“So You’re Vegan Now?”

I’ve been getting this question A LOT lately.

If you want the tldr:

No. I just enjoy eating in a way that makes me feel good in body, mind, and spirit.

If you want the real explanation:

I was on and off the Whole30/Paleo bandwagon for a couple of years, and then I found myself on the receiving end of a lab report with high cholesterol, which has never been a problem for me. Granted, I do have high cholesterol in my family medical history, so it could just be that in my late 30s, the switch has been flipped and it wouldn’t matter what I ate or did. But I’d rather argue than accept, so I decided to change my diet up. After reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I had made the decision to cut a lot of meat out of my diet. I didn’t feel like I could trust modern labeling to direct me towards ethically raised animals, and it just doesn’t sit right with me to not agree with how those animals have to live their lives and not be willing to slaughter one myself and yet still get down on a steak dinner at the end of the day. My kids still eat meat, my husband still eats meat, we are still friends if you eat meat! This is just something I’m doing for my own peace of mind.

I had been eating a vegetarian diet for two or three months when I got the news about my cholesterol. I knew up front that cheese and butter had snuck back into my diet since the Whole 30 days, and I immediately made the decision to cut them back out. Around the same time, I learned more about Forks Over Knives, which is a plant based diet. I was intrigued that instead of just random people who decided to write a diet book, actual medical doctors were involved, medical research had been done, peer-reviewed research that I could look up independently of any author or spokesperson. The more I looked up, the more intrigued I was, and since I had decided to cut out butter and cheese, it seemed like a small step to try out eating plant based.

I talked to my friend Hallie, who has listened to me whimper my way through more than one dietary transition, and I talked to my sister, Andie, because she knows just a wee bit about medicine and health. Neither of them are doing this diet or giving up their meat, but I love that they are always there to say: “Why not?” when I get a crazy idea… or to talk me back to reality when it’s a little too crazy. This one got the green light as probably a little crazy, but not detrimentally so. My sister reminded me that I can get obsessive and pharisaical about certain things: “You know, the stress and anxiety you put yourself through trying to follow these diets is at LEAST as bad for your heart and your health as the food you’re avoiding.” Noted. I talked to Hallie and told her my battle plan was to “purposefully imperfectly” follow this eating plan. I want to remember now and always that the way I eat and exercise is supposed to IMPROVE the quality of my life, not worsen it. With that firmly in mind, I jumped right in with big support from my Bearded Chef, who is the co-facilitator of all of my culinary escapades.

So, yeah, I guess eating plant based is technically “vegan.” I’ve discovered a ton of “vegan” meals that I’ve enjoyed sharing over on Instagram. Hashtag: vegan, y’all! We’ve had delicious salads filled with leafy greens and a rotating cast of seeds, ancient grains, sweet potatoes, all kinds of veggies, and topped with oil-free dressings. We’ve eaten beans in a million different and delicious ways. Our pantry is filled to brimming with chick peas. I’ve discovered a deep and abiding love for Indian cuisine. I spiralize a ridiculous amount of zucchini. I eat hot rice cereal covered in fresh berries. I drink green smoothies with vegan protein powder after work outs. Unlike my experience on Whole 30, I haven’t felt deprived, I haven’t felt hungry, and (important to everyone around me) I haven’t felt angry enough to burn down the world and everything in it. I’ve been getting the whole plant carbs that I love and plenty of plant based protein to fuel my daily workouts. Because of this (and my own vanity), I worried a little about gaining weight, so two weeks in I stepped back on the scale and peeked through splayed fingers: I lost 5 pounds! It wasn’t a goal of mine when I started, but heck yes I’ll take it!

Eat plant based has been really enjoyable for me, but you know what? When we went on a road trip to see my friend Haley and she told me we had to go try the most amazing creamery, I had an (ermrgrd, so delicious) scoop of blueberry balsamic ice cream. (Though since then I’ve discovered a local place that dishes up an amazing vegan version of this frozen sweet treat too!) When my husband and I had the chance for an impromptu date night, and he suggested sushi (one of my favorite things on the edible earth), I said yes! I’ve caught a fish. I’ve scaled, gutted, and grilled a fish. I order fish that I know they’ve gotten from a life in the deep and wide ocean, and you know what? I feel okay savoring that fish and being thankful that I get to enjoy it. I tried to be that aware and thankful when I used to eat other animals, too.

