What’s Been Cooking

Park Walk

It’s been another busy month around here, with more work trips (this time to L.A.) and time spent outdoors enjoying the last of the fall foliage (photo above Suraj took on one of our many walks at a park nearby). This week, I’m off to Buffalo for Thanksgiving and am really looking forward to the break.

I don’t have a set recipe for today, but thought I’d just share some links to things I’ve been cooking these past few weeks, in case anyone is looking for inspiration:

–These sweet potato waffles are my new fav. I made this recipe for the first time a few weeks ago, after finally buying a new waffle maker, and they’re awesome. We have a stash stored in the freezer and they are excellent re-toasted and spread with peanut butter and fig jam (trust me on this one…).
–For a quick, ready-made lunch solution, I made a big batch of these freezer burritos a few weeks ago and can’t recommend them enough. I kept them vegetarian and used sour cream, refried black beans (this recipe), brown rice, sauteed ripe plantains, and cilantro for my filling. They reheat in about a minute in the microwave. Suraj is a huge fan. I may do another batch soon, with scrambled egg, for a breakfast version.
–This wild salmon soup is a staple for us, and is especially easy to throw together when I have homemade broth on hand. We usually use potatoes in place of the squash.
–I thought I didn’t like teriyaki until I tried this recipe, and now I’m a total convert. It’s SO simple and SO good. We had it for dinner last night with garlicky green beans. You can get chicken with the skin on (vital for this recipe) at Whole Foods; it’s in the sealed packages.

As for Thanksgiving, here’s a few things I’m taking home with me, as well as what I’ll be making there (each of my siblings is bringing a dish or two, and my mom’s got the rest…homemade pies included. So excited!):

broccoli cheese bites. Super easy to throw together and will be a good breakfast/snack during my 8-hour drive. Would also make a great appetizer if you did them in mini-muffin pans.
butternut squash and orzo salad. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for months, after my friend Jess sang its praises. She was right; it’s great! I’m packing a huge container and we’ll likely eat it for a few lunches this week. I subbed feta for the blue cheese.
hummus. This is something I seem to take home and on vacation without fail (mainly because my sister loves it as much as I do). This recipe is my go-to; it’s so smooth! I add a little more water and/or olive oil at the end, and it’s done it about 30 seconds in my Vitamix. We’ll probably have it with salad and pita at some point. (Sidenote: Have you ever had pizza with hummus for dipping? You’ll never eat it any other way once you do.)
Italian vinaigrette. Is it weird that I am packing my own salad dressing to take home? Well I don’t care if it is because this is my new favorite dressing and I can’t imagine any salad without it. I also plan on using it in a panzanella (bread) salad I’ll make while I’m there, for which I’ll use this sourdough for the bread.
s’mores cupcakes. I made these a few weeks ago for a Halloween party, and they were a total hit. I’m going to make them again at Thanksgiving, for the kids (in hopes that they will eat them instead of all the pie).

Hope everyone has a fantastic holiday!

Thanksgiving Table

 

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Cream Scones

Scone 5

This scone recipe is one of the only recipes I know by heart. I’m not sure how long I’ve been making them—it’s probably creeping up on a decade now—but I can tell you this: every person I have ever made them for has either 1) requested the recipe, and/or 2) requested that I bring them to all future gatherings. This includes people who 1) don’t normally cook, and/or 2) say they “never thought they liked scones.”

The secret lies in the cream. Use any other liquid—milk, buttermilk, half & half—and they’re just not the same. Use the cream and you’re in for the flakiest, tastiest, most delicate scone you’ve ever had in your life, I promise. Even fancy bakery shop versions pale in comparison.

I’m headed to the Adirondack Mountains in New York next week (vacation! finally!) to spend some time with my family, and these scones are already on our pre-planned menu (yes, my sister and I do this in advance to make everyone’s lives easier). We bring the scones frozen and unbaked (dried cherry and chocolate chip are this year’s options), and bake them up fresh in the morning. Scone and vacation bliss all rolled into one.

Unbaked Scone

Cream Scones
I first found this recipe on the Smitten Kitchen blog, but it’s originally from the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook (which I own and love). I’ve tried countless other scone recipes in addition to this one, and none have ever held a candle to these. As I mentioned, I make the full batch then freeze the extras (cut and unbaked, as seen above). When needed, just bake them straight out of the freezer—adding a minute or two to the cooking time (no defrosting required). They are a freezer staple and especially convenient when hosting overnight guests.

