Recently, we picked up one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We figured it would provide for some active fun for the boys during the cold, indoor winter months and even get us big kids moving a bit more to help out with our fitness goals. Some of the games in Kinect Adventures really get that heart rate pumping! And I’m waiting on my copy of Dance Central 2 to arrive, so I can totally bust out my sweet dance moves (in complete private, when nobody else is around).
The Kinect sensor is pretty amazing. And utterly frightening too. It’s got a little motorized camera which tracks and responds to your movements. If you move, the camera moves to find you. It can scan your body and create an animated version of your image on the tv…wearing the same clothes you’re wearing. Creepy. And it takes pictures of you while you play. It even responds to voice commands, like “Xbox, stop.” and “Xbox, play Golden Girls.” and “Xbox, make my dinner.”
Ok, so the Xbox doesn’t know how to make my dinner. Yet. But I’m sure that software upgrade is just around the corner. Seriously, the robot revolution is upon us. Are you prepared?
The other day, as I was trying to teach the kids not to wander aimlessly in front of other people while they’re playing with the Kinect, I found myself saying, You can’t walk in front of people because it confuses the Kinect. It’s not smart like us and it can’t figure out who it’s supposed to be tracking when there are too many people moving around.
And as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I wanted to eat them. The Xbox just heard me, questioning its intelligence. I swear I heard the little camera eye move to focus closer on me in that moment, recording and passing judgement on me as an enemy of the robot uprising. I’m doomed. I instantly started fumbling my words, trying to make my insult to the Kinect seem less degrading. I love you, Xbox. Please don’t annihilate me.
But since the Xbox is not about to prepare my meals anytime soon, I suppose that leaves me to do it… Hubby and I are still going strong with our lower carb diets. Today marks Day 8 of our diet and I’m down…drumroll, please…6 pounds!! Not a bad start, if you ask me. The weight won’t continue to come off at a rate of six pounds per week (nor should it), but it’s certainly a motivating start. The best part is that we have been dining on some pretty fantastic food this week. Like this smoked salmon and cucumber salad which is the stuff that dreams are made of. So fresh and simple. So insanely delicious!
Enjoy! (And beware. Kinect is watching.)
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad
4 ounces smoked salmon
1 large seedless cucumber
2-3 small tomatoes, halved and sliced into small pieces
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons non-pareil capers
Creme fraiche, for garnish (can substitute sour cream)
For the Fresh Dill Vinaigrette:
1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup white balsamic vinaigrette (plus a touch more)
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh dill leaves, torn
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, dill, salt and pepper until well combined.
Cut the cucumber in half, then use a mandolin slicer or a very sharp knife to very thinly slice the cucumber, lengthwise, into "ribbons." Place a mound of the cucumber ribbons in the center of each plate. Scatter the onions and tomatoes over the cucumber. Tear the salmon into small pieces and scatter over the salad. Place a larger piece of salmon in the center. Sprinkle the capers over the salad. Drizzle each salad with the dill dressing. If desired, garnish the center piece of salmon with a small dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.
With holiday excesses behind us, it’s good to get back to quick, simple, everyday cooking. This dish is one of my favorite examples of that kind of cooking, in that involves fresh ingredients, using up leftovers and unexpected synapses firing.
One thing I’ve noticed in writing about food for the past five years or so is that it makes me think about food, a lot. Sometimes it seems that everything I see or read or hear or smell or taste has the potential to inspire some cooking idea. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a photo I came across somewhere. It wasn’t a food photo, but rather a shot of a small village clinging to a seaside cliff. Maybe it was somewhere on the Mediterranean, maybe not. The buildings were impossibly brightly colored, the streets impossibly narrow and steep. The very first thing I thought when I saw the picture was, “I wonder what you would find to eat in this place.”
The origin of the pasta dish above was two sentences in a restaurant review in the Chicago Reader: “The cappellacci is particularly recommended. Often referred to as ‘pope’s’ or ‘brigand’s’ hats, these tender pillows are stuffed with sweet squash and Parmigiano, sauteed in sage and brown butter, and sprinkled with crumbled amaretti, the almond cookies that transport this sumptuous northern recipe into the region of dessert.”
