Kitchen Therapy


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Cooking for the Pleasure of it! Greek Spinach Pies (from Tessa Kiros’ new book)

I bought Tessa Kiros’ new book, Food From Many Greek Kitchens and was really looking forward to trying out some recipes, however with work, 3 kids, Halloween, sleepovers and life in general, I only had time to steal brief glances through the book here and there. Knowing that soon I’d have the time to cook something from her book instead of turning to my usual meals out of ease, I planned my project and savoured the anticipation. In the end I realised I was kidding myself and there would never be a good time so I decided to pass on a lunch with some of the mums from school to stay home and play! 

I’ve watched my mum turn dodgy looking ingredients that you’d swear were on their last legs into a meal that tastes so good you can’t bring yourself to stop eating! She just slaps things together and there is never any waste or lack of flavour.

I grew up eating Yugoslav food. Manja with peas or potatoes, burek, grav (pasulj) which is a stew with beans, my mum would then throw in salty smoked pork ribs that melted off the bone and added just the right contrast to the sweet beans. (Now I’m not sure if I am doing these dishes any justice here with my writing, in fact, I would probably look at these foods in a cookbook from a foreign country and pass them by as I searched for something familiar while telling myself I was looking for “authentic” foreign dishes!)

When I was a kid, I thought everyone cooked and I ate like we did! As I got older I was embarassed when friends came over because our house always smelled on whatever my mum had going on the stove. I was too busy trying to fit in to hear my friends saying “I love coming over! Your mum feeds us the best food!” I think I took it all for granted until I married a man who was raised on meat and vegetables, he raved on and on about how great everything tasted. I then realised that I was lucky growing up in a house where cooking and flavour were valued! I have also realised that as a result I have much higher expectations from food than my husband does! 

I don’t have my mum’s flair for cooking (I think it got buried in my uptightness!) But as I’ve mentioned in my previous posts on finding youself and finding happiness, I found trying to be “perfect” (whatever that meant!) and “people pleasing”  were not working for me (funny that!). It made me an anxious, miserable, mess! So I’m letting go of how I thought I “should” be and am discovering who I actually am. And who I am is someone who loves to stay home and cook! It’s such a creative process that gives me so much satisfaction and I am finally giving myself permission to indulge in it. 

I love mediteranean, mexican and south american food and have decided I am going try to create as many “authentic” dishes as I can. Just the idea of this fills me with joy and an almost unbearable amount of butterflies in my stomach. (A few years ago I would have thought Aha! This gets me excited! So then I should follow my passion and become a chef! I thought that’s how this finding your purpose/meaning/happiness thing worked!)

Today, I can follow my interests just because they make me happy. Not judge them as possible pathways to fame and fortune. Just accept that this is what makes me happy. This is what makes me want to get out of bed this morning. What better reason could there be!

SPINACH PIES (SPANAKOPITA)
by Tessa Kiros from her book Food From Many Greek Kitchens

(the photo is my end product!)

Ingredients

27 filo sheets (23x25cm squares)
olive oil for brushing sheets

5 tbs oil
180g green onions
700g spinach leaves
20g dill
200g greek feta
2 eggs lightly beaten

Method (in my words as I don’t have her cookbook with me while I write this!)

  • Heat 5 tablespoons of oil in a pot large enough to fit all the spinach leaves and then cook the onions over medium heat until they are soft.  
  • Add the spinach and cook with lid on until spinach wilts, then take the lid off and simmer until all the juices disappear (my juices didn’t disappear so I just took it off the stove after a while and drained the spinach).
  • Once it cools, add the grated feta, dill, eggs and season.
  • Next is the tricky bit, pulling off the filo sheets without tearing (impossible but I just accepted the holes and kept going!) Put one sheet down, brush the oil over it, put down another sheet, oil it and then the last sheet.
  • Then put 2 heaped tablespoons of the spinach filling at one of the square and spread it in think line to the other end leaving a centre our so around the side and top edge.
  • Finally roll the sheet over the filling tightly and continue until you have it all rolled up. Lightly brush with oil on top. 
  • Now do the same thing 8 more times and line them up in baking dish and bake for 30 mins at 180C.

