Tips & Advice

Food For The Soul – #QueerEye

When you’re struggling with mental illness it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the simplest things. Everyday tasks seem insurmountable and we end up feeling helpless, useless, and surrounded by chaos. Getting back on top of those runaway trains of thought and feeling can seem impossible, but sometimes a small change can make a big difference. Inspired by Queer Eye (which, by the way, is the feel good show that everyone needs in their life), this blog series will be made up of posts focusing on small things you can do in the areas of space, food, grooming, fashion, and culture, that could make a big difference by helping you feel more in control, or give you a sense of achievement.

Today, I’m channelling Antoni and sharing some feel good food that is quick, easy, comforting and brings a sense of achievement.

More Than Fuel

I know there are some for whom food is merely fuel to keep us going from one day to the next. I know others for whom food is a kind of enemy: something which has caused angst, pain, and a whole lot of complications. There will be some for whom this is a particularly sensitive and difficult area – if this is something you have struggled with, this post may not be for you at this moment in time. This post is about celebrating food as something pleasurable both to make and consume so if your current (or past) relationship with food means that’s not something you’re ready to celebrate right now please take care of yourself first and foremost and stop reading if you need to. Please also get in touch if you feel you’d like to share something of your experience with us or through us.

A relationship with food can be complicated. It’s also often one of the first relationships to break down when mental ill-health rears its ugly head. We stop eating. Or we eat too much. Or we eat only things that are bad for us. Sometimes finding the energy just to make a piece of toast – or even just to get a slice of bread out of the packet – is overwhelming. I’m afraid I don’t have a magic solution to fix any of that. What I do have, though, are some simple recipes which have helped me reestablish a positive relationship with food when I’ve been coming out of a bad mental health patch. If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions you may need to alter the recipes accordingly.

Here, without further ado, are my four easy, feel-good recipes:

  1. Breakfast to brighten the day: for a quick, easy, and (relatively) healthy breakfast, I like to tip a bit of muesli/granola (whichever you prefer) in a bowl, add a dollop of Greek yoghurt, a handful of fresh fruit (something that doesn’t need chopping: grapes/raspberries/blackberries) and a little drizzle of honey. Et voila! A breakfast that feels virtuous and tastes delicious.
  2. Easy main meal: this dish is a favourite of mine because you can make a big batch of it, stick it in the fridge and eat it either hot or cold! Boil up some rice but add a veggie stock pot/cube and a twist of pepper to the pot for fluffy, flavoursome rice. Whilst it’s cooking, chop up some bell pepper or whatever other veggies you fancy (or cheat, like me, and open a tin of mixed sweetcorn and peppers!). When the rice is done, mix it all up with the veg! Tasty as a warm rice dish but also makes a great salad once chilled (especially with some baby spinach or other leaves thrown in). You can also mix this up any way you like – one of my favourites is to add some grilled halloumi or, if you like some meat in your meal, some smoked sausage. The base dish is quick, easy and tasty on its own but you can be as adventurous as you like with your additions.
  3. Simple sweet treat: I have a bit of a sweet tooth. Particularly for chocolatey things. Now you can just buy a bar from the supermarket but if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, try this: melt a sharing bar of dark chocolate in the microwave. Add one pot of double cream. Mix until you get a smooth and shiny ganache. Avoid the temptation to eat it straight out of the bowl (or eat it straight out of the bowl, if you prefer – it’s good!) and pour it into a shallow dish. Stick it in the fridge to set. Once firm, top with whatever fresh fruit/grated chocolate/biscuit crumbs you happen to have and dig in! Again, the beauty of this is it takes very little effort but you can make it super fancy if you want. My favourite fancy version of this involves smashing up some hobnobs in melted butter to make a biscuit base, smearing the biscuit base with some jam (plum works beautifully) before pouring the chocolate ganache on top and putting in the fridge to set as before – a super easy, drool-worthy chocolate torte!
  4. Homemade bread: I know. You’re probably thinking ‘Homemade bread?! You promised me quick and easy recipes!’ But I PROMISE the prep for this is not only quick and easy, but the end result is delicious and it never fails to make me feel like I’ve achieved something fabulous. (Also, is there any smell better than freshly baked bread?) You’ll need 3 cups of bread flour, some dried, fast action yeast, a pinch of salt, some water, a mixing bowl and a big oven proof dish with a lid (a Dutch oven if you have one). Add all the ingredients into the mixing bowl and mix to form a rough dough. It should look a little bit shaggy. Cover the bowl with some cling film and leave the dough to rise overnight (I know this bit isn’t quick but you don’t actually have to DO anything for the long bit so I still say it counts as a quick recipe…stop looking at me like that. It’s with it I promise.) It should be left for at least 12 hours. I tend to make the dough in the evening and then make the bread at some point during the following day. The dough should kind of rise and expand in the bowl during this time. When you’re ready to bake it, preheat your oven to Gas 8 / 232•c and put your pot in the oven to heat up for 30minutes without the dough inside. Turn the dough out into a floured surface and shape it into a ball – you don’t need to knead it. Cover with cling film or a tea towel until your pot is heated. Once the 30minute heating time is up, VERY CAREFULLY take the hot pot out of the oven and VERY CAREFULLY drop the dough into the centre. (Can you tell I’ve burnt some fingers by being…not careful?!) Pop the lid back on the pot and put the whole thing in the oven for another 30minutes. Then take the lid off and give it another 10-15 minutes in the oven without the lid (length of time for this bit will depend if your oven – keep an eye on it). Finally, VERY CAREFULLY take the bread out of the pot using oven gloves. Let it cool a little so you can handle it without scorching your fingers, slice it up and devour whilst basking in your achievement and taking pictures to post all over social media and send to your friends with the caption LOOK WHAT I MADE!!!

There. Simple but satisfying ways to enjoy making and eating delicious food. If you have any favourite quick and easy recipes, especially any that are good for dietary restrictions, please share in the comments!

Top Tip: if you find cooking a challenge when you’re in a bad mental health patch, make the effort when you’re in a good patch to batch cook a load of freezable meals. Stick them in the freezer in portions and then when the going gets tough you just need to heat it up.

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