I’ve been writing my own recipes down since the mid-90s, just keeping little scrawled notes of what I had cooked using vegetables in my garden and especially good combinations of ingredients. The shift towards helping other people make healthier foods in their own kitchens began when I assembled a booklet of recipes for our friends Anne and Kelley six years ago because they wanted to start cooking healthier at home.
I also began shifting from just having my own little garden in my backyard, which I learned how to grow from my parents, to promoting local small farmers and thinking about larger food issues. I began learning about what farmers were doing about local food issues, and how much thought and effort they put into growing incredible foods for our tables.
As things have evolved, I still create new dishes for myself and my family, but now a big part of what I do is share what I’ve learned about food – in this blog, by teaching cooking classes, and by serving up the flavors with anyone who happens to come into my kitchen.
Now it’s all come together as I’ve published my first cookbook, an e-cookbook called nourish: winter, part of a series that I’ll release over the next year called nourish: cooking with love in four seasons. It couldn’t be more local, organic, seasonal or healthful. My whole goal is to continue to help people get back to cooking from scratch - making wholesome, delicious and healthful foods. I love sharing ideas and tools for healthy living, about knowing why good food matters, and how it's possible to do something about it at home. I truly believe that not only is good food important, it should taste really good at the same time – not just in my kitchen, but yours as well.
Here's a sample recipe and photograph from the cookbook. Enjoy!
Roasted Delicata Squash
Delicata squash have a light, delicate flavor and a firm texture. Maybe the best part about them is that you can eat them skin and all, saving time and fuss. Serve them as a side dish or atop a crisp green salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2-4 servings
2 tablespoons coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 delicata squash
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375º. Wash squash thoroughly and dry. Slice into 1/2” rings and scoop seeds out of each slice. (You can also cut off each end and scrape out all of the seeds at once.) Rub all surfaces of each piece with oil – skin and cut edges – and place on an ungreased heavy baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Photo credit: Mike Dvorak Photography
This is the time of year when thinking about fresh local foods in Minnesota can be a little dismal, so I’m going in the other direction and embracing citrus from the southern US - and WOW - are they glorious right now.
Murcott tangerines, pixie tangerines, ruby red grapefruit, Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges, Valencia and navel oranges: all juicy and delicious, all very opposite of a grey Minnesota day.
Citrus fruits are a fantastic way to get your daily Vitamin C, and are an excellent source of flavonoids as well as B vitamins, carotenes, pectin and potassium. When we eat the whole citrus fruit - which is much preferable to drinking the fruit in a juice version, we’re getting a good source of fiber, too. Even the membranes surrounding the juicy flesh as well as the pith (the pale white inner peel) are loaded with good things for us: it’s where the highest concentration of flavonoids are located, which are plant-based compounds that provide a broad array of antioxident and positive biochemical benefits. Flavonoids work in conjunction with Vitamin C, an antioxident vitamin that is essential for tissue growth and repair, maintaining the immune system, keeping our skin, joints, gums and connective tissues healthy, and contributing to our overall health, especially in times of stress.
It doesn’t really seem like an accident that citrus fruits hold so much allure in the winter - and not just because of their vitamin content. How about the vibrant colors and that incredible aroma released when you peel or cut into the skin of an orange? Doesn’t it just make you think of sunshine and positive thoughts? In fact, the essential oil of sweet orange and other citrus is proven to improve mood and decrease anxiety, and is finding widespread use in palliative care programs in mainstream medical institutions, including the Penny George Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital here in Minneapolis.
When you’re buying citrus, pick the fruits that have a sweet fragrance and seem heavy for their size, which is the best measure of a juicy, sweet insides instead of dried out flesh. Opt for organic whenever possible - citrus fruits are one of the most heavily sprayed fruit crops - especially if you plan on using the zest, or the brightly colored outer skin. Pesticide residues on conventional oranges can transfer to the flesh when cutting or peeling, and the peel can contain artificial orange color, Citrus Red No. 2 which is a possible carcinogenic and can cause allergic reactions.
Whether it’s an orange, grapefruit, tangerine or mandarin, make sure to enjoy plenty of citrus this season - in the year of Tangerine (as determined by Pantone, the color experts) - to stay healthy, look young, and to feel better all the way around!
What’s standing in the way between you and a good dinner most evenings? If you’re like most people, you’ll say some combination of time, expense, lack of skills and a shortage of ideas.
So, what can we do about it?
