My Chili: A Spicy Hot-Button Issue

I have been making chili for nearly 20 years now, starting with a simple recipe I’d seen in the 800+-page Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It started off innocently: diced onions and peppers, garlic, canned tomatoes, spices, and some ground beef or turkey.

I’ve since experimented with the spices recommended in that initial recipe, and I’ve also switched up the beans (from kidney to pinto or black beans) and added corn and fresh cilantro. But one modification I made ended up being a point of contention between me and an old boyfriend.

That was leaving out the meat. I had a quasi-vegetarian stage immediately after college, eating many vegetarian meals a week, without committing to that diet in full every day. So it made sense to me to modify the chili recipe, as the beans in the recipe were already providing protein. So I made a batch of chili, brimming with a supporting cast of vegetables and a blend of seasoning that was spicy and bold, but not hot to the point where you no longer tasted the flavor.

I mentioned to my boyfriend at the time that I had made vegetarian chili, and he was not amused. He basically wanted to know “where’s the beef?” like the original Wendy’s commercial. I made my disappointment known that he wouldn’t try something different. But I kept making the chili the way I wanted to; we just agreed to disagree.

Fast forward about 15 years, and I’m about to make vegetarian chili again today. I made it for a while after that tense conversation, but most often since then I’ve made it with ground turkey. This time around, though, I am prepared to accommodate my vegetarian version and a ground turkey version for my husband–I’ll be cooking the ground turkey separately, and he can mix it into the chili.

Mind you, my husband doesn’t have reservations about eating vegetarian meals–he’s eaten the chili sans meat before and has heartily eaten the soy chorizo and potatoes I’ve profiled. He also is a fan of vegetarian riblet sandwiches. Offering the meat is (1) me learning to not be pushy about my food preferences and (2) something that was going to be cooked anyway, for my son who won’t eat the chili (too spicy) but loves ground meat, only unadorned by any kind of sauce (no sloppy joe sandwiches, for example). 

Walking the line of eating the way that maintains your own health and still satisfying the palates of those who do not subscribe to your preferences is one of the biggest challenges I’ve had with eating healthy. But I realize now that it’s not fair to badger people into eating things they don’t want to (think the recent Bud Light beer commercial where the man is baffled by the quinoa patties that his girlfriend has brought to the tailgate party). I welcome the challenges that come with meeting the needs of different eaters, because it keeps me fresh on coming up with new recipe ideas.

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Guilt-Free Eating

I started getting more diligent about logging my eating again via Weight Watchers, to work through a “fun holiday season,” with events with friends and family, a work function, and just general lack of inertia that comes with one’s bed (or comforter-draped couch) becoming too comfortable when it’s cold outside. I find myself doing a precarious tap dance of trying to be more accepting of myself and wanting to do better for myself, at the same time.

It’s been an interesting go-round so far. Apparently some Points values have changed on the plan. Other than surprises here and there, though, it’s been like getting back onto a bicycle, so long as I’m willing to have total honesty about myself and my eating.

Part of my blind spot has been just that–not having the courage (or respect, depending on how you look at it) to face the music on choices that I know are less than healthy. I want to just keep walking past the meal tracker like that snack, heavy dinner, or dessert never happened. But, the scale never lies. And neither do our pants!

So I’ve forced myself to log things that I haven’t before. This weekend, it was a sandwich made of chicken liver pate.

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I first had this delicacy at at Bistro San Tropez, a French restaurant that my husband and I visited during Philadelphia Restaurant week a number of years ago. The pate, the crusty bread, the cornichons (aka baby pickles) and the mustard… Delicious!

Sometime after that, I set out to make it myself, and I found it surprisingly cheap to make, and not too difficult, either. (Here’s the recipe I use.) But the catch: it requires nearly two sticks of butter. So I stopped making it when I embarked on my weight loss journey.

I thought about making it this year, thinking it would make a great addition to a Valentine’s feast for a couple of parents without a babysitter. I ended up not making it for the holiday, but I did make out soon after.

And it tasted just add good as I remembered! The silky, melt-in your mouth feel, the meaty taste… it was nice to eat it again.

