HOW FOOD PREPPING GETS ME OUT OF A FUNK

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The Funk

Most everyone goes through funks, right? Periods of time where everything feels difficult and pointless. I don’t know about everyone else but I usually experience a few funks every year. However, the lack of natural human interaction combined with the weight of knowing a pandemic is sweeping the globe even if it hasn’t affected me directly yet has made these funks a weekly occurrence. I’ll have a few days where I’m feeling like everything’s gonna be ok and then *BOOM* that feeling is gone and replaced by a sense of… of what? Pointlessness? This weird sense of loss? 

The frequency at which these good and bad days come and go is probably the most jarring of anything I’ve had to personally deal with. Which I fully realize makes me incredibly lucky and I’m truly, genuinely grateful for that. And I’m also tired. As I assume we all are. Tired and anxious laced with just a bit of shame because I know I’m living a privileged AF existence right now. 

That’s how I spent the better part of my Sunday. Unable to pinpoint what, exactly, was wrong and what, exactly, I needed to do to remedy it. I’ve experienced enough funks like this recently to know they only last a few days. But that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant. I try to be patient with myself. Give myself a little leeway if all I want to do is binge watch Community and call chips and salsa a meal. Which is exactly what I did on Sunday. I’m not proud but I’m also trying not to be ashamed because shit is hard right now. Varying levels of hard for different people but hard across the board, nonetheless.

I woke up Monday feeling very much the same. I still wanted to be patient with myself but, at the same time, I knew I needed to get some food prep done. One of the first things I lose interest in when I’m in a funk is cooking, which is usually my favorite pastime. I thought working from home would give me more time to cook. But the anxiety of everything hit hard, grocery shopping became my most stress-inducing errand, and all kitchen inspiration seemed to fizzle. Most days, nothing sounds all that good. Except for french fries. Or brownies.

When I make a plan to cook, I become overwhelmed by the amount of effort it will take and, usually, it doesn’t seem worth it. So I’ve ordered takeout a LOT. I’ve called french fries and wine or chips and salsa a meal more than I care to admit. But that’s led to my gut being less than impressed with me lately. And feeling like shit physically only makes my funks even funkier, which makes me even less interested in cooking, which makes me more inclined to grab something that will “satisfy” me emotionally, which is usually not something nourishing for my gut.

The Plan

It was time to break the cycle. Or at least slow it down for a minute. So I decided I would do SOME level of food prep. It’s the only task I gave myself, letting everything else go for the day. (“Everything else” being a looooooong list of cleaning, among other things.) 

I decided, at the minimum, I would cook some quinoa and roast some vegetables. Easy and usable in a number of ways throughout the week. I pulled out a butternut squash and a couple sweet potatoes and shushed the wannabe-food-blogger voice that told me there wasn’t anything “interesting” about roasted squash and potatoes. I diced up the veggies along with an onion and tossed them with some oil and a handful each of chopped rosemary and sage from my herb garden (which, admittedly, did please my lil wannabe-food-blogger heart a bit) and let them roast in the oven. And I made a quick balsamic vinaigrette because it’s my go-to with any kind of roasted veg. 

On to quinoa. Feeling the need to zhuzh it up a bit (it’s compulsive, I can’t help it), I decided to make quinoa pilaf. I toasted pine nuts, nearly burning them in the process, then sauteed a medium shallot and the quinoa, letting it toast up a bit, before adding some water and letting it simmer away. 

Feeling like I was on a roll, I decided I should prep dinner as much as possible since I had no idea how long this wave of cooking energy would last. First, I parboiled some baby red potatoes so they’d be ready to roast up all crispy and delicious to go alongside the chuck roast I had planned for dinner. (Honestly, god bless the humble potato.) 

Next, I rummaged through the crisper in my fridge looking for some veggie inspiration but found mostly shame. Seems I’m a different, more motivated person while grocery shopping than when it comes time to cook. I had to throw out a bag of salad, some radishes, a bunch of swiss chard, and a bunch of asparagus because they had all gone brown and slimy. I’m a bad person, guys. Luckily, the bag of brussels sprouts I bought was still fresh looking. Since my husband won’t eat cooked brussels sprouts (I don’t want to talk about it), I opted for a shaved brussels sprouts salad instead. With the salad tossed and the dressing prepped, dinner was 80% finished. 