We can’t get more time in the day, but we can free up more available time by simply shifting our attention. Maybe it doesn’t exactly mean killing your television, but by turning it off or allocating more time to making real food we have the potential to have a real impact on our health. One of the best things you can do for your health and the health of your family is to make it a priority to prepare real, whole foods meals with nutritious ingredients that are organic, locally and sustainably sourced as much as possible - this week, next week, and all year.
Why cook? Because you were born with one amazing machine, my friends - emphasis on one - and the best way to fuel your machine is with nutritionally-dense real, whole foods. Period. We may get extra chances now and then to clean up our act and shift our eating style, but most of us wait until something drastic is staring us in the face to make those tough decisions about doing the best thing for our bodies. (Nutritionally dense foods are essentially foods or ingredients that are as close to their original state as possible as when they were grown or harvested - unprocessed, unrefined, and with a correspondingly high nutrient value.)
You may need a few more resources to help you on your way if you’re ready to get started right now. By asking friends whose healthy lifestyle inspires you to share a few recipes, subscribing to pra approachable food magazines like Real Food or Whole Living, taking a cooking class, or following a healthy food blog, you’ll get access to new ideas and tested recipes to start moving in the right direction of learning how to prepare great food.
To keep things affordable, consider shopping for staple items in bulk at a co-op grocery or at most grocery stores. Foods purchased in bulk allow us to buy more without paying extra for packaging, plus we contribute less garbage to the waste stream and we can buy just what we need, eliminating excess food being thrown away or not used. To save money while keeping it local, shop for pantry basics when they’re on sale, sign up for a CSA share this summer and plan to frequent a farmer’s market throughout the growing season to make use of fresh foods while they’re in season. Learn how to preserve foods for later – by freezing or canning fresh foods when they’re at their peak of flavor and nutrition – to eat fresh and locally on a budget throughout the year. If your family eats a lot of meat, consider sharing a portion of a large animal to freeze to have access to top quality, ethically-raised meats without paying the highest prices in the grocery store.
No matter what, using any of these thoughts to help shift us toward adopting a more nutritious way of eating will have us spending more time in the kitchen. That’s not a bad thing. The kitchen is typically the heart of any house, so let’s bring it to life and start cooking up some better stuff for our bodies with the goal of simply living better.
Curried Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from the Cafe Brenda Cookbook
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
6 - 7 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1.5 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup carrots, diced
1 jalapeño, minced (optional)
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
5 cups sweet potato (choose one with deep orange flesh), diced
1 14-oz. can organic coconut milk
2 cups dried red lentils, sorted and rinsed
8 cups vegetable stock or bouillon
juice of one lime
1 bunch cilantro, minced
Sauté red onion, garlic and ginger in olive oil for 15 minutes in a large soup pot. Add curry powder, hot pepper, carrots, bell pepper, and sweet potatoes. Sauté another 5 to 10 minutes.
Add coconut milk, lentils, and the stock. Simmer, covered, until lentils are done and sweet potatoes are tender, approximately 45 minutes. Add lime juice and cilantro and serve.
To make this in a crockpot, prepare soup on the stove through the addition of adding coconut milk, lentils and the stock, then transfer to a crockpot on low to cook for 6-8 hours. Reduce stock by 1 cup and add lime juice and cilantro just before serving.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our food systems are under attack. And no, they’re not under attack from some foreign terrorist organization, but they’re under attack by the biotech agriculture industry, industrial ag trade groups and their power to influence the US Department of Agriculture (from the inside out, as well), and worst of all, by the behemoth of industrial ag, the corporate food giant Monsanto.
One of the biggest concerns on the table is the lack of truth in labeling and consumer protection from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and from industrial-scale factory farms, or Contained Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). As of right now, consumers have no protections to choose NOT to eat foods grown with genetically modified ingredients, or if the animal products that we’re eating have been raised in confined feed lots – because there is no requirement by the government to label foods produced this way.
Think it doesn’t affect you? Consider that up to 90% of all major US grown crops are grown with genetically engineered seed and can be used in human and animal foods without any safety testing or labeling to let us know what’s been used. This includes US GMO-grown corn, soybeans, canola, and sugarbeets and cotton, which have made their way in to approximately 80% of current grocery store items. (Don't know if you're eating GMOs? If you’re not buying organically produced foods or growing your own vegetables and raising your own animals for food, you’re probably eating genetically modified foods in most of the foods you’re consuming today – breakfast, lunch and dinner.)
If you’re a meat eater, the US Department of Agriculture statistics show that the majority of animal products produced in the US today are raised on confined feed lots, or CAFOs, are fed with genetically modified feed, and are injected with genetically engineered hormones and vaccines.
Genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST), also manufactured by Monsanto, is a genetically engineered variant of the natural growth hormone produced by cows. Sold under the trade name Posilac, cows injected with this hormone forces them to increase milk production by about 10% – with the unfortunate side effect that they need massive doses of antibiotics and vaccines to counter increased incidence of mastitis, lameness and reproductive complications from having to withstand the stress of being milked 3 times a day and producing larger quantities of milk. It also shortens their lifespan down to about 2 years. (No worries! They’re turned into McDonald’s patties after that, so no food gets wasted.) Milk produced with rBGH or rBST has been linked to higher rates of breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. Is that really surprising, that an animal injected with a growth hormone would affect hormone levels and hormone-related cancers in humans? Yuck. We’re way behind as consumers in the US in demanding the reversal of the use of GM growth hormones: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, the European Union, among other countries, have already banned rbGH because of its impacts on human and animal health.
Genetically modified foods are grown not to make healthier food for you and for me, but so that crops can withstand repeated, heavy application of weed killers – and still survive and be turned into food. Yum! GE crops were first introduced in the 1990s, and pesticide use has only increased – it hasn’t eliminated weeds or the need to reduce weeds. Instead, weeds have become stronger (they’re weeds - quickly becoming super weeds) and our food has become more toxic.
Just how toxic are these GMO foods? Even though there is no government regulated safety testing done on GMOs, independent scientists are warning that GMOs increase cancer risks, trigger allergies, have damaging impact on soil fertility, harm food quality, create ever upward spiraling antibiotic-resistant pathogens, create super pests and super weeds, harm beneficial insects, bees and butterflies, and create increasing dependence on heavier pesticide producing toxic by-products including contaminated water. And, of course, they contaminate organic and non-GMO crops because of airborne pollen drifting from GMO fields to non-GMO fields.
How safe do you feel knowing that all of this is happening without having a right to choose which foods you will buy based on how they were grown? I don’t feel safe at all. At the very least, we have the right to know what is in our food - and food labeling is the most basic of requirements for the consumer to be able to make a real choice.
If you're concerned, I would urge you to ask your federal, state, and local politicians to commit to truth-in-labeling and your right to know as a consumer by supporting mandatory GMO labels on all foods. Protect your health by buying certified organic foods, and supporting small farmers who are committed to growing with sustainable, organic methods by buying a CSA (community supported agriculture) share or by shopping at a local farmer’s market.
If you’re really mad, consider marching at the Minnesota State Capitol tomorrow, Saturday, March 26 in the Millions Against Monsanto campign from noon to 2pm. (Don't live in Minnesota? Find out where to march in your state here.)
Our consumer protection, food freedom, our health and the health of our children depends on us demanding a right to know.
In the best possible world, we would always have access to the freshest, most life-giving food - whether from ingredients used make our own meals – or from some terrific person who prepared them for us. The meals would be balanced, chock full of nutrition and delicious. Quite simply, there is no better way to give your body the most optimum diet than to eat whole (real!) foods that have been thoughtfully put together and prepared from scratch.
On a daily basis, though, in spite of all logic that would guide us otherwise, we consider the nutritional needs of our body a hasty afterthought. Life gets in the way, of course.
So what do you do when the light has gone on and you know what you should be eating, but anticipate having busy mornings, afternoons or evenings when you’ll be on the run?
Plan ahead. Keeping healthy and convenient food items stocked in your refrigerator will make grabbing a quick meal simple and practical.
Consider “wrappers”, pockets or vegetables for quick foods. Sprouted whole grain tortillas, whole grain pita pockets, nori seaweed sheets, or collard greens are all perfect vehicles for rolling and stuffing with nutritious ingredients. They’ll work for breakfast, lunch or dinner and are easy to vary depending on what you choose to put in them.
Make a practice of cooking a batch of rice and beans (or lentils, quinoa, hummus and wild rice) on the weekend to have available all week long. It is a good habit to make basic foods to us as the backbone of filling for your quick wrap or pocket meals in addition to eating them a variety of ways throughout the week. Chopping greens, crunchy brassicas like broccoli or cauliflower and peeling whole carrots to store in airtight containers will make filling your wraps, pockets or green rolls with abundant vegetables a fast, easy choice.
Keep a fruit bowl available on the kitchen counter. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to remember a piece of fruit or two to take with you on your way out the door if you see it. Fruit will last just fine on the counter for a few days and can be replenished from extra stored in the refrigerator.
Blend up a smoothie and pack it along with you in a glass jar. This is a good way to have a healthy option ready in advance - blended up with fruit, some greens, and a little nut butter it will keep just fine without refrigeration for several hours - just shake it up before drinking.
