Eating Habits, Part I

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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!

Roasted Cabbage

Roasted Cabbage Close-up

When I posted a shot of this roasted cabbage on Instagram a few weeks back, it quickly became one of my most liked photos.

Why? I would guess that it’s because people gravitate toward things that are both simple and beautiful—in life, in others, and especially in food. I love that. I get that.

We started roasting cabbage like this last summer, back when our CSA haul featured cabbage almost weekly. Months later, we’re still eating it this way, usually as part of a quick weeknight meal along with some sausage and white beans in olive oil (recipe coming soon). Leftovers always go into my lunches along with some feta or goat cheese.

Roasting vegetables is one of my favorite cooking methods. The process is simple yet it results in such full flavors and textures that you really can’t help but love the end result. I understand people not liking steamed vegetables. But roasted ones? Come on. They’re dreamy.

In the case of cabbage, roasting the rounds whole creates an end result so tender that you can even eat the core. The inner ribbons turn silky soft, while the very outer edges char slightly and taste similar to a kale chip, only a million times better. If you never thought cabbage could be addicting, try this and get back to me.

Roasted Cabbage Before Roasted Cabbage After


Roasted Cabbage
Use the biggest, sharpest knife you have for cutting the cabbage and be very careful, as the whole thing can take a little work to cut through. The garlic is optional. You can also sprinkle any dried herbs you like on top, such as oregano, thyme, or whatever goes best with the rest of your meal. I just kept mine simple here.

One whole cabbage, red or green
Olive oil, for brushing
Salt and pepper
Garlic cloves, whole (unpeeled or peeled—unpeeled is probably better to avoid burning)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the cabbage upright on a cutting board, core/stem side on the bottom. Slice straight down into one-inch thick rounds, or as close to that as you can get. It doesn’t need to perfect.

Place rounds on a baking sheet. Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt (I use kosher) and pepper. I find cabbage needs quite a bit of salt, so don’t be shy. Place a few garlic cloves on the sheet along with the cabbage, brushing with a little olive oil as well.

Roast for about 30 minutes, until the tip of a knife slips easily through the core. Smash the roasted garlic cloves into the cabbage and serve.

Lemon Rice

Lemon Rice 2

A few weeks ago, one of my closest friends came over for an Indian cooking lesson. We made two things: coconut chutney and this lemon rice. There were very few leftovers.

Lemon rice is a simple, home-style, spiced rice dish. It isn’t often found on Indian restaurant menus, but it is a very typical offering at Hindu temples, where food is offered (for free) following most ceremonies. Because it contains no onion or garlic, which are not permitted inside temples, and can easily be made on a large scale (they serve it from enormous steel bowls), it’s a common feature there.

I was hooked the first time I tried it—slightly citrusy, with bursts of flavor and spice from the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and peanuts. It’s a dish that goes well with just about any meal. We sometimes have it as a snack too, alongside strong, Indian-style tea.

White basmati is the preferred rice for this dish, as it is for most Indian meals. It has a wonderfully aromatic flavor, takes 10 minutes to cook, is light on the stomach, and is perfectly suited to both Indian and non-Indian meals alike. While I do like brown rice once in awhile, I do not eat it on a regular basis. For one, it contains higher levels of arsenic than white rice (Consumer Reports), and it is also high in phytic acid.

What is phytic acid? It’s an anti-nutrient found in the outer bran of brown rice that prevents us from absorbing many of the nutrients found within (white rice has its outer bran removed so while it is slightly more refined, it’s easier to digest). Unless brown rice is soaked or sprouted before cooking, which breaks down that pesky phytic acid barrier, your body can’t get much out of it. Kind of like eating a locked treasure chest full of healthy food, instead of opening it and eating the food itself. So if you’re not going to soak or sprout your brown rice, just go for white and don’t worry about it.