The satisfaction of cooking this was fantastic! My husband and kids were very impressed with the taste and the smell. I thought the actual taste of it was ok  (probably needed to season it a bit more). But as I said I grew up spoilt with flavour so I while I was hoping for something more, I was still pretty happy with the result!

(I am going from memory so I hope it makes sense and I do it justice!)


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“How to live life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events…” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you given any thought to what gets in the way of your own happiness?
A major constraint on us enjoying what we are doing has always been our fear of how we appear to others and what these others are thinking about us.

We spend so much time worrying about whether we are doing enough for our children, our community and everyone else that our lives become nothing more than a response to what is happening around us. When we stop living consciously we let our environment dictate how we spend our time. We drive our kids to way too many activities spending more time in the car than together at home. We spend a ridiculous amount of energy worrying about the mum who is the school bully of the parents (you know who they are!) We try to please everyone around us and in the process lose ourselves to the point where we don’t have an opinion on anything, even what we want for dinner!

When we live life “as a chaotic response to external events” we begin to fall apart. We become anxious, depressed, exhausted and numb. We just keep going, we keep doing what we have always done if it’s no longer working for us because we don’t know how to do things differently.

Sounds crazy but it’s true! It amazes how many of my clients look absolutely confused when I ask them what they enjoy, what they like doing. They have spent so much time doing what is expected of them, they have no idea what they like. They want me to tell them what this could be!

I think one of the challenges people face is they believe that fame and wealth is where happiness lies. Csikszentmihalyi found people did not know what to do to be happy in life. research showed that people were unhappy doing nothing and were happy doing things, they just didn’t know what things they were happy doing. 

Here’s the catch, it’s important to differentiate between pleasure, which we get from eating, sex, gossip with enjoyment. Pleasure feels good but it lacks a sense of achievement where enjoyment leaves us feeling good about ourselves. I think this is how we answer questions such as ‘how do I find myself?’ and how do I find my sense of self. It’s about paying attention to what activities put us in ‘flow’.

Here is how Csikszentmihalyi defines what it feels like to be in ‘the flow’

  • Completely involved, focused, concentrating.
  • Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  • Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going.
  • Knowing the activity is doable – that your skills are adequate so you’re not anxious or bored.
  • Sense of serenity – no worries about self, feeling of growth beyond the boundaries of ego (ie worrying what others are thinking and saying about you).
  • Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don’t notice time passing.
  • intrinsic motivation – whatever produces ‘flow’ becomes its reward.

I urge you to pay attention what activities create this state in your lives. I get immersed and excited in planning to cook an intricate and complex recipe. I get lost in the process and the sense of achievement I feel as my family eats it leaves me on a high for days afterwards. There is no fame or financial rewards but it makes me happy. Ask yourself are you after happiness or fame and fortune?

Following are great charts that Csikszentmihalyi has drawn to demonstrate how his theory works. I think they are really worth having a look over if you are looking to bring more happiness into your everyday life.

As you can see when you are engaged in activities that are not challenging and not using your skills you can begin to feel numb and empty however if you try to do something that is difficult and you do not possess the skills to do it, it will leave you feeling anxious. The optimal state is to use your particular skills to do something challenging, something that is achievable.

This graph is a summary of how people feel when different skill levels are combined with different challenges.

This last graph is a focus on everyday life and how people spend their leisure time.

So the question is not what gives you pleasure and is easy to do, but what can you do to spend more of your time on activities that are more satisfying rather than brain numbing ones like watching television? And before you think you have no talents or abilities let me stop you there, there is no correlation between intelligence and ‘flow’. Different activities will get people in the ‘flow’ zone, we just need to find what our particular activities are.

Remember to pay attention without judging “where will this get me?” or “what’s the use of that?” Pull your attention away from how the external world will judge what you enjoy and focus it on what gets you into the ‘flow’. This is how you find yourself. This is how you get your sense of self, your sense of who you are. When you can do this, you will find your purpose and your meaning in life.


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Purpose Is How We Find Our Meaning And Joy In Life

At some point, most of us will question what our purpose in life is. 
We may feel lost, empty and exhausted and think “there must be more to life than this.”

And then we get stuck.
Is there really more?
How will I find it?
How will I know when I have found it? 