The two things that leapt out at me from this passage (and as a writer and lover of long sentences, I bow to Mike Sula for his 43-word second sentence here) were sweet squash and sage. I didn’t have a squash on hand, but there was a sweet potato in the fridge not getting any younger. And the sage plant that had summered in a pot in our yard was giving up the ghost in our living room, less than happy with our bay window. I could immediately taste its salvaged leaves with the sweet potato.
I had neither the patience to make little pasta pillows nor a hankering for something from the “region of dessert.” But pasta sounded like a good idea. Adding onion and garlic to the mix would take the sweet potato in a savory direction. And a little chicken would make it a meal. If you’d like to make a vegetarian version, just skip the chicken and add a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese at the end.
Speeding up sweet potatoes. Mark Bittman is a genius. Let me just say that right here. Almost four years ago, he wrote a piece about really cooking with a microwave. Turns out it’s a great way to cook lots of vegetables – they retain more color, more flavor and, according to some studies, more vitamins. The microwave is also a great tool for parboiling root vegetables. I first used this technique when I made Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables. Here, two minutes or so in the microwave softens the sweet potatoes for sautéing.
Sweet Potato Sage Pasta with Chicken
Serves 2 generously (or 3 modestly)
1 medium sweet potato (about 10 ounces), peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks (or chicken breast meat—see Kitchen Notes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (or 2 teaspoons dried)
6 ounces uncooked penne pasta (or other short pasta)
Start a pot of water for the pasta. Put the cubed sweet potato in a lidded, microwave-safe container. Add 2 teaspoons of water and microwave for 2 minutes with the lid vented. Test sweet potato with the tip of a sharp knife; the knife should insert easily. You want the potato just tender, but not mushy. If not, microwave it for an additional minute and test again. (I’ve made this twice—one sweet potato was done in 2 minutes, the other took 4 minutes.)
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium flame. Drain sweet potato and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring and turning occasionally. Add onion and toss to coat. If using dried sage, add to pan now. Cook for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. Add chicken to pan. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook until chicken is just cooked through, stirring occasionally, 5 to 6 minutes. Add garlic to pan and cook until just fragrant, about 45 seconds. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water. Add to skillet with sweet potato mixture and toss to combine. If the dish seems dry, add a little reserved pasta water, a tablespoon at a time (I didn’t need any). If you’re using fresh sage, sprinkle with 2/3 of the sage and toss to combine. Divide among shallow pasta bowls and top with remaining sage. Serve immediately.
Choosing, preparing chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken breast meat may be more readily available, and it will work fine for this dish. But I find chicken thighs more flavorful and less likely to be dry. If you can’t find chicken thighs that have already been boned and skinned, it’s easy to do it yourself—and as a bonus, you’ll save a lot of money. You’ll find excellent instructions at allrecipes.com. Whether you choose breasts or thighs, you want 1-1/2 to 2 cups of cut-up chicken.
Related post: Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables
Early last year I had the chance to go to Vegfest in Seattle. It is a food festival for vegans and vegetarians, and they are held all over the country. Chances are, if you live in the United States, there’s one not too far from you. It’s fun because you get to sample a lot of food products from well-known brand names, buy cookbooks, get freebies, and attend cooking demos.
While there, I attended a handful of cooking demos presented by PCC, a local co-op with locations in and around Seattle (very similar to Whole Foods, but smaller and member-focused – although anyone can shop there). I learned some interesting new techniques for cooking, as well as some inspiration for what to make next in my kitchen.
One of the demos showed us how to make a Thai coconut ginger vegetable soup, or Tom Kha Ja. It’s a lovely soup with some really interesting flavors and textures intermingling – lemony, spicy and creamy. The nice thing is that you don’t have to use the vegetables listed in this recipe if you don’t want – you can use whatever is on hand or others that you might prefer. The only things that I would recommend not skimping out on are the lime leaves (or lime peel), lemongrass (if you have it available in your grocery store), ginger, and of course, coconut milk. There are a few other key ingredients, but those really set the tone for supporting flavors.
5 tablespoons canola oil
8 ounces or one package firm tofu, diced
1/2 carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
8 button mushrooms, stems removed and diced
3 cups water
3 Thai or serrano chile peppers, smashed
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and smashed
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into 8 pieces and smashed
8 Kaffir lime leaves, or peel of 1 lime
4 shallots, trimmed, peeled and smashed
1 small zucchini, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 jalapeño pepper, peeled and diced
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup coconut milk
4 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, optional but highly recommended
2 tablespoons coconut cream (the top layer on canned coconut milk), optional
Tip: Having a hard time finding Kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass? Both can usually be found in Asian grocery stores, but if you don’t have any near you try your local specialty grocery store or health food store. Lemongrass is more likely to be available where your other prepackaged herbs are (think basil, oregano, rosemary). One package of lemongrass should do you for this recipe if you cannot buy the whole stalks by themselves.
