Letting go and new traditions

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We have said farewell to ‘meteorological autumn’ and, to borrow a well-sung phrase, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

A day off

I took a rare day off earlier this week to spend the day with my mum. We went out for a spot of lunch at Carluccios (thanks, Mum!) and we did some intentional shopping (me: 4 eggcups and my Secret Santa present; she: some napkins and something to drink from Marks and Spencer).

Mum and I commented that we rarely spent time together like this and resolved to do it more often.

Conspicuous Christmas

We got chatting about Christmas, since the shops are already trimmed to perfection (see above!) and the inevitable mountain of ‘themed merchandise no-one actually needs’ was clearly in evidence.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy gift giving but when Christmas seems to equal ‘conspicuous consumption’, my heart sinks a little.

Happily, here in the UK, we don’t forget the ‘reason for the season’ plus we still enjoy a great many Christmas traditions. Children visit Santa; schools enjoy festive fairs and nativity plays; and we love the ceremonial switching of the lights in our home town.

Holiday traditions

Some traditions, however, seem to be waning a little. Do you send Christmas cards, for example? Mum reminded me, “You haven’t sent cards for years!” That’s not strictly true, but I don’t always send cards, especially as the postage is now prohibitively expensive.

For me, it’s fine to let go of traditions, expectations or social mores that no longer serve us. Some things we love and invest time on them, such as dressing our Christmas tree. Other things, we can let go.

Before completing this post, I listened to Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft’s Happier podcast. Like me, they were considering holiday habits they loved to embrace, whilst admitting that there were a number of traditions they’d happily let go. Check out episode 145 to listen.

Letting go

Here’s my personal list of ‘let go’ items:

  • Home-made mince pies (we don’t eat them; I certainly don’t want to make them!)
  • Sending Christmas cards
  • Bought gifts for grown ups
  • Keepsakes
  • Going Christmas shopping

New traditions

Instead, this year, I’ve decided to embrace some new ‘traditions’ of my own:

  • Gingerbread biscuits (to share, to eat, to hang on the tree)
  • e-cards plus a donation to charity
  • Home-made gifts – watch out adults!
  • Consumables
  • Buying online (for our teenager’s gifts, which are experiences and consumables – yay!)

Since it’s only the start of December, we need to pace ourselves so that by the time the holidays are truly here, we can enjoy them and not collapse in an exhausted heap.

So, I’d encourage you to let go. Perhaps just one thing – one obligation or long-standing tradition that you might secretly (or not so secretly!) wish to relinquish. What will it be?


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Do you know the difference between pleasure and happiness?

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Do you understand the difference between pleasure and happiness? Can you explain how reward differs from contentment? Robert Lustig certainly can and his latest book, The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science behind the Corporate Takeover of our Bodies and Brains, has something powerful to say about happiness and wellbeing.

About Robert Lustig

Robert Lustig MD is perhaps best known for his bestseller, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease.

These are not minimalist book titles!

Lustig is a professor of paediatrics, as well as being chief science officer of EatREAL, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to reversing childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. His latest work argues that the corporate world has manipulated us specifically to get us to buy junk we don’t need. It’s an argument you may have come across before, but here we are offered the science behind the message.

We have been ‘manipulated’

Lustig argues that business has conflated pleasure with happiness and “with clear-cut intent” to get us to engage with behaviours that result in society feeling, “…fat, sick, stupid, broke, addicted, depressed and most decidedly unhappy.”

Recognise that rush of pleasure when you:

  • bite into something super sweet and delicious?
  • purchase something shiny and new?
  • see a notification on your smartphone?

That rush is one of dopamine, bringing fleeting reward or pleasure, but this is only ever short-lived and ends up with you wanting more. These things are genuinely addictive.

There is another way

By contrast, Lustig argues that the ‘happy chemical’, serotonin, provides longer-term contentment. He explains the difference between the dopamine effect, which creates, “That feels good. I want more.” versus the seratonin effect that brings about a sense of, “That feels good. I have enough.”

As Lustig says, it’s about understanding the difference between chasing fleeting reward and longer-lasting contentment.

How do we achieve this?

With clear scientific evidence to back up his argument, Lustig argues that real contentment is to be found through his 4 C’s, which increase serotonin in the brain to promote well-being. 

