When it comes to healing, our notion of time can behave very strangely. It might speed up or it might be infinitely slow, like molasses. When we are eager for a loved one to get better, as I am now, it can seem like forever. The body heals at the rate that it heals. I remember Rachel Naomi Remen saying disease is a weird thing; it reveals itself when it’s ready to reveal itself. It can be frustrating when all sorts of symptoms appear, but no prognosis is certain. You are left wondering...where am I?
Rachel Naomi Remen, one of the pioneers of the mind-body health movement and relationship-centered care, is my inspiration for how to think about these unfathomable mysteries. How many of you have read (and reread) her book Kitchen Table Wisdom? I read it when it first came out and I was in culinary school. My copy is a dog-eared treasure on my shelf.
Julie Burford, my beloved Soup Sister and neighbor about whom I’ve frequently written (watch us making soup together here) is always on the frontline of cooking for people in need. She’s the Florence Nightingale of the kitchen, the one in our neighborhood who absolutely shows up with something nourishing or comforting or both when someone is sick or struggling. Her husband Stan says, “She’s the edible therapist!”
There have been a flood of people in her world who have been ill lately, including five people this week. Granted Julie’s 74 and has a bit more time on her hands now that she’s not running a non-profit, but she. Steps. Up. Every time. For her friend diagnosed with Parkinson’s... or for friends of friends... or friends of friends of friends! “Oh, I got home early from dinner tonight,” she says breezily. “I can whip up a batch of butternut squash soup.”
In California every spring (and briefly again in the fall) the baby artichokes arrive. It’s a very special moment, a seasonal splendor many of us cooks wait for. Especially those of us who’ve eaten the carciofi simply and elegantly prepared in Tuscany. One of the seven wonders of the culinary world!
I’ve written about finding my sweet spot with food when at 35, I left a hard-driving job on the east coast and took what I call my life sabbatical, arriving in Rome with no language and no luggage. What I haven’t shared is what happened after Rome, when I went up to Florence, largely because I thought I should. I didn’t really know what I was going to do other than continue studying Italian, since my skills were still not, um, very polished. In Italian class, the teacher shared information about a cooking class. All those memories of standing on a stool stirring soup in my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens stirred something inside me…
Next thing I knew I was standing on a corner of the Via Taddea, where the big market is in the center of Florence. I’m waiting and waiting (turns out I was ½ hour early), not even sure who I’m waiting for. It’s late Friday afternoon. I’m thinking, if she doesn’t show up in 3 minutes… and here she came, with her basket—Judy Witts Francini, of Divina Cucina cooking school. Are you here for the cooking class? She asked. I am barely able to reply with my rudimentary Italian.
In the scheme of things, your brain is one of your greatest treasures. Learn to take care of it! Feed it what it needs. This post from the archives will fill you in of brain nutrition basics. And, by the way, you won't miss a beat on flavor! Brain healthy foods include some delicious favorites. I recommend making them part of your repertoire, and weaving them into your day on a regular basis.
It starts with the “p” word — and that would be “plants.”
A flood of new and surprising research is emerging about the role that plants play in brain health. For example, a study on the MIND diet — a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets — published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association — concluded that people who eat more dark, leafy greens at least once a day have substantially slower cognitive decline with age than those who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).Bingo!
It's that time of year! Asparagus is on the way. As those of you who have followed my blog or played with my cookbooks already know, I am WILD about asparagus. Are you with me? Do like to eat asparagus in all its guises as long as you can get it while it's truly fresh and seasonal? It's uniquely delicious AND the perfect detoxifier as spring arrives. If you're already in love with this elegant vegetable—or if this will be a new romance—here's a favorite blog post to help you dive right in.Can I help it if I wear my culinary heart on my sleeve?
Those who know me, especially my farmer buddies at my local market, know that this is the time of year I SWOON over what I call those elegant green long ladies of spring.
I start tapping my foot in late winter, impatient for the day when they’ll arrive. Chris, my asparagus dealer who sadly is no longer with us, would sidle up to me and whisper, One week. Enough said. The long ladies were about to make their entrance, stage right, strutting like slender Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. But oh, so briefly! In California, their appearance lasts only from the end of February to May -- then gone!
Your inspiration for the week: don’t overlook cabbage! I call cabbage the bocce ball of the cruciferous set. A bowling ball, a big, heavy dense, ball of leaves. In terms of nutritional benefits, cabbage rocks. It’s chock full of goodness! Fiber, potassium, choline, B12, iron, selenium, pantothenic acid (B5), manganase…. But. It’s like the stepchild of broccoli and kale. It’s the humblest of vegetables. Nobody even thinks about it.