Drain and prepare your tofu.
Heat a wok or skillet, then add three tablespoons of canola oil. Fry the tofu until all sides have a golden crust.
Remove the tofu from the pan, and set aside.
Dice your carrot, onion and mushrooms.
In the same pan you used to fry the tofu, sauté your carrot, onion and mushrooms with the remaining two tablespoons of oil for three to five minutes until translucent and fragrant.
Place the vegetable mixture in a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
Prepare your chile peppers, lemongrass and ginger by smashing them all. Just use the flat side of your knife and give each of them a few good whacks. You don’t have to do it too hard or too many times. The key is to allow the soup to extract the flavors of these ingredients.
Tip: If you do not want to have large chunks of ginger in your soup, do not cut it into smaller pieces. Just smash a large chunk or two, and then you can easily find and remove them before you serve the soup.
If using lime peel, trim and roughly peel a lime with a knife.
Prepare your shallots by peeling and dicing them. I recommend that you use one full shallot or two to four shallot cloves (they look like very large garlic cloves).
When your water comes to a boil, stir in the chile peppers, lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves or peel and shallots. Let boil for five minutes.
Prepare your zucchini.
Remove the stem and seeds from your jalapeño, then dice. Grab your corn (I used a whole package of frozen corn).
Add zucchini, corn and jalapeño to your pot and cook for two minutes.
Stir in salt, coconut milk and lime juice.
To serve the soup, remove the large pieces of lemongrass, ginger and chile peppers, as well as the lime peel and lime leaves, then ladle into soup bowls. Add your fried tofu and garnish with cilantro and one teaspoon of coconut cream.
This is such a yummy soup – and so versatile and forgiving if you don’t have everything you need. I think potatoes would go nicely in this, as well as snow peas, and other kinds of mushrooms, too. To reduce the fat, use a low fat coconut milk, sauté your vegetables in water, and bake your tofu (without oil) instead of frying it.
To see a step-by-step photo illustration of this recipe, click here.
Dressing for Maggy and Andy’s wedding over five years ago and then again for Sharon and Tony’s just a few weeks I go, I distinctly remember being grateful that I didn’t have to crash diet for either event. For nearly seven years I’ve kept off the forty pounds I lost between 2004 and 2005.
How did I do it? It all started when I hit bottom in 2003. I was sitting in an empty house physically ailing and emotionally spent. We had just moved to a new town, Maggy was off to England for her junior year abroad, and Sharon was starting her freshman year of college. I spent the next nine months finding a new doctor, tending to my ailing body, and healing emotionally.
Only then was I ready to embrace a new lifestyle, to finally shed the weight. There are two ways to do it – exercise more or eat less. From years of personal experience I knew diets didn’t work. As soon as they were over I reverted back to my old ways and the pounds came back with a vengeance. Normal eating coupled with increased exercise was what worked for me.
I used to use food as a vice to satisfy my overworked, exhausted self. After healing I started to see food as a pleasurable way of taking care of myself. I was finally able to ask myself what I really needed to eat to be happy (see video below for what worked for me). I didn’t deprive myself of anything. I simply set boundaries about when and how much I’d eat. This became the new normal. When I reached my weight loss goal I had established a new pleasurable way of eating. All I had to do was cut back on my exercise (bummer).
As you contemplate the new year, don’t attempt the newest fad diet. Vow instead to love yourself, take care of yourself, and put yourself first so that you can then truly help others. After that, don’t be surprised if you find yourself living in a new way.
Black Bean Soup with Cumin and Salsa Verde
2 cans (16 ounces each) black beans, drained
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup prepared salsa verde
1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves, plus extra sprigs for garnish (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Garnish: 1/4 cup light sour cream, cilantro sprigs
Puree all ingredients except garnish in a blender until smooth. Pour into a large saucepan or Dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered and stirring frequently, to blend flavors, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve, garnishing with sour cream and optional cilantro sprigs.
To watch a related video about smart eating tips, click here.
