Mindful cooking and happy eating

I love cooking and even though I have a chronic illness and suffer from tiredness and pain, I feel it is something I can do and actually enjoy it!  So over the years, I have devised ways to cook well, easily and cheaply.  The money saving is essential because the ingredients I use are organic and fresh, and cost much more than conventional stuff. Also, obviously it has to be healthy cooking too.  So money has to be saved in other ways. So here are my top 20 tips. You may not agree with all of them and some of these go against ‘conventional wisdom’, so please feel free to comment below.

  1. Eat between the hours of 8-00 am and 8-00pm.  Apparently this the optimum time for food to be digested properly as the body clock starts slowing down. In fact, it starts to do that by 6-00pm but as I usually don’t finish work by then and have to cook from fresh, the food is not ready until about 7-30pm.  Try to make your first meal the biggest and the last one the smallest and don’t snack in between.
  2. Oil is one of the most expensive ingredients, so use it sparingly. It is also healthier to use less oil. On the other hand, I use butter and ghee for cooking too. I have found that these ingredients add a richness to bland starchy foods such as pasta, potato, breads and rice so that you end up eating less of such foods. A dollop of butter in pasta sauce adds amazing flavour.
  3. Put a lid in the food that is cooking- it makes it cook faster, save energy and therefore cheaper, and the flavours get locked into the food by doing so.
  4. Eat seasonally and fresh- so that the ingredients will be cheaper and have more flavour.  More flavour also mean that less salt and other condiments will be needed to make the food more tasty.
  5. I don’t agree with the concept of mise en place, i.e. getting all the ingredients ready and then cooking, for all types of cooking.  Stir frying is one example where this technique would be useful.  But the leaving the chopping until you are ready to cook is better as the ingredients are fresher.  I often let the oven or pan warm up while I am preparing the vegetables.
  6. We don’t eat ready prepared desserts anymore. Not only are they expensive, wrapped in plastic but also do not taste nice.  We might have healthier desserts such as fruits or my homemade yoghurt or even a piece of dark chocolate.
  7. This trick I learnt from my grandmother- no more than three flavours together.  This gives such a clean but tasty flavour.
  8. We have at least one component of the meal that helps with digestion as I have real problems. So we can have yoghurt or fermented vegetables (kimchi) or sauerkraut along with the main course.
  9. The bulk of the food is vegetables, with about 30% meat or other protein.
  10. Clean up as you go along, putting away items in the dishwasher/sink for washing and removing peels and other waste from the work surface. It makes tidying up later much easier.  One pot cooking is marvellous- so much less to wash up and also saves money.
  11. I cook in steps. So I might marinade something a day earlier or defrost something couple of day earlier and so on. Some of the cooking such as gravy or fried vegetables might have been made earlier.
  12. Always have something in the freezer that can be defrosted the day before so that you can eat as soon as you can, instead of rushing to get a chilled meal from the supermarket.  It has been many years since I’ve had a supermarket meal and now if I have a small mouthful, I realise how ghastly they taste.  I suppose our tastebuds get used to such food and only until you’ve had a good long break, that you realise that these foods have no flavour at all- mostly salt and sugar to give it some.
  13. Find ways to reduce food waste.  So I use the potato skins, broccoli stems, bottoms of lettuce, carrot or radish leaves, etc. (I will put some recipes later on).IMG_4358.JPG Even with meat, there is hardly any waste- only after using the bones to make broth, I throw them away.  I don’t have a big composter (I have a home made composter which can only handle a small amount each time) or a garden, but our bodies are the best composters.  Avoiding buying foods that have parts that need to be thrown away is also good.  But some are inevitable such as lemons and bananas. So I will use the skins of the lemons for making washing up liquid or lemon zest. Banana skins can be used for polishing shoes and wood but I don’t like the smell and these skins tend to be my biggest throw aways. If you have a garden composter, then you can be a bit more wasteful.
  14. You can wash out ketchup, jam and sauce bottles with water and add that flavoured water to soups or curries. Then your bottle is also ready for recycling. Soups are nourishing and filling- you tend to eat less if you have the liquid and solid together as with soup.
  15. Many bloggers advise buying in bulk. I live in a flat and there is little space to store sacks of grains or pasta. Also I have found that spices lose their flavour if kept for too long. So buy little and often. It might be more expensive but it is better value.
  16. I have problems cutting hard vegetables such as pumpkins and squashes. So I bake them whole and make soups or mashes out of those.  The seeds can be dried and eaten.
  17. This is a great trick I learnt- if some of the ingredients have been in the fridge and freezer, take them out so that they are at room temperature before you cook them. Not only does it save energy but also improves flavour.
  18. I get my vegetables and meat delivered from the farm- local, seasonal and fresh. This saves me trudging from the supermarket carrying bags of shopping which I can’t really do.  It is also expensive. I can plan out the meal for the week depending on what I receive- so it also saves time and money.  Also there is less packaging to deal with as these come with hardly any and if they do, they are taken away by the delivery company. One less thing to do!
  19. I try not to have drinks with food. I keep them separate.  Juices can be expensive. Water is good enough!
  20. Finally, try to eat mindfully with those you love. My uncle used to say that food eaten in good company always tastes better!
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Choices, checks and balances

