Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cooking to Live Well

If I were a single woman with a high-profile career living in New York City, I can guarantee one thing: my kitchen cabinets would actually store shoes rather than dishes…or food.  The cold, hard truth is that cooking and I have had a rocky relationship since college, and it became all the more dysfunctional when I became a wife and a mother.  It became downright destructive when we moved to the country because there were far fewer opportunities to “take out” or fake a headache to get out of making dinner.  And for heaven’s sake, I’m plopped right in the heart of God’s country, surrounded by organic farms and capable farmers, as well as nutrient rich soil and a little patch to grow things.  I have food-whisperers for friends, too.  Rather than botch a batch of cupcakes to take to my son’s classroom in celebration of his birthday, I prefer to save myself the embarrassment and ask a favor from my friend Cindy, a true baking wiz with a very successful cake business to prove it.  Last year, I called my friend Kristen (another baking wiz) to ask just what the heck to do with the five large zucchinis I plucked from my garden, for I certainly didn’t have a clue.  She traded me recipes for wardrobe advice; I was more than happy to deflect from my culinary shortcomings with a discussion on choosing the right cashmere cardigan.  And I am convinced my friend Lindsay shares the same DNA as Martha Stewart – she is divinely domestic and can whip up a gourmet meal as if it were a little Sunday stroll. 
In true resolution form, I vowed to mend my relationship with cooking this past January.  I simply couldn’t justify one more dinner disappointment or box of macaroni and cheese.  Now don’t get me wrong, I care very much about what I feed my family and I want my children to grow up on balanced meals.  I’m also a huge supporter of the organic movement, especially since I have a front row seat to the production of so many certified organic farms in my area.  Plus, I find great enjoyment in growing produce in my own garden.  I simply lack the confidence to aspire to greatness in cooking.  If I have learned one thing in my career as a performer, it would be this: if one lacks the confidence to aspire, opportunities to ever reach aspirations will simply cease to exist.  Over the past ten years, I’d officially labeled myself domestically disabled and laughed it off...until now.  I don’t want to further stifle opportunities for my aspirations to grow.
Last Sunday was a turning point.  My entire family has been struggling with the flu over the past week.  While sprawled on the couch in Cleopatra fashion, feeling just awful and trying to keep my children from sneezing on absolutely every surface of the house, I switched on the television.  British chef Jamie Oliver was premiering the second season of his reality show, “Jamie’s Food Revolution”.

(Jamie’s life-changing cookbook of the same name.)

It was fabulous…really and truly meaningful television.  I admire his vision and can understand his struggle, as well as empathize with the struggles of those he’s trying to educate.  So many people lack the confidence to cook well, and many lack knowledge about preparing meals with fresh ingredients.  Suddenly the show was a lightening rod: could I indeed learn to prepare delicious and healthy meals for my family without it turning into a flaming drama and me crying in the corner?!
Monday night would be the test.  I am a compulsive reader, prone to tabbing, dog-earing and ripping out bits of useful information from books and magazines.  It just so happened that I saved a little two-page spread from Real Simple magazine on how to transform a store-bought rotisserie chicken into various delights.  Earlier in the day, I ventured forth to the grocery store to buy the usual suspects to fight what ailed us:  Gatorade, lemon-lime soda, saltine crackers, Nyquil and a rotisserie chicken, for good measure.  That night I was determined to make us “real” chicken noodle soup, simply because I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating it from a can one more day.  Armed with the article, I was able to use a carton of organic chicken broth from the fridge, baby carrots from the kid’s snacks, a bag of frozen cheese tortellini (which we always seem to have on hand) and shredded bits of the rotisserie chicken to make a semi-homemade chicken [pseudo]noodle soup.  A little parsley was also sprinkled on top.  Then the heavens parted and the angels sang as every member of the family ate the soup contented.  They actually smiled at the end of the meal and said, “Good job, Mom.”  (In my very young daughter’s case, it was more of a, “Yummy!”)  In eight years of marriage and six as a mother, that was a first.  I admit that with pride and more than a twinge of sadness.  It made me that much more determined to patch things up with cooking.

Back in January, my resolution not only involved learning to cook, but to cook with an eye toward a preservative-free lifestyle.  I’ve since been investigating various schools of thought regarding healthy meals, and the question is whether or not to be vegetarian, vegan, raw, or just completely organic…or none of the above.  But before deciding for my family, I made myself the test subject, and I started with a raw diet.  Why not begin at square one, right?  In an effort to compensate for my holiday treat indulgences the month before, I opted for a raw juice “cleanse” by Cooler Cleanse to preface the new diet.  It was brutal: six prepared raw juices each day for three days straight, flown overnight from New York to preserve their freshness.  Despite its brutality, it worked like magic.  I felt cleaner and lighter, and the juices were truly delicious.  But I was ready to eat my hand by the third day.  Mother cannot live on juice alone.  Fruit and vegetables in their purest form proved to be the perfect introduction to a raw diet, though.  Thankfully, there were many more raw recipes than I figured floating out the food world.  I happened upon a wonderful raw hummus recipe by Cecilia Benjumea from Raw Glow and it has now become my desperate snack go-to for the moments when I really need something filling during gaps in the day.

(Pretzel thins aren’t a truly raw option, but I’ve reintegrated them into my snacking
because I just couldn’t take another carrot stick.)

(I like to serve it on my favorite little French farmgirl dish from County Cork Collectibles!)

While the raw lifestyle may have worked for me, I ultimately concluded that it was too singular.  Just as our kitchen cabinets truly need to be filled with dishes and food rather than shoes, eating well needed to be about nourishing my entire family and showing them how much I care about them.  I love the basic principles of the raw diet though and plan to incorporate as many fresh ingredients into our meals and snacks as possible.  (I’ll sneak in a green smoothie weekly, too!)  Additionally, since we’re blessed to have our own certified organic livestock and free-ranging chickens, I feel a responsibility to utilize as many of the locally grown/organic produce and products available to us in our small community.  But quite simply, I just want to strive for honest meals that continue to bring out more smiles and contribute to healthy, happy tummies.  Will it be perfect?  No, and I accept that.  Relationships worth having are the ones that take a little extra work, though.


  1. Katie,
    I too have ventured down the road of sensible eating-less processed and more color. It certainly does take more effort to cook this way, but the rewards are endless. great blog!

  2. Beautiful, Katie. I'm so proud of your choices. Isn't it amazing the sense of satisfaction seeing your children happily eating something you put work into? Their appreciation means a lot-just as their disdain for a meal brings a small sense of injustice for the labor put into it.
    It's also wonderful how God rewards us when we work. If we are lazy and depend on somebody else to make our food, it can often be less healthy. If we'll plant seeds, water, and weed-or take time to feed the cows/chickens/goats, then He rewards us with food that is fresh and healthy for our bodies. Gone are the high doses of sodium that puff us up and hurt our bodies.
    This blog was well-written, and I look forward to each one you write. Perhaps you will compile some recipes you especially enjoy. I've got some for the slow-cooker I'd be happy to share with you. :)

  3. Katie, it is a pleasure to follow your blog. I've just started one of my very own. Yet another way to keep in touch!

    It is wonderful the effort you are putting forth. Home cooking and healthy eating are becoming more necessary in our modern day, however it is a shame that the healthiest options are sometimes the priciest. In this economy, we must all do our very best. You are very lucky to live in such an area with organic and sustainable resources...I often wish we had more at this end of the country readily available to us. Please share some of the recipes that turn out great for you

    Meranda Hafford-Castonguay