Lemon Rice
If you’ve never had Indian mustard seeds before, I really encourage you to buy a pack and give them a try—they are tiny and black and pop like popcorn when you put them in hot oil. They have a complex, addicting flavor; not so much mustardy as deeply nutty and a little pungent (they are not hot/spicy). Fresh curry leaves can be found at any Indian grocery store. Finally, note that the vibrant color of this dish comes more from the turmeric powder used than the lemon juice.

2 to 4 tablespoons oil or ghee (I use a combination of almond oil and ghee)
1/4 cup raw peanuts or cashews
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
5 to 6 fresh curry leaves
1 to 2 Indian green chilies, finely chopped (skip if you are spice-adverse)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 to 3 cups cooked basmati rice (leftover, cold rice is best)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Fresh cilantro, for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon of your oil/ghee in a large pan with lid. Once hot, add nuts, lower heat and fry until lightly golden. Remove from oil and set aside.

Add remaining oil and heat until very hot (this is essential for getting the mustard seeds to pop—do not use regular butter or an oil like olive oil for this, as it will burn before it gets hot enough). Add the mustard seeds and immediately cover with the lid. The seeds should immediately start popping and spluttering wildly, just like popcorn. Let them do their thing for a minute or so, until the popping dies down, then lower heat to medium. You don’t want it as hot when you add the next ingredients, or they will burn.

Add the cumin seeds, curry leaves, and green chili and fry for another minute. The cumin seeds and curry leaves will turn a deeper brown—again, just be careful not to let them burn. Add the turmeric powder and allow it to dissolve into the oil.

Add cooked rice and stir to combine. The rice will absorb the tumeric-tinged oil and begin turning a lovely shade of yellow. You can add a pinch more turmeric if you don’t think yours is yellow enough, though give it a few minutes first, as it sometimes take a little time for the full color to come out. If your rice begins sticking to the bottom of the pot, add a bit more oil (or a little water) and lower the heat.

Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the rice is hot and the flavors are well absorbed. Add lemon juice, mixing well, then sugar and salt to taste.

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve warm.


This masala dabba, or spice box, contains our most-utilized Indian spices. Turmeric is front and center, followed by (clockwise): red chili powder, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal (a split lentil used in seasonings), cumin powder, and coriander powder. It comes with a glass cover and lid and makes Indian cooking a breeze.

This masala dabba, or spice box, contains our most-utilized Indian spices. Turmeric is front and center, followed by (clockwise, from top left): red chili powder, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal (a split lentil used in seasonings), cumin powder, and coriander powder. The dabba comes with a glass cover and lid and makes Indian cooking a breeze as you can access your spices in one go. They’re available online, and at many Indian grocers.

Ghee & Healthy Fats

Ghee 1

I wanted to share with you today what fats and oils I use in my kitchen on a daily basis. This seems to be a confusing area for a lot of people (it definitely was for me when I first started cooking).

As with most else, I favor the most traditional and pure choices I can find. For me, these are coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, and butter/ghee. From their names alone, you know their source, which already says something, doesn’t it?

Why no canola oil, no vegetable oil, no sunflower/safflower oil? Because these are highly refined oils that are nowhere near healthy choices. In brief, refined oils are made by highly intensive mechanical and chemical processes that extract the oil from the seeds. The oil is then heated until it goes rancid, then oxidized/deodorized to remove any off-scents. The oxidation factor makes these oils more likely to break down into those nasty things known as free radicals, which wreak havoc on our bodies and health. I’ll pass.

Here’s a little more about the oils I do love and why/where I use them. [There are a few others I use less frequently, such as red palm oil, pastured lard, bacon grease, and schmaltz, but the following five are my daily staples.]

Coconut oil. Great for higher heat cooking (like shallow-frying) and roasting vegetables. The oil itself has antifungal and antimicrobial properties; is uniquely high in medium chain trigylcerides (MCTs), which contribute to brain health; and has been used by traditional, tropical cultures for centuries. It has a slight coconut flavor, so I often use half coconut oil and half butter or ghee when cooking. I also like to use it in baking (like in these cookies). Brand-wise, I either order through the online company Tropical Traditions, or just go with Whole Foods’ 365 brand.

