Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Kitchen Studio

When I realized I was spending as much time in my kitchen creating culinary art as I was spending in my art studio creating collages, I dubbed the kitchen a "studio." Studio is defined as "a room where an artist, photographer, sculptor, etc. works.
Synonyms: workshop, workroom, atelier, workspace. "the artist's studio"
This works for me. I am claiming that my cooking is art. Therefore, kitchen studio. 

I have adored this book. I like to have it handy on a shelf in the kitchen. There's a great website, too: but I like the feel of the book. 

In the first section or so, there is a great diagram. Seeing this made me really think through how I use my space; what I did first, how much I walked and pivoted. How could I be most efficient, safe, and what just looked more inviting. Just like my art studio, it took time to arrange materials on surfaces to determine the best flow for my making.

In addition to work areas, the tools for cooking need to find their places. When I add a new gadget, I have to rethink my set-up. But that's just fun. Things I use least go up high or hidden in cabinets. Things I use most often are out on the counter, or within easy reach or eye level. 

I love my kitchen studio. I've worked hard to achieve the look and function I like, that motivates me to want to be in the space. When I have parties, most people don't move from this space. I'm incredibly lucky to have a 6-burner gas stove and these giant windows. And lots of hummingbirds that are quite vicious but fun to watch as I chop or do dishes. I hand-painted the cabinets based on a Matisse cut-out design.

I need lots of chopping space. I try to use one for meat an one for veg for sanitary reasons. I keep a ceramic bowl for trash right there, so I don't have to walk four or five steps behind me when I need to toss something. I just wait for the bowl to fill, then empty the bowl. 

I do wish I had more counter space to the right of the stove. This spot gets used more than any surface since it's closest to the fridge. All of my utensils are in those drawers. Forks, knives, spoons are in the top. Ones I use to cook with most often are in the white and turquoise ceramic jars on the counter. I also keep cooking oils there: canola, olive, and coconut. Vinegars are grouped on another counter. I'm getting into crazy vinegars, like cameroon mango. That's another post! I like my built-in shelf there, too. I had an organizational orgasm buying new glass spice jars with silver screw on lids and labels. Oh so fun and they look great. 

Who doesn't love thoughtfully curated refrigerator doors? This is where I collect school photos of my niece and nephews, their drawings and notes to me, and magnets from cities and national parks I've visited. They remind me of good times, restaurants, and views. On the left are two menus I bought on the streets of Paris. Super sexy women and food. I should have bought more of these. Next time!

Aren't these shelves stunning? They came with the house. It's easy to look junky; I've slowly replaced various colored plastic bowls with just silver, white, and wooden. Dishes are mostly white, or turquoise now. Mugs are from various cities. There are framed postcards of places I've traveled. The sign in the middle says "I'd like to lick your grits and butter your biscuits." Ha. A print from Hatch Print Studio in Nashville. Some original art by local Kristin Huke. A short stack of my favorite cookbooks. A beer label collage courtesy of Leslie Smith's dad. Dachshund salt and pepper shakers from Karen Kostan. Purple goblets and china set from my Grandma. Things I use most often are at eye level and within easy reach.

Friday, September 2, 2016

RIP Recipes

So here are some of the foods I just can't make a meal of anymore. They hurt my stomach. I can't digest them. They give me hardly any nutrition. And they were my trigger foods that led to my fat self. I couldn't stop. Four pieces of pizza. A whole big bowl of pasta. Three slices of bread. A dozen wings. With beer. After some kind of dip. Whew. I am extremely lucky that I don't crave these meals these days; I just have a fond memory of them. I can't explain why I don't crave them; but when a hankering does come around for them or it's just something everyone likes to eat, I've tried to make some healthier versions. So I can at least get the taste, fool my brain into thinking it's the full deal...


Veggie Pizza, homemade dough

My homemade version was amazing, just ask Lance. Made my own crust, added garlic to it. Tomato paste and honey as the sauce. Fresh toppings, grated mozzarella. The best. If I can get the crust thinner, this may come back for me.

Flatbread Cracker Pizza
I've only made this once. Trouble is finding the large flatbread crackers that have some flavor. Need to find a brand and order online. These are yummy and satisfyingly crunchy. Same toppings as my original pizza, but much easier to make since I just put them in the toaster oven. My toaster oven is getting more use now, since it's perfect portion size for me and I don't have to heat up the whole oven.

