Mid October, I started a fitness challenge. The idea was to get focused on establishing healthy habits before the holiday celebrations commenced in late November and took us into the New Year. The fitness guru who addressed the group introduced us to a nutritionist. The nutritionist offered us a menu that we were to repeat daily for a week. We were also supposed to keep a journal accounting of our exercise and food intake. Although I failed miserably at the journalism, I was a pretty good student. As far as getting in more consistent exercise than before the challenge and consistently doing the requisite food preparation. As a person for whom eating must be an experience, the struggle with cauliflower rice was real. I don’t mean real in the sense that it existed. I mean it was real in the sense that I really struggled with it from the minute I poured it out of that bag and into the mixing bowl.
The menu called for a bag of cauliflower rice in the mixture with ground beef, garlic, onions, and a host of assorted seasonings. The end product was to be a meatloaf. Let’s just say that I mixed the ingredients, patted that mixture into a rectangular mountain of beefiness and baked it in the oven.
I moved to this desert I call home from the south. In my southern family, presentation was a large part of the food experience. Presentation was so important that my mama’s friend put her “bought cakes” in a glass cake pan. My mother and sister ate their cake slices on glass saucers. My mother, her mom, and her sisters prided themselves in the spreads prepared for us Sunday afternoons at Mama Love’s house. The table always offered food in bright colors. The kitchen offered the aroma of a warm blend of spices and culinary decadence. The aromatic preview preceded the call from the kitchen to “come eat!’ Excellent southern culinary artist trained up this child in the way that she should go for sure. The cooks down south conditioned me to expect that presentation, flavor, and convenience could live in the same food space. As a result, the idea that I had to resign myself to desert bland and redefine the meaning of beautiful food was more than I could bear.
Day one I ate the “meatloaf,” but I had the same thought my mom had when she met the turducken. It, too, presented as a form of meatloaf and left me questioning the ingredients. I questioned the triple threat bird because I honestly had no ida what was in a turducken. I made this “meatloaf” and I questioned why I ever trusted the recipe. Why didn’t I doctor that thing properly before baking it? Was it really meatloaf if it didn’t hold the shape when cut with the sharpest edged knife in the drawer? Was it a meatloaf if it tasted more like cauliflower than beef? Was it meatloaf if the cauliflower changed the texture to a grainer consistency than any meatloaf I had ever eaten. I’m not saying this experience wasn’t normal for some and doable for me during the challenge, but I knew day one that my day three would be different.
Day two, I tried again so that I could say that I did. By day three, the good southern girl in me got out the chili powder, the cumin, some fresh cilantro, a little cayenne pepper, garlic powder, pepper, and salt. I stewed some fresh vine ripened tomatoes and made the meatloaf into chili. Suddenly, the air quality improved in my kitchen and I think the lighting got brighter. Well, maybe the lights didn’t get brighter, but I began to believe that I could manage the food challenge successfully to the end as long as I made some reasonable modifications.
By day three, I learned that the lesson I gave my kids applied to me in this situation: It is beneficial to know what you don’t like early in the process. Based on my week one “meatloaf” experience, I decided to bake salmon or chicken every week as a back up plan in the event I was not in love with the dishes on the menu given to us by the nutritionist. I did not double the recipes again like I did week one. (I know that I neglected to mention my not-so-smart decision to double the recipe earlier in this post.) I doubled the recipe because I wanted to save myself time during the course of the week, but I only made that mistake one time during the challenge period. The weekly go-to food item plan also encouraged me to live out another family rule: Go for what you know.
This holiday season please make healthy cost effective food decisions. Food costs are tough on the family budget so make wise decisions with your spending and menu planning. Don’t waste your food or your money cooking dishes you have never tried to cook or eat. If you make the choice to play master chef and you prepare foods with ingredients unfamiliar to you, you might be laughing and sharing stories with me next week about your gourmet goof-ups.