) into our diets as well as fill us up, and make everything taste great without salt. Not easy! Gone were the sausages, the bacon sandwiches, the pulled pork, pizza?
All processed foods had to go and I began checking all the labels for salt, fat, and sugar content. Do you know how much salt is in a tin of sardines? How are we supposed to get our quota of oily fish then?
“Just eat real food, cooked from fresh with loads of veggies to crowd out the bad stuff”, my friend Kate said (she’s a doctor so knows these things!)
“Avoid processed carbs but eat good quality ones like potatoes, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. You don’t have to cut out fat either, just the fat-laden crap that’s preprepared. You can’t go wrong with that”
When you don’t know what to eat
It sounds so simple and it was, honestly the best advice I had received so far – none of the hospital leaflets were helpful, and trawling through the NHS website, while full of great advice, made my head hurt. It was just too much.
And it left lots of questions unanswered. Can we have eggs? How much is 5 a day? What does that even look like? How do you spread that out across the meals, do we have to be more or less veggie now? What about nuts, seeds, and oats? Can we still have pork from time to time, can I even roast things or fry them? Is that okay as long as it’s in olive oil?
I went into a total spin. All I wanted was a simple meal plan with delicious recipes full of great-tasting ingredients that were easy to get, cook, didn’t cost a fortune, or require fancy equipment or loads of time to prepare.
Oh and didn’t contain salt, of course, also the right amount and right kind of fats, healthy carbs, and protein?? Oh, and the recipes had to be free from fancy ingredients because I live in a hillybilly Spanish pueblo, and money is tight. (raspberries are fancy here, to give you an idea)
Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find such a meal plan so set about creating my own.
So here it is, my very first blog post and I hope to share with you my continued experiments in the kitchen, what I learn from books, podcasts, and talking to real people about real food. I feel like I am starting from scratch and it feels scary but exciting at the same time.
I hope you will join me on this journey as I learn how to navigate change, and recover from trauma through lifestyle changes, mindset shifts, and of course the food we eat.