Related post: Weighty Issues
Happy New Year! Predictably, I've started out with a lot of health resolutions. Even I am not divulgent enough to display my little chart here, but some are easy, some are harder. And by "health," I mean it all--body, mind, spirit. Go overboard with fruits and veggies, send mail, get outside, sit up straight, meditate and read poetry more often. I've learned the hard way that it's not about conquering all those resolutions. It's about putting them out there.
I've read a lot of poetry this week, remembering how its economy of words gives me something to hold onto when the day's anxieties hit. Coleman Barks, the preeminent translator of Rumi, relates this story:
Meditation, or any solitary practice (a walk before dawn, a poem every morning, sitting the roof at sunset), gives depth and expands the soul's action.
A man in prison is sent a prayer rug by his friend. What he had wanted, of course, was a file or a crowbar or a key! But he began using the rug, doing five-times prayer before dawn, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset, and before sleep. Bowing, sitting up, bowing again, he notices an odd pattern in the weave of the rug, just at the quibla, the point where his head touches. He studies and meditates on that pattern, gradually discovering that it is a diagram of the lock that confines him in his cell and how it works. He's able to escape. Anything you do every day can open into the deepest spiritual place, which is freedom.
I just love that – anything we do every day can open into the deepest spiritual place. And you know me – I put cooking into this category. Increasingly, cooking is something it's possible to get away from. You can do "food preparation" instead, removing things from boxes and warming them up. You can buy all your carrots already cut up or eat most of your meals out. But when we do that, I think we're missing out, not just on the health benefits, but on the meditative ritual cooking can be.
I paid $4.00 yesterday for a bunch of rainbow carrots grown in this county. Splitting the red one down the middle, I saw two more layers inside--orange, then yellow. A whole riot of color! Standing there with my knife on New Year's Eve, arranging those beautiful carrots on a platter, was another chance to be mindful, to think of the farmers that tended those carrots, to be grateful for this region we live in, and to enjoy the small movements of running the carrots under the sink, twisting off the tops. Of course I don't always slip into this state while cutting vegetables! But these moments aren't as accessible to me when I'm not in the kitchen. It's one of the places I feel most free.
And my kitchen always has a jar of granola in it. The kind I'm into lately is made with brown rice syrup, which makes it unbelievably clustered and shiny. Almost shellacked. This is the olive oil granola recipe I've been into for the last 18 months, just a bit different. Another health goal of mine is "Automate my breakfast." A jar of this makes that easy to do.
Hazelnut Sesame Granola Clusters
You can find brown rice syrup at good grocery stores, at a natural foods store, or even bulk at some places. This is the same olive oil granola recipe I've been wild about for the last 18 months, courtesy of Melissa Clark. As you're cooking this, it might look like you've done something wrong. The syrup will be bubbling up around the oats and it will look much more viscous than your regular granola might. Don't worry! Stir it every ten minutes, and let it cool all the way when it comes out of the oven. It will dry up nicely.
3 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1-1/2 cups hazelnuts
3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 cup whole dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (I wouldn't recommend doing it without parchment paper, a silpat, or something that will make your sheet non-stick, as the syrup acts like glue!)
Combine first 9 ingredients in a large bowl, then add olive oil and brown rice syrup, mixing until everything is coated.
Spread mixture out evenly on baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes and removing when mixture is an even golden brown. Granola will be wet when you remove it from the oven, and will stick together quite a bit as it cools. Once it's totally cool, break it up into chunks. You can, of course, break it up so it's quite loose. Whatever is to your liking. Add cranberries and store in an airtight container.
Related post: Almond Fig Granola Bars
Today’s post is a continuation from "Food makeover: How to set up your 'real food' kitchen." If you haven’t read that, start there first. So, now that you’ve cleaned out the kitchen of processed food, you’re probably thinking, “Now what the heck do I eat?”
Well, it’s time to stock up on the good stuff, but before you fret about spending money at the grocery store, I have good news! Whole foods or real foods, which we’ll refer to as RF for the remainder of this post, are for the most part inexpensive. For those things that can be costly, there are always options. So, don’t worry about cost right now. I’ll provide a list of things you may want to have ready and on hand in your new kitchen.
I also hope to use this post as an open-ended resource for people getting started with real food cooking. If you’re reading this, and you’ve traveled this road before, please add your comments or suggestions for items to keep in the kitchen, here and I will continue to update the list with all your suggestions. We can build the best real food kitchen together!
