Home Cooked: Why Does Cooking For Yourself Feel So Satisfying?

Home Is Where The Heart Is Or The Kitchen Is The Heart Of The Home

Every time I step into the kitchen to cook meal prep for the up coming weeks, I get a little excited. The atmosphere is soothing, with music playing quietly in the background while I’m burning a candle and the lights are dimmer than usual. The setting is cozy, warm and inviting. This is my image of what the Danes call, Hygge. Not to mention all of the delicious meals I make!

And there’s also a similar feeling when I cook dinner with my family on Friday family dinner night. It’s a little different, we all pitch in and lend a hand so the pressure isn’t all on me to get it done. But the feelings of creating something tasty together are the same, with the added bonus of good conversation. The music still plays in the background while a candle is burning, adding the “cozy” or Hygge to the night’s event. All in all a great experience.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when I came across this article on “The Good News Network” about how taking a cooking class has a magic pill like effect on our physical and mental well-being. This was great news, and collaborated on what I was already feeling about the experience. It got me thinking about what are the elements that come together to make a house a home? And how do we create those elements for ourselves? I’ve got a few ideas on the matter. Let me show you what I’ve come up with.

The Basic Elements Of A Cozy Home Start In The Kitchen

As I’ve said above, there are a few important components to building a comfortable, inviting home. For me, the number one element is cleanliness. If my living space isn’t organized and clean, then my mind isn’t able to rest. I keep focusing on the different aspect of what’s bothering me, what’s out of place.

For example, if my bedside table isn’t clear of clutter, I feel ill-at-ease. When things feel like they are just kind of drifting around my living space without a home, that’s when I know I need to organize.

Clean, Not Sterile

And that’s not to say that I’m so obsessed with cleaning that my environment is sterile. I’ve known people who clean to the point of sterility and this carries with it almost the same ill-at-ease feelings that living in a messy or dirty environment brings.

A good example of this is that when I make my bed, I don’t pull my covers taut over my mattress. I have a neatly folded duvet on the left side of my bed and I only sleep on the right side of my mattress. So making my bed proper would take a considerable amount of time. And this is time I just don’t want to spend making my bed.

So instead, I loosely lay my blanket on top of the side of the bed I sleep on. So my bed never looks neat and tidy as a bed with tightly formed hospital corners would. Instead it has a neat yet lived in feel. As though the room is thoughtfully cared for, but still embodies the character of something that’s been utilized, loved. Clean but not perfect. And all this to say that living in a sterile environment isn’t ideal.

How Clean Is Your Kitchen? You Can Usually Tell By The State Of Your Cutting Board

I use the same methodology when it comes to cleaning and caring for my kitchen. And the same way some people feel about making your bed every morning after you wake, I feel about cleaning my cutting board after I’m done with it.

The kitchen is where we spend a lot of time in our homes. It houses most all of our nutritional needs. We create or favorite meals there and it’s the place where we get clean water from. For staying hydrated throughout the day or to clean with, water the plants, the kitchen is literally where life is sustained.

So it stands to reason that if you neglect this room of your house, you are neglecting a large part of who you are as a living being. Food is so integral to us bonding with one another, as well as connected to our own and exploring other cultures, that it’s hard to imagine a life void of this type of expression.

For me, this is most noticeable on the cutting board. The cutting board is the hub of the kitchen and where almost every aspect of our meals come together. We process almost all our foods on it, use it as a holding place for most all our ingredients while getting our recipes prepped for cooking and it is paired with arguably the most important tool in the kitchen, our knife.

For these reasons, when I step up to my cutting board and see a stain from a recently cut tomato on it, or crumbs from a cut sandwich or piece of toast, I think, “what type of animal would disrespect the kitchen in this way?” This is hyperbole, but when I see a dirty cutting board I feel that there’s a little bit of neglect happening when it comes to respecting the ways we nourish and care for ourselves. Also, I don’t want to cut a fresh piece of melon on a spot where an onion and some garlic were recently diced/minced. Garlicy honeydew, no thank you.

Also, I’ve recently been oiling my cutting board and it’s never looked better. If you have the means, or already have a wooden cutting board, I suggest you get one and/or oil it regularly. It protects the board from water damage while also giving it a warm glow that looks amazing.

My cutting board after some much needed maintenance.