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I have been asked to give a talk later on this month about ethical supply chains in the construction industry. This got me thinking about such issues with many other areas of everyday life, for instance buying food and clothes- it doesn’t have to be with just big industries, small actions count too.  But it is so difficult to make ethical choices these days with so many categories- organic, fairly traded, locally produced, low food miles, low carbon, etc., etc.  It is a minefield.  Plus choices based on values are always more difficult than ones based on some measurable or visible quality.  So how does one choose?

Recently I have stopped buying organic bananas from my local superstore, opting instead for their ‘Rainforest Alliance certified’ bananas.  My reason?  These bananas come without any packaging apart from the paper stickers that can be recycled easily.  The Rainforest Alliance encourages environmentally and socially responsible management of forests, tree farms, and forest resources in many poor countries. But their production is not as rigorous as organically produced bananas- organic agriculture has a slightly different angle.  Of course on another note, usually bananas are flown in thereby contributing to food miles, whether they are organic or not.  The organic bananas that I can order from my vegetable delivery service costs 50% more and I have to wait for the once a week delivery.  But then if we stop eating them, are we depriving the people who grow them of economic and social benefits such as basic livelihood, education, etc.?  What should be our priorities based on the beauty, goodness and benefit values along with the Middle way that I have written about?

I thought of different steps to follow through in our everyday buying process that could encourage ‘ethical supply chains’ in our everyday life.  A ‘no’ response to each question should make you think twice about buying that product! I have used this for my banana buying as an example.

Step One– Do you really need to buy this item? Distinguish between wants and needs.  Does this item satisfy your needs and suit your lifestyle (especially with clothes)?  Does it appeal to most of your senses– touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste? Apparently 80% of a woman’s wardrobe lies unused- think about how much money is being wasted in the wardrobes of people all over the world! [Answer- I really love bananas- they are packed with minerals and are a low carb snack between meal or after exercise]

Step Two- Can you afford it? If not, can you wait for it- perhaps the price might come down in a sale?  Buying on credit can be an option only if you are savvy with money issues (and able to juggle credit cards without paying fees) but for most people, if you haven’t got the money, don’t buy it!

Is it durable if you are thinking about any non food item?  Sometimes it is better to opt for durability over sustainability.  The planned obsolescence, especially in electronic goods, is one thing to think about- I once costed out the true price of an iPhone which worked out to be £75 per hour if you keep getting a new one every year.  My hardy little Nokia is still going strong, showing no signs of low battery life even after seven years of use but the iPhone, which I regrettably bought last year, has already started showing problems. And I am not going to buy another one again.  Again my Braun electrical toothbrush has been going for more than ten years while the Colgate and Phillips toothbrushes bought couple of years ago are showing signs of the battery running out.  While I will dispose of all these electronic items responsibly, they haven’t provided the value for money or the environment that works for me.  (PS- I am not being paid by Nokia or Braun to write this!) It seems companies are making us throw things out earlier and earlier. [Answer- yes, I can afford to buy the bananas, it is cheaper than the organic ones and I can choose how many I want unlike the packaged organic ones, so that there is no waste]

Step ThreeIs it produced with minimal harm either to any life form or the environment? This is about goodness.  There is no production that is zero carbon but we can all learn to buy good produced with minimal harm such as organic and or fair-traded (or Rainforest certified).  Similarly locally produced goods will have low air miles but then you won’t be supporting a women’s coop in Tanzania- only you can decide what your choice must be at that time. Companies that support their workers by giving them adequate salaries and other amenities are a good choice.  In  London, another issue that has come up with home deliveries is the pollution and traffic problems being caused by van drivers, so if you can walk and get it- best!

Finally this is the packaging issue that really bugs me- it is also related with doing minimum harm and responsible disposal.  Buy stuff with no or easily recyclable packagingit is no point getting something in a polystyrene packaging with the recycling logo on it if there is nowhere you can recycle it!  I once had pen delivered with miles of bubble wrap- see below- and then the same company delivered china plates with hardly any packaging so that most of the plates were smashed up!

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But I do take umbrage with excessive packaging- whether the item is organic or not.  Some companies have managed to reduce their packaging after complaints. I have stopped buying from one company that supports local farmers because of the amount of packaging they use. [Answer- yes, I can walk to get these bananas and they don’t come with any annoying packaging]