Frugal Tips To Help You Stock Your Real Food Kitchen
Note: Italicized writing indicates a real life example to illustrate that point.
Buy Smaller Amounts From the Bulk Bin Section (allowing you to buy as little as a tablespoon or less at a time).
I moved frequently for many years (every 6 months or less) which often forced me to move with what I could fit in my car. I would have to leave everything else in storage or get rid of everything but my most cherished belongings (you’ll have to read the book to find out more…no I haven’t written it yet). Setting up a new kitchen was always the most expensive part. I got wise, instead of going to the spice isle to pay 3 to 6 dollars for a bottle of a specific spice, I often could find it in the bulk section and buy a couple of tablespoons which would cost me usually less than .50 cents ( I also used to do this with pine nuts).
Different stores carry different bulk spices, so just because I couldn’t find it in bulk at the Safeway, often meant I could get it at the local Save On Foods, etc. This system works well with beans and legumes, baking powder, nuts, dried fruit and so on. Quality and freshness can be argued, but if cost is an issue, start here as you build your real food kitchen.
Buying Bulk: Get a Discount For Buying Large Quantities.
Shopping online is a great way to get bulk prices on organic sprouted flour, meat and other products. You can also stop buy your local organic grocery store to see if they can match the online bulk price.
When we switched over to RF sweeteners such as honey, we found we were going through it very quickly. A post from the Healthy Home Economist recommended we by it bulk in 50 lb. buckets. We’re lucky to have many honey producers in the Valley where we live that produce a very high quality product.
Though I did not buy a bucket nearly as large as 50 lbs., I was able to buy a big enough one for the year. While the initial expense of $50.00 was tough to swallow, we no longer have to make room for it on a biweekly or monthly basis which is so nice, and the overall cost savings is big.
Huge discounts can also be found when buying grass fed or organic meat direct from the farmer or sharing an animal with others looking to stock up on meat. When you buy it in the store there are big premiums on meat. Five years ago my sister would buy a 1/4 buffalo (free range grass fed) for $1.99/lb! I don’t think she still gets that deal, but it just goes to show you the power of bulk. Find local producers and offer to buy a hundred lbs., then split it with 4 or more family and friends so that everyone benefits from the discount, but no one is left holding the burden of 100 lbs. of meat and the expense. Kelly The Kitchen Cop posted a great article about buying grass fed beef at up to 40 percent off. Sure a little planning is involved but I would like to suggest that your body and health is worth it. And your wallet will be happier in the long run.
Buy From a Local Farmer and/or Buy Seasonally (more nutritious too).
We are lucky to live in a fairly temperate climate (at least by Canadian standards), and can buy produce from a local farmer 11 months of the year. I couldn’t tell you how many pounds of produce we would buy, but I would bring a huge plastic bin to the farm, fill it heaping full with everything from beans, peas, corn, squash, cherries, peaches, garlic potatoes and peppers (or whatever else was seasonal) for around $30.
That would last us anywhere from 10 days to 2 weeks. The equivalent amount of food from a grocery store or our farmers market would have cost twice as much. If you live in a large city consider buying from companies that do CSA boxes or deliver fresh seasonal produce right to your door. You’ll be surprised at how much produce you get for your dollar! How do you find one? Google it. Lame answer but it’s true. Every community is different, supporting different farmers, so look around.
Buy From Ethnic Grocery Stores or Aisles (if something seems exotic to you, chances are it’s part of everyday food for someone else, which often translates to inexpensive).
This is one of my favorite tips because it’s amazing how much money it saves me. Large cities have many different ethnic grocery stores to choose from. Cumin for example bought at my local store is about $4 a bottle (small) and coriander runs me about $6. Both of those can be bought either in the Indian aisle or ethnic grocery store for a fraction of the cost. I get a bulk bag for about $4 dollars but get 8 times the amount! The same holds true for chickpea flour, garam masala, lentils, chickpeas, mung beans and so on. The funny part is that I don’t have an ethnic store in our community. These savings are literally found by shopping two aisles over! If you live in the States, finding deals on Mexican spices and peppers are a breeze.