Pizza Cup Minis
These were divine but messy. Too much oil since I used a dollop of homemade pesto in them. Press three pieces of pepperoni into each mini muffin cup in the pan. Fill with veg, meat, bit of tomato paste, and top with mozz and parm. Bake in oven until cheese melts. Bite size delight.


Mac and Cheese with sausage and hot sauce
My thin friends controlling themselves at my mac and cheese birthday buffet

Once I figured out how to make my own mac and cheese, I was obsessed. It was scary. I even had a birthday party themed around it. Seriously. I made a huge steaming pan of it and asked friends to brings toppings. It was a big hit. To the gut. Ugh. There just is no substitute for this dish. I'm having to settle on stealing a bite of my nephew Jonah's when I get to see him. 

Homemade pasta

I got culinarily curious about making pasta, so I asked around on facebook and found a friend who gave me hers (thanks, Meg!). I see why people don't make it often. It's high maintenance, but the fresh taste seems so worth it. But then you remember how cheap it is to buy. So then you put the machine away. Either way, I can't eat much of it. Takes up too much room in the tummy, and there's no protein or vitamins to speak of. I've tried zucchini noodles. Nope. Edamame noodles were an exciting prospect since they packed in tons of protein. Nope. The textures of these just don't work for me. Not enough of a fake-out for my brain. This is the best I've been able to come up with so far:

rice noodles
They are super thin and pretty easy for me to digest if cooked long enough. I've gotten a bit of angel hair pasta down, but I'm wary. I don't want angel hair to be the gateway drug back into overeating. I use them as pasta, and with stir fries. Any time I need a noodle, this is my go-to.


No Knead Bread with rosemary

My GOD, isn't this beautiful?! Got the recipe from my friend Karen. I still love good bread, but I can just have tastes. I hope I can do a half panini or grilled cheese eventually. I also want to try a sourdough starter. I was just in Depoe Bay, Oregon and came across this shop called Toasted. Check out the menu. All kinds of toast! With delish homemade jams and toppings. What a brilliant idea. I guess it's a thing on the west coast; I want to bring it home if I can make good breads.

Pancakes of course

RIP pancakes. Never loved 'em anyway. Sugar for breakfast just isn't appealing. I'm a savory and salty girl. But the ritual was fun. And nothing beats the smell of real maple syrup filling the house.

Buffalo Wings, some kind of dip, and beer

And last but not least, a super-size RIP to this particular combo. Super Bowl Sunday will have to have some new alternatives fo sho. This is the only time I made wings myself, but as I made them, you can see, I drank beer and had lime flavored tortilla chips and some kind of yummy dip. Chowed down. These days, I just can't eat wings at all. I've tried three times. Won't stay down. Must be the fact that they are fried and loaded with flour and seasoning. Not sure. Had thought since they were full of protein, they'd be a good idea. Nope. They're pretty horrible for anyone. I can get my buffalo fix other ways!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Slow Cooked

Slow cooking is low and slow. I love cooking in this Le Creuset pot; you probably have a slow cooker in the kitchen, a Crock Pot. This size is great for a meal or two for me and my man, or for 4-5 small meals for me to portion out over the week. I love this kind of cooking most of the year. The food I best digest is soft; slow cooking cooks every element through evenly, and the flavors just meld together and create a incredibly flavorful bite. With most of these recipes, I start on the stove top, then put the lid on and move to the oven for an hour or two at about 350.

Coconut-Braised Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes

Found this recipe in Food and Wine magazine. Start with cooking chorizo and sweet chopped onions in the pot on the stove top. Then add bite-size pieces of dark chicken meat. I use dark because it is more moist than white meat, easier to digest. Choose your chicken. Stir the chicken pieces into the chorizo and onions for five minutes or so. Add in bite-size pieces of potato. I use yukon gold, more buttery, but any kind of root veggie would be great with this. Stir the whole mess around for another five minutes. Add some salt and pepper at this point. Then, pour in a can of light coconut milk and enough chicken broth to cover the ingredients. Stir a bit. Put the lid on and move to oven for at least an hour. Serve with fresh cilantro or herb of choice. Squeeze some lime. Yum.