How Organized Are You? It Matters

Organization is an important part of the experience as well. For the same reasons that I feel ill-at-ease in cluttered surroundings, when I’m not sure where my kitchen tools or ingredients are, or have foods that are past their expiration date, I feel as though I’m neglecting an important part of my life.

For example, I work at a family homeless shelter six days a month. A few weeks ago I decided to organize the kitchen cabinets. I jumped right in and took a look at the state of the cabinets before I started. It was pretty bad. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the cabinets, scattering food debris all over the shelves in no particular order. I opened one cabinet to find that it was housing three plates. That was it. Not to mention all the food that was expired that I ended up tossing.

So I started asking the families what they would use more of if I brought food stuffs up from the pantry? Their answers? The most common one was, “I don’t eat the food from here”. This made me sad. We had neglected the food and kitchen so badly that people no longer wanted to use the incredible amount of free resources we had for them. And there was a lot of food that needed to be utilized.

And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to cook in that kitchen the way it was either. And they’re not any less deserving of a clean, usable kitchen just because they’re homeless. That’s when I got to work. Tossing the old, out of date items and filling the cabinets with fresh stores, the way they’re displayed in a grocery. While I was organizing, I left the cabinets open to not only to keep track of my progress, but also to show the families that we have items for them to use, so jump in.

When I was done stocking the cabinets, everyone was excited. Even those who said they didn’t eat the food there were interested and using what I was bringing up. The kitchen now looks clean and inviting, more home like. And people are now gathering in the kitchen, cooking meals and connecting. The kitchen no longer resembles that of a twenty-something’s party house that maybe had a bag of stale chips and a can of dated beef stew, with a sink full of week old dishes. No bueno.

Rotating Your Stock to Stay Organized, Fresher Is Better

Next on the agenda was to take care of the root of the problem, the pantry. While I was going through the pantry to find goods for the cabinets, I was startled by how many food items had met their expiration dates. There were bins of half opened cases of food with expiration dates later than some unopened cases. Whole cases of canned goods and other items were past date. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I went through each item, checked their date and found a place for them on the shelves. I was rotating the stock, breaking down boxes, discarding the old, it was a dramatic shift.

I felt bad about throwing out some of the canned goods that were past their expirations by only a few months. This was because a quick google search tells me that they’re still viable usually for a year or two after the date on the can. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a psychological issue of using expired goods.

Imagine you’re in a homeless shelter. You have a mountain of problems and issues to get over and that’s not including taking care of your basic needs like doing your laundry, cleaning your living space and cooking meals. Also imagine that you have one or two children in tow, or are pregnant. Now it comes time to make dinner and you ask for a can of carrots because you don’t have a car to get to the closest grocery store which is only two miles away but a long walk for somebody with a child and arm loads of grocery bags. You get the carrots only to find that the expiration date is marked for nine months prior and you don’t want to dig around the cabinets that look as though an animal has nested in them. How do you feel then?

I’ve never been in that situation before, but I know for sure that it can’t be a good feeling. Feeling as though someone else feels that you’re not worth the effort of fresh food sounds like a difficult place to be. That’s why organizing and rotating your food stores is so important to feeling a sense of ease and comfort in your kitchen. For me, knowing that I can grab anything off the shelf and use it without worrying about whether it’s turned is an act of self-care.

Creating Hygge, Bringing It All Together

Once You’ve brought all the elements of the physical space together, then it will be easy to bring friends and family together, while adding the final touches to the space. I usually have a candle and some music playing while I’m bring meals together. The soft lighting from the candle and soothing sounds help to bring an element of calm to the kitchen and allows me to slow down a bit and relax.

All that’s left is to find what makes your space, more you. Maybe you have a favorite drink you can prepare for yourself to help unwind. Do you use a diffuser? Find a scent you enjoy and fill your space with. My go to is lavender oil. It brings a soothing quality to the room while not overpowering what I’m cooking.