Almond oil. This oil has a very neutral flavor and is great for high-heat cooking, which is what a lot of Indian dishes require (its smoke point, or the highest heat it can sustain without burning, is 420 degrees F). It’s also high in healthy monounsaturated fats. I think this is one of those oils that will only grow in popularity as more people learn about it. [Interestingly, Indians also use it as an all-natural hair and skin moisturizer.] We buy it from the Indian grocery store for about $10/bottle, so it’s similar in price to olive oil.

Olive oil. This is one that will always be one of my favorites. We all know good olive oil is for us; like almond oil, it’s high in monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. I like to use it for lighter applications that require no or little heating, such as in salad dressings, as a dip for bread, or for light sauteing. I always look for extra-virgin, cold-pressed when I can find it. For the past year or so, we’ve been ordering direct from a family-run farm in California (Chaffin Family Orchards). Their olive oil is 100% cold pressed and extra virgin, and it’s the best olive oil I’ve ever had. We actually bought 10 gallons this year to split with family and friends. Our gallons arrive in March, so in the meantime, we use the brand pictured below, which has been reviewed as one of the best-tasting, most affordable store-bought choices (Real Simple magazine).

Butter. I’ve always been on Team Butter (heck, one my favorite books to edit was called Back to Butter—I highly recommend it). Butter, grassfed especially, is rich in vitamins A, E, and K2. It is a healthy saturated fat in moderation. I use it mostly for making eggs and for toast, of course. I like Kerrygold brand, which is grassfed and rich in both flavor and color (and those aforementioned vitamins). I also like Trader Joe’s organic butter, which is what I use in the recipe for ghee below.

Ghee. Ghee is butter that has been cooked down to remove all of its milk solids, lactose, and proteins. This process raises the overall smoke point, meaning that you can cook with ghee at a higher temperature than you can with butter, without it burning. Ghee is also easier to digest—many people with dairy allergies can even tolerate it—and it is more concentrated in nutrients than regular butter.

Ghee is a traditional cooking fat; it’s a staple of Indian cooking. We use it there, as well as for pan-frying fish and meat, and sauteing and roasting vegetables. We also eat it on its own, alongside Indian flatbreads like paratha. There’s really no place it doesn’t belong. The taste is phenomenal. Like concentrated butter with a hint of nuttiness.

I make ghee at home rather than buying it from the store because 1) it tastes even better, and 2) it’s more affordable, at about 1/3 the price of store-bought. You can use it just as you would any other oil or cooking fat. One pound of butter makes one large jar, which can be stored at room temperature for weeks or even months, though ours never really lasts that long…

Fats and Oils


Ghee
I’ve used all sorts of butter to make ghee, and both unsalted and salted varieties, but my very favorite is Trader Joe’s brand organic salted butter. It makes the most beautiful ghee (pictured above) and tastes so.damn.good. Salted butter, for me at least, seems to froth up a bit less when cooking down and I think it brings out the flavor of the ghee more. Either salted or unsalted, in any brand, will work though.

1 lb (4 sticks) butter, preferably organic and/or grassfed

Place butter in a saucepan over low to medium heat. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, reducing the heat as needed. During this time, the butter will be simmering and bubbling gently, and may pop occasionally. It will foam up at first as well, which you can scrap off and discard, or just leave it until it cooks off.

You can tell the ghee is done in a few different ways—it will begin to smell wonderfully nutty; it will turn golden in color, with perhaps a few brown bits at the bottom; and the burbling will have quieted down to just an occasional pop/sizzle here and there. Keep in mind that you don’t want browned butter, however, so don’t let it go too far.