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (I’ve tried subbing half whole-wheat and it’s good, but not quite the same)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or chopped dried fruit
1 cup heavy cream (I like Trader Joe’s brand or High Lawn Farms because they are the only two I’ve found without stabilizers or additives)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425°F.

Whisk flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together in large bowl.

Using a pastry blender (this is what I use) or your fingertips, quickly cut butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter lumps; when doing it with your fingers, just quickly rub the flour-coated butter pieces between your thumb and middle finger, almost like you’re snapping your fingers. The goal is to create thin little sheets and pea-sized flecks of butter, so work quickly. You do not want the butter to melt or soften at all (the coarse, cold bits are what make the scones flaky)—it should not be uniform in texture.

Stir in chocolate chips or add-in of choice.

Pour the heavy cream over the mixture, and mix with a rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to your countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Try not to overwork the dough. You still don’t want those butter bits to melt.

Form dough into a large square or circle and cut into 8 wedges or squares. You can also just scoop out the dough using a large ice cream scoop if you prefer rounds.

If you don’t want to bake all the scones at once, place the extras on a sheet and transfer to the freezer. Once frozen, transfer scones to a plastic bag for future baking.

For those you want to bake right away, place rounds or wedges on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush with milk or cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired. Bake until edges are slightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, within a few hours of baking them (scones are one of those things that don’t keep very well—though they can be saved by a little reheat in the toaster oven if necessary).

Note: If you have extra cream and you’re not sure how to use it up, just put half a cup or so in a mason jar and shake vigorously until the “sloshing” noise subsides and the cream has turned from a liquid into soft-whipped cream. Add a spoonful of sugar and shake a little more. Voila, fresh whipped cream! Put it on your scone with jam or stewed berries (as pictured below).

Scones 4

Eating Habits, Part II

everyday breakfast

[For Part I, click here.]

I’ve always found it interesting to see/hear what people eat in a typical day. I mean, I cannot be the only one who thought that the best part of MTV’s Cribs was seeing what was in the fridge, amIright?

So here’s a quick glimpse at what a typical few days of eating looks like for me. While I’m obviously not as interesting as a celebrity, you may come across one or two things that surprise you (coughcough, Domino’s pizza, coughcough).

I wrote down every.single.thing, and looking back at it, it appears I eat a heck of a lot of food. (Do any of you out there keep a food journal? …because I found it slightly terrifying.) Perhaps I do eat more than others, but it’s important to note that it is all in moderation and I work hard to stop when I’m satisfied, not bursting at the seams. I gauge this by mostly by the fact that I can still happily think and talk about food even once I’ve finished eating. I don’t mean to say that I still feel hungry, but looking at a recipe or a photo of food doesn’t gross me out—if it does, I know I’ve gone overboard. (Try it for yourself next time you’re eating. Can you not even stand the thought of food after finishing your meal? If so, consider stopping a few minutes before you get to that point in the future.) This is a particularly important strategy for me because the majority of my work day is spent dealing with food-related things. It would be a shame to not enjoy that!

A few final notes before we get to it:

  • You will see four days documented here—three weekdays, and one weekend day. I didn’t plan in advance for this. It was just a normal week.
  • I took photos three out of the four days. If you hover over the images, a caption should give a brief description of the food, with detailed info in the text below. Please forgive the bad lighting/poor quality of some of the shots! I snapped these really, really quickly and some were taken with my smudged-up iPhone camera.
  • Any cooking I did was either just for me, or for both Suraj and me. Still, I cook in large batches, usually making enough to serve a family of 3 to 4, so we always have leftovers.
  • Unless otherwise noted with a brand, everything logged is homemade—this includes nut butter, jam, yogurt, kombucha, broth, bread, desserts, etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, I keep my sanity in this regard by making things in big batches well ahead of time, usually on the weekends, and freezing a TON of staple items. I keep track of it all in a digital list (the Evernote app) so I always know what I have, wherever I am. This is particularly helpful in planning meals a day or two ahead (my typical strategy) and making sure nothing gets wasted. Even with a small freezer and limited living space (my jam resides in the linen closet…), it IS possible to set up a system like this.
  • Wherever I could link to the recipe I used, I have.
  • Milk is always organic and whole, as mentioned in my last post.
  • I enjoy a small amount of carbs at every meal (sorry, Paleo people) and have a deep love affair with sourdough. Probably don’t even need to mention that again at this point.
  • There’s quite a bit of repetition/re-using of the same items (in different ways) here. My breakfasts are pretty standard and with a full-time job, lunch is nearly always leftovers reconfigured in some new way. Heck, sometimes dinner is that too. I’m guessing that’s the case for most of us though. Due to a very long commute (1 to 1 1/2 hours each way), I work from home two days a week, so on those days, I can at least make myself a fried egg, for which I am especially grateful.
  • It’s not really represented here, but we do eat out once, sometimes twice, a week (Friday nights guaranteed). Our go-to places are sushi, Sichuan Chinese (authentic, not American Chinese), and a local Mexican place. For lunch out, we either go for Vietnamese pho (soup) or South Indian vegetarian (dosas!). We aren’t really chain-restaurant people, as you can tell. And you already know we like spice.
  • I/We eat late compared to most Americans. Breakfast is around 10 am, when I start to feel hungry, lunch is around 2 pm, and dinner is not until 9:30 pm or later on most nights. This is what works best for us, and why I usually have a snack or two late in the afternoon or early evening. Late dinners are common practice in Europe and India, and most of the world I would guess, just not in the U.S. (I realize that it also helps that we don’t have small kids.)
  • There are more desserts listed here than what we would normally have, as I was doing some volunteer recipe testing for the baking chapter of an Italian cookbook (tough life, I know). When I’m testing stuff, I usually just keep a slice or two for us, then take the rest to work. Instant portion control.
  • I added in what exercise I did each day, as I do think that affects appetite. If there wasn’t so much *#@#! snow outside, there’d be a lot more walking in there, as that’s one of my favorite activities. I workout on weekdays, but not usually on the weekends. As for the yoga, I am impressed with myself that I went twice this particular week, but that was more just a strategy to avoid Boston evening traffic than any real commitment. Going forward, I’ll probably just go one night a week (and grocery shop on the other, if you really want to know).

Okay, on to the food!


Monday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic (a good detoxifier to start out the morning), diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 1/2 small pieces sourdough rye toast (I bought this bread from the Amish months ago and keep it in the freezer at work), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one piece, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // small cup of raspberries and blueberries // black tea with milk and 1 drop of liquid stevia (I use this minimally) // small glass kombucha (about 1/2 cup)
Afternoon Workout (lunch hour): 1-hour barre class
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): lemon rice // sautéed zucchini rounds // sautéed kale and collard greens with onion // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // small glass kombucha
Snack: 1 piece fruit & nut chocolate (leftover from recipe testing)
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga class (very basic—just my speed)
Dinner: roasted chicken (bones saved for broth; leftover meat saved for soup) // roasted broccoli and cauliflower // warm farro salad with cashews, garlic olive oil, and goat cheese (farro is a whole grain; as covered in my last post, it came straight from the freezer; I had previously soaked it overnight, cooked it, then froze it flat in a gallon-size bag; I just chipped off a piece for dinner and warmed it up with the other ingredients) // sauerkraut // glass of Mirassou Cabernet
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk
Supplements: probiotic pill (I don’t take these normally but just want to finish the container leftover from my post-antibiotic regimen) // dash of bitters in my water (this is an age-old practice that helps with digestion after meals; I am working with the company in the link provided on a book, and I love their products)

Tuesday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic, diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 slice sesame sourdough (again, from the freezer), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one half, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // black tea // small glass kombucha
Afternoon Workout (gym @ lunch hour): 20 minutes stair-climber + 30 minute interval class (bodyweight exercises)
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): 3 small pieces Domino’s pizza (we had ordered this for the Oscars—it’s really the only takeout we get, and we have it just a few times a year, usually for parties, but I unashamedly love it. I probably should have had 2 slices, not 3, but I was starving from the gym) // 1 apple // celery sticks // Joseph’s-brand garlic hummus // small glass kombucha
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga
Snack: gelatin fruit snacks (loosely based off this recipe)
Dinner: lamb stew with potatoes and carrots (leftover from the weekend) // multigrain sourdough with Kerrygold butter // sauerkraut
Dessert: small slice of ricotta & sour cherry tart (leftover from recipe testing) // small glass of milk
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk // 1 cup coffee with milk and 2 drops liquid stevia
Supplements: probiotic // dash of bitters in my water