The Specifics On What to Buy
So now that we’re all a little richer with our money saving tips, here’s how to spend your hard earned cash. Now, remember, this is a suggested list. You may only buy a fraction of what is recommended here. Start with the foods you know how to cook or those that most interest you. From there you’ll be able to build on it as you become more confident and proactive at learning new techniques and how to use unfamiliar products.
Note: There are hundreds of varieties of beans, legumes and pulses and I won’t overwhelm you by listing them all, but rather I want to provide you with a list that should get you started. Pick a couple items from every category if you’re feeling overwhelmed. If it comes in a package absolutely read the ingredient list. It’s happened a few times when I’ve bought dried fruit, for example, then I get home and find out by reading the label that they’ve added all kinds of hydrogenated oil and sugars to them. Why add sugar to fruit? Chances are they were very good or ripe to start with. Why add oil? To keep them soft and moist. Done properly these ingredients wouldn’t be necessary.
From the Pantry
- black beans
- pinto beans
- navy beans
- cannellini beans
- mung beans
- azuki beans
- black eyed peas
- kidney beans
- dried peas
- green lentils
- red lentils
- French or Puy Lentils (little and dark green with speckled)
- beluga lentils (little and black)
- Grasses, Grains or Seeds
- wild rice
- brown rice (or sprouted brown rice)
- black rice or forbidden Japanese rice
- spelt or kamut
- wheat berries (winter or summer)
- maple syrup
- blackstrap molasses
- palm sugar
- date sugar
- apple sauce (homemade or organic is possible)
Nuts, Seeds and Oils
This could be an endless list, so just pick a couple and build from there. Try to source raw nuts.
- pine nuts
- macadamia nuts
- pumpkin seeds
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
- extra virgin olive oil
- coconut oil
- sesame oil
Dried Fruit and Berries
Spices and Herbs
Listed here are the ones I keep dry and on hand (basil, sage and mint are listed under fresh ingredients)
- ground cumin
- cumin seed
- mustard seed
- bay leave
- dry mustard
- Chinese 5 spice
- garam masala
- chili peppers, dried
- chipotle peppers
Fresh on the Counter or In The Fridge
Buy organic if you can, but it’s not necessary for this step. Remember, not to get overwhelmed, we just want to start taking the steps towards real food. Baby steps are an important part of the process.
- sweet potatoes
- squashes of all varieties
- sweet peppers (all colors)
- corn (non GM)
- cabbages (suey choy, bok choy, purple, green ect)
- collard greens
- brussel sprouts
- swiss chard
- lettuce (butter head, romain, red leaf, etc.)
- green onions
- hot peppers
- melons (watermelon, honey dew, cantaloupe, etc.)
Dairy and Eggs
- full fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt (ingredient list should read milk and active bacterial culture and maybe cream)
- full fat sour cream
- regular cottage
- cheeses of your choice (no processed cheese slices please)
I won’t provide a list here but rather some guidelines. Buy from a local farmer or grass fed, free range and/or organic if you can and buy in bulk to economize. When buying fish use Ocean Wise Programs or Seafood Watch for buying guides. If you’re really new to RF and the meat you eat usually comes in the form of fish sticks and pre-made hamburgers and hotdogs, first focus on buying meat that still looks like it came from an animal. You can always move on from there when you’re ready.
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OK, let me just say right off the go that this might not be easy for you if your house is full of processed food. Don’t worry, I’ll break it down into manageable steps. I’ll be your healthy eating guide and help to make this process as simple and painless as possible. There are two ways to set up a whole food kitchen (that’s fancy talk for having a kitchen stocked with real food).
Option 1 – Get It Over With
The first way is like ripping off a band aid. Do it fast in one quick motion, shake it off and move on to the the next step, just getting it all done at once. The pain will pass. This option involves going through your kitchen, taking all the processed food out of the cupboards, out of the fridge and freezer, donating what you can and throwing away everything else in one fell swoop. If this sounds wasteful to you, well so is putting that food into your body. Sound harsh? Well, maybe it is but it’s true. Many of our excuses for making food changes are masks for our addiction to high sugar, high sodium foods, and highly processed foods. If you choose Option 1, then tick off the 5 steps listed below all in one go.