Let cool then strain into a jar through a very fine-mesh strainer or a larger strainer lined with a piece of cheese cloth. You don’t want any foam or other bits to get through or they will burn when you go to heat the ghee for cooking (these bits lower its smoke point), so strain carefully.

The ghee will solidify as it cools. Store in the fridge or cupboard.

Ghee 2

Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

Eggs and Almond Butter Toast

If you follow me on Instagram, you might notice that eggs are sort of my where’s waldo food. They appear in countless photos. I love them. A lot.

I eat one hardboiled egg as part of almost every weekday breakfast, and usually pack one to go with lunch as well, whether that’s in a big salad or alongside some cooked grains and roasted veggies. If I’m working from home, I’ll throw a fried egg on top of my rice bowl. On the weekends, we brunch on Indian-style omelets spiked with cilantro, green chilies, tomato, and red onion.

We buy our eggs from a local farmer couple named Wes & Lou. They keep two coolers full of eggs outside their house, along with whatever else they have in season, and you pay based on the honor system. Usually there’s a chicken or two clucking around you while you scrounge up your cash (free range is an understatement here).

Wes and Lou’s eggs are phenomenal. The yolks are always a rich yellow-orange hue and they taste both fresh and natural, as eggs should. Some are huge and have a double-yolk, others are small and smudged. No two are alike. That’s the beauty of it.

We buy our eggs locally for a few reasons:

  1. We think they taste better than grocery store eggs—even the “organic” ones (which can sometimes have a “fishy” taste due to the amount of omega-3s they pump into the chickens and sing about on the label). They cost less than those store-bought organic eggs, too. We pay $2.50/dozen for medium-ish eggs and $3.50/dozen for large-to-enormous ones.
  2. The hens are pasture-raised, meaning they are treated kindly, eat bugs and grass, and roam freely. All of these conditions directly factor back into reason #1.
  3. Pastured eggs are much more nutritious than typical supermarket eggs, with 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D, 1/3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene (Mother Earth News).
  4. We like to support local agriculture.

When I first started buying and hard-boiling farm-fresh eggs, I would curse at myself every.single.time I went to peel them (the fresher an egg is, the harder it can be to peel). I’d lose half the white to the shell and have tiny shell pieces everywhere.

Then I read an article on Serious Eats about an easy way to boil eggs so that they peel without a problem. Instead of putting the eggs and water in a pot and bringing it all to a boil, you first boil the water and then add the eggs. Sounds ridiculously simple, I realize, but it has been completely revolutionary for me. I’ve probably boiled at least 100 eggs like this by now, and not a single one has stuck to the shell. The yolks also stay beautifully colored, and perfectly cooked (I like them tender, not chalky).

If you know someone who has chickens, or can find a local source, I don’t think you’ll regret picking up a dozen. Boil a couple off, toss them in the fridge, and hit ’em up all week long. I’ve yet to find a meal they don’t go with.

Dozen Eggs


Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

However many eggs as you like
Salt & pepper

Bring water to a boil in a large pot.

Take eggs straight from the fridge and carefully lower them into the pot with a spoon, taking care not to break them.

Lower heat to a low boil (this is a 6/10 on my burner) and set your timer for 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed while the eggs cook—it should be at constant simmer/low boil, meaning bubbles are constantly rising to the surface, but not so aggressively that they’re knocking the eggs around.

After 10 minutes, remove eggs and place in a bowl of ice water. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes; if you want to eat them warm, just chill for 2 to 3 minutes instead.

Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Sprinkle with good salt (I use Himalyan pink) and freshly ground pepper.

Eggs alongside an Indian breakfast of okra and paratha (whole-wheat flatbread).

Eggs alongside an Indian breakfast of okra and paratha (whole-wheat flatbread).

