Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to a Healthy Kitchen, plus an unexpected guest

It is a gorgeous day in Los Angeles, but I find myself with about as much energy as a stuffed Garfield hanging on a 1980s minivan window.  Which is to say, none.

I haven't talked much about it here, but I've been suffering some lady-parts trouble for the last few months.  Consecutively.  If you follow my meaning.  So I'm back to the same level of anemia I had in December.  At that point, I could hardly lift my arms for exhaustion.  I'm certainly better off than I was then, thanks to all of the exercise and healthy food... but I am really, REALLY looking forward to fixing all of this.  (I just made a circling-my-abdomen gesture that, in hindsight, I'm pretty sure Liz Lemon would also make in this situation.)  Here's hoping that my doctor appointment this afternoon will help!

In the meanwhile, I'm going to give you a shorter update today, with the fourth part of my week-long series... a healthy kitchen!

Yesterday's guide to healthy food includes only a part of what you can do to help improve the way you eat.  There's a lot you can do to make your kitchen a haven for you and your body.  (And also your spirit, but the more I am actually using my body, the more I see how closely the two can be connected.

When you're starting down the path to a healthier life, there's one thing you should do first.  (Well, other than talk to your doctor.)  Step into your kitchen, and...

Clean it out.

I don't mean with a mop and a broom, although the nicer you make your kitchen, the nicer it is to be there. 
I mean get rid of the stuff.  Get rid of the stuff that haunts you in the wee hours of the morning.  Get rid of the stuff that is there for your No Good, Very Bad Days.  Get rid of the stuff that you stuff your face with when you're bored.  Unless you're working very hard on your moderation (which is important, but can be easier to do after you get used to your new healthy choices), there's a good chance that if it's in there, you'll eat it. So whatever you put in your kitchen should be something that you consciously, mindfully want to put in your mouth.  That brings us to...

Stock it up.

When the last carton of Chunky Monkey (or the last block of Velveeta) is gone from your fridge, you need to put good things in it so that they're ready for you to eat as soon as you need them.  

I'd say there's probably a pretty good chance you're not eating enough vegetables.  Find a place that sells what you like,  and get munching.  Raw veggies are great for snacking on.  I especially love them with a little hummus, honey mustard, or - you guessed it - greek yogurt (with a little herbs or seasonings mixed in.)

It helps to have readily-available protein, too.  I love chicken tenders - I grill a batch early in the week and enjoy them in salads and sandwich wraps.  I don't go a day without enjoying single-serving cheeses.  At any given time, I have string cheese, or Trader Joe's Brie Bites or Goat Cheese Medallions in the fridge.  The latter come in one-ounce packages (with six or so in a bag) - and the pre-defined single-serving really helps me avoid the Just Another Tiny Slice phenomenon (you know the one... you're slicing cheese, and you eat a little, and then you eat a little more, and then before you know it, half of the package is gone.)

Most of all, stock it up with healthy things that are things you like.  If you buy healthy food but you hate what you're buying, you'll have a harder time eating it.  You may even be tempted to go out for something different than what's in your fridge.  This used to happen to us all the time, but now our well-stocked fridge keeps us right on track.
Measure it out & pack it in.

There are a few supplies that I find helpful in the quest to balance our meals.  Some of these things also prevent the items in our stuffed-to-the-gills fridge from becoming green, fuzzy, and nameable. (Thank you, Dawn Summers.)

a - We pack up our chopped raw veggies, our roasted red peppers, and our grilled chicken in resusable storage containers like these ones by Glasslock.  One great thing about the Glasslock products is that neither their glass, their plastic, nor their lids contain BPA.  Women in particular should avoid BPA, for hormonal purposes.  You can read more about that in this Glamour article, which was written by an acquaintance from college.  (Thanks, Aimee, for the link!)

b - And before you can store 'em, you'll need to chop 'em on a sturdy cutting board, like these pretty green numbers by ArchiTEC.  Make sure you wash your cutting boards carefully, and avoid cutting raw meat on boards you use for other food (this is where multiple shades or sizes can come in handy.)

c - We are very careful to measure our portions, and one of our best tools for this is the liquid measuring cup by Pyrex.  Won't break, but is super-strong.  We've had ours for a very, very long time.

d - For veggies that are quick to spoil, like berries, we use these Debbie Meyer GreenBags, and they're terrific.  In our fridge, strawberries in their original container last about five days before they start to get a little wilty, and a full week before they're fuzzy.  With GreenBags, we've seen them last up to 10 days without wilt or fuzz (but mostly, our new menu planning means we eat them within seven days, so we don't see as much fridge slime as we used to.)

e - Meat and produce comes in a variety of sizes, so the best way to know exactly what you're eating is to use a food scale like this one by Newline.  It can also really help with baking, because flour settles, so a cup can differ in mass considerably.

f - For sauces & fats, a little bit can go a long way (and a long way towards throwing off your calories for the day.)  We own a couple of different sets of measuring spoons - like this set by OXO - so that we always have the right ones handy, even if we're behind on the dishes.

We try to stay up on the dishes pretty regularly, now, though.  We cook so often that if we don't have all of our pots, pans, dishes & utensils available, we have to wash them by hand as we cook.  Plus, it means we're ready for unexpected company... like this lizard who came to visit this week.

He first appeared on the outside of our screen door Monday. 
We opened the glass to get a better look at him, and when our very curious
kitten Greta lifted her paw slowly to him, he jumped straight into the air,
freaking all four of us (cat, lizard, Tom, me) out.

We thought he was gone for good, but on Tuesday, he was back nestled by our succulent planter.

He kept curling back out of the sun, and in the process, posed for a portrait.

In trying to figure out what kind of lizard he was, we stumbled upon the Lost Lizards of Los Angeles project, through the Natural History Museum of LA.  Fascinating!  They're tracking what lizards live in what areas of the city.  Our Mr. Lizard turns out to be a Southern Alligator Lizard, which are apparently very common in SoCal.

Eventually it got too sunny for him and he crawled underneath the planter.  We're not sure if he's still there (he seems to have eaten all of the slugs that drifted toward our succulents after recent rainfall, so he probably has no reason to be.)  But we'll be on the lookout for our reptilian roommate!  I hope he's taking good care of himself.  And I hope you are, too!


  1. Great post. Very informative. And well how nice that you have a resident bug exterminator!

  2. Thinking of you tomorrow, sending positive thoughts and lots of love your way... I hope all is well.

  3. I love the lizard portrait! :)

    I'll have to take some of your advice and work on our kitchen. :)

  4. When using the green produce bags, do you put the whole plastic package the berries came with in there, or do you dump them out into the green baggie?

  5. I'm so glad I found your blog! Great posts! I'm always in search of great advice!

  6. Sandy, things are going to be OK - thanks for the positive thoughts and love! (Mine are coming your way, too.)

    Joanne, we dump the berries out into the bags, but I think you could keep it in there if you wanted.

    Tina, it's nice to meet you. Thanks for reading!