So no. I’m not a vegan. I love vegan dishes. I choose to eat a mostly plant based diet. I’m okay with a special night of sushi here and there, but on the whole, I’m happiest eating veggies. I don’t miss meat. I don’t miss eggs. I’m excited to attempt some vegan baking!

I have an appointment set three months from my last blood draw to check back in and see how things look. Maybe this will help my cholesterol. Maybe it won’t. But for now I feel happier and healthier in body, mind, and spirit than I have for a very, very long time. And as long as that is still true, I’m going to continue to make the choices that got me here, and share the joy along the way!

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Learning to Fail

I had the amazing opportunity to once again join my friend Jen in studio on The Jennifer Fulwiler show. We had a great time chatting about many things, but there is one in particular that I wanted to share here in case you weren’t able to hear the show.

I started this blog to document my kitchen disasters, just a fun way to laugh while I learned. But since then it has taken on a bigger role. It has made me consider how we learn and why. And even more it has made me consider how important it is for our children to see us learning and more importantly to watch us fail and most important of all see us dust ourselves off and try again.

Growing up, I was a competitive equestrian, so I learned from a very young age how necessary it is to quite literally dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. The longer you waited to get back on the horse, the more time you had to think about all the ways you failed and how much it hurt, and the bigger the fear got that stood between you and trying again.

My children get to see me fail a lot. Not because it’s a planned teaching tool, but because I am a hot mess and because I am human. Believe me, I honestly buy the bulk organic mac’n’cheese at Costco solely so my children won’t starve on the nights that I utterly destroy a new recipe.

This summer my kids and I have started learning together. I’ve declared this our “Summer of Spanish,” and we speak in Spanish, play Spanish bingo, read kids books in Spanish. It’s been a lot of fun for all of us. But they have also had a front row seat to my own learning experiences, particularly in the kitchen. They’ve watched me attempt to cook, and it has actually made them excited to join in.

I shared a story with Jen about the girls’ first cooking lesson. I decided that the most important culinary feat that the must accomplish was cracking an egg. Was this because I researched how to teach children to cook? Heck no, who has time for that? It’s because I’m a classic film nerd, and in my head I was envisioning Audrey Hepburn in her role as Sabrina (must watch– go forth!). She is sent to Paris to learn how to cook, and burned into my mind in black and white is the lesson on cracking an egg. (Take away: “It’s all in the wrist.”)

I realized, I never officially learned how to crack an egg, so I had the foresight to consider that perhaps I was doing it wrong. If nothing else I have excellent instincts about what I don’t know. I googled “How to Crack and Egg” and up popped a Jacques Pepin tutorial. Now even I have heard of Jacques Pepin, so I clicked the link, ready to learn. The first thing he says (in his deliciously accented English) is to never ever ever crack an egg on the rim of a bowl or a pan; crack it on the flat surface of a counter. And I’m sitting there thinking– man! I even crack eggs wrong! No wonder I have so much trouble in the kitchen! So I watch the video and I’m feeling good about it. I buy a dozen eggs, just for us to practice cracking.

The day of the lesson, I get the girls ready, cover their clothes with their matching pink Williams-Sonoma aprons (dress for the job you want, y’all), and lecture them on the appropriate way to crack an egg (tldr: “wrist, counter”). And then for the first time in my life, I strike an egg on the flat counter as God and Jacques Pepin intended. Apparently, it takes a lot less force than cracking it on the side of a bowl, because in my culinary enthusiasm I just decimate this egg. My kids eyes are wide as saucers, and my 11 year old asks: “Um. Is that supposed to happen?” I can’t help but laugh, and then they are laughing, and I try again almost as clumsily. Soon we’re laughing so hard that my 5 year old falls off her step-stool which of course makes them laugh even harder. By the time I hand them an egg to make their attempts, they are relaxed and happy and fairly confident that they will at LEAST do better than their mama. And they do, even the 5-year-old sends two perfect eggs into the bowl without a single piece of shell.

