On granola bars, cooking, and self-care

This past winter, in an all-Student-Development-staff meeting, we talked about burnout. We talked about warning signs, how to prevent burnout, what to do if you are burnt out, ways to relax and rest. Sitting with my staff, most people said their warning signs were things like not exercising, feeling tired, snapping at their families, and so on. When they asked me about my warning sign, I had an immediate answer: when I am in a bad place, I start eating lots of granola bars and peanut butter sandwiches.

Sounds strange, to express so vehemently that too many granola bars are a sure sign that I am burnt out. But it’s true. The first time I realized this was three summers ago, in Fresno, California. I was under a lot of stress: jobless, homeless (well, kind of), and car-less. I was staying with a family I knew and sleeping on a spare mattress in their daughter’s room, taking the city bus to my temp job at a call center where I listened to phones ring for 8 hours a day. They weren’t a cooking family, which is fine. And at the time, I wasn’t really a cooking person either. But that summer, with all the pressures weighing me down, I ate a diet of mostly granola bars and peanut butter on bread. Seriously. For breakfast I had toast with peanut butter and jelly; for lunch, a peanut butter sandwich; for the short break at work, a granola bar. Maybe an apple somewhere in there. A granola bar at night when I was hungry from not eating real food all day. This went on for quite awhile, until my counselor told me I needed to be eating and sleeping healthily if I was going to work on the issues I was in counseling for. Along with some changes in environment–living with a different family in my own room, getting a used car–I was able to find a greater and healthier variety of food to eat and enjoy. 

This past year, I moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment. The first month of the year was crazy busy–August is notoriously the busiest season in student affairs. I was still getting settled in my house, and our staff ate out a lot during training. After that, I found it wasn’t very motivating to cook for just myself, when there was no one else to feed; and I was still busy, trying to adjust and find a rhythm that worked for me. I cooked a little, and made sandwiches and veggie snacks for lunches. However, as spring semester rolled around, I ate more at the student center’s grille, and subsisted on peanut butter sandwiches or odds and ends for dinner. Smoothies for awhile. Pizza takeout. And granola bars.

As I’ve been home again this summer, I find myself cooking more for my parents, trying new recipes, utilizing whatever fresh garden produce we have on hand. And I’m finding the cooking process enlivening. I love using my creativity to make something that’s vital. I am creative in other ways too, but there’s something especially satisfying about the combination of hands-on, all-senses-engaged, necessary-for-life creativity that is cooking. I’ve cooked by myself and cooked with my friend Cait, finding new ways to eat vegetables and experimenting with ingredients. And then we get to eat the delicious product! It’s so fun. I love this. 

 grilled rhubarb and chicken for rhubarbeque chicken pizzaImage

I know the multitude of reasons that I didn’t cook much this past year. But I want it to be different from now on. I love cooking, and I love eating, and I love cooking for people who eat with me and enjoy the food I’ve made. I love giving to friends in this way. It’s inconceivable to me, right now, how I could just *not cook* for a whole season. Did I really eat that many granola bars? Wasn’t I hungry and tired of the same carbs over and over? I know that I was, and I feel compassion for that self, who was too overwhelmed and exhausted to change the pattern. And I also know that beyond the simple difference of better food to eat, which would have helped, the act of cooking itself is energizing and brings me back to myself. The times I was able to muster it this year–Indian butter chicken and pancakes were frequent repeats–it felt so good. I don’t want to lose that again.

 strawberry rhubarb pie, just before bakingImage

This summer, I’ve made so many yummy things. Lots of salads, rhubarb pies, vinaigrette, marinated chicken on the grill, new kinds of homemade pizza every week, enchiladas, risotto. My photo stream is once again filled with pictures of food: ingredients, recipes in process, finished products, plates. My fingernails get dirty digging things out of the garden: radishes, green onions, asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, sugar snap peas, lettuces of all sorts, mint, oregano, sage, basil, lemon balm. Then my hands get shrivel-y washing the produce and the occasional bug.

homemade hawaiian pizza


I need this. I need my hands moving in the kitchen, picking, washing, chopping, shredding, dicing, kneading, stirring, taking a quick picture with floury fingers. Then opening a bottle of wine, sitting down to the table, a sigh of satisfaction and a smile around at the people I love. Cooking keeps me alive, feeds me, in so many ways.