Chili is such a versatile dish. I make it slightly different every time; you really can't go wrong. Into my pot I put: can of black beans (drained), can of kidney beans (drained), can of chili beans (do not drain, you want all those seasonings. Then add one can crushed tomatoes and one can fire-roasted tomatoes. Stir all of this together. Add chopped onions and peppers of your choice. You can remain meatless, or you could add some ground meat already cooked in another pan. For seasoning, you could add a package of chili seasoning or add your own. I like to sprinkle in cumin, chili powder, sea salt, smoked paprika, and a bit of cayenne for some kick. Taste as you go as to not over season. Once seasonings are stirred in, put the lid on and put in oven for an hour. Top with freshly grated cheese (tastes SO MUCH BETTER than packaged pre-shredded), sour cream or plain greek yogurt, and cilantro. Throw on some jalapenos if you need more heat. 

Sirloin Pot Roast

I'm not a huge beef fan since the surgery. I can't digest it well, it actually hurts my stomach. But if it is slow cooked and practically falls apart, I can do it. Chop up yellow onions, carrots, and mushrooms into bite size pieces. Trim green beans into sizes you prefer. Put in pot with a bit of coconut or olive oil and a bit of minced garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes, add some salt and pepper as you saute. Add bite-sized pieces of sirloin. Stir whole mess around for another 5 minutes. Add enough low sodium beef broth to just cover the ingredients. I like low-sodium broths. You can always add more salt to taste as you cook. Add some worcestershire, or a balsamic vinegar. The dish needs a bit of a sour kick. This is up to your taste buds. Let simmer for 5 minutes, then put into oven for at least an hour, covered. Serve topped with sour cream or greek yogurt and some chives or a favorite herb.

Garlic Lemon Chicken. Spread those whole cloves of garlic on toast with butter. 

Oh my goodness, this has to be my favorite slow cooked dish so far. As previously mentioned, I prefer dark chicken meat. I always have a package of boneless thighs on hand. I also love this because it only has about 5 ingredients. Sometimes simpler is better; let's the flavor of a few things really stand out and NOT get muddled; although these flavors meld like heaven! OK, focus.  So, chopped onions or shallots (I have a hard time finding these in SW Missouri, so I default to onions). 5-10 whole garlic cloves. Smash a few so the garlic will permeate the broth. Pat of butter in pot, saute onions and garlic a couple minutes. Salt and pepper chicken thighs, both sides. Place right on top of onions and garlic. Cut 4 lemons in half. Juice them into the pot, careful to avoid seeds. Then tuck the lemon peels in and around the pot, under the chicken, around the edges. Salt and pepper. Pour in low sodium chicken broth until ingredients are just covered. Put the lid on and put in oven for at least an hour. Serve with some fresh herbs: tarragon, rosemary, or parsley. Pictured here is dried tarragon. Fresh is always better, but it's great to have these on hand. Eat up!

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Before I get deep into recipes and other topics, I need to address portions. They are hard to comprehend on the internet. I had known that I was eating 2-3 times the normal serving size for most meals most of my adult life. It just seemed standard. It was what the restaurants served. If I asked for a to-go box, I got looks from the server (my perception), and besides, leftovers were just not as appealing. So might as well clean my plate! And you know those starving children in Africa. And no dessert unless plate was cleaned. All ridiculous phrases only encouraging my overeating.

Before I qualified for surgery through the insurance company, I had to meet with a dietician six times and learn about nutrition. Day one she pulled these nasty pieces of plastic out of a drawer and plopped them on the table in front of me. The smaller portions are what we're supposed to eat. Funny, with the mac and cheese...I used to eat the entire box, not just double portions. The plastic food totally grossed me out; reminded me of sticky germ-coated toys from Sunday School growing up. Icky.  I've barely touched mashed potatoes or mac and cheese since this moment. Ha.

But it's true. I believe that even more than WHAT we eat, HOW much we eat is killing us. Our stomach stretches, and accommodates how much we shove in, and actually gets used to that. Then our metabolism is SET to that, and even if we start eating much less, it feels like we're starving and we go back to overeating. So for me, even though I had radically changed WHAT I ate, how I prepared it, all the good expected things, I could NOT stop overeating. It was just all too good. This is why I chose bariatric surgery; gastric sleeve surgery. It cut out 2/3 of my stomach, forcing me to eat a 1/3 less than I was used to eating. And it's worked.

