Brain Food

Have you ever tried to write but just felt tired and stuck? Maybe it’s time to consider why your mind is inert despite your desire to be productive.

As a mature student, one might expect experience and will power to prevail. However, in the second and hardest year of my degree, I fell into the student trap of drinking too much coffee to keep myself going; forgot to eat, then munched on biscuits, or other foodstuffs of dubious nutritional value. The day wasn’t complete without a glass of wine to help me block the critical commentary out of my head. It was a difficult cycle to get out of.

In the third year though, I found my balance again, and started eating breakfast before lectures, and building a little more structure into my writing life, so that hunger didn’t creep up on me quite so forcefully. It’s a given that doing something physical requires a regular input of fuel, but the brain actually needs plenty of fuel too, to work at its best.

Now I have a selection of fresh coffees, strength 5 (Rich Italian) for the morning, strength 3 (Smooth Columbian) for the afternoon, and decaff for early evening, just one small cafetiere of each, and that’s my limit. I look forward to the ritual far more than when I kept a pot on the go all the time. I feel like I’m rewarding myself for each stage of the writing.

I don’t buy biscuits at all; but I do keep a tub of mixed unsalted nuts and dried fruits in my desk drawer as a healthy snack, and a bottle of water too. Sometimes, if the words are flowing, writing can be like a marathon, and it’s good to stave off fatigue.

My ultra brain food lunch is sardines, with thinly sliced tomato on whole wheat toast – I can actually feel my grey matter plumping up in response to these omega 3 and vitamin B12-rich little fishes.

If I’ve been writing notes and making plans in my head for days before starting a new chapter, then I tend to get organized and make a chicken and lentil casserole, moussaka, or something similarly easy to prepare in advance; so that when I get into the flow, I can avoid children sobbing of hunger, or raiding my purse to go to the fish and chip shop. Actually the kids are getting quite good at cooking without assistance now.

One of my favourite healthy meals is my personal westernised version of Indian khichadi (an Ayurvedic dish – but that’s a whole different post):

  • 1 mug of whole grain rice
  • 1/2 mug of your favourite lentils (I use the flat green continental ones)
  • 1 small packet of cubed pancetta
  • 3 fat shallots, chopped
  • 2 even fatter cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 5 red and ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • A huge pile of broad beans (shelled and blanched in boiling water then squeezed out of their greyish coats to reveal the bright green heavenly centre.

Sauté the shallots, garlic and pancetta, add the rice, lentils, tomatoes, and 4 mugs of water or stock, put on a lid and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the liquid is absorbed, and the rice and lentils are tender. Add the broad beans to heat through, but don’t cook them, they retain their freshness and bite. This is a bowl and spoon recipe, that can also be re-heated the next day, or eaten cold. I love it.

I’m also trying to instil a golden rule – Don’t write and eat at the same time – It avoids a messy laptop and forces me to engage properly with what I’m eating, and who I’m eating with! This helps the writing too, it’s like standing back from a painting in progress – you see things that need tweaking more easily than when you’re up close all the time.

If my words feel like they’re being forced into submission, and my sentences are scratching at each other instead of stroking – then I head to a cafe – not the nearest one, but one that’s airy and light, with enough tables so that I don’t feel like I’ve over stayed my welcome the minute I have an empty cup.  In the general hubbub of background noise, I’m usually able to persuade the words to get on together, and I can return home with harmony on the page.

I’m the kind of person who needs a fully stocked larder to feel safe. When the snow comes and everyone is out buying up all the bread, I stay at home, content in the knowledge that I can probably feed my family for a month, I’ve already planned for the disaster! Anyone who’s ever been in my kitchen will have seen all the neatly stacked boxes of dried beans, pulses, seeds, and grains. Recently I’ve spent a few hours each week cooking my stock rather than hoarding it. Having a fridge-full of soups, dahl, or chilli, keeps the writer fuelled up and immersed in creativity, rather than reaching for the carbs with a growling belly and a dull brain.


About josieblueowl

I live a life as healthy and well balanced as I can. I believe that is the best way to support my creativity, I'm definitely not a person who thinks you should suffer to produce good work. I walk, meditate, read, garden, cook and try to write with honesty, and to the best of my ability.
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2 Responses to Brain Food

  1. MDR says:

    All very true! I’m definitely on board these days with quality of coffee over quantity.


  2. Jenny Alexander says:

    I’m a huge believer in good nutrition – especially for that powerhouse of the body, the brain. Lovely pics again Josie – I’m feeling a bit peckish now…!


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