Wednesday

[This is my work-from-home day.]
Upon Waking:
warm water with lemon (another good detoxifier)
Breakfast: blueberry sourdough waffle (again, from the freezer) with Trader Joe’s flax-chia peanut butter and Tropical Traditions coconut butter // 1 egg fried in olive oil // 1/3 avocado // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar // small glass kombucha
Lunch: Asian-style chicken noodle soup (before the work day began, I put the leftover roasted chicken bones from Monday, some vegetables scraps, a few peppercorns, and water in a big pot on the stove, and let it simmer all morning. By afternoon, I was able to strain the fresh broth and use it for lunch [and dinner]. I spiked the lunch broth with a dash of soy sauce, a dash of fish sauce, and miso paste, then added the leftover roast chicken meat, thinly sliced onion/garlic/ginger, kale, and a packet of ramen noodles, discarding that flavor/sodium bomb packet thing. I garnished it with scallions and Thai basil, both of which were also leftover from previous meals. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes.) // small cup of yogurt with crushed nuts, dried cherries, and raw honey
Snack: small Starbucks coffee with h&h and sugar (Suraj picked this up for us) + 2 small pieces fruit & nut chocolate (so yeah…that recipe was a total winner…)
Evening Workout: 30 minute swim
Dinner: mussels in garlic-cilantro broth (same base broth mentioned above—there’s a million ways to dress it up!) // leftover sautéed zucchini and roasted cauliflower // multigrain sourdough
Dessert: 2 Lindt sea salt chocolate truffles (my all-time fav chocolate/weakness) + small glass of milk
Other: shot of beet kvass (fermented beet juice, another great, cleansing drink; I will post about it sometime)
Supplements: probiotic // fermented cod liver oil

Weekend (Saturday)

Upon Waking: warm water with lemon
Breakfast: savory Indian pancakes (also known as moong dal cheela—they’re made from soaked lentils and they’re awesome!) with Fage whole-milk Greek yogurt, garlic chutney, ghee, and store-bought Indian pickle // 1/3 avocado // fresh fruit salad // small glass kombucha // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar
Lunch: ribollita soup (I used cooked beans from the freezer, prepared as covered in my last post) // raw-milk cheddar // apple slices
Snacks: one small piece of biscotti (more recipe testing) + cappuccino // kefir smoothie (kefir + frozen banana + strawberries + coconut water)
Dinner: bayou dirty rice (I am trying to eat more liver because it’s so good for you, and this was a great recipe for hiding it in) // shrimp in a tomato-veggie sauce // champagne (a Saturday night staple!)
Dessert: one scoop Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with peanuts and “magic shell” chocolate sauce (just chocolate and coconut oil, melted down together—we keep a jar of it the fridge and pop it in the microwave for a minute to re-melt, then drizzle on ice cream and it hardens instantly)
Exercise: None, unless you count standing at the stove
Other: oolong tea


So that’s everything! I hope it’s been useful, and that you see that nobody’s perfect—and that that’s not the goal. Build on what you can do, and go from there. Maybe you start out following the 50/50 rule (eat your best half the time, let the other half slide), then go for 60/40 the next week. Remember that whatever you can do is a step in the right direction!

Eating Habits, Part I

Home

I grew up in an old farm house (that’s it up there), the fourth of five siblings. While most of the house’s farmland was sold off well before my parents ever moved in, my Dad, a carpenter by trade, built a small silo on part of the remaining land. The “playhouse,” as we called it, had two levels, separated by a small wooden staircase. The first floor housed our bikes, yard tools, a wheelbarrow, and a balance beam, if I remember correctly (between this, the two trapezes, and the set of high rings my Dad made for us, it’s really a shame none of us ever joined the circus…).

The second floor of the playhouse was mine and mine alone. Unlike our shared bedroom, this illustrious space (which had one single skylight for light and was probably 12 feet in diameter), was just for me. It was my sanctuary, and, in turn, where my imagination felt the most free.

In my house, I created bunk beds from benches in the yard; a “fireplace” from leftover bricks; and a little kitchen compiled from old dishes my mom would let me pick out from her friend’s antique shop. To “cook,” I’d pick berries (inedible ones, always much to my disappointment), and mash them up to make “pies.”

The playhouse isn’t there anymore, but I still feel like it is. (I still feel this way about my Dad, too. Both are so clear, and so loved, in my mind.)

