A Random Revelation: Why I Learned to Love Cooking

I was 21, and my diet consisted mostly of mac and cheese, bagels, pasta, and sandwiches of various types. Don’t get me wrong — I packed plenty of vegetables and protein into those carb-heavy meals, and I knew the basics of throwing a meal together. But, like any other typical college student, wheat was a big part of my diet, even if I didn’t notice it. It was just there.

So when I found out I had to get rid of all that wheat from my diet — hello, Celiac — it was a little overwhelming. Whaat? I can’t go grab a turkey sandwich for lunch between classes? No bagels with cream cheese? No sausage, egg, and cheese on a croissant every Saturday morning to cure my inevitable hangover? Shit.

Instagram_inpostWhat followed  was a months long (err… years long? Ongoing?) challenge to identify every source of gluten in my diet, eliminate them all, and somehow find a way to replace them all with other wholesome, healthy-to-me foods. At first, I thought it was pretty easy. Eliminating the big sources — bread, bagels, pasta — made me feel a bunch better, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the “other” sources. Then, when I learned that I was in fact still consuming gluten — which is basically poison to my body — from unknown sources like soy sauce, dressings, Rice Krispies (what?!), and cross-contamination, I got more serious about eliminating those sources, too.

It’s been three years now.  And I think I’m finally “clean.” Except there’s one thing — for the last year or so, whenever I eat out at a restaurant or even at a friend’s home, I inevitably feel awful the next day, even if the previous day’s meal had been “gluten-free.” I’ve started to refer to this feeling as a “gluten hangover” — because that’s exactly what it feels like. A hangover. No restaurant or friend is intentionally feeding me gluten, but sometimes, it just happens. Cross contamination is a bitch, people.

So I’ve adapted. I’ve adapted without even realizing it. Give me a choice of eating out or cooking at home, and there’s a 99% chance I’ll choose cooking. And it’s not because I don’t enjoy eating out — I do, ohhhhh I do. But if the result is going to be me feeling awful the next day, 99% of the time, it’s just not worth it. I’d rather do the legwork myself — buy the groceries, do the chopping, sautéing and baking, serving, and cleaning. That way, I know that what I’m putting in my body isn’t going to end up hurting me.

While feeling stressed about eating out can sometimes be annoying, it has had some perks. For one, I’ve really learned to love cooking: Probably in no small part thanks to the fact that cooking my own food is like medicine — it makes me feel so much better than anything procured in another manner. I’ve also become a pretty good cook. And I’ve become more confident in the kitchen, too. I’m proud of what I’m able to create with just my brain and whatever ingredients I have on hand. And social media — Instragram, for example — has allowed me to share those little victories with others. Sometimes, I’ve even been able to inspire others to head to the kitchen themselves, to create their own healthy meals. These little things, I think, make the rough parts of going gluten-free worth it.

That’s what I realized last week, randomly, while prepping some meals for a long day of traveling. Subway? McDonalds? No thanks, rest stop — I brought my own.

Tex-Mex Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers are one of my favorite things to make, but one of my least favorite to eat. I’ll tell you why: No matter how you cut the peppers, or what vessel you eat them out of, they’re so impossible to eat. You can’t really cut into them with a fork without spilling the contents everywhere, so you need a knife. But, even when you have a knife, they slip-slide all over the plate. And I can never seem to get the perfect pepper-to-filling ratio for every bite.

But still, for who knows what reason, I love to make them. There’s something about stuffed items that’s just inherently comforting. And filling. And a great way to get in an extra serving of veggies.

I opted for a low-carb filling with this recipe, skipping out rice and using only protein-rich ground turkey and black beans instead. One pepper would make a great dinner for one person if served alongside a green salad.

Recipe: Tex-Mex Stuffed Peppers

Tex-Mex Stuffed PeppersServes 4

What You’ll Need:

1 pound ground turkey
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 a 15oz. can black beans
1/2 large onion
4 bell peppers (any color — I like orange and yellow)
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper
olive oil
mexican cheese blend

What to Do: 

Prep peppers: Slice of the tops of the peppers. No need to cut too much off the top — just enough to take off the stem! Cut the good pepper part away from the seeds n’ stem stuff, chop, and set aside with the chopped onions.

Heat oil in a large, tall sided pan. Add turkey to pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until no longer pink. Add the onions and peppers, and continue cooking. Add in paprika, cumin, cayenne, oregano, and a bit more salt and pepper.

After the onion and peppers are cooked, add the corn and black beans.Cook until heated through, and set aside to cool. (Optional: Stir in a handful of shredded cheese of your choice.)

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the peppers opening-up  in a square baking dish — they should be pretty snug in there, but not crowing each other. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Fill the peppers with the turkey and vegetable mixture, making sure they’re packed full!

Bake until heated through and pepper is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheese, and return to oven until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.