Friday, April 17, 2015

Clean Hosting

      I find a lot of satisfaction in feeding people and take great pride in serving mouth-watering meals at my table.  Cook and hostess are 2 parts of my identity that I've cherished since I was a little girl. So when my dairy allergy and gluten intolerance became undeniable a few years ago (your body has a funny way of telling you it cannot be ignored any longer,) I was presented with a bit of a challenge. I wanted to continue to entertain with my usual flare but I also didn't want to have to prepare and struggle through a bevy of temptation every single time we entertained.  I felt a little selfish removing dairy, wheat and gluten from everything I served – and I assumed that meant no one would show up for dinner anymore.  It was quite an adjustment to learn to eat a diet (mostly) free of many of the common allergens; I didn't even know where to start when it came to cooking clean food for discerning guests.

      No one likes putting effort into meals that turn our bland and boring and there are few things worse after hours of cooking than unsatisfied family and friends.  I can’t enjoy myself if my guests don’t have happy tummies,  so I needed to answer this question: how do I protect my own health and please others without compromising the cook/hostess part of my identity?

      It took me a few years to figure out, but I made it my mission to discover cuisines and cooking methods that allow me to nourish myself properly and continue to feed my loved ones delicious, fulfilling food. I now proudly serve 100% completely dairy, gluten and refined sugar –free meals in my home.  And no, my husband is not miserable or deprived.  And yes, people still love coming to dinner at our house. 

My Secrets to Success:

  1. There are some cuisines (French) that don’t fare well with substitutions and omissions. Embrace the ones that do (Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern) and dine out for a splurge when you feel you must have the others (Italian).
  2. Use generous doses of herbs and spices (I use sometimes as much as double what the recipe calls for).
  3. Leverage plenty of healthy fats to make your meals rich and fulfilling. Avocado and coconut oils are my favorite cooking oils. Coconut milk makes things wonderfully creamy. Chopped nuts add great texture to salads or atop a platter of roasted vegetables.
  4. Make things colorful: lots of bright, beautiful fruits and vegetables make eyes and tummies very happy.
  5. Use the freshest, cleanest ingredients available within your budget. In-season produce and high-quality meats will always taste noticeably better.
  6. Call a spade a spade.  Don’t try to present a raw coconut macaroon to guests as dinner and call it an Almond Joy. It pisses people off and leaves them wanting a real Almond Joy.
  7. Be reasonable. Don’t invite a pizza lover over for cauliflower crust pizza with cashew cheese and expect him to love it. Instead, try introducing him to something exotic and different!
  8. Time and patience. This is a tough one, because we live our lives in a way that most of us don’t have a surplus of either. Just give yourself a little time to visit the farmers market even once (because you’ll want to go back,) find new spices you love and try new things. Be patient with yourself when you can’t get a recipe right or mess something up. You’ll never stick with anything new if you punish yourself for trying. 
  9. Variety. A grilled piece of fish with no accoutrements and 1 steamed vegetable will seem excruciatingly boring to most people. Make sure your meals feature a variety of colors, textures and smells. Use different cooking methods – grill the fish, roast one vegetable, sauté another. The more senses you appeal to the more people will enjoy what you put in front of them!
  10. Set yourself up for success. Test new recipes and experiential ingredients out on willing spouses or friends before you cook them for 14 people on Thanksgiving. Disappointment feels like disaster when the stakes are high and you’ll be less likely to keep trying if you suffer missteps that feel unnecessarily discouraging.
  11. MOST IMPORTANTLY, REMEMBER THIS: After a lot of trial and error and unnecessary apologizing, I've come to realize that if you’re committed to a path that you truly believe is best for you, then it’s best for your loved ones too. Being kind to yourself and doing what you need to do to stay well makes you the best possible version of yourself. And the people around you will without a doubt enjoy that more than any chocolate cake. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Re-imagined Sonoma Chicken Salad

While I believe proper nourishment deeply influences how we feel, look and experience life, I also know how difficult it can be to find the time to prepare three nutrient dense meals and snacks every single day. Sure, eating well lays a proper foundation for a happy, energetic existence, but sometimes you just. can’t. even. I spent last year trying to assemble the disillusioned pieces of a regional marketing team at a global company. Some days I rose as early as 430 am deprived of sleep and the wherewithal to do anything but put my face in a jar of almond butter for a few moments before I ran out the door.  Looking back, if there was any uphill battle I needed to fuel up for, it was that one. I should have been as alert and sharp as possible to navigate those hidden-agenda land mines and bureaucratic mêlées. But like many other things in my personal life, trips to the farmers market and recipe testing with B took a backseat to career and a million other things. I’m pretty sure most women know a thing or two about that.

Thankfully, this year I’m in a new role that affords me a far better work life balance. I feel like I’ve been slowly but surely reclaiming parts of myself and the kind of life that I feel best living. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep consistently for the first time in years has been truly earth-shattering.  I appreciate having the time to grocery shop and explore recipes and nourish myself and my husband again on a whole new level. That being said, with a full time workload and a puppy scampering around at my feet (in addition to the other typical responsibilities of a physically active, type-A, dutiful career woman and wife,) the need for fast and easy is ever-present.  

I’ve been really into “bowls” lately. A super-easy way to get protein, fiber, healthy fats and greens into every meal,  once you find a favorite sauce or dressing to tie it all together,  there are endless satisfying combinations . To minimize prep time during the busy work week, I mix up a few dressings, cook some protein and steam some broccoli or kale over the weekend. With only assembly and the addition of garnishes like fruit and nuts to tackle before enjoying, you might even find a few moments to get creative.  I know, I know. You’re probably thinking I’m making it sound far easier than it really is. And there is certainly some trial and error involved. But that’s what I’m here for!

I most often take inspiration from restaurant meals, gourmet grocery stores or even Whole Foods. And of course Pinterest! The first recipe I’ll share (below) was inspired by the glorious (but calorie dense) Sonoma Chicken Salad at Whole Foods. The days of eating it right out of the container for a lunch on the go are hopefully long gone. This is a very loose and much healthier interpretation, but you still get the best parts – the crunch of toasted nuts, burst of sweet from the grapes, and savory chicken.

Re-imagined Sonoma Chicken Salad (1 serving)

3 cups mixed greens or baby lettuces
1 cup arugula (the bitterness balances out the sweet grapes and dressing, but if you’re not a fan, just add more lettuce)
 1 scallion, thinly sliced
3-4 oz grilled chicken breast, chopped (or shredded paleo chicken breast from whole foods is yummy too)
1/3 cup red seedless grapes, halved
2 tablespoons pecans, chopped
Almond Honey dressing (below)

Almond Honey Dressing (2-3 servings)

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted dry roasted almonds (or 3 tablespoons almond butter)
1 tablespoon avocado oil (or other mild salad oil)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons honey
¼ teaspoon `garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon poppy seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Put all dressing ingredients, excluding poppy seeds, in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Add poppy seeds and mix on low just until combined. Set aside.
  3. Roughly chop pecans and place on a cookie sheet or sheet of foil in preheated oven until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Toss greens with 1-2 tablespoons of the dressing. Arrange scallions, grapes and chicken atop the greens and drizzle with additional dressing. Sprinkle toasted pecans on top.
  5. Enjoy!

Why do we so easily cast aside the simplest, easiest steps towards thriving? Eat well, sleep enough, be kind to yourself and others, and thrive. Eat almond butter out of the jar in the dark, sleep 4-5 hours, drive yourself into the ground, and whither. It’s not that complicated.

Here’s to being a little kinder to yourself, feeding your belly and fueling your happiness.