Simple Braised Carrots

Carrots Edited

I made these carrots on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, to have on hand for meals throughout the week. I do this a lot (i.e., cook tons of stuff on Sunday for the week), mostly because I’m a fanatic about packing healthy lunches for myself—I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the only time I go out for lunch during the week is if it’s for a business meeting. I much prefer squeezing a workout into my lunch hour instead and then having something healthy at my desk once I’m back. Refreshing exercise + wholesome food > greasy takeout + food coma.

So back to these carrots. I had picked up a huge bunch because they were on sale (and organic, so a total steal) and decided to braise them instead of roasting because my oven was already full. Braising may sound fancy, but it’s really not. It’s basically just browning the food, then cooking it in a little liquid until done. You can do it with meat, vegetables, whatever.

In this case, the end result is deeply flavored, naturally sweet, and perfectly cooked carrots that taste just as good as they look. I hope you give them a try—whether it’s Sunday afternoon or any other day of the week.


Simple Braised Carrots
If you own a cast iron pan, I really recommend using it here (and if you don’t have one, grab one the next time you’re at a garage sale or thrift store—they’re one of the best things you could find there). They’re also a much healthier option than non-stick cookware.  

5 to 6 large carrots, washed (no need to peel, especially if using organic)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or whatever herb you like (oregano, coriander, etc.)
One spoonful honey
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth, or water

Slice your carrots in half and put the smaller ends aside. Slice the larger (stem) ends in half lengthwise.

Add the oil to your cast-iron pan or a large saucepan and heat until very hot but not smoking. Place the carrots in the pan, arranging those you sliced in half flat side down. You want as much of the carrot’s surface to touch the hot pan as you can, so you get a nice sear (searing = flavor).

Let the carrots sizzle and brown for at least 5 minutes, checking periodically and turning as needed. (The good thing about using cast iron is that when the food is properly seared, it releases naturally from the pan, so don’t move the carrots unless they’re ready to go.) Flip to brown both sides.

Once browned, sprinkle the carrots generously with salt and pepper and whatever herb you’re using. Drizzle the honey over the top of the carrots. Slowly add your liquid (I really prefer homemade chicken broth here, but it’s totally up to you); It will sizzle and deglaze the pan a bit. The liquid should come just about halfway up the sides of the carrots. Turn the heat down to a simmer and partially cover.

Cook the carrots for 20 to 25 minutes, turning as needed and adding a bit more liquid if it becomes too dry (though it’s okay if most of it evaporates). Test for doneness with the tip of a knife—it should pass through the thickest part of the carrot without much resistance when done.

Serve warm, with a little balsamic vinegar on top if you like. Pack leftovers for healthy lunches!

Typical work lunch (please forgive the florescent lighting).

Typical work lunch (please forgive the florescent lighting). Carrots, green beans, basmati rice, hard-boiled egg, avocado, peanuts, and a dash of tamari (soy sauce).

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

Slow-Cooked Garlic Green Beans

Bowl of Green Beans

After my last lengthy post, I wanted to switch gears and share a simpler dish that has become an absolute staple of ours these last few months. It’s a recipe based off of one I first read about on one of my favorite blogs, Food Loves Writing (and I don’t just say that because Shanna and Tim are former authors of mine—shoutout to einkorn!—and truly great people), but because their blog is full of inspiring stories, recipes, and photos alike. Case in point: Tim’s Italian-Style Green Beans, which call not for blanching or pre-cooking the beans, as almost all green bean recipes do, but rather slow-cooking them on the stove from start to finish, in a luxurious bath of olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes.

Intrigued, I gave it a try (skipping the tomatoes because I had none) and upping the garlic because we’re allium fiends around here. And… they were the best damn green beans I ever had. I don’t know why I had always assumed cooking green beans for too long would make them tasteless (school cafeteria flashbacks, maybe?), but in this recipe at least, the opposite is true.

I’ve made them for both Thanksgiving and Christmas (I think they might be replacing all the holiday green bean recipes that came before them), and nearly every week here at home. Suraj and I could finish the entire batch in one sitting.