And don’t forget the conversation! Invite a few friends over or start a family dinner night. This can be a great time to connect and get to know each other a little better while creating new memories. And don’t forget to relax. Go slow and take your time. There’s no rush and there’s something to be said for enjoying the process. I usually do just this when I’m cooking my self-care dinner on Tuesday nights now. You’ll def feel better about yourself and your surroundings. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Day 69: Inspiration” by protoflux is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Healthy Eating on a Budget: Reigning in Your Grocery Bill While Taking Care of Your Nutritional Needs

This is something I’ve struggled with for a while now. Actually, I’m still struggling a little bit. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first“, you’ll know I’ve covered the topic before. In the above post, I went over ways to use what you already have in your pantry to eat fresher and save money. But somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

I’ve been focusing on my budget a bit more closely and found that I’m consistently overshooting my food budget on a monthly basis. I may be setting my budget too low, but I don’t eat a ton, and I rarely eat out. And some months I’ll spend upwards to $750! That’s a lot of money no matter how you look at it.

So I’ve decided that it’s time to take a deeper look into my eating and shopping habits. Spending close to a thousand dollars a month on food just isn’t sustainable. You’ll be happy to know I have been slowly whittling down my food stores as I laid out in my post above, “Shopping from Your Pantry First”. But I should be saving money, not spending more this way. So how did I get here?

What’s my Relationship to My Shopping Habits

Taking the deep dive for me meant taking a look at how I was spending my money, where I was shopping and why I was choosing to shop this way. I know I’m still up to my neck in debt, so why am I still spending so much at the grocery store? I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with my upbringing and some underlying insecurities.

You are What You Shop For

I was raised in a family that largely defined themselves by what they purchased. In my youth, we were constantly going from one store to the next. Shopping and looking for deals that my caregivers called “running errands”. This is where I learned how to view shopping and the foundation on which I developed my own shopping habits.

In my teens, I was attracted to the ideals of hippie culture. I believe this was in direct defiance to my family’s buying into consumer culture. And even with all the ways I saw my caregivers substitute what they bought for who they were, I was still hooked by the act of shopping. Even in spite of my teenage defiance. So why was this so?

For me, I think it has to do with security. I was so neglected as a child when it came to me learning how to take care of my nutritional needs, that when I started down the road of healthier living, I got caught up in the colors, trastes, smells and possibilities of the food I was buying. And if you’ve ever walked into a Whole Foods, you’ll know that the store is designed to lure you in and make you want to spend your money. It also helps that they kind of align with my hippie ideals.

So it was in this way that I was confusing the things I was buying for self-care. This was also what my care-givers were doing as well. It makes sense to me now, but when I was in the throws of shopping, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It wasn’t until I looked back and saw that I spent around $700-$750 on groceries a few months in a row that I realized I needed to corral my spending habits.

What am I Buying and Why

After I decided to take the deep dive, I opened my Everydollar Budgeting App and took a look at the places I was shopping and how frequently I was shopping there. The first thing I noticed was, there were a lot of entres.

One month’s itemized Spending list on Everydollar

And most of them were at local drug stores for between $10 and $30 a piece. This is when I realized I was in the habit of buying a lot of snacks before I was heading into my second job. So now I’m on the lookout for snacks I can take with me that I get at the grocery store when I work my long days. These along with the meals I’m bringing with me to work will cost less than the frequent trips to local drug stores.

The second thing I noticed about my habits were, I had a lot of entries for Whole Foods. And they weren’t small either. I was spending upwards to $70 dollars a visit some shops. I think this was directly related to me shopping for my self-care dinners once a week and doing it solely at Whole Foods. Add all these to my two big shopping trips a month at the less expensive grocery store at $100 a shop and you have a pretty hefty grocery bill.

And all of these shopping trips are reminiscent of the shopping excursions of my youth. Where shopping was a value. So now that I know what my habits look like and why I shop the ways that I do, what am I doing to change my habits?

Shopping to Fill the Need to Nourish, Not to Belong

Now that I’ve decided to change my habits, my new focus is on buying affordable food that has a high nutritional value. I was buying all organic food on my big shopping days. This is fine, IF you have the money. And I most definitely do not. Something that Dave Ramsey says often on his show is, you can’t afford extras because you’re broke. And owing as much as I do, I am definitely in that category.

So I’m making the switch to buying more frozen veggies and canned goods, as they’re cheaper then their fresh counterparts. It may not be ideal, but I’ll be able to buy what I want when I’m out of debt. It’s just like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else so you can live and give like no one else.”

For me this means going to Whole Foods only when I run out of something. And even then, there’s a Stop and Shop that is equally as close and less expensive. This also means eating non-organic, frozen and canned veggies. The one saving grace is, that this won’t last forever. Once I’ve paid down my debt, I can add a little more to my food budget. Then I’ll be able to buy the things that look interesting, or shop in line with my ideals.