But I have something to say about cabbage, and why it’s number ONE on my list: it’s crunchy. You can eat it raw or cooked. It’s durable. You can do a zillion things with it. It’s always there for you, in your crisper drawer. How many things can you say that about?
My love affair with cabbage began when my grandmother served cabbage leaves stuffed with all manner of things and topped with a lovely sauce. With such an elegant introduction, I never thought of it as boring!
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I could be thinking about chocolate... but I’m thinking about the color red. And I might be thinking about strawberries… but I’m thinking about beets!
What inspires me about beets?
DEFINITELY the color. Of all the plants in the plant kingdom, beets have the most electrifying color. I have my kitchen workshop and my art-making workshop, and I play with color in both! Sometimes it’s fun to take a food and look at all the colors that make up the color of that food.
Red is a primary color, but beets are not a singular, primary red. Beets have other colors in them: a little blue, a little purple, some magenta, and fuschia. Beets can look very dark and ruby-esque; or blended into soup, they can bright and magenta-y. Chioggia beets are swirled burgundy and white. Golden beets are a deep, earthy gold.
The key to heavenly flavor: roasting.
When I was little I hated beets. They used to come out of a jar. They were called Harvard beets. Ugh! It took me awhile to start loving beets.
And then I discovered roasting. Beets are VERY sweet when roasted, a whole new, almost addictively delicious thing. Oh, yum.
One of the most electrifying dishes I learned to make in Italy is pasta a la rubino, “ruby” in Italian. Basically a pasta with garlic, olive oil, chili flakes, roasted squares of beets tossed together on a blue plate. An electric purple!
Now I do roasted root vegetables or roasted root vegetable salads, which are very elegant, or pickled beets, or a borscht (both blended and not). I make a stunning electric slaw out of beets (an absolute smash hit on a buffet line!). I slice them very thin and make them into chips, an unexpected and delightful topper for salad or soup. (Don’t you love crunchy things?)
There is nothing better than a beet salad with a little feta, fennel, blood orange… OMG! Or valencia orange and beets! Electrifying.
Is everyone around you coming down with colds and flu? And those nasty respiratory infections that linger so much longer than anyone expects? That’s February. A volatile month, a gauntlet we run to make it to spring. Whether you’ve got kids in school, like little Petri dishes scooting around, or you’re hopping on an airplane, or shoulder to shoulder on the subway, unless you live in a bubble, you are vulnerable.
What can you do to prevent colds and flu?
One of THE great books of 2017, and sure to endure: Karen Page and photographer Andrew Dornenburg’s Kitchen Creativity: Unlocking Culinary Genius—with Wisdom, Inspiration, and Ideas from the World’s Most Creative Chefs.
That’s a tall order! And in this, their 11th book, they deliver. A couple of delightful quotes from the mountains of dazzling praise for Kitchen Creativity:
“Utter genius…If Leonardo da Vinci wrote a book on culinary creativity in 2017, this would be it.” — Michael Gelb, NY Times bestselling author of How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci
“A delectable mix of sensuality, intellect, insight and surprise that reveals not only the secrets of creative chefs, but of creativity itself.” —MacArthur Fellow Robert Root-Bernstein and Michele Root-Bernstein, Authors, Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People.
What I love about her new book: Karen is putting people at ease.
She lays out creativity in 3 stages:
- Mastery. Mastering the Fundamentals | Studying the Past | Learning by Copying
- Alchemy. The Evolution of Classics | Converting Food Through Flavor | Flavor Dynamics | The Flavor Equation
- Creativity. Cooking with All Your Senses | The WhoWhatWhenWhere&Why of Creating a Dish | Evolving to Interdependence
Kitchen Creativity pulls back the curtain on “a world of infinite culinary possibilities.” For the chef, it truly comes down to the basics: the quality of your ingredients, how you’re going to make your ingredients shine, and how you’re going to tell the story of your dish.
This is where I always feel that her books are so masterful and useful for a cook whether a beginner or expert. She piques our curiosity: Have you thought about this ingredient with that? But here she goes beyond heightening our knowledge and skills to cultivating our creativity— increasing our confidence, autonomy and leadership in our own kitchens. Did you know that “chef” means “chief” in French? Dear reader, you can be the chef/chief of your domain!
Lots of people think, I’m just not the creative type. But EVERYBODY has creativity. Whether you’re right- or left-brained, there’s an intuitive part of yourself that knows. You can be an accountant or coder and be incredibly creative. When you’re familiar with your world, there’s a way in which you can use your instincts to confidently move forward.
Here’s a woman who inspires me: Grace Young, who is THE absolute grand dame of the stir-fry. She’s been called the Stir-Fry Guru and the Poet Laureate of the Wok. I think of her as ne plus ultra, a major-award winning cookbook writer and food journalist who is THE one to teach and inspire us all to become sit-fry masters.