I’ve been thinking of that beloved space a lot lately, because in a way, I think this little blog has begun to serve a similar purpose. This is a place where I come to play around. To use my mind. To talk about nourishment, and to be nourished. It is my flow. And I love that.

I also love the community that is beginning to grow here. I’ve heard from so many people who are interested in living more wholesomely, or just trying new things, and that is amazing to hear. We’re all after the same goal!

With these comments and emails have also come great questions, many of which, interestingly enough, have revolved around the day-to-day specifics of what, exactly, I eat. What milk do I drink? Why am I eating white rice? (answered here) Do I soak my grains/nuts/beans? Am I a vegetarian? The list goes on.

All of those questions helped inspire this post, which I’ve broken into two parts/posts. First, I’ll go food group by food group, telling you what I eat, what I look for, what I prefer, and so on. In my next post, I’ll share a food journal of exactly what a few days of eating looks like for me—yep, every single meal, snack, drink, dessert, etc. It will be a full tour of the Eat & Edit “playhouse.”

Before I get started though, let me be clear: How we eat is perhaps one of the most personal facets of our lives. We all have to do what’s right for us. What I’ve shared here is not meant to be all-or-nothing plan for others to follow—it’s just what I do personally (and it’s taken me many years to get here)! If you want to pick up one or two of these habits, that’s great! Change doesn’t have to happen overnight.

While I am not a nutritionist (though I’d love to be one someday) and I’m certainly not the fittest/leanest/most-disciplined person out there, I do a TON of food-related research every day (it’s my job after all) and I am keenly aware of what works best for me and makes me feel, well, happy and alive. I’ve been following this “real food” lifestyle for at least 10 years now, and can attest to this:

  • I very rarely, if ever, get sick and cannot even remember the last time I had to go to the doctor for a flu, cold, infection, etc. I take no medications.
  • My cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which were high when I was overweight as a teenager, are great. My BMI is healthy/normal.
  • I have a ton of energy; Suraj will verify that I pretty much never sit down.
  • I sleep well.
  • I’m told (thanks, Mom) that I have good skin and usually get pegged for being younger than I actually am. (I am 32.)
  • I have no allergies/sensitivities (which can result from other body imbalances and are not always “unavoidable”; here’s a link to a study, for instance, about allergies and the gut).

I think a healthy diet plays a role in many of these areas, and more. So let’s get started!
(Hover over the photos for captions.)


My Overall Philosophy
Eat food in its purest form—whole, unadulterated, real. Eat the foods your great-grandmother ate, or would understand. Stay away from packaged products, unless all the ingredients listed are familiar to you and there’s only a few. [Did you know a Nutri-Grain bar contains more than 40 ingredients?] If you can’t decipher the label, don’t buy it!

Eat in moderation and don’t restrict anything. I like to practice the 80/20 rule, focusing on eating my best 80 percent of the time, and being okay with it if 20 percent slides.

A big part of my approach to food has been inspired by the book Nourishing Traditions. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about sound nutrition.

Fruits & Vegetables 
Eat all the vegetables you can, as many and as much as possible. Fresh produce accounts for the bulk of our shopping budget. We eat vegetables with nearly every meal, and both Suraj and I love them all—okay, with the exception of eggplant. Neither of us can stand that one.

I buy organic for the Dirty Dozen, but don’t have the budget to do it for everything. Last summer we did a CSA too, which was great. Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you know I forage a bit in summer too—there are wild edibles everywhere! You can check with your local parks department to see if they have any walks you can sign up for. I’ve gone on both a general “foraging edibles” walk and one for just mushrooms.

In terms of preparation, we like both raw and cooked (usually, roasted) veggies, and I love fermenting them too—cabbage and carrot being my favorites (I’ll post about this someday soon). I save any veggie scraps—cores, peels, roots, etc.—in a gallon-size bag in my freezer, and when it’s full, I use them to make homemade broth.

Meat & Seafood
I have never been a vegetarian, though a lot of people seem to think I am. Before I moved in with Suraj and lived on my own, though, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go a week or so without eating meat (more so out of laziness than anything else). Now we eat meat or seafood at least once a day. Suraj grew up a vegetarian, but after trying fish, he never looked back. For religious reasons, however, he does not eat beef, so it’s not something I prepare at home.