In terms of choosing what green beans to use, I love the frozen haricots verts (thin green beans) from Whole Foods. They’re organic (which is important to me in this case because conventional green beans are high in pesticides); they’re washed, trimmed, and ready to use; and they’re even cheaper than fresh, at around $2.30 for a 1-lb bag, but just as nutritious. Can’t beat that. You don’t even need to thaw them. Just toss ’em straight from the bag into the warm, garlicky love bath that awaits them.

Bag of Green Beans

Oil, Garlic, Red Pepper Flakes


Slow Cooked Garlic Green Beans

1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
5 to 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1-lb package trimmed green beans, fresh or frozen (unthawed)
Kosher salt

You’ll want to choose a large pot with a lid for this. I use my le Creuset dutch oven (pictured above), as I do for nearly everything. It is indispensable, and particularly great when stuck using an electric range, as the weight of the pan keeps the heat/burner at a more steady level.

Cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/4 inch with olive oil and turn the heat to medium-low. Let the oil warm up for a minute or so, but don’t let it get too hot. You don’t want the garlic to brown or burn when it’s added, just sizzle lightly.

Add the garlic and however big a pinch of red pepper flakes as you like. Let everything swim around in there for a minute or so, adjusting the heat as needed. Again, you don’t want it to brown at all, but rather just bathe in the oil and perfume it with garlic.

Add your beans. I don’t even thaw the frozen ones (if they’re a little icy on the outside, just pat them dry first). Stir to coat and distribute the garlic and oil.

Turn up the heat to medium (this is a 5/10 on my dial), cover, and allow the beans to cook for at least 20 to 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. This long, slow cooking process helps infuse the beans with the garlicky oil. If your beans are larger, this will take longer—upwards of 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, thick-style green beans. They’ll eventually slacken and lose a bit of their bright green hue, but I assure you their flavor will more than make up for it. Some will even get some browned edges; these are the ones you’ll want to hide away for yourself only.

Toward the end of your cooking, add kosher salt to taste. Green beans need quite a bit of salt, so don’t be shy. I add a good teaspoon at least.

Serve with rice, roast chicken, or whatever you like. I particularly love these Asian-style, with soaked* brown rice, a few peanuts, a dash of tamari (soy sauce), and a fried egg. Minus the egg, that’s what going on in the top photo.

[*I always soak my brown rice overnight, before cooking, to help break it down and make it easier to digest. To do so: cover the uncooked grains with filtered water and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Soak overnight, then rinse, drain, and cook as normal. If you’re using white rice, you can skip this completely—it has no outer bran, so nothing needs to be broken down.]

Finished Green Beans

Indian Breakfast: Dosa & Iddly (Also, Hi)

dosa batter

“To begin, begin.” -William Wadsworth

And so that’s what I’ll do.

This blog has been a thought of mine for years now. Cooking and sharing are two of the things I treasure most in life, so a blog would seem a natural fit for me, no?

Well, yes and no. While food is my life (more about me here), I’ve struggled with the idea of spending more time in front of the computer, since I already do that for 8+ hours a day. I’ve also convinced myself time and time again that “I have nothing new to add” and that “there are so many blogs out there already.”

Those close to me have all responded to those questions pretty much exactly the same way, however: “Yes, you do!” and “So what?!”

And so here I am. Because I’ve realized they’re right; I do have something to add. [In fact, we all do.] And I’d love to share it.

The food I make is many things, but above all it is real, it is honest, and it is thoughtful… qualities I value in what I eat, but also in who I am, and who I work to be (imperfections included and accepted).

And that just might be worth sharing, yes? I really hope so.


So let’s get to it! I’ve decided to start first with what is perhaps my favorite food on Earth: dosa/iddly. It’s a food that showcases many of the things I love—namely, breakfast, Indian food, and fermentation—and its flavor is like nothing else, so I’d say it’s an obvious first choice. Every time we go to India, it is the first thing I request. I don’t think I will ever tire of it.