These four glass containers represent how much I eat per day now. Plus beverages. It's about 4 cups of food per day. I've found myself grazing a bit between these small meals, but a bit of weight comes back on when I do this (curses, goldfish crackers). If I revert back to these 4 small meals, the weight stabilizes again. 

I usually spend Sunday afternoon cooking one or two dishes, then I immediately split them up into these containers so they are ready for the week. Realize, one of these containers IS the meal. There isn't a pile of corn chips next to it, or a coke. Or a brownie for dessert. None of that. I can't eat and drink at the same time. I'll do another post soon on what I personally can or can't eat or drink. It's been a learning curve.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Pan Roasted

The stove-top cast iron skilled is amazing. You don't need to heat up the whole oven, and you get an even cook. No worries about things sticking or ruining your non-stick version of a skillet. You simply scrape the bottom and mix the bits into the dish, or turn the bits into a sauce after the meal is taken out of the pan.

Quick Paella

Mussels are super easy. I just get a box of them from the freezer at Aldi. 2.99. Garlic and butter version. First I put the mussels in the skillet. Only takes a few minutes to defrost. Then added a box of quick cooking couscous, the required amount of water for the couscous mixed with the seasoning packet it came with, and chopped or whole small veggies. Let the whole thing simmer and you have a quick paella. I can't eat rice anymore, I just don't digest it well. Couscous is great for me.

Baked tilapia with red onion, lemon and north woods seasoning and a parm crisp

I place a piece of tilapia with chopped red onions, north woods seasoning, a dab of butter, and a slice of lemon on a piece of aluminum foil and fold closed like a pocket or a gift. I put that into the cast iron skilled on the stove top, medium heat, and let fish cook through for 5-7 minutes. Everything steams to deliciousness. Once that is out of the pan, I grate some parmesan directly into the pan. It melts into a gooey then cripsy mess you can scrape up in one piece. Adds great texture to the soft, steamed fish and veggies.

Pan cooked pork with spicy pineapple salsa and roasted asparagus and peppers

Thinly sliced, lean boneless pork coated with a homemade salsa. Peppers and asparagus tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil. All cooked in the skillet at same time, low and slow.

Pork tenderloin rubbed with rosemary and garam masala

This meal was high maintenance, but worth it. First I rinsed a pork tenderloin, patted it dry, and rubbed it with garam masala and sprinked it with dried rosemary. Melted a pat of butter in a cast iron skillet and added the whole tenderloin to the skillet, cooking medium heat for 5-7 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, chopped sweet potatoes into cubes and boiled in a pan, skin on. Drained, mashed, added butter, cream, maple syrup, salt and pepper. In another pot I boiled water and cooked fresh green beans. When tenderloin was cooked, I took whole thing out to rest and made a port cranberry sauce out of the drippings left in the pan. Add a bit of port and fresh chopped cranberries, cook on low and scrape and stir. Whisk in a bit of flour to thicken. Tend carefully. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Master 5

I've been accumulating recipes for several years now, but recently discovered a way to categorize; not by food, but by preparation. This idea came from Clean Eats by Alejandro Junger. Pick your own 5, but these are my 5 currently:


Cooking things brings out the flavor. Chemistry happens. Post-surgery, I can't eat many raw foods. I figure I'm not a gorilla or a cow who must chew chew chew all day to become nourished. Humans can cook, which helps us digest much more easily. My body just can't digest raw food now. That's OK. Michael Pollan dives deep into cooking in his latest book and Netflix series Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. I will be revisiting his words of wisdom often in these posts...

"Our growing distance from any direct, physical engagement with the processes by which the raw stuff of nature gets transformed into a cooked meal is changing our understanding of what food is. Indeed, the idea that food has any connection to nature or human work or imagination is hard to credit when it arrives in a neat package, fully formed. Food becomes just another commodity, an abstraction. And as soon as that happens we become easy prey for corporations selling synthetic versions of the real thing--what I call edible foodlike substances. We end up trying to nourish ourselves on images...(Cooking) --defined broadly enough to take in the whole spectrum of techniques people have devised for transforming the raw stuff of nature into nutritious and appealing things for us to eat and drink--is one of the most interesting and worthwhile things we humans do."