There was a time when I would’ve been furious with myself for failing. I would have angrily wiped everything off the counter and into the trash, and then cancelled “cooking class.” Thankfully I’ve had more than a little time to think about how I want my kids to face failure. Especially when my 11 year old shows more than a little of her mama’s perfectionistic tendencies and the accompanying self-flagellating anxiety. I have realized it is important for them to see me continuing to learn and to be excited about learning, but it is vastly more important for them to see how I act in the face of failure, because every single one of us is going to fail, and fail repeatedly. If you are not failing, then you are not learning. And your attitude to that is going to make all the difference in whether you love or hate to learn new things.

And that is everything I want this blog to be about. I want it to be about how we learn and how we fail and how we try again. I want to document all the mistakes and laughter and, yes, hopefully even improvement, whether in the kitchen or while learning a new language or in some new and unexpected adventure. This is were the learning happens. In the failure, in the mess. Thankfully its a place in which I’ve spent a lot of time and am becoming more comfortable with by the day.

 

Fear Setting

We’ve been having an amazing summer so far, filled with Spanish, math work, reading lessons, library trips, and visits with my grandmother. Summer is also the time of year when the girls and I go in for our annual medical checkups. I never imagined that both my doc and the pediatrician would have news that would impact our kitchen adventures.

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My oldest daughter who has always been on the crazy tiny side (official medical term) of the growth chart, has basically fallen right off of it. Now, this isn’t wildly surprising as my sister and my grandmother never saw 5 feet tall, however, my daughter is also what I would call a “crackertarian.” She is incredibly picky about food and despite our best attempts mostly subsists on simple carbs. When the doctor saw the growth chart, she insisted on a few blood tests and a bone density scan. Everything came back within normal ranges, but the doctor encouraged us to get her on a veggie and protein packed diet before puberty starts in full force.

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A week later, I received a call from my doctor. My A1C (blood glucose) is the best it has ever been, but for the first time in my life, my cholesterol is horrible! Thanks, genetics and being on the down slope of my thirties! So, it’s incredibly important that I quit bouncing between fad starvation with marathon cardio sessions and simple-carb-fueled slothfulness and get myself on a regular workout schedule along with a healthy diet. Here comes the tricky part: sustainability.

I have already run through the terrible cycle of deprivation of “fun” food leads to depression leads to exhaustion leads to quitting my workout routine leads to more depression leads to binging on “fun” foods. Thankfully I recently learned an incredibly helpful exercise to do when contemplating a big life change. It came from the latest TedTalk by Tim Ferriss. I am an unabashed fangirl of this “life hacking” guru whose book 4 Hour Body was my first foray into popular fitness. In this (very brief– you have time) talk, he discusses something he applies frequently to his life. Instead of “goal setting,” it is called “fear setting.” It involves listing the failures you imagine and then allows you to create a way to combat and correct those potentialities ahead of time. Later you list what your chosen change might bring to your life even if you were only partially successful, as well as what you would miss out on by not making the change.

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I’ve already used it for a big life decision that I recently made (and will probably be sharing within the next year), and found it immensely beneficial, so once I realized that diet and exercise needed to be my top priority, I jumped right into “fear setting” my game plan. I’ll share a couple of my main fears and responses. I may tweak this as necessary, but for now it seems like a pretty solid look at my known weaknesses as well as the pros of jumping in with both feet and the cons of never getting started.

Fear Setting: Diet and Exercise

What if I… Prevent Repair
Feel too exhausted to get out of bed in the morning
  • Take your meds
  • Get enough sleep
  • Go to sleep and wake up every day on the same schedule
  • Make the next good choice: “One day at a time; one choice at a time.”
    • Just get out of bed
    • Just put on gym clothes
    • Just get to the gym parking lot
    • Just walk into the gym
    • Just do 5 minutes on the elliptical
  • Go for a walk around the block
  • Commit to go to the gym in the evening instead
  • If you really can’t get there; go in the morning and add 15 minutes to your cardio
Feel stressed and crave ‘comfort food’
  • Decide on replacement comfort food ahead of time
    • Sunbutter on a spoon
    • One piece of bread
    • Fruit
  • Drink a full glass of water first
  • Go for a walk around the block instead
  • Do a round of tai chi instead
  • If you cheat, drink a full glass of water with apple cider vinegar
  • Commit to doing an extra 20 minutes of cardio the next time you are at the gym
Starve?!?!
  • Keep healthy snacks with me at all times
  • Make sure to get enough protein at every meal
  • Eat regular meals
  • Stop what you are doing and eat a healthy snack NOW
  • Adjust how much you eat at your next meal to get full

What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?

