The Joy of Food & Cooking

I love food. I mean, I know we need it to survive and it’s something you can find everywhere, in infinite varieties and flavours. Yet sometimes we treat as a necessity, a fuel and don’t enjoy the experience. TV dinners, or now smartphone/Facebook dinners more like, combined with fast food, preservatives and endless choice of world foods, means we probably don’t think about what goes into our food as much.

This past year I’ve cooked more than I have in years, and I really enjoyed learning about healthy eating, nutritional content, new recipes, sharing with friends & family. Writing down what’s changed, I think of 4 things:

  • what I’ve started eating
  • what I’ve stopped eating
  • what my vices are and
  • what’s next on my list.

New Foods: my staples

The kitchen always has these items around. For breakfast, I usually have porridge, made with milk, honey and cinnamon. I throw a mix of nuts onto most things: almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts – just chop them up and store in a container. They’re great in salads or yoghurt desserts too. I always have fruit at home and on my desk: mango slices with yoghurt is yum as a dessert (or in the morning). Pineapple is now something I like – as a kid I hated it! Sweet potatoes are great – roast them with onions, peppers and garlic and you’ve a great side.

I’ve also tried making soups this year – with lentils or beans or all sorts of veg. Wholesome goodness in the winter evenings. Salads are also a biggie now, replacing sandwich meals for me. Try spinach instead of lettuce or rocket. Add nuts, mango, pear, feta, chorizo – so easy but so many options.

Beetroot is my other healthy veg – in a salad or in BeetIt juice. It’s super healthy, full of essential vitamins and it’s meant to improve your performance training. Always have eggs – scrambled for brekky or make a tortilla/omelette.

Banned Foods: my ex’s

I’m happy to have cut out or reduced my intake of certain sugary or processed foods. People say “I couldn’t give up chocolate” but it’s amazing how adaptive the mind is and how habits can change. If the habit becomes eating fruit or nuts instead of a Fruit & Nut at 3 o’clock break, then your brain treats it as normal and it’s not a problem. It’s funny now, but the idea of a Mars bar after lunch sounds horrible now.

Breakfast used to insist of 2 slices of toast with butter and jam. Now I never have bread or jam in the house. So no temptation to sneak a slice in the toaster. I have Ryvita slices with peanut butter sometimes or with cheese. (I do treat myself to a scone or pastry at work sometimes)

Breakfast also involved cereal, usually Special K or even the granola cereals, but they are so high in processed crabs and sugar, it’s not worth the taste. Same goes for yoghurt – it’s marketed as pure and healthy, but so many have added sugar and preservatives. Low fat is a con, as it means it has added sugar to ensure taste. Plus the flavoured yoghurt have so much sugar. I stick with Onken’s full fat yoghurt – less than 4g sugar per 100g, so I just add my own nuts or fresh fruit pieces.

I’ve also reduced sugar intake by having less with hot drinks. I used to have 1-2 spoons per cup, but now I have coffee with only a small spoon and tea without it entirely. Again, habits change and now 2 spoons would taste way too sugary.

Devious Foods: my vices

The smell of fresh bread is one of those great sensory explosions. Walking into a bakery and seeing crusty baguettes, floury loaves of soda bread or wholegrain, crispy pastries or even fresh blaas is one of life’s joys. Spreading melting butter on spongy toast is never a chore. So I don’t eat a lot of bread compared to years ago, I still eat a bit.

Same goes for desserts – I love treats but having desserts every day in the canteen for €1 ain’t smart if I want to win the Biggest Loser! I think my biggest issue is actually just my appetite and portion sizes. I train a lot so justify eating lots with that I’ve burned X thousand calories today, without really knowing the balance between energy needed and energy burnt.

I don’t drink too much beer, as I no longer have it in the house, so only usually drink at the weekends. If the temptation’s there in the fridge, it’s too easy to “just have one” of a Monday watching TV. That turns into 2 or 3 three nights a week. Then you’ve got a problem!

Unknown Foods: what’s next

For 2015, I’d like to cook more for myself and for friends. So yes take this blog as an invite – provided you bring something for dessert or wow us with wine! Cooking at home is healthier, cheaper and can be more nutritious and fun that take-away pizza, pre-made sandwiches or fast food. I love eating out too in restaurants and pubs, don’t get me wrong, but we can do so much more with food.

So for 2015 I’ve signed up for a cookery class, in Dublin Cookery School, on Whole Foods. It’s an evening class on nutritious foods, so hoping to learn a few tips. (They also offer a course entitled “Cooking for Blokes” – I might do that next if beans on toast and margarita pizzas are on the menu. I wasn’t sure was “for blokes themselves” or “for wives/girlfriends of aforementioned blokes”).

I’m also going to read more recipes and learn more about nutrition in general. Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals is a start and I’d like to get Derval O’Rourke’s book for athletes. Finally, I’m curious about fat adaptation, Paleo and low crab diets, after listening to Barry Murray. He recommended some Paleo books, so starting with Chris Kresser’s Your Personal Paleo Cure… Let’s see how the journey continues.


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