The Hodgepodge Meal; Feeding Yourself When You Don’t Feel Like It

Depression is something that plagues so many people in our world, whether we know it or not. It’s instances seem to become more popular as the place we live in continues to report bad news and a dreary future. It’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts, and if those start to spiral out of control, one might be looking at what is called a depressive episode.  

During an episode of depression, your body and mind may feel numb. You also may feel intense pain, physically or internally. Then come the nonstop crying episodes. The wondering what is wrong with me. Why can’t I just be happy? 

There are techniques to help yourself mentally by seeing a trusted therapist, or taking care of yourself, or getting out in nature. That’s not what I’m here to talk about.  

When we are depressed, eating seems like the last thing on your mind. If I’m too depressed to take care of myself, why on earth would I make a homemade meal right now? I can’t speak for everyone, but cooking is something that calms me. If cooking does not calm you and you need to eat after a long day of sobbing, a Hodgepodge Meal is for you. 

A Hodgepodge Meal is like cooking, but not really. It’s saying, “I only have three ingredients in my fridge that are salvageable, how do I make it work?” And it all starts by setting yourself up for success at the grocery store.  

When you find yourself at the grocery store, make sure you have an arsenal of pantry staples to ensure you have something to fall back on when you’re depressed and have not eaten. Jars of pickled vegetables are inexpensive, healthy, and can add flavor and nutrients to your body when you need them most. All can be transformed into yummy dishes in a pinch. They also lack the tin can flavor of most other canned vegetables. Look for, 

Pickled beets 

Sauerkraut or red cabbage 

Pickled beans 

Pickled mushrooms 

Kimchi  

Any other pickled vegetables that look delicious 

Specialty food shops are great places to stop because a lot of random adorable stores in small towns have great homemade pickled veg, sometimes straight from local farms. Search online in your area for shops near you! 

Something else everyone prone to the hermit life in general should have is dried pasta. There are tons of pasta brands out there suited to fit your lifestyle, be it vegan, gluten free, dairy free etc. Stock up on some of your favorite shapes when pasta is on sale.  

Side anecdote, saving money lessens my weekly anxiety, so I do tend to buy things on sale. That’s my personal preference; I am what some would call frugal. It’s just how I was raised 🤷🏼‍♀️  

One last section to stock up at the grocery store is the frozen section. Freezer fruits, veggies, and meats are going to be your best friend to rely on, because they stay fresh for months and depression is unpredictable. Some of my personal frozen favorites are, 

Sweet corn 

French cut green beans 

Spinach 

Hash browns 

Tater tots 

Boneless skinless chicken breasts, individually wrapped (these can sometimes be cooked right from frozen with package instructions) 

Frozen cooked meatballs 

Peaches 

Cherries 

Strawberries 

Mango 

With a handful of these ingredients in your freezer at a given time, you can create a meal in 15-30 minutes that is healthy, satisfying, and took barely any effort at all. You can get right back to crying on the couch watching Top Model reruns, but now with a full belly.  

Also feel free to use any fresh ingredients you may have in the fridge that could be on their last leg. Cheeses or meats are welcome here, and of course any fresh produce that is left from the week.  

On my most recent sad day, I was home alone and needed to have dinner. Through the tears, I opened up the fridge and threw together what I had.  

Sausage and Cabbage Sauté for one 

2 teaspoons olive oil 

1/4 pound ground Italian sausage 

1/4 an onion, sliced thin 

1/8 large green cabbage, sliced thin 

1/3 cup chicken stock 

Dash of Tabasco 

1 small garlic clove, minced 

Salt and pepper to taste, I like lots of cracked black pepper to finish 

1 tablespoon butter 

Begin with a medium saucepan over high heat. I learned this technique from Chris Morocco from Bon Appetit and it changed the way I brown any ground meat.  

Add your oil to the pan. Once shimmering, add your meat in small dollops, no bigger than a teaspoon. You want small crispy pieces of meat, so let the meat sit in the pan for at least a minute. It will be making lots of splattering and noise, but let it happen, just ensure nothing is burning.  

After about one full minute, use a wooden spoon to scrape up the pieces of meat and move them around the pan. Allow the meat to sit once more after agitation. This is how we get a caramelization on the meat. Agitate once more after another minute and continue this pattern until all of your meat is browned evenly.  

Remove from the heat after about 5 minutes when deep browning occurs. Set aside, and lower the heat to medium low. Add onions and cabbage and begin to sauté, stirring frequently. We are not trying to achieve the same level of browning as the meat. Now we are looking to braise.  

There should be a fond on the bottom of the pan. A fond is when bits of meat and veg stick to the pan, creating a deep sticky layer of flavor in between the pan and the food. A liquid being introduced to the situation will help release that flavor into the sauce. Liquid helps dissolve the fond and integrates it into the sauce, spreading around that gorgeous, deep flavor.  

After about 7 minutes of sautéing, the onions and cabbage should start to wilt and get soft. Add your chicken stock and use your wooden spoon to scrape the fond off of the bottom of the pan gently but vigorously. Allow the liquid to come to a simmer.  

Once simmering, add your meat back in, the Tabasco, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Allow to braise for 15-30 minutes until your level of tenderness is achieved. I like mushy cabbage.  

Add your pat of butter right at the end to give everything a luxurious smoothness, off the heat. Serve! 

You can add anything to this. You can take anything out of this recipe. It can be tailored to whoever is making it. Hodgepodge meals can be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten free, dairy free, all the hits, all the classics, all inclusive. Just have a few staples in the house for when you’re too sad to do anything else.  

Last anecdote; it is okay to be sad. You have to allow yourself to recognize and accept that sometimes sadness comes randomly. For some it is a part of life. Just let it pass knowing better days are coming. And listen to Brand New. They make my sadness better too. 

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