And it’s also important to recognize that I’m in no way depriving myself of nutrients or flavor. The food I’ll be purchasing now will be just as nutritious, if not a little less so than what I’ve been buying. I’m also lucky enough to live near the 22nd most diverse city in the US. This means I have a huge selection to choose from when I’m picking out my recipes for the week. So I’m not lacking in variety.

Shopping as a Pass Time

The other aspect of shopping for me is, that it’s something I enjoy doing. And while I’m paying off my debt, I haven’t been able to shop for myself in a long time asides from the basics. So when I go food shopping, I’m also filling a desire to buy something new.

This is why stores such as Whole Foods are so appealing to me. They’re attractive, clean and their displays are set up to make you want to spend your money. And it feels like a treat when I’m buying something from their store. Also, there’s nothing quite like a good meal. So when we associate the pleasure we derive from the food we purchase, as well as their attractive displays, something as simple as food shopping can turn into a treat. Add a high price tag and we’ll be blowing through our budgets in no time.

So for me, it’s best to steer clear of stores like these altogether until I’ve made room in my budget by paying down my debt. Finding the places that you gravitate towards and like to spend money may be helpful to identify if you’re looking to save yourself some cash.

Spices are the Spice of Life

And finally, if you want to make the most impact on the quality of your meals, investing in and learning how to use spices will go a long way to boost the flavor profiles of your meals. The best part about spices is, that for the most part they’re a once every three or four month investment. If you buy a 10oz container of garlic powder for $4.50, it will last you a few months and add a lot of flavor to your meals.

If you’re new to the culinary world and spices seem overwhelming, this post from Kitchn, about using spices in your daily cooking should be a good start to familiarize yourself with your spice cabinet. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Look for new recipes and dishes that use new to you spices. These will help you to broaden your culinary repertoire.

Black Bean Soup:

And finally, here is a recipe for black bean soup I’ve been making for years. It has a lot of flavor for being only a modest bean and you can make it on the cheap. You may not have all the spices on hand, and if you don’t, they’re good ones to buy in bulk. They are used in a lot of recipes so having them available will help improve your cooking game. And check out my Community page for links to recipe sites for inspiration.

Black Beans Over Rice

“Black Bean Soup” by TheBushCenter is licensed under

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound dry black beans
  • 2 Med onion, diced
  • 5 Cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Small bunch fresh cilantro chopped, removing woody stems. Tender stems are desirable.
  • 2 Tble Neutral oil
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks
  • 7 Bay leaves whole
  • 2 Tble Onion powder
  • 2 Tble Galic powder
  • 2 Tble Coriander ground
  • 1 Tble Dried oregano
  • 1 Tble Cumin ground
  • 1 Tble Turmeric
  • 6-8 Cps Vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Your choice of rice cooked to manufacturer’s instructions (I use a mix of basmati and jasmine. Adding a stick of cinnamon and a few bay leaves to the water to give your rice an added boost of flavor.)
  • Fresh cilantro, lime wedges, Monterey Jack shreds, sour cream, avocado or guacamole, tortilla chips and fresh sliced white onion for serving (optional).

Method:

  1. Using a large stock pot, 12 quarts, heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent. Add garlic and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes until the aroma blooms from the spices and garlic
  2. Rinse the dried beans and pick out any stones or dirt clods. Once clean, add dried beans to onion, garlic and spice mixture. Stir to coat.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, just to cover the beans. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the beans to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook uncovered. The beans will take between 1.5 to 2 hours to cook, so keep the remaining vegetable broth near by and add to keep the beans submerged throughout cooking. The broth will thicken and turn black from the beans, creating a rich and thick broth.
  4. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add salt and pepper to taste and the chopped, fresh cilantro. Also taste and adjust spices here.
  5. Serve beans over rice, discarding cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, with desired toppings and tortilla chips on the side. Best when eaten fresh, will stay in the fridge in an air tight container for up to 5 days.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and it aids you on your culinary journey. It isn’t always easy, reigning in our spending. Especially in a category as primal as our food budget. But with a little will power and know-how, we can eat healthier while saving money. If you make this recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Health Tips…Drink Liquor Responsibly….Eat Fruits Liberally…Remember Both Comes From Same Source…..VeG….” by Sunciti _ Sundaram’s Images + Messages is licensed under

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