We always buy our chicken, lamb, and pork organic (they honestly taste 100x better), and try to get it on the bone whenever possible. Bones are nutrient-dense and are essential to making deeply flavorful dishes—curries and stews especially. Once we’re done with the meat, I add the leftover bones to the broth bag (mentioned above), and simmer them all day long for stock.

For seafood, we look for sustainable choices and favor whole fish (again, with bones), as well as shrimp.

Dairy & Eggs
We drink whole, organic milk that is pasteurized but not “ultra-pasteurized,” which means it’s completely dead. While raw milk is available here in New Hampshire, we don’t typically get it. Pasteurized works for us. Whole milk is our preference because all the others are way too processed for my tastes (skim milk often has highly-processed “milk powder” added back into it after processing to make it drinkable). Prior to World War II, Americans didn’t even know what skim or low-fat milk was, so I’m sticking with tradition.

Sidenote: There was a time when I thought almond milk was great, but after looking more closely at the ingredient label, I dropped it completely. Most plant-based milks contain carrageenan, an additive that’s being put in all sorts of foods, and is raising a lot of health concerns (Prevention Magazine). So unless I make almond milk at home—which is super easy—I just stick with dairy milk.

Aside from drinking it plain, I use whole organic milk to make yogurt and kefir, a fermented dairy drink which I’ll post about very soon. If I buy yogurt, my choice is always plain Fage (full fat). It’s ridiculously creamy.

When it comes to cheese, I favor raw-milk, well-aged varieties, my favorite being cheddar. As for eggs, see my post about them here.

Beans & Lentils
We are bean lovers through and through, which is a good thing because so many Indian dishes feature them. That said, we don’t buy canned beans (which are often full of sodium and preservatives) and instead favor dried. I soak dried beans—including chickpeas, white beans, black beans, whole lentils, etc.—overnight in water, stirring in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. These helps break down the beans and makes them easier to digest.

The next day, I drain and rinse, then cook the beans in fresh water. Soaked beans cook up pretty fast (in my pressure cooker they only take about 10 minutes; on the stove about 30 minutes) and they’re also hugely economical. I keep however much I need for the week in the fridge, and transfer the rest to a gallon-size freezer bag. I freeze the bags flat on a baking sheet, then once frozen, stack up alongside whatever other staples I have in there (broth and grains, usually). When I want to use the beans in a meal, I just chip off a portion and toss them in to the dish (they defrost in minutes).

Grains & Nuts
I love and cook with all sorts of whole grains. My favorites are probably farro and quinoa, because they go well in anything. As for nuts, I don’t discriminate. They’re all wonderful.

I prepare grains and nuts in the same way I prepare beans (see above)—soaking them overnight in an acidic solution to help break down the phytic acid they contain (as I talked about in my Lemon Rice post). For grains, I then rinse and cook, often freezing in the same manner as with beans. Sometimes I sprout my grains before cooking, but that’s a step/method for another day.

After soaking nuts, I drain then dehydrate for 24 hours, until they’re nice and crispy. I use a dehydrator, but if your oven goes down to 150 degrees or less, you could try it in there too. Nuts prepared in this manner are called “activated nuts” and they are SO delicious. They’re also much easier for your body to digest, and you get more nutrition out of them. I eat them plain or toasted with a little maple syrup and butter. I also grind them into nut butter with some coconut oil.

Bread & Baked Goods
Good bread is essential to me. Nine times out of ten, it’s homemade and it’s sourdough. For Indian meals, I make whole-wheat chapati or paratha. Both we keep in the freezer at all times. Once in a while I’m fine with eating a regular, yeasted bread or roll. It’s all about moderation.

I love to bake other things too, and if the occasion calls for it, will use white flour. Most times though, I favor sprouted spelt flour, as in these cookies.

Oils & Fats
That’s all covered for you here!

Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are like magic to me. They keep my stomach happy, my food well digested, and my gut and body healthy. If you are not already eating fermented foods, I really encourage you to add them into your diet. They are a traditional food staple that only seem to have been forgotten about in the last century or so (directly the same time that our population’s health started going downhill…).

I try to eat something fermented with every meal. My favorites are homemade sauerkraut (this recipe is my all-time favorite; I always add it to my salads), kefir, yogurt, sourdough, kombucha, and beet kvass.

Sweeteners & Desserts
When baking, I like to use coconut sugar. For non-cooking applications, it’s usually raw, local honey or maple syrup. For tea, I’ll use a drop of pure stevia extract (in liquid form, which is much more natural than powdered) when I’m at work; at home, we just use a small spoonful of white sugar. 80/20 rule! 

