on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

new enjoyment in cooking

My partner suddenly developed a histamine intolerance – we only found out by trial and error because she started having stomach upsets after eating, even with the types of food that are typically designated for sick people like rice noodles or fish in soup. We usually eat out quite often but stopped since the delta strain, so we ordered takeout instead. There is virtually nothing that we can takeout that seems safe: at first we tried cantonese-style soups, but discovered they put dried seafood even in soups without seafood. So, I had to start cooking.

I’ve been trying to cook for ourselves since forever. I have had phases where I would go on a bout of cooking everyday, then stop for months. I have to admit I am a very “phase” kind of person. I would eventually get sick of my own cooking, or tired of the chores associated with cooking. It is not just about the effort to cook, it is also the time taken to plan groceries for two people with a small fridge and the desire to minimise wastage. I am also really bad at remembering to defrost food.

I remember writing a lot of journal entries on what I would like to improve in my life, and it is almost always, “cook more”. But I had found it difficult to enjoy cooking. The effort versus results ratio seemed skewed, I would spend all this time and effort, and the meal is eaten within thirty minutes. It seemed like a much better to outsource it and save the time.

Why do I keep wanting to cook more despite not enjoying it enough? I think nutrition is one of the biggest levers when it comes to one’s quality of life. For me, the most important element in my life is vitality. Vitality comes from energy and mental clarity. Energy and mental clarity comes predominantly from nutrition, and then exercise (on top of biological, genetic or psychological factors). We can’t exercise our way out of an unhealthy diet though. Exercise itself is not going to heal the systemic inflammation caused by an imbalanced diet.

Because of her sensitive digestive system, I had to do a lot of things I was dreading to do before, like peel a carrot. I disliked chopping and peeling carrots so much, for a long time I only bought peeled baby carrots, or frozen diced vegetables. The first time I tried to cook for her after she got sick I bought a bag of peeled baby carrots, but it felt slimy to the touch upon opening, so I was forced to buy an actual carrot. I wasn’t sure if she could digest carrot skin, so I had to peel it. I used a small paring knife at first, then she reminded me we had a peeler.

It turned out it was way easier than I thought. Like way, way easier. It is quite funny how many years of my life went by believing peeling is difficult. She was rapidly losing weight just eating chicken and vegetables in soup, so I had to peel sweet potatoes. They weren’t too bad either. So many things I learnt to do for the first time: process a pomegranate – wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole previously but it is good for mast cells so I had to do it for love. The first time I tried, our countertop looked like a crime scene with pomegranate juice flying everywhere. I also learnt how to process old cucumber (I was like why is there so little left), winter melon (this one is easier), pumpkin (omg they are difficult to chop), corn (use hands to break it instead of chopping it), etc.

I bought an instant pot a couple of years ago but didn’t use it that much. This time around it turned out to be a life saver. All I had to do is to dump all the chopped ingredients into the pot with some water, and voila delicious soup less than an hour later. It didn’t even feel like cooking. My partner kept thanking me for cooking, and I kept telling her it wasn’t me who cooked.

a typical low-histamine soup for my partner: chicken, apple, carrot and radish

At first I would cook for her and order takeout for myself. Then I got strangely jealous of her eating all that nutritious anti-inflammatory food. So I started cooking for myself too. I actually cooked our food separately, so instead of the effort to cook one meal for two people previously, I ended up cooking one meal each per person, sometimes twice in a day.

My experience cooking for her made me realise the prep work I used to dread wasn’t that hard. The way I develop permanent lifestyle changes seem to take place over multiple cycles instead of a single transition. It took me probably around a decade with a ton of starts and stops in between to actually like exercising. Now the national guidance is no exercise for two weeks after the vaccine (to prevent possible myocarditis), and I can’t express how much I miss it.

I think this new enjoyment in cooking is also made possible by the gradual change in my psyche over a few cycles. I used to be in a rush all the time and wanted to do everything quickly. So cooking was challenging because I would try to rush through everything. Somehow the rush makes it unenjoyable, as though it is something I would rather get it over and done with. There was already something negative in my inherent attitude towards it.

Now I seem to like doing things slowly? And I don’t get intimidated by a pile of dishes lying in the sink anymore. I just soap one dish at a time with no sense of frustration, and before I know it everything gets done? I enjoyed chopping vegetables for my partner in little cubes so she can digest it better. It took way longer, but I liked it?

I used to really dislike eating the same thing but due to wanting to simplify grocery planning I am basically cooking the same ingredients in different incarnations everyday. I found myself not wanting to eat takeout anymore, because I like the taste of my food better now?

I am typing all these question marks because I seem to be skeptical of my own statements? It is like a lingering disbelief.

My blood glucose, resting heart rate (RHR) and heart rate variability seem to be almost significantly improving. There was one day I took a break, eating a takeout meal and my RHR during sleep went up by a few bpm. It is a one-off thing but it would be interesting for me to make more observations.

left: RHR (lower is better, usually) right: HRV (higher is better, usually)

My hypothesis is that just avoiding all the inflammatory vegetable oil from food cooked outside would make a difference. I also try to cook on as low a heat as possible, even while stir-frying by constantly using an infra-red thermometer. I try to keep temperatures below 150 degrees celsius, sacrificing some taste and texture in return for lower oxidative stress. I am also eating less, because I can determine my portions.

What’s next? My partner’s issues seem to be improving – credit to her for being so disciplined, she didn’t waver for even once. She did ask for coffee and chocolate quite a few times (lol who wouldn’t), but I have to give her credit for not insisting when I reminded her they impact histamine levels – so I will try to cook some meals for two of us. I would like to be more adventurous and cook more complex recipes. My friend Adrianna and her wife cooks these complex meals all the time, and I admire it (but okay I am never cooking for ten hours):

As usual my caveat is that this may well be one of my phases, but I think at 40 it is really cool to go into new phases and not be stuck in an old pattern. It is such a wonderful thing to learn how to peel a carrot at 40, isn’t it?