Make your own snack packs with raw nuts for a healthy between meals option, as is preparing your own sandwich snack crackers made out of whole grain flatbreads (Ryvita, Wasa or RyCrisp) – filled with nut butters and a little honey or raisins, or hummus and sliced veggies, or cheese. Or take along big slices and chunks of raw organic vegetables - whole peeled carrots, big wedges of red pepper, thick slices of cucumber - and pack along a small container of hummus or nut butter. Any choice will fill you up and help you to avoid resorting to unhealthy snacks with zero nutritional value.
Even if you took one of these options and incorporated it into to your need for quick meals once, twice or a few times a week you’d be doing yourself a HUGE favor by reducing bad fat, sodium or sugar grams in fast food options. It will also cost less, it will contribute less garbage to the waste stream and you’ll feel better at the end of the day.
Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t achieve the optimum, but keep an eye on making these small changes become the new habit - and you’ll make a big impact on your health in no time.
Collard Green Wrap
1 collard green leaf
1/4 cup hummus
1/2 sweet red pepper, cut into strips
1/3 cucumber (skin on) cut into spears or flat slices
Cut the spine out of one large collard leaf (washed and patted dry). Lay each half flat on a cutting board and spread with hummus. Fill with avocado slices, sliced red pepper, cucumber wedges or a small handful of spinach. Roll up starting at one pointed end. Secure with a toothpick and fill the second collard leaf half in a similar manner.
We should be worried, but we’re not. We should care about what we put in our bodies, but we don’t. I am guessing that many of us know what we should be eating, but decide that we can't or won't do much about it and continue to eat junk.
Well, we are becoming exactly what we deserve, as a nation, on our current diet: overweight, patched together with drugs, unhappy, and sick.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention came out with a study this month which reveals that Americans still aren’t eating their vegetables, in spite of a decade of campaigns designed to bring awareness to the importance of a healthy diet. The New York Times article that details the report shows that we’re eating fewer salads than we were 16 years ago, and only 23 percent of our meals include a vegetable.
In order to meet the recommended guidelines for 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, or 41/2 cups for a person who consumes 2000 calories each day, that means eating at least two vegetables or fruits at each meal, plus snacks in between. If we were eating that many veggies, we wouldn’t have room in our bellies to be hungry for the bad stuff.
Except that all we want is the bad stuff. As a nation, we are addicted to sugar, fat, hyper-salted foods, caffeine and artificial flavors. And it is making us sick.
Of course we want someone to blame when we become sick. We want a pill when our blood pressure is too high, when our cholesterol is out of whack, and when we get heartburn every time we eat. We accept Type-2 diabetes as if it were inevitable. We don’t want to prepare a meal with fresh foods: we want convenience and instant satisfaction.
Of course it’s all our fault - no one is shoving those fried, sweetened, microwaved, chemical-laden food into our guts. We are. Until we can wake up and take ownership for our health before our desire to eat another meal of junk takes over, nothing will change. We have to make a commitment to our bodies that will require carving out a little extra time to treat ourselves better.
I have no illusions that a frustrated rant against the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) will change anything, but I am passionate about helping people who are interested in making a change for their health by seeking out ways to learn more about it. I teach healthy cooking classes, I lead healthy living retreats and I do one-on-one food coaching where I help clients by designing custom food plans, complete with shopping guides and recipes.
At the end of the day, I believe that there is hope. I know how good it feels to eat well, get exercise, and sleep for at least seven hours per night. I also know that the basics of what I'm talking about are completely achievable for everyone, no matter where they live. Barriers exist for all sorts of reasons - I am aware of that - but if something is important enough, there is always a way to make a difference at any level.
Recipe for Making a Personal Change
A commitment to a change in lifestyle takes more than just thinking you want to change. In order to find success, following a series of steps is the surest way to reach your health goals.
1. Decide exactly what you want to achieve for your personal goal.
2. Write it down CLEARLY and in as much detail as you can.
3. Set a specific deadline. If it is a large goal, break it down into subdeadlines and write them down in order.
4. Make a list of everything you can think of that you are going to have to do to achieve your goal. As you think of new items, add them to your list.
5. Organize the items on your list into a plan by placing them in the proper sequence and priority.
6. Take action immediately on the most important thing you can do in your plan. This is VERY important.
7. Do something every day that moves you toward attaining of one or more of your important health goals.
8. Share your plan with the world - the more people who know what you’re doing, the more support you’ll gather, plus you’ll increase your accountability – and you’ll probably even inspire a friend or two!