As far as desserts, I fully admit to having a sweet tooth (directly inherited from my dad). A very small scoop of homemade (or Haagen-Dazs) ice cream or a piece of dark Lindt chocolate after dinner is our usual.

Why Haagen-Dazs? Check out the ingredient label—only real ingredients! Here’s their vanilla ice cream label: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract. (In this case, I’m fine letting the skim milk slide.) No other ice cream on the market keeps it as plain and simple as they do.

Beverages
I drink water throughout the day, and with meals. Other daily drinks include tea, milk, plain seltzer, and kombucha. I brew kombucha myself, and was able to quit soda nearly completely after starting that (I will still occasionally have a small glass of Coke with pizza, but that’s only every few months).

I like to have a glass of red wine (Cabernet) in the evenings, or a VERY watered down Scotch and seltzer. (I got Suraj to like salad, he got me to like Scotch.)

Supplements
I’m not really a vitamin and supplements kind of girl, but I do take a probiotic pill on occasion (such as after recently having to go on antibiotics after being bit by Lyme-positive tick—joys of New England living!), and fermented cod liver oil when I remember it (I like Green Pastures brand, in cinnamon liquid flavor). Everything else I think our bodies can get from food.

Foods I Strongly Dislike (that may or may not surprise you): Shredded or crumbled cheese—the convenience factor here means preservatives and funky junk are added to keep it fresh; you’re better off just grating that mozz yourself // Granola—I don’t really consider this a health food, since it’s super high in calories and filled with sugar, and I find unsoaked/raw oats very hard to digest // Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—I know it stinks to hear this, but if your bread, pb, and jelly are all store-bought, this is basically a dessert (here’s a visual; scroll to the bottom) // Microwave popcorn—it takes 2 minutes to make your own! and you can put REAL butter or ghee on it! // Flavored yogurt and frozen yogurt (Ron Swanson, you are my hero) // Boxed cereal—even the “healthy” stuff (again, just read the label) // Okay, I’ll stop here…

Exercise & Fitness
I try to work out several times a week, whether that is outside walking/running/biking, at the gym, or at the pool in our apartment complex. I work out because it settles me and helps me focus my energies, and because it just makes me feel good (and hungry!). That said, I’m not a fitness junkie and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type to run miles everyday or compete in any type of competition. While I’d love tighter abs (and leaner legs, while we’re at it…), I’m happy with just flushed cheeks and calm psyche too.

Whew, okay! Anybody still awake out there?! Until next week!

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

PB Choc Bars

The power of suggestion.

I saw a post on Facebook about a week ago with this recipe, just before I was about to go to bed. Since I knew I’d never remember it the next day, I took a screenshot of the recipe with my phone.

A couple days later, in the midst of the “Juno” blizzard here on the East Coast (read: with plenty of time on my hands), I rediscovered the recipe while scrolling through my photos and immediately went to the kitchen to make them.

I didn’t have oats like the recipe wanted me to (and there was no chance of leaving the house to get them), but I did have some puffed rice cereal, so I made a couple of swaps. The end result was fantastic. Like a healthy Kit Kat bar. The perfect treat for that 3 pm slump, or the kids’ lunch box. Or your lunch box. Or a blizzard.

PB Choc Bars Close-Up


No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
Adapted from the blog I Hear Exercise Will Kill You. For the cereal, try to choose something with the fewest ingredients as possible. I used a combination of Erewhon brand Crispy Brown Rice cereal (ingredients: organic brown rice, organic brown rice syrup, sea salt) and Enjoy Life brand Crispy Flax cereal (ingredients: whole sorghum flour, ground flax seed, honey, raisin juice concentrate, salt). You can also substitute oats, but the bars won’t have the same crunch factor. And if you don’t like coconut, I personally don’t think you can taste it here, but feel free to substitute more puffed rice, or some dried fruit, or even almond meal. Makes 20 to 25 small squares. 

1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 1/4 cups crisped rice cereal
1/3 cup crushed peanuts or other nuts (optional)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sea salt, for sprinkling on top (optional)

Grease a square (8 x 8 in) pan or line with parchment paper. I like to grease the pan with a little coconut oil, then lay a piece of all-natural parchment on top of that (the oil helps it stay down), with the paper overhanging on two sides. Then, once it’s firm, I use the paper sides as “handles” to gently pull the whole square out of the pan.

