What’s Cooking?

“What’s cooking?” Get it? It’s a pun!

As a general rule, I don’t cook. I don’t cook unless I’m preparing a meal for someone or someone else is cooking and I’m watching (usually drinking wine!). In fact, me cooking is such an anomaly that when I do cook, my roommates are genuinely surprised.

However, I recently had a breakthrough! I realized that my go-to, everyday foods (read: safe foods) are all cold (i.e., things I don’t have to “cook”). Well, coffee is hot, but that’s an exception. If I could have it my way, I’d eat the same, cold food every day. I don’t like to think about food and I don’t like to deviate from my routine! I’m working on changing that.

My breakthrough was timely because it’s getting cold out and warm food is (apparently) satisfying and seasonally relevant! In fact, in Melissa A. Fabello‘s recent Beauty School newsletter, she reminded us that in the winter our bodies crave heavier, warmer, and calorie dense foods. All this is great, but what did that mean for me?

This week, I set a nutrition goal that was way out of my comfort zone. I set a goal to have chili as a planned dinner meal to rotate in with my usual tuna wrap and veggies.

Easy right? Wrong!

Before I could make chili, there were several things that needed to happen. Primarily, I needed to find a recipe and gather the ingredients. I decided that Using a Crock-Pot seemed like a good idea because once the ingredients are in the slow cooker there’s not much maintenance. I did a Google search for “easy vegetarian Crock-Pot chili” and after a bit of scouring through recipes, I found a recipe that seemed possible for me.

chili recip

Finding a recipe confirmed my motivation. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have looked for a recipe if I wasn’t at least thinking about making chili so I followed my intuition. However, I still needed to get the ingredients. Simple right? NO!

I absolutely hate the grocery store and avoid it at all costs. If I have to go to the grocery store I have to allocate a certain amount of time, create a shopping list, and, usually, I call my mom or a friend while I’m in the store so that I have a distraction. If you go grocery shopping with me, you’ll hear me say “I hate this” over and over like a broken record. Sometimes, I choose to go without something rather than go to the grocery store. It’s easy for me to pick feeling in control over food.  Even on days where I only get my normal, everyday foods, grocery shopping is so overwhelming for me!

To help with this anxiety, I typically use Peapod grocery delivery service and I order my groceries online. Peapod is easy for me because I don’t have to browse through the aisles of the store. There’s no ambiguous, unfamiliar choices. It helps me to do my grocery shopping in small intervals via the Peapod app when I feel up to it. I can add things over a couple of days as they pop into my head. This way, the task isn’t so cumbersome or exacerbating. There are other resources for folks who struggle with food and grocery shopping,  but this works for me! I almost always order the same thing on Peapod, but this week in addition to my regular items, I went online and put all the ingredients from the recipe into my cart (except for squash because I don’t like squash) and I set a delivery date.  I knew that once the ingredients were in my house I would have no choice but to make the chili. When I clicked “Confirm Order” the wheels were set in motion and I was committed to making chili. Thus, based on my delivery date, I planned a time to prepare my chili. One thing about me is that when I have a schedule or plan to do something I always do it – I like routines.

A quick aside: One thing I noticed is that meeting my nutrition goals makes my weekly meals more expensive, and it takes so much more time and planning.  Sometimes, the mental energy to think about cooking and eating new foods is agonizing.

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So, I had the recipe, ingredients, and a planned time to make chili. Seemed simple enough. I still had a lot of work ahead of me though.

I got up the next day and was actually a bit excited to make my chili. I felt really energized and committed to completing this task. I think this was partially anxiety in disguise, but I ran with it! I made coffee and got started.

The first challenge was the onions. Cooking with onions is tough work. My eyes were burning and I was literally crying. I nearly quit then and there! Besides the sensory challenges, cutting an onion properly is practically scientific. And, recipes typically list measurements, but cooking is all about taking liberties and approximating – I’m not good at being flexible. Comically, I found myself measuring 1 1/2 cups of onions. Then I was overwhelmed again. I started wondering if the measurement would be different if I cut larger or smaller pieces. It would take more, smaller chunks to fill 1 1/2 cups – right? After a moment I was frustrated and threw the entire yellow onion into the crockpot.

Next, I cut the peppers. Before cutting the peppers I cleaned the cutting board. Cooking is messy. I realize that. I don’t like messes. I don’t like touching wet, messy things. Compared to the onions, cutting the peppers was objectively easier, but the seeds were getting all over the place. I used a lot of paper towels to wipe away the seeds and keep the cutting board clean. I put the approximately measured peppers in a separate bowl and moved on to the mushrooms and the rest of the ingredients.

I washed the mushrooms, stemmed them, and cut them up. I measured them and put them in a bowl. After I finished with the mushrooms I had to add the canned ingredients. This posed another challenge! I had so many questions! Do you drain diced tomatoes? What about green chiles? What about corn? Cooking this meal generated more questions than solutions! Thankfully we have an Amazon Echo Dot – a useful tool for both measurement inquiries and musical accompaniment.

I also had a lot of trouble because of the tomato sauce. I have a lot of sensitivities to texture and particularly sauce. As a rule, I don’t eat foods with sauce. In fact, I don’t usually eat “wet” foods at all. So, when the top of the can got stuck in the sauce at one point and I had to ask my roommate for help getting the top out because I didn’t want to touch it.

It was so good that my roommate was hanging out with me in the kitchen while I was preparing everything. Her conversation was a welcomed distraction and she was calm and helpful for a few times when I got particularly overwhelmed. I added the rest of the ingredients and measured (approximately) the spices in pretty much the same fashion. I tried to avoid making a mess as much as possible and mostly succeeded. As I progressed through the recipe my proclivity for keeping everything clean relaxed slightly. I was in the zone! Finally, after about an hour of preparation and with much exacerbation, everything was in the Crock-Pot and ready to go!

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I was so relieved to be done that initially I did not turn the crockpot on before setting the timer! After that small, funny mishap, I set a timer for five hours and stirred the chili occasionally. After 5 hours I added the cornmeal paste to thicken the chili and because I had extra cornmeal I decided to make fresh corn muffins to go with my chili. I was on a roll!

The final product was warm and satisfying – like I anticipated! I am really proud!

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