The Why of Stir-Fry
Why stir-fry? Because it is one of THE great healthy, fresh, quick-cooking techniques to get colorful, tasty, comforting foods on the table even on a weeknight. In other words, invaluable! I easily stir-fry one or two times a week. I shop and get my gorgeous fresh ingredients. I prep as instructed (see below). I pull up my sleeves and, quickly, employing my ultra stir-fry skills, create a glorious, sure-to-please meal in minutes. You can, too.
Grace’s book: Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge
A stir fry can be lots of things. You can, as I used to, clean out your fridge, chop and throw everything in the pan. But: there are stir-fry skills to master that bring the technique to a whole nother level.
Where does inspiration come from? Often from the strangest things. You go in the kitchen, you want to cook something, and you wait for something to whisper in your ear, and give you the divine answer for what to make for dinner tonight. Or you wait in front of a blank computer screen, or a blank canvas. As I start to talk about inspiration, what’s the first thing that happens? Nothing!
Immediately when I thought, “inspiration,” I went into freeze mode. Then I started looking around in my space. I walked away from my computer, looked outside my window, and saw the blood oranges growing on the tree outside. Last year it wasn’t doing well. This year I’m going to have a bumper crop. I’m seeing the color orange, and the plants in my garden… Turning, I see the wooden spoon collection in my office, shelves full of favorite books, and my and my friends’ artwork. I see a very colorful throw on my office couch.
This is where my inspiration comes from—from paying attention to what’s around, in any given moment.
Two stories arise in my mind as I look at the oranges, for example.
A spot-on post from the archives: be kind to yourself this holiday season! Have fun. Savor those special treats! I wave my magic culinary wand, thus decree. Enjoy! :)
Why do we do it? We have this tendency over the holidays to put ourselves on a LONG nonstop guilt trip, like a first class ticket to Hong Kong and back, on the most expensive airline you can imagine. We splurge and purge AND beat ourselves up over it. I have a better idea: find a way that works for you to relax and enjoy life! If you have a brownie, enjoy it! And so you don’t massively overdo, and truly feel awful, plan ahead.
If you’re throwing the party, do what my friend Julie does and anchor your table with soups! Julie puts one on either end of her buffet, with lovely 5-ounce glass mugs, and peppers the rest of the table with different morsels (not mountains!) of yum. Hot smoked salmon. Serious mouthfuls of baked goods (she’s a fabulous baker). Beautiful cheeses. She replenishes as needed, rather than start with overwhelming masses of food. I watched how her guests interacted with all the tempting offerings this year, and noticed people kept filling their cups up with soup. The conversation flowed happily, and no one felt compelled to say, OMG, I’m going to pay for this!
What is more precious than the gift of time? Unless it’s the gift of yum. :) How about giving both to dear friends and neighbors, the ones who will TRULY savor the delicious, delectable treats that you drop off for their enjoyment? Some might love DIY kits, with all they will need to make something marvelous, and others might like a fait accompli. I’ve got some suggestions for both!
We live in a world where we are SATURATED with information. Gone are the days when we had wait with baited breath for the latest and the greatest. We are ALWAYS confronted with the latest and the greatest! But there is also a place for savoring the very best. One of those places is inside the covers of a superb cookbook. These are the books that have penetrated the constant barrage during 2017 for me, the ones that I REALLY like and recommend!
For me, the criteria are:
Does the author have a point of view?
Is the author telling a compelling story through the recipes?
Is the photography enticing?
Is it original? (That’s a big thing! So much of what is “new” is not original. Been there. Done that)
Does the front matter of the book set you up for success?
Is it well designed?
Otherwise, you could just go online. But then again, I haven’t had that much luck online. I get frustrated with the poor quality of the recipes. These books have all passed the litmus test of true value.
You know I’m not pushy, right? Well, here and now I’m climbing up on my soapbox and asking you to read Dr. Dale Bredesen’s new book The End of Alzheimer’s. And why would I ask you to read about a disease we regard with such fear, even horror? Because for the first time, there’s good news about Alzheimer’s disease. There’s hope.
As Dr. Bredesen explains in the intro to his book, “Let me say this as clearly as I can: Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented, and in many cases its associated cognitive decline can be reversed.”
This is precisely what he and his colleagues have shown in peer-reviewed studies that have been published in leading medical journals, based on 3 decades of research on the neurobiology of Alzheimer’s in his lab and case studies with real people. The first ever scientific study showing the reversal of cognitive decline in 9 out of 10 patients with Alzheimer’s disease or its precursors was published in the journal Aging in 2014, based on a sophisticated personalized protocol called ReCODE, for reversal of cognitive decline. And not only did it achieve a reversal in cognitive decline, but it allowed patients to sustain the improvement.
