"Real Food and Real Joy" by Tina Korabiak

How do you define your relationship with food? SheByShe guest blogger, Tina Korabiak, shares her own perspective below. Tina built her career in payroll services, tax research and web-based payroll products at Bank of America, ADP, PayCycle and Intuit.  Now retired, she pursues writing and consulting, plus gardening, travel, and lots of cooking.  An enthusiastic dancer, she performs regularly with Tap Explosion in San Jose, CA, where she lives with her husband Dennis.  

As I sipped my coffee this morning before heading out on my walk, I scanned two newspapers and a couple of online sites …ebola, Hong Kong, ISIS, Harry Reid…all topics deserving more research and consideration.  So what did I think about during my 45-minute jaunt through the neighborhood?    Food!  What is in my fridge?  What do I need from the market?  What will I make for lunch and dinner?   

If you ask any of my friends and most of my acquaintances, they’ll tell you I’m a foodie.   I do most of my shopping at a local Farmers’ Market.  I love to can applesauce or make pickles and I cook dinner at home every night.  I grew up in a family where women regularly prepared large meals for many people and combined creativity with frugality to feed their families.  I have always found cooking relaxing, too.  It was a way to wind down from my high tech job days into evenings with my husband and daughters.  Now retired, I have time and means to indulge on both ingredients and preparation.  I can devote an afternoon to homemade pasta, or chutney or cinnamon rolls and I often do.    But the main question is still out there…What will I make for dinner?

More than 30 years ago, my slim and fit husband was diagnosed with a cardiac issue and the women in my family have a history of breast cancer.  We decided to change how we eat.  We embraced the mantra of the time and adopted a low-fat, high carb diet of pasta and beans, 1% milk, broccoli, tomatoes, and turkey, turkey and more turkey.  We gradually shifted to more fresh foods and fewer processed products.  We chose organic with greater frequency.  Always active, we jogged, cycled and skied, and I continued my lifelong passion of ballet and tap dancing.  While young, this worked out well, but now, our more “mature” metabolisms seem to have stalled.   Nutritional guidelines seem in constant flux and the medical profession condemns our national obesity statistics while lacking consensus on solutions.  Now in our 60’s, we have to consider a multitude of numbers—blood sugar, cholesterol, body fat %, waist to hip ratios!  I sometimes feel betrayed by my body…considering how much effort I have put into eating “right” and exercising these last four decades!  I could have gone Paleo and had lots more steak!

But I am the daughter of pragmatic, health conscious midwestern parents who also happened to be a doctor and a registered nurse and their early lessons just don’t fade.   No soft drinks, or snacking before dinner, or eating in the car.  Dine at the table, all together with everyone sharing the same meal.  Eat vegetables and fruit, very little fried food, and keep portions moderate.  Dessert is for special occasions.  Cook.  Mom’s mantra was everything in moderation, except moderation.   Or to quote Michael Pollan, “eat food, not much, mostly plants”.

So how does this translate for me now?  First, as much as I love to cook, I have a busy life and need to get most dinners on the table in 30 minutes or less.  I rely on a well-stocked pantry and fresh ingredients from my Farmers Market.  It is faster and easier for me to cook a stir-fry at home than to order takeout.  Yes, I’m very comfortable in the kitchen and have good knife skills, but I also have repertoire of fast, easy, no-fail recipes for which I always have the ingredients.  Next, I’m letting go of the old low-fat rules and shifting the balance of our diet to more protein and vegetables, and less starch.  We’re eating lower on the glycemic index and saving some favorite indulgences (ice cream, pizza, homemade cookies) for guests or holidays.  I work to include as much color and texture as possible into each meal, which boosts the proportion of fruits and vegetables and reduces the rice, mashed potatoes and noodles.  I use very few processed ingredients and virtually no “diet” foods.   I’ll take a small piece of real French brie over any amount of non-fat cheese product.  Finally, we make dinner an event:  we eat in the dining room or on the patio, use cloth napkins, flatware and dishes.  We sit down together and savor the time as well as the flavors.  When we married 40 years ago, my spouse had a pretty narrow food profile, but he now enjoys almost everything I make, especially if it’s over pasta.  He will, however, still push aside cooked mushrooms or eggplant, and give me that puppy dog, why are you doing this to me look when I serve fish more than once a week.  So, I offer the corn or carrots or cucumbers he loves with the baked salmon.  I make smaller sandwiches, and bigger salads.  We embrace lentils and black beans, roasted peppers and marinated onions.  We seem to want everything spicier, so curries, kimchee and Thai chilies make regular appearances on our table.  And we’ve found that crunchy textures provide balance to our smaller portions—I toss fennel or radishes, chopped apples or almonds in our salads.   When my husband questioned a recent arrangement of pickled peaches with fresh mozzarella and walnuts over arugula, I just reminded him that I love him, and I want that heart of his to stay strong for another couple of decades!

As for me, my blood sugar is a bit too high and I carry ten pounds too many.  I’m working on both, but I also know that the joy in my life is measured by my relationships and contributions, not the size of my jeans.  Tonight while the white bean chili is cooking, I will spread real butter on one piece of fresh sourdough, pour a glass of red wine and kiss my husband.