They are:

  • Connect
  • Contribute
  • Cope
  • Cook

I’ll use these themes as categories on future blog posts, so be sure to look out for them.

What it means in practice

Connect

Actively participate in actual social interactions. Social engagement or emotional bonding correlates with contentment, says Lustig.

Facebook (by way of an example) does not count here. Lustig explains the more people use Facebook, the less “subjective well-being” they experience. Just as a diet of processed food fails to support our well-being, so our daily “digital diet” is also doing us harm.

Contribute

By contributing to society (perhaps through work, volunteering or other activities), this (again) increases contentment through feelings of self-worth. Ever read stories of people who gave up their Christmas Day to help at a shelter for the homeless? These volunteers’ feelings of well-being can be directly attributed to the feel-good factor associated with contribution.

Cope

This is mega important. Sleep better, be more mindful, exercise more. These coping strategies are essential to our well-being.

Simply:

  • Get your 8 hours
  • Don’t multi-task
  • Be more mindful or intentional in how you approach your day-to-day activities
  • Take exercise

Cook

The JERF (Just Eat Real Food) message has been around for a while but Lustig makes a particular case for cooking for ourselves, for our friends and for our families. If we do this, we’ll not only be eating foods that can boost that happy chemical, serotonin, but we’ll also be contributing and connecting as well. And sugar is a no no. Period.

All together now

Taken together, these 4 C’s provide the essential support we need to move away from transient moments of reward (pleasure) to a more contented state (happiness).

As a minimalist, reading this book gave me an insight into why we know – instinctively – that more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness. When it comes to more, it’s more of the 4 C’s we really need.

Lustig’s work is based on solid science; it’s not an easy read, but if you’ve ever battled with overcoming negative habits or been concerned that your time spent on social media isn’t adding to your subjective well-being, this book explains why.


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Just 5 ingredients for perfect minimalist recipes

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I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of Robert Lustig’s book, The Hacking of the American Mind, in which he considers the difference between pleasure and happiness through a focus on four C’s: connection, contribution, coping (strategies) and (unexpectedly) cooking!

These interesting themes are ones that writers such as Jonathan Fields and Brené Brown also emphasize in their work.

Throughout the work of these writers, the idea of connection is particularly prevalent, as are other c’s such as compassion and courage. I wonder why they all begin with ‘c’?

I’ll come back to these in future posts, but I want to focus today on one particular ‘c’. It’s a favourite of mine: cooking! And it’s something that brings me both pleasure and happiness.

Cooking the minimalist way

I’ve written before about meal planning and you already know that I’m a big fan of The Happy Pear, as I wrote about here. However, there’s a lot to be said for simplifying not only how you cook, but what you cook.

Dana Shulz from Minimalist Baker offers a simple approach to recipe planning: 10 ingredients or less; one bowl or 30 minutes or less to prepare. Her innovative recipes are great if you’re looking for plant-based inspiration and many of her creations are ‘special diet’ friendly.

What if you’re not a foodie?

One of the things about embracing a minimalist lifestyle is that you may not want to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen. If it doesn’t add value to your life, you’re not going to want to devote precious minutes to this activity.

For some of us, including myself, it’s fun to try new recipes, so cooking becomes a form of enjoyment and relaxation in itself. For others, food = fuel, so time spent weighing, chopping, stirring and baking (then waiting for the food to appear on the table) ideally needs to be minimised. But how can we do this without compromising on quality?

For me, the answer came from an unexpected source.

Jamie’s 5 Ingredients

Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, who is not known for brevity when it comes to his lists of ingredients, has recently published a book that I think is worth a mention.

Jamie’s 5 Ingredients offers a new twist on a old theme: combine just 5 items to make a delicious meal with, “maximum flavour… minimum fuss.”

Do you:

  • Aspire to eat well, but don’t want to be tied to the kitchen?
  • Love flavours and textures that go together?
  • Want to eat well-balanced and nutritious food?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then I think this book is worth a closer look.

While myriad similar books already exist (I once owned a copy of James Tanner’s Take 5 Ingredients), this collection seems to embrace the current culinary zeitgeist: fresh ingredients, tasty combinations and easy (but quick) ways to get food on the table.