Dosa and iddly are two versions of the same product: a batter of ground and fermented rice and lentils. For dosa, the batter is used to make crepes, whereas for iddly, the batter is steamed into (savory) cakes. Dosa can be filled with a spicy filling (usually potatoes), and iddly is typically served with sambar and chutney. It’s a breakfast that has been a staple of Indian cuisine for centuries, and it makes sense why—it’s healthy, it’s fermented (read: easy on your stomach and good for digestion/your gut), and it is very inexpensive to make. One batch will give you at least three days of breakfasts.

While this recipe is lengthy (I swear not all the recipes to come will be nearly as long! I just really want you get it right!), the process is pretty simple: soak your ingredients, grind them in a blender, let them sit out and ferment (where they’ll get all bubbly and tangy and wonderful), and either cook them like crepes (dosa) or steam them into cakes (iddly).

Dosa & Iddly
Fermented Lentil-Rice Crepes and Cakes

dosa

3 cups iddly rice
3/4 cup whole urad dal
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional–see Notes)
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Place the iddly rice in one bowl, and the urad dal + fenugreek seeds in another. Rinse each once, then cover both with filtered water—the water should come up at least an inch or two over the grains. Allow to soak—on the counter, uncovered—for at least 4 hours. I typically start soaking around 11 am, so that I can blend together around 3 pm, then ferment overnight.

Once soaked, you’ll need to grind each mixture separately. Start with the dal + fenugreek, adding enough of the soaking water to keep things moving. A high-speed blender like a Vitamix is ideal for this. You want the batter very smooth, almost silky in feel, so that when you rub some between your fingers, there is no grittiness. This takes at least a few minutes of blending, even in the Vitamix. It should look like a thick vanilla milkshake when it’s done.

Transfer this batter to your fermentation vessel—I use my large le Creuset dutch oven to ferment in, though glass also works well (avoid metal). If all goes well, your batter will be nearly doubling in size, so you want something with room to spare.

Repeat the grinding/blending with the rice and a bit of its soaking water (no need to wash the blender). It’s okay if the consistency of this batter is a little more gritty—like tiny, tiny pieces of sand—than the urad dal batter. Add this batter to the urad dal batter, then add the salt.

Use your hands to combine the two batters and the salt. This helps pull in more wild yeast, and it also helps you gauge consistency: You want the batter to pour off your fingers like thick cream. It should come off them in a nice stream, not like water, but not thick like yogurt.

Once combined (and you’ve washed your hands), take note of your batter line—ideally you want the batter to rise well above this, so you could mark the outside of the container with a piece of tape or marker if you don’t think you’ll remember. Cover the vessel lightly. You can use cloth, plastic wrap, or even the lid if it allows for a little air flow but still keeps the warmth in. I use plastic wrap and then cover with a light cotton dishtowel.

Move the vessel to a very warm place (75 to 80 degrees is ideal) and allow it to ferment for 12 to 18 hours. I put mine in the cupboard above the refrigerator and it works like a charm, usually taking about 17 to 18 hours for a hefty rise. It seriously feels like Christmas morning to me waking up to see if my batter has risen! But maybe this is just me.

Once your batter has risen, it should look crazy bubbly and beautiful (see photo at the top of this post). It will also have a slightly tangy smell. If nothing has happened, cross your fingers and give it some more time. Sadly, if it never rises, it’s hard to save things and I recommend starting over, considering the suggestions mentioned in my Notes below.

Assuming things have worked, congratulations!, it’s time to make your iddly and dosas! I like to steam a few iddly first (usually about 16—they’re small and you’ll have a lot of batter), then use the rest to make dosa.

To make iddly: You will need a steamer for this, and some sort of small cups (like ramekins) to steam them in. You can also buy an iddly steamer for relatively cheap if you plan on making them a lot–I think I got mine for about $15 from the Indian grocery store.