The journal Aging has shared that this 2014 article has had the greatest impact of any article they’ve ever published. And no wonder. Not only is the diagnosis and inevitable (until now) decline of Alzheimer’s tragic for the individual, but also for their family; and soon for the nation and the world, as a tsunami of Alzheimer’s patients could bankrupts Medicaid and Medicare and overwhelms long-term care facilities in the foreseeable future as our population ages. But…
I started drinking chai when I was doing my internship at The Chopra Center for wellbeing because we had to make it every day. There were an almost overwhelming number of spices that went into that chai recipe. OMG! And I was the newbie on the block. So guess who got to make the chai?
And then it became addictive. When you have a cup of chai tea, it’s like wrapping yourself up in a cashmere blanket, it’s so cozy and warming. In this cool transition time of year there’s so much warmth and depth in a cup of chai. It feels just right.
What is chai, exactly?
Chai is a beverage that is a blend of black tea, honey, spices and milk. And… you can riff on that. You don’t have to put milk in, or you can use nut milks of your choice. You can use green instead of black tea, or a little maple syrup to sweeten instead of honey (but not that much of it).
Use the basic idea as a blueprint and make your own personal chai.
Why add chai to your culinary vocabulary?
They say in life that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. So it goes in the kitchen. Many people are amazed to find that stepping into the kitchen is actually a relaxing, almost meditative experience. There’s a flow that takes place, an engagement of the mind that leaves us feeling refreshed and connected, as though all our senses were taken on an adventurous sojourn. Food and cooking demand that you be in the present, a place where yesterday’s follies and tomorrow’s peccadillos hold no sway. But to be fully present, it helps to learn a few tricks of the trade as a way of turning your kitchen into an inviting space filled with culinary gifts that feed the soul.
I’ve rediscovered the frittata! You know those periods when life overwhelms? When you just need somebody to tell you what to eat? Something in your back pocket to reach for? For me, the frittata is IT. My Soup Sister, Julie Burford, reminded me of this by recently bringing me two gorgeous, tasty ones! What an amazing gift. Granted, I’ve made frittatas MANY times… but it hasn’t always been my go-to dish. I’d kind of forgotten. Now it’s back!
Sometimes, I get in a cooking groove, a rhythm, and I sort of forget some old chestnuts. Like a favorite shirt that ends up in the back of the closet until one day you spy it and think, Where have you been??? And wear it 2 weeks straight.
Here's a favorite from the archives! Who can resist those gorgeous squashes stacked in groceries and farmers markets this month? And they are SO good for you. Don't miss my soup hack for an easy and delicious Curried Butternut Squash Soup. Isn't it nice when life can a little easier?
Fall… that invigorating time, filled with crisp air, glowing woodlands, and a feeling of the world settling down for a long winter siesta…. And how many of you have already flirted with colds during this change of seasons, hmmm?
Time to focus on boosting your immune system!
I’ve got a (delicious!) culinary cure, brought to you by the letter “A” and the color orange.
“A” is for vitamin A, a superstar because of its major importance in:
- Vision (you knew that one, right?)
- Skin health (acne & psoriasis are often responsive)
- Adrenal & thyroid function
- Cellular growth
- Nerve cell function
- Brain health & performance: plasticity, memory, cognitive functioning, learning, mood, mental energy
- Inflammatory function
- Digestive health & detoxification (can help the body get rid of pesticides & microorganisms).
It’s best to obtain vitamin A through your diet, not supplements. Why? Because it’s a fat soluble vitamin, meaning that it’s best absorbed along with some healthy fat, such as olive oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, or ghee (clarified butter).
Looking for food sources? Vitamin A is conveniently found in anything orange and anything green, such as all winter squashes, carrots, kale, and collard greens.
My favorite season is coming up, and that’s soup season! My neighbor and Soup Sister Julie Burford and all the folks on the block are getting revved up, and I can already see the steam coming out of the kitchens. The first stage of soup making is broth making, so we’re all busy making Magic Mineral Broth (see below) and bone broths and freezing them in quart jars, ready to incorporate them into big colorful vats of nourishing, comforting, savory soups!I celebrate the beginning of the season of soup.
I feel like the happy soup chef in Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice (here in a video with Carole King singing the verses, so adorable).I fervently believe that everybody feels better after a bowl of soup.
Throughout my twenty-year culinary consulting and cooking career in the food-as-medicine movement, I’ve been, first and foremost, a soup maker. Soup is my wheelhouse, where I firmly stand. Soup is the greatest form of nourishment, period, end of story, and I think it has been since they were putting the pot over the open fire thousands of years ago. I’ve always felt a connection with soup makers through the ages, from the dawn of fire to my ancestors, especially my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, and now me!
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