Ellie Reagan: Food makes the world go round

My whole passion for cooking and eating well actually stemmed from my time playing in Austria. I had initially made the hop over the ocean with the mindset that I would not hold back on what I eat because there was so much culture to experience and I didn’t want to miss out. Which I think is a great frame of mind not only in traveling, but also in life. There is always room for indulging in any healthy diet. However, I got to a point where I had to take a step back and realize ‘Ellie, you’re getting married in less than 6 months and lets be honest you’ve been grabbin a few too many kabobs, pizzas, and schnitzels lately’. And so was born my desire to not only eat better, but also look and feel better as well. Little did I know this small decision would completely change my life.

Kebabs changed my life. Sooo good. Schnitzel happened because, I don’t know, I’m in Austria and that’s what people do. Pizza happened because I refuse to see things like french fries on top and not see what it’s all about (overrated)

Generally I was able to find raw foods pretty easily, you don’t need an English label to identify fruits and vegetables. As far as I know I was buying chicken, and to the best of my ability I eyed out healthful bread (darker color, nuts and grains visible, you know). Perhaps the most important part of my overseas diet was the steady stream of peanut butter I had coming in from back home. I about died when someone asked me why I was eating peanut butter with jelly. WHO ARE YOU.

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 Introducing the worlds largest red bell pepper

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You know your eggs are fresh when…

I could blab on forever about nutrition, and the experiences I had overseas, but I’ll save your ears and eyes and give you just a few main points to summarize my advice for those currently living overseas or planning to do so in the future:

  • Find a balance – try to eat raw, true-to-the-source meals as much as you can. Limit your “treat” meals to times when you’re traveling or have the urge to be spontaneous. “Eating out” became a very low temptation for me overseas because I didn’t even know what was on the menu!
  • Plan ahead – this pertains to things as simple as going to the grocery store and as complex as making sure you’re timing your meals well for matches. One of the first things I would suggest doing is learning food vocabulary so you can get to the store and know what to look for. Again, stick to produce as much as possible and don’t be afraid to ask questions. As far as game-day, find out what works best for you and your performance. I would suggest eating a bigger meal 2 hours prior to game-time or a smaller meal 1 hour before. Learn what foods get you going the best.
  • On the Road – There will be times when you’re traveling and you get to go out to eat. There’s no Urbanspoon, Google, or OpenTable app to guide you. Just your feet, a map and if you’re lucky a nice gentleman who has an eye for lost American’s (unfortunately we are painfully obvious). There is something so amazing about being able to spot out a restaurant or local pastry shop that catches your eye and just sit, point at the menu, and hope you ordered something good. Half the fun of eating out was finding out what you ordered. Enjoy this time, but if you’re on the road for performance reasons, get that vocabulary down and don’t be afraid to ask your teammates for help deciphering the menu so you can get something nutritious down your pipe for competition. There’s a time and a place for having fun and eating healthy, it’s all about finding balance.

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Top L: Berlin is known for their currywurst, so it was fun to see what all the rave was about (not shabby) Top R: pizza with hot dogs? When in Italy… Bottom L: Pastries in Milan…I love how portions are smaller because you get to try more:) Bottom R: Gelato. Because you don’t go to Paris and not.

  • Learn to cook – I learned to love cooking and experimenting during my time overseas. It became a game for me to see which recipes I could find the ingredients for, and better yet how to find the utensils to even be able to create it. Have fun with cooking – learn your tastes and what foods work best for you. The best part of cooking your own meals? You know what’s in them!!! So many places have hidden ingredients you would have no idea about. It’s hard to get off track when you’re eating a product of your own hands.

5Some creations from my little Austrian kitchen: homemade apple pie (bought what I thought looked like pastry crust for the top), salmon salad, oatmeal fruit-topped pancakes, and zucchini pasta

  • Make friends back home – I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said I had a steady stream of peanut butter coming in. You are lucky to find it overseas and if you do it’s awful. Besides peanut butter, I also had a stash of Clif Bars. Snacks are always a nice surprise when they come in the mail. Holiday packages were fun to get too– all the fun colored, holiday flavored goodies don’t exist over the pond.

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I’m telling you, I have the best family and friends. These packages made my LIFE! Especially love notes under the lid:)

  • Water – It’s better off that you always bring your own water. Bubbly water (now a favorite of mine) is so common overseas, you might just get it AT A TOURNAMENT. Yes, I’m being serious, we got soda water given to us during a match…in which half of my concentration was then spent timing my burps between jumps. Also be aware of the cleanliness of your area. I happened to live in Innsbruck which has some of the best tap water in the world coming from the mountains…but other places such as Italy are definitely not worth trusting. Side note: when ordering water at a restaurant, make a point to clarify if you want tap water. They will assume you want the fancy stuff which will cost you in the end.IMG_4351

When in Rome, do what the Romans do…and I never died, so that’s good. (water fountains throughout the city)

  • Be prepared to substitute – there are SO many ways to tweak a recipe, whether it be substituting an ingredient or eliminating it completely. Google is your best friend when it comes to finding out what ingredients can be substituted for another (in the case you don’t know where to find it, or don’t feel like fighting the battle to find it). Even better though is taking things into your own hands. Recognize what certain ingredients bring to a recipe – their texture, response to heat, binding capability and see what you find. Yes, half the time it won’t turn out quite right…but over time you will be a pro and will have learned a lot about how to create recipes yourself!

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MMMMMM sponge cupcakes. These hit the trash pretty quick #nailedit

As someone who has taken a huge passion for food and eating well, I encourage everyone living abroad to take the time to learn to love cooking. What better place to do so than in another country where food has to be stripped down to the very basics? If you learn to cook overseas, just imagine what you will be able to do when you return home! The grocery store will be singing hallelujah before you even walk in. Besides, you need something to do during the day before everyone at home wakes up…or was that just me?

There is no doubt that living in a completely new, uncomfortable environment poses many challenges (I still think finding evaporated milk for pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving was one of the harder challenges of my life), but I encourage anyone living in this situation to embrace the challenges. Find your ‘Do you speak English?’ phrase (Sprechen Sie Englisch?) and if the answer is no, well…you have a fun game of charades ahead of you. All about the experience, folks. Consider yourself lucky you’re not having to act out what’s wrong with you at the pharmacy, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

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If you completely fail at cooking while abroad, at least do yourself a favor and create a monster Thanksgiving meal. Because no American should be deprived of that.

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Ellie Reagan (Ellie Blankership)
www.reaganrambler.com
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