Melt peanut butter, honey, and coconut oil over medium-low heat. Once melted, remove from heat and add cereal, peanuts or nuts (if using), shredded coconut, chocolate chips, and vanilla. Stir until chocolate is entirely melted. Pour into an 8×8 pan and sprinkle a little sea salt over the top.

Place in the fridge and chill at least 2 to 3 hours, until completely set. Cut into squares and enjoy. Store in the fridge.

Sprouted Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

Cookies on Tray

In high school and college, I had a pretty rough relationship with my weight. [This circles back to cookies, I promise; just keep reading.] This is something that those who knew me back then might remember well, but something that those who know me now might not even be aware of (…surprise). I don’t talk about it a lot. Or ever, really. I’m not sure why. I guess no one really enjoys bringing up past embarrassments, or times when they were not their best. But in this little corner of the internet at least, I’m wondering if it’s worthwhile to acknowledge, just so people understand that I’ve been on all sides of the health spectrum. I know what’s it’s like to struggle with weight, but I also know how it feels to come out on the other side (where I plan to stay, permanently). I’m certainly not here to preach, but I would like to share with you what I know, in the hopes that we can all get to where we want to be.

So here are the basic facts of my story: I was overweight for most of my adolescent years. At 14, my doctor recommended the Weight Watchers program to me. I signed up (well technically, my mom signed me up, ha), followed the program, learned a ton, and lost about 50 pounds.

I kept the weight off for about a year, only to have it slowly creep back on as I entered my final year of high school and then college. Obviously, neither of these times are an especially great time to be overweight (I still thank and appreciate everyone who was kind to me back then).

By the summer after my freshman year of college, I had had enough. I wanted to be healthy again—and happy too. Using the basics I had learned before, I began making simple changes on my own: eating less and exercising more. I didn’t cut out anything entirely (I was stuck eating dining hall food, after all), I just became more conscious of how I was fueling, and treating, my body. Over the course of the next six months, I lost more than 60 pounds and finally reached my goal weight. For the first time, I felt like the real me—both on the inside and the outside. It was the most freeing experience of my life.

That was 13 (!!) years ago now. In that time, my interest in health and nutrition has gone from a prescription, to a personal interest, to a career, to a lifelong devotion (and now to a blog!).

People still ask me what “the secret” to good health is, and I always answer with the most honest—albeit the most boring—response: moderation and real food

To me, that’s really it. The second you start cutting out entire food groups, or eating more things out of a package than out of a garden, things go down hill. You feel unfulfilled, both physically and mentally, and a dangerous cycle begins.

This is why I do not follow any “diet,” per say, and but instead choose to simply celebrate foods that are nourishing, wholesome, and real.

This is why I value balance, not perfection, above all else.

This is why, every once in a while, I treat myself to a cookie.


Sprouted Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt
Sprouted spelt flour is made from spelt grains (an ancient type of wheat) that have been sprouted and then ground into flour. Much like the process of fermenting (see my sourdough post), sprouting helps unleash hidden nutrients in the flour, and makes it easier for us to digest. Flour made from sprouted grains is richer in vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium, with fewer calories and carbohydrates. More importantly, it makes these cookies superbly delicious, as spelt flour is mildly sweet and nutty in nature, and therefore great in baked goods. The cookies are soft and chewy on the inside, with delicately crisp edges. Just be sure not to overbake them—10 to 12 minutes is key for keeping them soft.

2 cups sprouted spelt flour (I like One Degree brand; I find it at Whole Foods)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled (you can sub coconut oil for half the butter if you like)
3/4 cup light brown sugar or coconut sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together spelt flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a stand mixer or with beaters, beat the melted butter and brown sugar (or coconut sugar) on medium speed until it combines into a caramel colored syrup, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the whole egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract until combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Using a small scoop (I use a 1-inch cookie scoop), portion out 12 to 18 cookie dough balls. Place however many as you’d like to bake on your baking sheet. I like to just bake a few at a time, and freeze the rest for another day (instant portion control). The frozen ones don’t even need to be thawed; just bake an extra minute or two.

Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt on top of each cookie; I use Morton brand, or Maldon if I’m feeling really fancy—just a few flakes will do. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are just slightly golden but the centers are still soft and puffy.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cookies on Plate