And then it was done, and I was left with the task of coming clean to Weight Watchers about having eaten it. That part I didn’t like so much. But I did it, and I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t quite add bad nutritionally as I had feared. And I kept everything else light, eating it on a medium-sized spinach wrap with lettuce and some fruit. I had faced a fear about eating and survived… and had a delicious meal. How’s that for guilt-free eating?

A Return, and a New Normal

I haven’t written regularly in a great, long while. During this time, I’ve been trying to recover from a self-imposed stressful period by enjoying family and personal time more, giving myself permission to live life, and by delving a little deeper into why I got in that stressful spot in the first place. And, of course, I’ve been monitoring myself on how everything related back to food.

What I found was a lot of fear, a lot of desire to please others, and generally too many people to try to please at that point. I knew change was needed, and tough decisions needed to be made, but I wasn’t willing to do it.

I saw that food was offering a good hiding place from the perfect storm I was waiting to hit me with a deluge of misfortune. Food was a psychic umbrella for me, if you will. In other words, it tried to resume the old place that it had in my life. Or, it’s probably more appropriate to say that I was emotionally vulnerable and let it take that place. I came to realize that, rather than trying to stop myself from emotional eating, it was more important to try to figure out why I was having the emotions. I have been untangling those issues and have been earnestly making a shift in how I perceive the world, and the amount of control I have in it, and it has felt good to know that I can live differently.

At the same time I was going through that stress, and for some time before that, I realized that I was becoming pretty accepting of how I looked. In my last entry, I talked about not knowing whether I wanted to lose a lot more weight or not. I have come to realize that I am pretty satisfied with where I am weight-wise. I’d like to get more toned and be lighter for preventative health reasons, but I don’t feel a desire to lose a substantial amount of weight just for the sake of losing weight. I’ll consider myself in a maintenance phase of continued healthy eating, with splurges factored in.

What does this mean for my blog? Not much. I will still be writing about healthy food options, weight loss and emotional eating. But I will be doing it from a place of someone who is a little more loving of herself, and a bit more clear on her goals.

One new thing that I’ve done with the blog, however, is to start a gallery of healthy food finds. These are interesting foods I’ve seen in my shopping travels. Visit that gallery here. And check my Twitter account (@dcangah) and Instagram account (dcangah) for pictures as I find them!

Nourishment With the Other Kind of Food

My son recently graduated from preschool (full ceremony, diploma and all, no lie!), and when the teachers were giving out personality awards, he was dubbed most creative. Although part of me raised an eyebrow at this set of feel-good awards, he really is creative, and I am really in awe of the creative things that he does–picking up lyrics to songs he hears, singing his own “compositions,” having jam sessions on empty oatmeal cans, boxes, aluminum baseball bats–whatever’s handy. And he also likes to draw and make figures out of clay. I don’t know who he will become in life, but I hope he never loses sight of this side of him.

I have been reconnecting with the value of creativity in my life, and this blog has been a big part of that for me. Aside from wanting to share my story and inspire people to consider that you can have delicious food while eating healthy (for losing weight or maintaining weight loss), I also found it necessary to write to give myself a creative outlet.Cooking has been another creative outlet for me–scoping out ingredients at the market, playing out possible combinations and ideas in my head, and then, hot or cold, bringing them to life on a plate.

I think that part of getting settled into a healthy life is making sure that you have other sources of nourishment, not just food.

When my life whizzes by too fast for me to ensure my inner life is being fed, I’m usually also feeling stressed and prone to seeking that sense of satisfaction and nourishment through food. Knowing my penchant for eating for reasons other than hunger, I’m convinced that there are others who are languishing in eating patterns they can’t get out of because they are not feeding their creative spirit.

How often do you take time to sit and daydream? To organize thoughts for writing stories, poems, songs? How often do you let your body get lost in the groove of a song, or your hand, equipped with a paintbrush, get lost on a canvas? How often does an idea shake you out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, only setting you free when you’ve gotten it captured sufficiently in your medium of choice? How often do you crawl in to bed, exhausted after working on something you can’t let go? Some of us need to expend our energy in a similarly productive way. I think even people who don’t feel particularly creative would be surprised by how satisfying, how nourishing it feels to pull some sort of idea out of the ether, dress it in feathers of color, sound, words, movement or images, and let it take flight to inspire and comfort others.

Have you taken on other activities or challenges during the course of your weight loss journey? What are you doing? What has inspired you? How does it make you feel?