So we embark on a journey. An exciting voyage of self discovery.
Well, it’s exciting from a therapist’s perspective however I’m not sure if my clients would use those words to describe what they go through!
They would probably describe it more as a very painful, depressing, anxious and even angry time in their lives. I would understand if you thought me to be a bit of a sadist at this point, however this pain is essential. This pain is what tells us that we have lost our way in life. It is meant to work like an alarm system, guiding us as we navigate through life. Giving us feedback as to how we are progressing in the world.

When you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, angry, exhausted and numb, I ask you to stop and listen. You are being told that what you are doing is no longer working for you.  

The way you are living, the choices you are making on a daily basis as to how you spend your time and energy have now become the problem. You have lost your way and this is what your pain is trying to tell you. 

So where do you go from here?

  • Well, you can choose to ignore the unpleasant feelings until you collapse into a crying heap with the doctor mumbling something about chronic fatigue (this seems to be my preferred way of coping).  
  • You can try to numb and bury those feelings real good with food, alcohol, drugs, affairs, gossip, dramas – both on television and real life, etc (hmm, I think I can claim this method as well).
  • Or you can use these feelings to guide you to your purpose in life. I made that sound pretty easy huh? Well the answer really is just that simple. We are encouraged to find our purpose; find our true/real/authentic selves; find our meaning in life and all for a good reason.

Having a purpose in life is what makes us happy.

How to be happy has been discussed by the greatest minds in the world for centuries. It’s not a new concept or one that I will in any way claim to have made some radical new discovery about. However after working with hundreds of clients from all walks of life I can say with confidence that people who find themselves, who live an authentic life, a life in line with their purpose, are the happiest. Being a psychologist, I have ingrained in me, a deep respect for scientific research, so I can make this claim with a sigh of relief as we now have the research to confirm what we have always known. To find our purpose, our meaning in life is to find ourselves and in turn our path to happiness and joy.   

So all this may sound fine and good but I know from personal experience that you are probably thinking “it doesn’t tell me how to actually find what my purpose is! I am ready to do what it takes! Just tell me what I am meant to be doing?”

I know this because my clients have read every self-help book, listened to hundreds of seminars, watched endless you tube vids hoping that this will be it!
The thing that finally reveals to me my purpose so I can get on with it!
Get on the path that will bring me guaranteed happiness and wealth. 

However this seems to also be where most of us get undone. For we not only want to be taken by the hand and lead to our path, we want a guarantee that our path will bring us guaranteed emotional and financial rewards. Oh, yeah, and if it feels like hard work at any point, then obviously we are not on the right path. Because finding your passion and following your purpose should be effortless and feel good 100% of the time. Right? Many of my clients have spent a lot of time trying to work out what their passion is and feel very confused when they try to work out how their fondness for sex or eating can be turned into a profitable business.

In this day and age, the focus seems to be very much on doing what makes us feel good. Eating cake feels fantastic, however it only feels good while we are eating it, take away the cake (or alcohol, sex, drugs, gossip, etc) and you don’t feel good anymore. In fact, once all these numbing behaviours are gone, you will probably feel worse about yourself. This is how you know if you’re on the right path, it shouldn’t leave you feeling bad at the end of it.

I am talking about finding who you are by paying attention to the things that make you lose all sense of time when you are doing them. Is it when you are following a new and complicated recipe? Or when you have discovered a new bush walk? You may find what you like surprises you. I ask that you simply pay attention without judging. Without asking “now how in the world is this going to make me money?” To find yourself and in turn, find your purpose and find happiness I ask that you pay attention to what gets you in the ‘flow’. While you are engaged in this activity what we are looking for isn’t necessarily just that you feel good. It may be something that challenges you, requires work and effort. When you are engaged in it however time flies. You get lost in what you are doing and time has no meaning. Once it’s done, you feel a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

So if you are feeling anxious, depressed, angry, exhausted, empty and fantasising about disappearing (and not even caring that you want to disappear) it is time to accept that what you are doing is no longer working for you. I’m guessing that you are spending your time and energy on activities that are not giving you any fulfillment or pleasure. It is time to rediscover your passion for life. It is time to find yourself, by finding what you are interested in and good at. What you like doing just for the sake of it. (We’ll worry about what the point of doing it is later, let’s just work out what gets you in the ‘flow’!)

Please feel free to make comments and suggestions.