  • More energy
  • Less depression
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Controlled blood sugar
  • Opportunities to use my personal trainer certification
  • Ideas to help others who might also be struggling with their health
  • More flexibility
  • Less injuries
  • A slimmer, more muscular physique

 

What might be the cost of inaction?

  • A heart attack– like your dad, uncles, and grandfather
  • Stroke– never to be the same again physically or mentally
  • Deprive my girls of a mother
  • Deprive my husband of his wife
  • Worsening depression
  • Additional anxiety
  • Continued weight gain
  • Further exhaustion
  • Increased effects of age exterior and interior
  • Less energy to play with the girls
  • Medical procedures that are not going to be pleasant

 

I feel pretty motivated when I have it all written out in a list, and have something that I can refer to in moments of doubt and disillusionment to remind me why this is a Very Important Thing. Here’s to balance and sustainability, and to a long, happy, healthy life with those whom I love most!

zencate

Extra Ingredients

I’ve taken a little hiatus as we wrapped up the chaos that was the last month of school. The past year of “real” school has been a huge transition and learning experience for all of us. Before this, I homeschooled for three years. Being on someone else’s schedule, following someone else’s rules, and accepting someone else’s idea of lesson plans and curriculum was an enormous challenge for me. But we made it, and in the end we all came through smiling.

Now that summer is upon us, I have resumed my homeschool mom ways. We have a weekly schedule, we have read aloud time, math lessons for my oldest, reading lesson for my youngest, and beginning this week– cooking lessons for everyone.

I think one of the fool proof ways to ensure your children are lifelong learners is to let them see YOU constantly learning, constantly trying new things, and yes, let them see you fail and laugh and get back up again and to get back on that horse.

The girls have been fascinated with their mama’s (ahem) “adventures” in the kitchen, and they have been begging to get involved. I knew that was going to to be too much (for me, at least) while we were still precariously balancing all the school obligations, extracurriculars, and hours of homework, but now that summer is in full swing, I’m ready for Cate’s Cooking Class to commence.

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In med school, my sister was given an important adage that I think applies to learning of all kinds. In order to really grasp a new procedure, the formula for a student doctor is: “Watch one, do one, teach one.” Since I am in the presence of the master of culinary greatness, my husband, The Bearded Chef. I have observed a diverse range of dishes being prepared and perfected. As you may know from previous posts, I have managed to dip my toe in the water of preparing some dishes of my own, and now I feel like the time has come to add a pinch of pandemonium to the kitchen and start helping my kiddos learn more about kitchen basics and beyond.

My greatest aspiration is to help them enjoy the process of attempts, failures, and improvements, and hopefully I can add a few life skills to their toolboxes in the process, and we’ll all improve our cooking along the way!

 

Starting to Go Off Script

After reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I stopped eating meat. I plan to flesh out (pardon the pun) more about this book and that choice in a future post. For now, I will say that I no longer felt like I could believe in the choices that I had been making thinking them ethical, because of the shady labeling practices that most food companies use. Until I could do more research, I didn’t want to risk eating animals that were not well cared for during their lives.

As a once (and little did I know then, future) vegetarian, I had remembered a few recipes that were very basic and filled me up, but not many, so I began pouring over cookbooks and websites to find new ideas. One that I found first in the bookstore and later visited the website was Love and Lemons. To my delight, the author was a fellow Austinite. I became intrigued by several recipes, and when I came across one for veggie enchiladas, I was inspired. I’m slowly, slowly learning to do my own thing. I’ve learned to trust my own tastebuds and not measuring spoons when it comes to seasoning, and I felt ready to branch farther out, and make substitutions with what I had in my kitchen already.

I used the leftover half of a spaghetti squash sitting in my fridge with a can of black beans as the enchilada filling. I wasn’t entirely sure how that was going to pair, but I figured that since I liked both things, it would all turn out right. Along with a little seasoning, and some Mexican cheese blend, I wrapped up the filling into corn tortillas and arranged them into two separate pans.

filling.jpg

For the first pan, I made Love and Lemon’s adobo sauce recipe for my husband. Now me personally? I think adobo sauce tastes exactly like bandaids smell, so in deference to my probably overly picky palate, I topped the second pan with a Hatch green chili verde sauce. Next I rained down the rest of the Mexican cheese blend and decorated the top with sliced fresh jalapeño.

