Over the last two years, I’ve taught myself to cook, and while I would no longer qualify for Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America,” I won’t be hosting a food show any time soon. When my 10 year-old asked me to make him lunch the other day, he said: “Mom, can you cook a grilled cheese—you know, the kind with the black on the bread?”
I finally discovered that the secret to cooking is to follow the recipe until you know what you’re doing (this might seem easy to you, but I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal). Now that I have some experience, I enjoy substituting ingredients and coming up with my own food creations. I’ve even made a few meals that all three of my guys liked enough to ask for second helpings. Score!
Last night, after a generous neighbor brought over bounty from her garden, I chopped cherry tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and okra and mixed them together in a large bowl. Grabbing the olive oil, I ladled two tablespoons over the vegetables and then sprinkled it with salt and fresh-ground pepper. Finally, I stirred everything together and spread the bright green, red, and yellow mixture onto a sheet pan. It all went into a pre-heated (425 degree) oven for fifteen minutes. And it was a big hit with my family.
This new hobby came about because I began eating more of an almost vegetarian diet. As someone who’s struggled with an autoimmune disorder and fatigue for most of her adult life, I’m continually searching out ways to feel better and increase energy. After quite a bit of research, I decided to add more fruits and vegetables to my diet and limit my consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs. It was not a decision I made easily; after all, I’m the daughter of a cattle rancher.
My ever-supportive husband, Carey, promised to join me on the plant-strong venture. Both of our fathers had open-heart surgery in the last year, and we want to be proactive about our own health. Plus, we’ve each needed to lose seven to ten pounds for the last seven to ten years. We knew changing our beef-heavy habits, especially in the Lone Star State—the land of big hats, big hair, and big steaks—would be tough. The day before we began eating to live instead of living to eat, Carey said, “Dena, I really need your support. I can’t do this without you.”
He lasted a week.
At the time, though, he worked as a marketing director for Chick Fil-a. So I forgave him. And Carey’s always been an all-or-nothing kind of person. Around here, we call him “extreme boy.”
In Rachel Ray’s magazine, I read about a vegan gentleman who hadn’t cheated on his diet in eighteen years. That’s a long, long time. Then again, he lives in California.
The last time I ate at a restaurant with friends, I almost succumbed to temptation after my server brought me a cold, limp veggie burger that looked like a moldy hockey puck. My friends had a field day, making Texas-sized fun of my choice. But I’ve gotten used to the good-natured ribbing (pun intended). So instead of ordering something else, I sent the bean burger back to the kitchen—to be cooked instead of served straight from the freezer. It came back sizzling with little black lines, and I loved it.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t eat perfectly; far from it. There are times I indulge in a steak, ice cream cone, or pork chop. Much of the time, though, I live contentedly without too many animal products—not because I’m particularly Pro-Chickpea—but because I simply feel better eating this way. And if I burn the grilled cheese, it’s cheaper than burning a T-bone.
Wasabi-Pea Encrusted Veggie Burger Photo by Janet Hudson, Creative Commons, via Flickr.4