Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Cauliflower rice

I do not consider myself a good cook. In fact, I do not think I will ever call myself a beast in the kitchen. Nonetheless, in the past couple of months, and this time consistently, my cute little old-school kitchen mutated into my most-liked, most-spent place in the world. I have always had an all-consuming relationship with food, and by all-consuming, I mean I consume a lot. Then, the more gourmet — as well as the more greasy my meal was — the better. Nevertheless, what got in my belly was never my own creation: I practically grew up sitting at the end of table waiting for whatever was being concocted, at home and in restaurants. I was made for food; yet food, I did not make. I am not proud of it — but I did not bother to spend one minute behind the stove until I got my own place and even then, I do not suppose boiling water for pasta and adding ready-made sauce counts as a home-cooked meal. If I mastered al dente, that was already the victory. That all changed recently. 

Overweight. Underweight. Normal according to the BMI calculator. At times, I was all of the above in the space of a year. I got fed up of yoyo-ing and truth be told, losing the weight is a piece of cake compared to maintaining it. In the past, I would be over-the-top disciplined then as soon as I lost the kilograms, not have a care in the world. Always at unhealthy extremes. For instance, I would psych myself up for major cheat days in order to survive the agony of eating clean during the week; because for the longest time, I believedclean’ meant boring salads which, to this day, I still can hardly stomach (pun intended). Talk or feelings about the right bodyweight is one of those issues that requires such... diplomacy, not only from our surroundings but really, from ourselves. We are hardest on ourselves. Sure, no one in his right hand mind wants to be... on the heavier side of things (I am all about body positivity, trust me), like no one in his healthy mind wants to be... skin and bones either (I am all about body positivity, trust me) — but what we do want, what we all thrive for — is to feel comfortable, amazing, sexy as fuck when we look in the mirror. 

Like millions before me, with me, and after me — I began to be painstakingly conscious about body image, rather altering mine, when my health started to fail me. In my case, it was not just physical health — though I will not lie, of course a main motivation was also to feel comfortable, amazing, sexy as hell every time I would take a mirror selfie. I am grateful to live in a time and age where we can access information in less than a second (though it must be said, like a double-edged sword, the overflow of information can often become overwhelming); but what surprised me the most was how little I knew. How little I actually controlled. How I never explicitly concerned myself with ‘good health’, this based on the belief that it is only something we must face if sickness strikes (obviously, guilty as charged.) Thus, how my life was starting to feel like I was sitting at the end of the table simply waiting for whatever was being concocted for me. In every aspect. I have struggled my entire life with the ever-pressing desire to stay in control. I still cannot, and never will. However, what I could  — I aspired to master it. What followed, what happened in the kitchen, resulted in one of my proudest achievements.  

I became curious. Aware. Experimental. Definitely not a natural talent. Remarkable apps such as Buzzfeed’s TastyShaun T’s revolutionary Insanity program, POPSUGAR's workout videos and success stories have now become a staple in my routine. Food is a science, a fun one at that; but still a calculating, know-your-shit matter nonetheless. I researched — and more than following the current fitness or diet trends, whether it be paleo, keto or what-eo, I was impelled to get my head around the benefits from nutrition and sports — and how, truthfully, they are the ingredients to finding balance — or imbalance — in life. More importantly, it took a journey of a lifetime to realize that physical, emotional and mental health are intrinsically intertwined: my nutrition affects my mood and my sweat session alters my state of mind. Not always drastically, but drastically in the long run. I am going to rely on cliché here; but healthy body, healthy lifestyle... A healthy soul must follow. Essentially, when it came (and it still comes) to a point where my not-always-kind thoughts and feelings seem to steer the direction of my days, I am convinced that I am still capable of managing how I fuel my body. 

Life is like a savoury dish. There are ingredients. There is a processThere is portion controlThere is just the right amount of salt. And in the end, it is the blend that will not only make us feel satiated — but balanced. There are too many life metaphors in cooking. All true, nonetheless. Some vegetables are a pain in the ass to cut, but the result is very much worth the labor. I prepared butternut squash for the first time this week. Baking requires following a recipe to a tee, which can be tricky for people who despise orders; yet oftentimes, we do need to accept and trust the system — because it works. Some courses need relentless stirring, as living does, as does the learning curve. Unconventional inventions continuously take the Internet by storm, and my appetite in the process. Exploring never stops. Zucchini pizza? Hummus on tomato toast? Avo-egg-in-a-hole? So creative. So healthy. So yummy. My favorite is something I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago, and I can safely say that I fell head-over-heels in love with cauliflower rice. I was reluctant in the beginning — because while I may be a huge fan of rice (I am Filipino, after all), I did not have a particular inkling to cauliflower. Broken down however, it is culinary heaven. 

I was fed up of yoyo-ing; but life, ultimately, is the game of yoyo-ing per excellence, isn’t it? It is full of ups and downs, sure, yet what always enslaves us is that we cannot predict how long a high lasts — or a low, for that matter. Despite our best efforts. It is even more frustrating when we take necessary measures and advice to heart, still, a right 'recipe' does not exist. I discovered that when I cook, I am at my calmest. Grounded. Mindful. Patient. There is patience in cutting vegetables. There is patience in marinating meat. There is patience in seeing the meal broil in the oven. There is even patience in arranging the plate in such a way that is instagrammable for the food diary. When some battles break our hearts, we should let them. Fall of the wagon. Lack. Remorse. Throw in the towel. Curse God. When what weighs heavy throws us off balance, and there is not much more we can do; break down, then grind it like cauliflower rice. Because the most fulfilling recipe I learned from becoming a beast (I changed my mind, I will call myself that) in the kitchen is that us humans are capable of taking something raw, crude, underdone -- and still create something delightful out of itA binge-eat session (or a thousand) will not outweigh consistent effort, nor will a mental breakdown (or even a thousand) define the flavours of our lives. When we learn to become patient with food, along the way, almost unconsciously, we become more patient with ourselves.

Last Thursday, I could not help but notice how one of my go-to cafés mutated from a smart 'digital natives' coffee house to this sultry after-work space after sundown. There were candles. I was caught off guard. Perhaps also because I had never stayed as late. Same place, other world. God knows that this accept and love yourself mantra is the most arduous, labyrinthine, nearly impossible achievement in life. We are hardest on ourselves. One step closer to the goal, then the goal changes. Or did we? Truth is, while adopting a healthy lifestyle and embarking on a fitness journey may alter our body, tremendously, outrageously; it is even more miraculous how it trains our mindset. It can catch us off guard, but it is really the same person we are looking at in the mirror; only stronger. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. We are not creatures of habit. We never were -- and we should not live as such. We are beautiful creatures of transformation. In the end, maybe that is what it is all about: what begets change is the tiniest change in the kitchen. That extra rep during workouts. That one minute during the day. Because if cauliflower can turn into rice, what are we capable of?