Classic combos

There are some things in life that go beautifully together. In terms of food, think leek and potato, cheese and tomato, maple and pecan, coffee and walnut…

This book offers tried and tested recipes including:

  • Lemon/courgettes/mint/Parmesan/pasta (=lemony courgette linguine)
  • Salmon/coriander/ginger/lemongrass/chilli jam (=fishcakes)
  • Pancetta/mushrooms/eggs/cheddar/rocket (=mushroom frittata)

Jamie Oliver’s tasty recipes draw on these classic combinations to offer everyone the chance to cook from scratch without the whole business taking up a whole evening or hours on end.

Find out more

If you’re looking for some new recipe inspiration, check out the book if you’re in the UK here. Or if the .com version is for you, look here.

And, no, I don’t have any vested interest in this. What interests me is this: minimising that which doesn’t add value and maximising what does.

Do you enjoy pared-down recipes? What’s your trick for eating well but simply? I’d love to know! Share your answer by replying below.


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Simplify your….meal planning

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My colleague asked me yesterday when I found the time to blog.

Well, in case you were wondering, I’m writing the first part of this post in the reception of my orthodontist’s practice! Yes, it’s good to slow down and spend time just being, but I’ve been here for over two hours and haven’t been seen yet. Appointment chaos! Maybe the practice needs to simplify its appointment system!

Today’s post is about simplifying meal planning. Getting this right has a number of benefits:

Benefits of meal planning

  • Saves time
  • Helps you budget
  • Avoids food waste
  • Means you always have what you need on hand
  • Decisions about what to cook are made in advance

Need a quick fix?

There are a number of ‘quick fix’ options for meal planning such as Hello Fresh, which provides a delivery service with curated ingredients plus recipes together. These tend to be very expensive, however, and with the price of food having rocketed in the last year, that’s not an option I’d advocate (no matter how quick and easy these appear to be).

Ingredients of effective meal planning

3 must-haves for effective meal planning:

  • A small stash of favourite cookbooks (I now have just 5, having decluttered those I no longer used)
  • Post-it notes or sticky tabs to place on the pages of your chosen recipe
  • Your favourite online supermarket or go-to local stores that will stock what you need

2 options:

  • A folder containing much-loved recipes from magazines or hand-written notes
  • A go-to online source of great recipes (Minimalist Baker; BBC Good Food)

Note that I avoid apps such as mealboard, but I’d be curious to know if you have a preferred app that you use for this purpose.

Method

I tend to select recipes from just one or two of my books each time I shop. When planning meals for the next few days (we tend to shop every six days), I flick through and select what I fancy making. This will include:

  • 3 or 4 main courses (a veggie bake, chilli or stew; a more crunchy option with a bit more bite; and a quick and easy recipe for when time is tight)
  • A weekend breakfast recipe such as Apple porridge
apple pie oatmeal
Angela Liddon’s apple pie oatmeal from Oh She Glows!
  • A sweet treat
  • Energy bites for the lunch box

Getting organised

I tag each page of my recipe book with a sticky tab to remind myself of what I’ve selected. I find it’s the quickest way to remember why I’ve got particular ingredients in my fridge two or three days after my online order has arrived!

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When doing your online shop, walk around the kitchen as you add items to your virtual basket and check what you already have in stock. Half a celeriac in the fridge? Why not buy some ingredients to go with that and make some soup to use it up? And here’s a recipe for you if you like celeriac and leek soup!

Better still, work as a team if you have someone who can help and have one person inputting what’s required from your list and the other checking what’s already in stock.

Take your list

If you shop in person, make your list and take it with you when you go to the store to stay on task and remember what you need. And don’t shop whilst hungry…

Ready, steady, cook!

Once your food is in place, you’re ready to go.

Use the time when you have the capacity in your schedule to cook up the recipes that might take longer; this way, when you’re busier, there’ll be something ready to bake or warm through when you need it.

Reap the benefits

You’ll reap the benefits by getting ahead with your meal planning; with everything in place, you can relax and enjoy your time in the kitchen (whether you’re a devoted cook or not). Then, you’ll be freed up to spend the rest of the time how you like: that’s the Minimalist approach.

Further reading:

#FrugalFebruary – Frugal Entertaining

#FrugalFebruary – Food and groceries

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