At this point, I could tell I was running out of steam. But I didn’t feel like I’d done enough. I wanted to prep one more thing. 

Hummus. It was obvious, it had to be hummus. Partially because I was out of any other fresh veg to prep but also because it’s my favorite food to have on hand in a pinch. Carrots and hummus are a much more nutrient-dense option than my usual chips and salsa. And sauteeing leftover roasted veggies in balsamic vinaigrette and serving it on top of hummus is easily one of my favorite low-effort dinners. 

Success

So that was it. I could officially mark “food prep” off my one-item to-do list for the day. And spending a couple hours chopping veggies, sauteeing aromatics, and peeling chickpeas gave me that pseudo-meditative sensation I get when forced to slow down while being productive. It’s hard for me to articulate why I enjoy cooking sometimes but this morning was a good example. My funk isn’t gone. That weird sense of loss hasn’t disappeared. But taking up a bit of its space is a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that always comes with cooking. Which was enough for me to justify celebrating my accomplishment by having a glass of wine with lunch.

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The Recipes

Herby Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato

Serves 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 2 small/medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 small handful each fresh rosemary and sage (or any herbs you like, really)
  • Avocado oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 425° F. Toss diced squash, potatoes, and herbs in a tablespoon or two of avocado oil. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, until beginning to brown. In the meantime, toss the onion with a bit of avocado oil. Remove veggies from oven, add diced onion, and toss. Season with salt and pepper and return to the oven for another 20-30 minutes, until they reach the desired level of caramelization. 

Red Quinoa Pilaf with Pine Nuts

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
  

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 cup red quinoa, rinsed and thoroughly dried
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • Avocado oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Heat a medium saute pan over medium-low heat and add pine nuts. Watch carefully, tossing periodically, until they begin to brown a bit. Remove pine nuts to a small bowl and set aside. 
  • Return pan to medium heat and add a tablespoon or two of avocado oil. Add the mined shallot and saute until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add dried quinoa and saute for another 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, until fragrant. 
  • Add water and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Fluff quinoa. Add toasted pine nuts and salt and pepper, to taste. 

Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Carrot Salad

Adapted from The Girl On Bloor
Serves 4

Ingredients
  

  • 2-3 cups shaved brussels sprouts
  • 1 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • 1/4 cup pepitas, or any nut you like and have on hand

Dressing

  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1-2 healthy pinches sea salt
  • Pepper, to taste

Instructions
 

  • You can totally use the bagged pre-shredded brussels sprouts for this salad. Or, if you’re a picky bitch like me, you can thinly shave your own brussels sprouts so that you don’t get any of the tough stem parts in your salad. Toss the shaved brussels sprouts, shredded carrots, craisins, and pepitas together.
  • Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar and shake until combined.
  • Dress the salad 30-60 minutes before serving, if possible. This gives the brussels sprouts a little time to soften a bit, which I find preferable. 

Basic Hummus

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients
  

  • 1 can cooked chickpeas, drained and peeled
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup tahini, to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 – 2 pinches salt
  • 4-6 tbsp water

Instructions
 

  • I know peeling the chickpeas probably sounds crazy and, honestly, it’s not absolutely necessary. But give it a try at least once to see if it’s worth it to you. The obscenely creamy texture proves to be worth it to me, every time. 
  • Add the peeled chickpeas to a food processor and blend for a minute or two, scraping down sides as needed. Add lemon juice, tahini, garlic powder, olive oil, and salt and blend for a few minutes, scraping down sides as needed, until thoroughly combined.
  • With food processor running, add the water in a thin stream. Start with 4 tablespoons and see how you like that texture before adding more. Again, scrape down sides as needed, and let blend for several minutes until you reach a silky smooth consistency. The hummus will thicken up a bit in the fridge, so I like to make it just a little on the thinner side to accommodate that. It’ll keep in the fridge for about 5 days and is maybe even better day 2 and beyond as the flavors meld together.