Either way, grease your molds with a little oil or ghee and gently scoop out some of the batter, filling to about 3/4 of the way full. You really don’t want to stir down or crush those beautiful bubbles in the batter—they are what make the iddly taste like little clouds. Be gentle.

Steam the iddly for 12 to 15 minutes—you will know they’re done when (after cooling down for a minute), you touch the top and it feels dry. Leave in their molds for a few minutes before removing.

To make dosas: Stir down the batter and add a bit more salt (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon maybe). You may also need to add some water–the consistency should be somewhere in between crepe batter and pancake batter. It should pour easily off a spoon.

Heat a pan on the stove to medium heat. I use two cast iron flat griddle pans, which are perfect because they hold the heat well and also don’t have tall sides that interfere with spreading. The also make the dosa nice and crispy. You can use non-stick if that’s all you’ve got.

Spread a little oil onto the pan, then take a ladleful of the batter (about 1/4 cup), and pour it in the center (remember, the pan needs to be hot so that batter “sticks” immediately). Using the bottom side of the ladle, spread the batter out into a larger circle, working from the center out, and always in the same direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). You want the batter spread really thin. This takes practice but don’t fear! You’ll get the hang of it. I watched so many youtube videos before mastering it myself that I should probably send those people a check.

Allow the dosa to cook for a minute or so, sprinkling a little oil around the edges as needed. It should brown and release itself from the bottom of the pan on its own, or with just a little bit of help from your spatula. I typically do not cook the other side because it doesn’t need it, but if yours is thick and you think you need to, go for it.

Serve the dosas (and the iddly) hot with whatever spicy curry, dal, or chutney you like. We always go with the classic: turmeric-spiced potatoes and coconut chutney, along with some ghee. Perhaps I’ll cover those in a future post …but for now, enjoy the fact that you’ve mastered perhaps the most quintessential Indian breakfast dish!

Leftover dosa batter can be refrigerated and used for at least a week. Leftover steamed iddly freezes superbly—one of our favorite quick breakfasts is to slice the thawed iddly in half lengthwise and shallow fry them in a little oil.

Notes:

  • Iddly rice is not the same as regular rice. It is parboiled and very short-grained. Without going into too many science-y details, it’s much better for dosa/iddly because of the proteins it contains. All of these items are available at all Indian grocers–and for cheap cheap cheap! Stored well, they’ll last for months. Just look for skinned, whole urad dal if you can (it’s white and round). Like the iddly rice, it’s better for dosa than the split, unhusked version. Ask for help if you’re not sure—the staff should know exactly what you mean and will be happy to assist. You may feel intimidated at first, but I promise you no one cares if pronounce something wrong, or spend an hour meandering the aisles (speaking from experience here…).
  • Natural fermentation draws in (healthy) microbes from the air to act as your yeast and give the batter lift, which is vital in giving the final product its slightly tangy, light-as-air texture and taste—not to mention its health qualities. Unfortunately for many U.S. households, we have over-sterilized things so much that it can be difficult to grab these yeasts from the air, so here are my tips for ensuring success:
    • Do not over-rinse the grains; you don’t want to wash away all those wild yeasts already on the rice and dal!
    • Use the fenugreek seeds—these aid in grabbing extra yeast from the air. Pretty sure this tip has been around for hundreds of years. Indian grandmothers never steer you wrong.
    • Leave your bowls uncovered when soaking; again, more opportunities for new microbes to join the party. Better yet, leave the bowls near a houseplant, as they usually have good wild activity to draw from.
    • If you have sourdough starter handy, consider adding a spoonful to the soaking water as well—I find this immensely helpful in kickstarting life.
The first dosa (spinach) I ever had in India. I still dream of this.

The first dosa I ever had in India. On the drive to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), we stopped at this tiny little restaurant connected to a gas station, in the middle of nowhere. I ordered this spinach dosa and that.was.it.     Life, fulfilled.