Thatguywiththebeard’s Kitchen (Part 2): The Monday Night Kitchen Dance

“Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.” – Samuel Beckett

No one is more aware than me of how personal each person’s food decisions are. And because I am sometimes unable to completely turn off my snark, I might sound like I’ve got something figured out that you don’t, or that I know something that you should know. That is not the case or my intention.

I don't even remember what this picture was originally for

I don’t even remember what this picture was originally for

While staying with friends on a recent trip, my very gracious hosts, being aware of my attempts to eat as clean as possible, reminded me a few times that they had “healthy food” if I was hungry and that I was welcomed to anything I wanted. I so appreciated their hospitality and understood the emphasis being made since I share so much unnecessary detail on here sometimes. And because I often bring my own food to places others wouldn’t (like everywhere). But it also made me wonder if by excessively detailing that shallow line in the sand I’ve drawn for my own dietary benefit, if I haven’t created what looks to others more like a dangerous trench on the beach to be traversed with caution.

I want to make clear that I eat the things I do because they work for ME, not necessarily because I think it’s the way everyone should eat or because I refuse to eat anything outside of my regular daily diet. I don’t want to come across as that asshole that loudly harasses a steak house server about their lack of vegan options or the guy that complains about the lack of meat options on the salad bar. There are many ways to eat a healthy diet. I’m sharing this stuff (probably in excessive detail) because it’s come up in conversation a lot lately, and may be interesting to at least a few of you. I hope I don’t appear judgmental towards anyone else’s food choices. Do whatever you want. Life is short. Enjoy the hell out of it. If that means a steady diet of chicken nuggets dipped in nutella, then dip in deep. Hell, double dip if you want to, I’m not trying to get in there.

“Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

In Part One of this I-promise-only-two-part series of self-righteous food blogging, I mentioned that I eat the same basic things almost every day and that my diet goals are more fuel based than in mere satiation of hunger. I eat to live way more than I live to eat. And because of ongoing trials in post run/workout refueling, I try to eat within 30-60 minutes of finishing those activities. The debate rages on whether or not that time frame is as critical as it has so often been expressed. So instead of worrying about the specifics of that dispute, I just do it and know that no matter the time frame, the most important part is that I eat a well balanced and nutritious diet all day every day in order to provide my body with the energy it needs and to recover as quickly as possible from the stress put on it during runs and workouts. I have to eat. So I do.

I’ve also shared how busy I keep my schedule and how limited any spare time can be. As I discussed in Living Healthier Sucks, working, running, going to the gym, grocery shopping, the constant laundry rotation, and cooking nearly every meal I eat every day takes a lot of time. I’m only one person. So in order to do all of those things, I have to plan ahead and stick to that plan. Some weeks I do better than others. Some weeks it looks like I don’t have a fucking clue. But my diet remains near the center of my mental focus. It is key, and I am continually trying to make it cleaner and more efficient.

Maybe the most critical part of my meal planning is the Monday Night Kitchen Dance. The silly term comes from my old apartment where the kitchen was so small that just cooking in it at all involved pouring most prep work out onto a table in the adjoining room and rotating back in and out of the kitchen to stir this, flip that, or pop something in or out of the oven. Add another person to the equation, and it really did become a coordinated dance in order to not burn the meal or one of the “dancers.” Now, even with a larger kitchen and one less person on the dance floor, I sometimes still find myself spinning around a bit to get my weekly meal essentials all cooked and prepped on Monday nights. What an exciting life I lead, right? Pop a cork, let’s party.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn

Brussel sprouts in some diluted bloody mary mix

Brussel sprouts in some diluted bloody mary mix

There are staples to my diet that I have to keep on hand in order to eat the things I want to eat without sucking up every free moment of every day standing at my stove. My refrigerator always contains some cooked greens for my breakfast omelets; quinoa and some sort of beans for my lunch salads; baked sweet potatoes for dinners; and any number of pre-cooked veggies such as brussel sprouts, beets, or anything else that catches my eye and takes more than a few minutes to cook. Fresh and fast-cooking veggies like squash, onions, zucchini, asparagus, and mushrooms (yes, I know they’re a fungus), I keep raw until I’m ready to cook and eat them, but they’re in there too.

On Mondays, I take inventory and make sure that those items with longer cooking times all get prepared and stored for the week to come. And I like to do it all on the same night so that I can 1) minimize required cooking time every other night of the week 2) reuse as much of the cooking liquids as possible throughout the dance routine. Because boiling veggies can cause certain nutrients to leach out into the water, I repurpose all used liquids except for those from starchier foods like beans or potatoes. Beet water is my current favorite. I could steam them or roast them, but I love using that deep red and tasty water in quinoa so much that I always simmer beets. And the beet greens are a nice addition to the Monday night stir fry as well. Have I mentioned how much I love my simple meals? Well I do.

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” – William James

Here’s the rough choreography of the dance. Maestro, can I get something in a funky ass 70’s groove please?