What I’m Into: June 2013 Edition (Link-up with Hopeful Leigh)

Linking up again with Hopeful Leigh

In June, summer got into full swing–which for me, meant lots of time outdoors, spontaneous travels, garden adventures, and a trip to Costa Rica with my family to see my sister. While I’ve still been reading a lot (trying hard catch up at 52 in 52) the screen time has been minimal, which is a welcome change. Here’s what I’ve been into:


  • Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. This is fantastic. Go buy it and read it. Now. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Shauna’s writing and I’ve probably referred them to her blog or books multiple times. Bread and Wine is essentially a food memoir/spiritual memoir rolled into one, with recipes. By one of my favorite authors. So it’s no surprise I loved it. But this is why you might love it: Shauna writes with such an easy, conversational style that you feel like you know her, and have sat down at her table for meals or coffee to chat about life. She is an excellent story-teller who gets her point across through stories, rather than just telling you the point. Shauna holds a wonderful balance between the bitter and sweet parts of life (check out another of her books, Bittersweet) and is honest about the messiness, the life-y-ness, of life. I feel like I’ve joined her with her family and friends at her table and been encouraged by them. Also, the recipes look amazing and are very easy to follow; plus most are gluten-free. So far I’ve only tried the risotto, which was an experience in itself, but next up are Annette’s Enchiladas and the Blueberry Crisp.
  • Continuing on the food writing, Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone was another on my reading list after I heard about it at Jubilee 2013. I was so excited for it because a look at the table of contents showed that it would cover topics from our relationship with food and obsession with diets to the value of eating together to the ethics of how our food is grown and comes to us–all of which are things I find fascinating. In the back she includes some further reading lists which can point you on towards books on just one of those topics. Eat With Joy is definitely a more straight-foward read than Bread and Wine but I appreciate the more academic tone and culmination of her research. It’s a great read for someone looking to get a basic overview of how people relate to food and why it matters. It also includes recipes, which look simple and tasty, and table prayers which I am excited to start using.
  • Other books I read: Costa Rica Culture Smart, Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead, Prototype by Jonathan Martin, and still chugging along in The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2 by Justo Gonzalez. That one is hefty but so, so good. I thought I would have to force myself to keep reading this church history tome but it’s rather exciting and really helpful to get an idea of what happened in the Church from the Reformation to present-day.

I also developed a minor obsession with rhubarb during June. Typically a spring thing, the “pie plant” as it is also known will grow into June and even July, so I just kept pulling it and chopping it and baking it and cooking it and….I made rhubarb pie, rhubarb viniagrette, even rhubarbeque chicken pizza. Yeah. That last one tasted amazing and I came up with it myself! And I tweaked and perfected the pie recipe till it was to my liking. 

Also on the food front, but in Costa Rica: We had SO MUCH delicious, fresh pineapple. I was beside myself. And a variety of forms of rice and beans: casados (meals of rice, beans, choice of meat, and salad), arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), arroz con camarones (rice and shrimp), gallo pinto (breakfast rice and beans, mixed together and seasoned). Oh, and ceviche, a dish of raw fish marinated in lime juice, which is eaten with chips. Fantastic.

Oh yeah, I went to Costa Rica! My parents and I made the international trek (their first ever!) to spend some time with my sister, who lives on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It was bizarre to combine family vacation with international travel, but a very good trip. We spent a bit of time in the capital, San Jose, and also visited Tenorio National Park to see a waterfall and blue lagoon and Arenal Volcano, which is, as it sounds, a volcano. I especially enjoyed driving through the mountain countryside on our way to and from the national parks. We also saw howler monkeys, which would be more aptly named barking monkeys, and many small crabs and lizards. And a giant ceiba tree–which, I had to admit, seemed bigger than the sequoia trees in my beloved Yosemite.

I was also able to do a last-minute trip with my dear friend to her family’s farmhouse in northwestern Illinois and another trip to Indiana to see college friends, one of whom just returned from a year in Papua New Guinea. So great to see them!!

So to sum up, I basically spent June cooking, eating, reading, gardening, and traveling. Is it any wonder that I’m loving this summer?