It’s been a minute since my last post, but I’m alive! I’m just getting a little bit tired of writing about the ups and downs I’m experiencing with my thyroid and celiac issues. I’m wondering if I’ll ever even out and get to a point of steady normalcy. Right now I alternate between good days and bad days—but a month ago they were all bad days, so I guess I can’t complain.
Quick side note: avoiding foods because I have to is a hell of a lot better than doing it because I choose to. At an office meeting recently (oh yeah, I have a job now, more on that later) there was pizza. Lots and lots of pizza. And I couldn’t touch it. But instead of being the big white dieting elephant in the room, I was the Girl With the Allergies and it was simple enough. No one felt uncomfortable or judged! Suhweet!
I want to avoid writing too much about my attempts to live without gluten. My audience is not primarily the celiac community, and I don’t want to lead people to a bandwagon. I hate nutrition trends, so I’m a little annoyed that gluten-free has cropped up as a huge trend. I recognize that it has potential to cause inflammation in a lot of people, but it seems like everything does. Soy, nuts, dairy, and gluten are all being avoided by the “health” community. Meanwhile, the fitness community is all about avoiding sugar and monitoring carbs and fats. Others warn against any and all animal products. And even my doctor warns against “nightshade” vegetables (which include tomato and potato, among others). And while the medical, fitness, and holistic health communities are busy ruling out EVERYTHING, a high percentage of Americans are still eating fast food! What the hell is anyone supposed to eat? How do we explain these conflicting ideas?
I do know one thing: FOOD IS NOT THE ENEMY. Well, not exactly.
Most fad diets and nutritional trends have one thing in common: they point to inexpensive convenience foods as the culprit. And I agree. Fast food, chemically enhanced frozen foods, hormonally enhanced meats and dairy products, vegetables covered in pesticides, a general absence of vegetables from most Americans’ meals, and an abundance of sugary, fatty foods have all combined to create a disgusting food culture in the United States. As food industries have learned to sell the maximum amount of food for the most amount of revenue, people have learned to seek foods that pack in the most amount of taste for the least amount of effort and cost. Why eat those complicated, expensive vegetables when for only a dollar and about two minutes you can enjoy a burger that has been chemically engineered to satisfy your taste buds? It’s sad that as a culture we’re now to the point that we’d rather hit up a drive thru than take five extra minutes to walk into a grocery store produce aisle, let alone the 30 minutes to buy from the grower.
Instead of ruling out entire food groups, I would really like to see a renewed effort to seek whole foods that can be easily traced back to a source. This doesn’t have to be a big huge deal—it can start with such a small effort. Replace one meal a day with a meal containing fresh vegetables. I know, I know, it’s not the same as Zaxby’s. It’s not the same as a big steak. You’re used to being completely stuffed to the point of discomfort after meals and you’re afraid you can’t really be satisfied by vegetables. But you have to train your palette to recognize the taste of vegetables. And at first, maybe you’ll just be so proud you cooked a veggie meal that you don’t care how it tastes. And after that, the appeal of experimentation sustains the project. But before you realize it, you’ll have—gasp—a favorite vegetable! Maybe even a favorite veggie meal!
If you have kids, get them involved as well! My daughter would never have eaten collard greens if I had not involved her in the cleaning and de-stemming process. I recognize that her opinion of vegetables will form somewhere, whether it’s from listening to the kids at school talk about them, or from the jabs made on TV by her favorite characters—so it’s up to me to get there first. I talk to her about the sweetness of Brussels sprouts, my favorite vegetable, and I describe the flavors that she should learn to recognize. I told her that most people can’t taste how sweet Brussels sprouts are because they eat too many fast foods with salt and sugar in them, and that she’d have to pay really close attention in order to taste it. Now she thinks we’re in a secret club where only really cool people like us can taste Brussels sprouts the right way. I guess I’ll just go with that for a little while…
If you’re thinking that you’d like to try vegetables but you don’t know where to start, then that’s what I’m here for! But in case you missed my first 20 blog posts and don’t have time to go back and read them, start here: visit a farmer’s market, point to a vegetable—any vegetable—and ask the person working the stand for advice about that vegetable. There is no dumb question—half of what they’re there for is to sell their product, but the other half of their purpose is to educate the public.
Today’s recipe is simple, and it answers a question that I once asked in total earnest: “What the hell can you do with collard greens?” If you grew up in the South like I did, you’ve had your fill of “greens.” Grandma spent hours boiling them with a ham hoc, and grandpa ate them with vinegar. While the memory does bring on a bit of nostalgia, I don’t exactly recall any particular fondness for the taste. So really what I wanted to know was, “what else can you do with collard greens?”
Creamed Collard Greens:
1 Bunch of greens, washed and chopped with stalks removed (kale works well too)
1/3 cup milk
2/3 cup broth
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour (I now use cornstarch as my thickener but it’s not the same)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (trust me)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
Basically you start by making a roux: melt the butter in a pan, and slowly sprinkle in your flour. I do about half the flour and whisk, then I add the other half and whisk some more. Add a very small amount of milk to the pan and whisk. Repeat until you’ve added all of the milk and you have a creamy mixture.** Stir in broth, cayenne, paprika, and onion powder. Bring this mixture just to the point of boiling and then stir in your greens. Continue to stir until the greens have reduced in size and are coated by the mixture. Add more broth if more liquid is needed. Reduce heat to medium/low and cover; cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
**This step is not one I’ve been able to accurately explain–I know, because I once tried to walk Mike through my gravy recipe over the phone. Total failure. So if you’ve never made a roux before, let me explain: the idea is to get a perfect combination of butter and flour without making a clumpy mess. So the trick, for me, is to remove my pan from the burner while I’m whisking. And KEEP IT MOVING with your whisk!!! It is also important that you don’t simply dump all of the milk into the pan at once–trust me, you’ll have a pan full of milk with little flour balls if you do that. And don’t try to get by with a fork! You absolutely need a whisk. Also be sure that, at least during this step, you are not trying to multitask! Your full attention is needed. Once you get it the first time, you’ll be fine forever.