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Habits

The American Heritage Dictionary (3rd edition) which sits on my desk defines the word habit with the following list: 1. A pattern of behavior acquired by repetition. 2. Customary practice. 3. An addiction. 4. Characteristic appearance or manner of growth, as of a plant. 5. A distinctive costume.

Since I have been thinking about habits lately and recently came to something of a realization, I decided to look up an official definition. I have not been thinking about plant growth or distinctive costumes, so I am going to leave out those two. The first three definitions are separate, but in some cases, especially when it comes to habits we are trying to change, they are close enough to be essentially the same. The line between habit and addiction can be fine indeed.

Which brings me to my realization: when a person tries to break or change and existing habit or form a new habit, she has to think about it — to concentrate — and I think that requirement is what makes it so difficult.

Years ago someone was telling me about how she quit smoking. “You just have to not smoke,” she told me, acknowledging that it was as difficult and as easy as it sounds. Every time she would normally smoke or found herself wanting to smoke, she had to stop and make the conscious, deliberate — sometimes extremely difficult — choice to not smoke.

I may have used that approach when I decided to stop eating from fast food and large chain restaurants. The chain restaurant part might have happened after I read The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan. That book made it clear that the big chain restaurants might look and feel more like “real” restaurants, but are really just fast food restaurants themselves. The example which made the strongest impression was the necessity of having the tomato sauce on a Domino’s pizza taste exactly the same every time at every single Domino’s everywhere in the world. Variation was not on the menu, as it were.

But I digress. The point is that every time I thought about grabbing a quick lunch at McDonald’s or Taco Bell, I stopped and made a conscious decision to eat something else. Eventually, those options stopped even occurring to me. Occasionally — as in, once or twice a year — I succumb to the craving for a burger and fries from Five Guys, but that’s about it.

I managed to do the same thing with a mocha frappuccino grande (with whipped cream as long as it was a location which used real whipped cream) from Starbucks. Looking up the calorie content was a big help there, too. I knew it was high. I just didn’t know how high. When I finally gave in and decided to treat myself one day, it tasted terrible — synthetic.

My current goals include giving up potato chips, Cheez Its, other assorted highly processed salty crunchy snack foods, and Coca Cola. The last one is going to be the toughest. None of this caffeine free Diet Coke nonsense. Oh no. I am a full-on, hard core devotee of the fully loaded Red Can of Death in all of its caramel-colored, carbonated, caffeinated, high fructose corn syrup glory. Pour me a well-chilled can over ice in a frosty pint glass, and I am in heaven.

I didn’t mark the day on a calendar and say “This is the day I give up Coke.” I did, however, make a conscious decision to not buy more once I consumed what I had, but it felt more like a “Let’s see how it goes” approach rather than “I am never buying soda again.”

It has been probably about a week, maybe a week and a half. So far I have been able to make the decision to not buy more soda when I am at the grocery store or make a special trip to a convenience store or gas station. Do I miss it? Absolutely. So far, however, I am making the correct, conscious choice, and it feels like progress.

Next step: building good habits to replace the bad.

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Soup!

20190108_203400346222080.jpgToday was a chilly, rainy-icy-snowy, gray day — in other words, the perfect day for hearty soup.

I made one of my favorites: Garden-in-a-Pot Soup from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper.  This time around I stuck a little more closely to the recipe.  Usually I use it as a jumping off point to use up whatever might be in the refrigerator or on the counter which needs using up.

My soup broth/stock is made with Rouxbe’s fabulous vegetable boullion.  Seriously, for vegetarians (or even meat eaters, although I do love the stock I make from the Thanksgiving turkey), this bouillon is the way to go.  You put a bunch of vegetables in the food processor, add what seems like a scary amount of salt (but I promise it is still way less than store bought boullion, especially since you don’t need much to get intense flavor), and keep it in the freezer.  It dissolves immediately in water, and it is 100% real food.  No weird little hard cubes or paste.  I add it to soup, rice, and marinades — pretty much any recipe which calls for stock.

The other step which makes this soup so good is the first one.  Instead of sauteing the aromatics over higher heat, you cook them covered over low heat, trapping the moisture and flavors.  Seasonings are simple — tomato paste, sweet paprika (although I used smoked because that is what I had), basil, and a splash of wine if anything starts to stick — and the vegetables do the rest.  The only fat in the recipe is the olive oil used to coat the pan at the beginning.

I added a can of red beans for the first time.  They add some heartiness and meld smoothly with the other ingredients.

My soups tend to come about a bit thin.  I am not good at reducing for some reason.  But my solution is to just make rice in my Instant Pot, and serving the soup over it.  Keep the rice separate when you put away the leftovers so that it doesn’t soak of all of the broth and turn your soup into a very stiff stew … unless that is what you like.  Then by all means.

Noodles are another option.  Or bake up a potato, cut it in half, mashed it slightly, and pour the soup over it … or a hearty slab of garlic sourdough bread.  Dip in your favorite cracker.  If you want a little garnish, there are the classics of cheese and sour cream.  My new favorite is homemade popcorn lightly seasoned with garlic salt.  Whatever your pleasure, you really can’t go wrong.

The recipe does make a large pot of soup, so you can feed a bunch of people at once, or you can keep it all to yourself and eat all week.  It freezes well, too.

In a word: Yum!

 

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You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is certain — and when I say nothing, I mean nothing — I can com home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. — Julie Powell in Julie & Julia

I grew up watching The French Chef on television. I hear Julia’s voice telling me that whenever I flip something, I need to have the courage of my convictions. (I rarely do.) While I adore Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I actually get more use out of Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom.

A couple of years ago I wanted to make a nice, simple potato leek soup. I pulled out a giant Gourmet cookbook promising to have every recipe I might want to cook … except potato leek soup. In Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, it is one of the very first “master” recipes. It was perfect, and I use it often.

The simple recipes, made with quality ingredients, are often the best. They really taste like their ingredients, and yet the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Tonight’s meal wasn’t quite so simple — mushroom and cheese omelette, mashed potatoes, and steamed zucchini — but it reminded me how satisfying and pleasurable a thoughtfully cooked meal is and how much happier I am when I eat real food I have prepared myself from ingredients (i.e. not a frozen pizza). With that in mind, I am forming if not a plan then an intention to do more cooking from the shelves of cookbooks in my house, test out the Joule I received as a gift, and maybe finally get through some of my Rouxbe cooking classes.

I will keep you posted on how it goes.

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