So, this Master 5 idea. The gist is that if I can remember 5 basic ways to prepare my meals, I have 5 blank canvases. And these preparations make for 5-6 meals for me, so I cook one or two of them on Sundays, after grocery shopping that morning or the day before, and split them into containers to take the work the rest of the week. These are my Master 5:

Cast iron fry pan. Quick, even heating. Can take a beating. Veggies in first, then meat, then turn the pan stickings into a sauces to pour over everything. Stove top cooking, but can be put into the oven.

Oh my god I love my Le Creuset cookware. Super expensive, but last forever and cook evenly while taking a beating. You get what you pay for. Well, I didn't pay for this. My brother got this for me for my birthday, as well as other LC items. Gifts that have changed my life! 
I start again with veggies,  add the meat, pour in stock, put the lid on, and cook on stove top or move to oven for a few hours. Divine melding of flavors.

I also use this pot for soups and stews. Once things are cooked through, I just insert an immersion blender and blend as smooth as I desire in the moment. Much easier than pouring into a blender.

Super-fast, super-hot. You have to have everything chopped, laid out and ready for this preparation. Touch of sesame oil, veggies, small pieces of meat, then add cooked rice noodles. All in a few minutes. I will also have the sauce already prepared. My favorite is a peanut sauce I make from scratch.

OK, this photo's from Amazon. My stove-top grill is a mess right now, and I need to go buy a dang brush and clean it. Next year I want a small grill to keep outside.  The good thing about this is it's small, and will hold just enough meat and veg for a couple meals. So easy; just a tiny bit of olive or coconut oil, salt and pepper. I don't even use sauces on grilled bits.

Next post I'll show some recipes resulting from these Master 5.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Clean Eating

"Clean eating is a vehicle, an approach, that helps make foods work for us. But it is also much bigger than that. It is a way of thinking that helps us move away from the fear of aging and getting ill, and moves us toward the strength of knowing that we can take control of our health.

When food starts working for us, instead of against us, our entire life changes. Not only do we feel better meal to meal and day to day, but we also have the lasting energy and health we need to show up strong for the areas of life we care about most."

The last two years has been a vivid, experiential, experimental, and eye-opening wellness journey. If they say the journey is the destination, then I guess I made it! I hope this will be the first of several posts to describe if not define these deliberate steps I've taken. 

I started cooking for myself years ago, but I couldn't control portions. I never "dieted" because I was smart enough to know it wouldn't last. I tried swimming. I researched bariatric surgery.  I tracked calories consumed and expended for many months. I started cooking like mad in the months before the surgery, convinced if I could fall in love with healthy preparation, I might want to eat it, too. I carefully monitored my two autoimmune diseases and talked to all of the specialists I could stand. I had the surgery. I was very ill for 8 weeks. Then the weight started falling off, and I planned, learned and cooked exponentially more. 

Today I feel fantastic. 90 pounds off my body in one year. Energy off the charts. Swimming a few times a week; I love moving for the first time in my life. The learning curve was huge. As huge as I used to be before I could cross my legs.

Don't get me wrong, there have been lots of bumps, trials and errors. I want to share and record this moment. Take stock (low-sodium chicken) of what I've gleaned, realizing that this reflection on food, exercise, health, and wellness are MY particular combination. What has worked or not worked for MY BODY, not my mother's nor my brother's nor yours. Kind of like every woman having to figure out the best birth control for their particular chemistry, so food. 

I'll be sharing the books and websites that have informed me. I'll share lots of recipes and my own photography of those meals. I'll describe portions, what I can physically eat in a day. What kinds of foods and preparations are working for me, as well as particular foods and preparations that are just toxic for me.

This is why I like the term "clean eating". It's about whole foods: meats, vegetables, fruits, grains. Not processed, packaged, unpronounceable. Not even "natural" or "health" food. Much of that is as processed as Kraft macaroni and cheese and oreos. 

More than just the food, I want to talk about culinary art, presentation, the kitchen as a studio, the joy of feeding others the beautiful, scrumptious things I make, the emotions and excuses around food, the social culture around food, where moving might fit in (you know, exercise), where my time has shifted (the literal hours in a day) as a result of healthful routine, how my body was restricted at 284 pounds, and how my body works differently now 90 pounds lighter. I'm sure many other threads will surface. Let's begin.

At my heaviest. I could not fit on every ride.

A few months ago. My Dad said it was nice to see angles on my face.