Into the oven they went until the most glorious smells filled the kitchen. They came out amazingly, if I do say so myself!

adobo.jpg

Eric loved his adobo, the girls delighted in both flavors, and my littlest culinary adventurer even asked for more jalapeños! She’s definitely my mini-me, inside and out. I was pretty darn proud of my verde version and indulged in an extra helping once I’d polished off the first plate. Thumbs up all around!

A girl could get used to following her own flavor whims!

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And Other Lies

When I started Cate Can’t Cook, it was because I was an absolute disaster in the kitchen. Most of my forays into food have ended in culinary disaster and tears, if not fire. Just the question “Mom, what’s for dinner?” fills me to brimming with existential dread and leaves me reaching for the car keys, to find a faster solution. Healthy food is really important to me and it’s incredibly hard to find that if you are headed to the nearest drive-thru or TexMex joint. I wanted to try to do better for my family, though I knew it would be a huge sacrifice on my energy and my ego to attempt to cook something more difficult than a box of mac n cheese. Taking my husband’s favorite saying to heart “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” I spent time researching food prep and cooking skills, but I knew I also needed to address the biggest hurdle, my own self doubt. I took a good hard look at what helps me relax, what helps me to learn, and realized that I would have to find a way past my own criticism and fear of failing. I love to diffuse tension (especially my own) with laughter, and it gives me great joy to have people laugh along with me. So I began documenting my kitchen disasters here. It helped me keep everything in perspective. It helped me be less self-critical. And it helped me to accept failures as opportunities.

fall

Ever so slowly, I began to notice that the disasters grew less frequent and less appetite ruining. And one day I found myself not only creating my own recipe after being inspired by one that I’d read, but cooking something that delighted my family without burning any of the food or myself. It was a proud feeling to know that I had cooked something healthy and delicious for my family that everyone enjoyed. I didn’t feel overly stressed. I didn’t feel embarrassed to set this meal on the table. I didn’t feel frustrated that I’d made something else the kids wouldn’t even try. (Yes, I’ll be sharing this recipe soon!)

enchiladas.jpg

Cooking is still not one of my charisms. I have to work hard to create in the kitchen without getting sidelined by mistakes. I’m not sure that it will ever be something that I love, but it has reminded me of something important. Everything takes a willingness to fail, often repeatedly, and it also takes practice, practice, and more practice. I’ve been learning so much about food and nutrition, and I hope to continue to do so, but I don’t want to stop there. I want to carry these lessons into doing what I love so much, which is learning new things. And I want to continue to tell a good story about all the fun and failure along the way.

So I hope y’all will continue to laugh along with me as I discover more lies I believed before I tried.

tothefuture

My Empty Cup

Mea culpa! I have sorely neglected this little space. I wish I had a more interesting excuse or at least a neat and tidy resolution, but the truth is, y’all, sometimes your cup overflows and other times it is drained to the dregs.

emptycup

I came down with some weird throat and respiratory virus that lingered for 2 weeks. The doc said it looked awful, but it wasn’t strep. It seemed to exacerbate what had already been taking me out at the knees– extreme exhaustion.

After about three months of steadily worsening symptoms, I finally called the doc to get some blood work done. In the meantime, I tried all the things: Cutting out all sugar (Ten days of this just made me more tired and depressed to boot). I added sugar back in (I wasn’t less tired, but I was definitely happier). I started drinking green smoothies at least 4 days a week (not a sacrifice, I love a good spinach and berry smoothie). I began monitoring my water intake attempting to get at least 80oz a day (I officially know where all the restrooms in town are). I draaaaaaaagged myself to the gym (okay so far, I only made it 3 days last week, but it’s a start!)

When my blood work came back- it was flawless. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better A1C level in my entire life. My thyroid looks healthy. My iron levels are spot on. Which is fabulous… except that it really doesn’t get me any closer to figuring out what is wrong. However, just as I slowly sunk down to this level of exhaustion, I seem to be just as slowly regaining some energy and strength. Bodies are weird.

So, I apologize for the long hiatus, but I’m thrilled to finally feel energetic and clear-headed enough to start filling up this space with more adventures, and I’ve been saving up new dishes and new disasters, not to mention more than a few tasty books!