“Anything that gets you involved — even if it’s only by way of heating up a pot of water for pasta — is better than popping a frozen burrito in the microwave.” (Photo: Getty Images/GK Hart/Vicky Hart)
There’s no better way to increase your appreciation for something than not being able to have it.
That was certainly the case for Phoebe Lapine, food writer, chef, and creator of Feed Me Phoebe. Phoebe is undergoing a year-long “Wellness Project,” which involves taking on a new health- or beauty-related challenge each month. (Read about her month without alcohol, sugar, and caffeine here.) For March, she actually took on two missions: a two-week microwave ban (meant to bring back the healthy ritual of preparing food for herself in the kitchen), followed by a two-week effort to eat less meat by following Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 (VB6) eating plan. All that was capped by a trip to the farmer’s market, to see how far she could stretch $40.
Eliminating your favorite kitchen re-heating device may seem like an outrageous sacrifice, but it ended up changing how Phoebe viewed food. “As silly as it sounds, even reheating half a container of takeout Pad Thai in a skillet does something for your relationship to the stove,” she says.
Phoebe shared with Yahoo Health the best (and most stressful) parts of her month-long challenge. And for her full recap, be sure to click over to Feed Me Phoebe.
Yahoo Health: What was your biggest challenge while avoiding the microwave? Were you ever tempted to jump in and use it?
Phoebe Lapine: I was definitely imperfect on the microwave front. I broke the first time when I was in a rush and needed to quickly reheat some leftovers. The sink was already overflowing with dirty dishes, and I just couldn’t bring myself to break out a skillet as I was running out the door. I figured eating something healthful from my fridge was a better option than grabbing something at the corner deli en route, so I made the executive decision to overrule the microwave ban in the moment.
The second bummer was when I had multiple leftovers, each with their own special cook time. It took either three pans to reheat everything — and trust me, I was barely willing to dirty that much cookware in the making of my dinner — or I would have to do each item one after the other. When it was really cold in New York, the extra time it took to reheat a meat, followed by a vegetable, followed by a grain, meant whatever I cooked first was lukewarm by the time I sat down to eat 15 minutes later.
I ended up forgetting the concept of the blue plate special and eating a lot of stir-fries or soups with random vegetables on top.
YH: How has the experiment changed how you think about microwaves?
PL: I did notice some pros of the ban. For one thing, it kept me from gorging on that second portion of reheated pasta if I had to fire up the skillet again to make more. Sometimes I use lunch as a means of procrastination and the microwave can make my lunch container into a bottomless bowl. I felt a lot less like a manatee after meals during the first week.
But overall, I’m probably not going to change my relationship with the microwave. Since I already cook a lot, not having the convenience just gets in the way of enjoying the food I’ve made in advance.
That said, I can see how eliminating the microwave would be a very good catalyst to cook for those who are more new to the idea. As silly as it sounds, even reheating half a container of takeout Pad Thai in a skillet does something for your relationship to the stove. Anything that gets you involved — even if it’s only by way of heating up a pot of water for pasta — is better than popping a frozen burrito in the microwave.
Cooking is a habit-forming activity just like going to the gym. The microwave ban is a baby step — it’s a beginner habit that can lead to so much more. I think you’ll find that the food tastes better, too.
YH: From your blog, it sounds like the hardest parts about eating vegan before 6 are the social and financial aspects — not wanting to waste food by forcing yourself to eat vegan for lunch, and wanting to connect with your partner over shared meals. Are these the hardest parts of a VB6 diet?
PL: Definitely. Breakfast, especially, was the most difficult meal of the day to go vegan for. So I decided to make an exemption clause for eggs. For the most part, I eat breakfast at home and eggs are one of the most accessible animal products to find higher quality, organic versions of without paying a premium. So my experiment turned into V-egg-an Before Six.
Even with this modification though, I still cheated a handful of times.
The times I failed were mostly over the weekend when my boyfriend went to fire up his requisite Sunday bacon and I didn’t have theheart to tell him I wouldn’t eat my usual three slices. Or, rather, perhaps I wasjust a little worried about what would happen to his heart when he then ate all six. But really, a meal just isn’t as fun when you’re not enjoying the experiencetogether. It’s why detox-retoxmonth was so hard for both of us. I never wanted to feel that way again, soI ate the bacon.
YH: Did you actually feel any better abiding by a (generally) VB6 diet?
PL: I try to generally eat vegetarian as much as I can, but VB6 gave me a nice framework for it. I found that I ended up eating at home a lot more during the day, which in turn made me feel more energized. I make pretty poor food decisions when out on the town. Eating at restaurants always feels like a treat, and I order accordingly. The same goes for takeout. I ended up eating a lot of avocado toast and kale salad at home, which definitely helped with my energy.
YH: Shifting gears to your $40 farmer’s market budget challenge — what was your favorite meal you made with the seafood from the farmers market? Can you give us examples of the fish “Americans have never tried” that you mentioned in your blog recap?
PL: I made a delicious quinoa paella with clams. Using grains is a great way to stretch seafood. And clams are incredibly good for you and sustainable.
For East Coasters, Blue Fish is an amazing affordable catch. You can roast it simply with Dijon mustard and the result is moist and decadent. I like hake as a substitute for cod. It’s great seared (like in this recipe) or cut up in stews.
YH: You said a big problem with meat is that we are “obsessed with certain cuts” in our culture. What is an underrated or ignored cut of meat you love?
PL: I like something called a flat iron steak. It’s really flavorful. You can use it as you would a flank steak, which is also usually priced more affordably at the market. In general, I recommend chatting up your butcher and getting his recommendation on a cut you’ve never tried before. Especially if you’re braising meat for a stew, you can get away with lots of tougher cheap varieties.
YH: Do you have any farmer’s market hacks for a less stressful time and a more successful haul of produce?
PL: Always go with a shopping list and try not to deviate. You may not be able to find what you’re looking for because of seasonality, but you can replace those items with something similar.
In general, my advice is that not every meal has to feel like a production. It’s great to make yourself and your loved one something special every now and then. But getting into the habit of cooking also means learning to embrace and reuse leftovers. Being able to pack a lot of dishes into one cooking session also means learning to love some of the humble one-pot recipes that make up so many ethnic cuisines. The beauty of farmer’s market produce is that you don’t need to gild the lily to make it delicious. Simple roasted vegetables with olive oil and sea salt is one of the most amazing things in the world.
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