I scrub three or four sweet potatoes, fork-stab ‘em a few dozen times, rub on some olive oil, wrap each in foil, and pop them in the oven. They take the longest and once they’re in there, I can kind of forget about them. With them finally off the counter and out of the way, I start cleaning, pealing, and cutting up some beets because they also take a bit of time. I’ll cook beets in lightly salted water or if I have some leftover peppercini, olive, or jalapeno brine (I never throw that stuff out; too useful), I’ll mix that in with some water for some extra flavor instead adding plain salt. With that pot on the stove and heating up, it’s usually time for some brussel sprouts. I love me some brussel sprouts. I boil brussel sprouts in a 50/50 mix of water and bloody mary mix with some added crushed red pepper flake for good measure. I cook all kinds of stuff in bloody mary mix actually. It’s tasty.

Can't go wrong w/ brussels, shrooms, onion, serano, & garlic

Can’t go wrong w/ brussels, shrooms, onion, serano, & garlic

With the oven occupied and two pots going on the stove, the dance is on and it’s about time to start cutting onions, peppers, garlic, and whatever fresh veggies I’m planning to actually eat that night. Cooking Monday’s dinner while doing the dance gives me something to do while stirring watched pots and tasting beet pieces to check for doneness.

I only cook the brussel sprouts until they’re about half way done because I know I’m eventually going to be heating them in the skillet later in the week. When they start to get a little tender, I remove them with a slotted spoon and save the now sprout accented bloody mary mixture. In that same liquid and adding water or brine if necessary, I’ll cook the leafy green I use for my breakfast omelet. This week it was turnip greens. Next week, kale. Once they’re done, I remove those with a slotted spoon as well, again saving the greener and greener bloody mary liquid. Waste not, want not. Then I finally rinse out that pot so I can cook whatever bean I’ll be putting in my lunch salads; currently limas are my carb of choice. As the beets become slightly tender, I remove them just like the sprouts and greens, also saving the water. Recycle, recycle, recycle.

I’m ridiculous.

With the sprouts and beets cooling on the counter and limas simmering, it’s now time for the quinoa. I was very slow to fall in love with quinoa, but my love for it has only gotten stronger with time and each new discovery of flavors to add. It’s an excellent protein source for people eating a plant based diet and once I realized that I could cook it in almost any liquid I want, I was hooked (Note: sweeter liquids seem to burn faster and need to be diluted). I’ve cooked it in everything from plain water, diluted jalapeno brines, diluted bloody mary mix, spicy soup broth leftover from Thai take-out, or any mixture of these. My current favorite is anything mixed with the leftover beet water. And the beet water mixed with the bloody mary mixture from the sprouts actually makes a really great combination. I use that a lot right now. Any liquids I don’t use on Monday go in the fridge for later because I usually have to make quinoa more than once a week. I love that stuff.

“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” – Martha Graham

simple and tasty

simple and tasty

That’s pretty much the dance. Once the potatoes are done, I let them cool on the counter as well. And when everything has cooled a bit, I put it all in the fridge to hang out until it’s needed. Throughout the following days, I’ll portion them out along with whatever fresh ingredients I want to cook each night. I do have to microwave the sweet potato, but that’s pretty much the only thing I can’t conveniently reheat in the oven or my trusty cast iron skillet. When the other ingredients are all cooked and seasoned, I just pile them on a plate with the potato and enjoy. And I DO enjoy them.

I can typically get home, drink my protein shake, cook dinner, and be eating within 45-60 minutes of when I walk out of the gym. And that is only possible because I do the Monday Night Kitchen Dance every week. No one’s life is without variable, so some weeks need a little tweaking, but I can dance on Tuesdays if I have to. Whatever I need to do in order to always have my basic diet requirements stacked in my refrigerator or on the counter waiting for me when I need them. If I want to eat something else, I do. But I love knowing that the meals I cook at home are made with quality whole foods with little or no mystery ingredients or unpronounceable preservatives. It feels good to eat good. I like it.

“I am completely attracted to the idea of simplicity, or at least removing things that seem unnecessary when trying to get an idea out there.” – Demetri Martin

I clearly have nothing in common with Demetri Martin. Thank you for indulging me in this long-winded two-part diatribe about my food habits. It started by trying to answer simple questions that I’ve been asked recently and it just flew off the rails before I could stop it.

I again don’t claim to know it all, but it’s a tasty adventure trying to figure it out. Any foodies out there with a good idea? Vegetarians? Vegans? Somebody got a favorite use of bacon? Anybody with a crazy ass schedule who can share a trick on cooking fresh meals without sacrificing your whole evening? I’d love any suggestions you have to offer.

Happy Friday. I’m gonna go get a corn dog with spicy mustard dipping sauce and a fried twinkee.

“Laughter is the sound of the soul dancing. My soul probably looks like Fred Astaire.” – Jarod Kintz

Get ready to get down. I did.