Option 2 – Let Me Ease Into This
The second way to give your kitchen a whole foods makeover is to do it in incremental steps. A little more painful if you ask me, but it may seem more manageable if fear or doubt are controlling factors. These might take the form of: “I don’t know how to cook." "I don’t know how to cook from scratch." "I don’t even know where to shop for that kind of food." "I don’t have the time to cook,” etc. Don’t worry, those fears are the same fears that prevent us from change in any area of our lives and they are just that, fears. Totally normal and you can just walk right through them since these are simple skills that anyone can learn. For this method, follow the Band Aid Technique but instead of dealing with the fridge, freezer, and pantry all at once, split it into three steps. Or if that seems too much, make a plan to exchange four processed foods in your house with four non-processed foods every week.
Step 1 – Box That Junk
Get some boxes and/or bags. For the donate-able items (items that have not been opened and have not expired) you’ll need one box for frozen food, one for dry goods, and one for refrigerated items. Then you’ll need one box for items that will need to go to the garbage (items that need to go to the garbage often come in a container that is recyclable).
Step 2 – Sort That Junk
Start by sorting through your cupboards and getting rid of any food item that has words on the ingredient list you cannot pronounce or you don’t understand what it is. Here are a few examples of things to throw out: canned soup, canned pasta, Uncle Ben’s dishes, Kraft Dinner, most crackers, chips, jello, pudding packages, cake mixes, and candy bars. You’ll still be left with some non-real foods but the majority of the cupboard should be cleaned out of all the nonsense we shouldn’t be feeding our bodies.
What will still be remaining is white sugar, white flour, brown sugar, and dried pasta. These items will eventually need to be replaced with sprouted spelt or whole grain flours, real organic raw cane sugar (or preferably palm sugar, honey, date sugar, and maple syrup), spelt or kamut dried pasta (don’t worry they’re not that much more than regular pasta and I think they taste better than whole wheat pasta). These you may change slowly over the course of a couple of months as you begin to feel more comfortable or go all out and do it all at once. You choose, but don’t dilly-daddle around. Tell that food, "You're fired."
Step 3 – Cold Junk Goes, Real Food Stays
Next the refrigerator. The biggest offenders here will be BBQ sauce, fake pancake syrup, salad dressings, low-fat flavored yogurts, lunch meat, and stir fry sauces. Some things you’ll want to hold onto, however, are soya or tamari sauce, mustard, mayo (it’s so much better homemade but this might be another one of those transition products), butter, pickles, capers, and hot sauce. Again, rely on reading the labels. Eventually you’ll get really good at reading labels and some of the products you see now will also disappear, being replaced with better choices later. Some of the items you’ll want to stock your fridge with will be full fat yogurt, eggs, organic butter (if possible), cheese, bacon (read the labels to find a good one), fresh veggies and milk, to name a few.
Step 4 – Attacking The Frozen Junk
The freezer, scary things happen in the freezer. Foods that people really don’t want to get rid of live here, that’s why I saved it for last. I wanted to give you a little warm up. Yes the frozen pizza has to go. So do microwave dinners (shutter), frozen perogies, frozen egg rolls or taquitos, ice cream, pizza pockets, and freezies. What should remain are frozen vegetables, frozen berries and meat. This will be a haven for all the yummy food you’ll make in the future. Remember, you can always freeze a portion of your delicious meals, for quick, easy real food dinners.
Step 5 – Bye-Bye Junk Food
Take the boxes of unopened food out of the house and off the property immediately and don’t look back.
Resources to Help You Succeed
You might be thinking, “Now that I have no food left in my house, what do we eat?!”
Not to worry, here are some great sites that promote real food recipes and resources to help you on your way. Some of the websites below have there own cookbooks, resources, and videos. But what they all have in common with this site is tons and tons of absolutely free information and recipes. Who doesn’t love free? Some of these websites are more “hard core” when it comes to real food lifestyles than others, so pick one where you feel comfortable starting and go from there. It will evolve from there. The key is STARTING! The second step is COMMITTING!
- Sprouted Kitchen
- Kelly The Kitchen Kop
- Jeanette’s Healthy Living
- Eats Well With Others
- Real Food Forager
- Whole New Mom
- The Nourishing Gourmet
- 101 Cookbooks
- Ruth’s Real Food
If you want a more handheld approach with grocery list and meal plans, you may want to check out my hybrid cookbook/real food makeover The Whole Food Revelation. It’s designed to turn you into a Whole Food Cooking Ninja in less than a month.
There are plenty of resources for grocery lists and meal plans out there, so take a look around. Just make sure they are real food resources and not ones that recommend bottled sauces and breaded food. If they tell you to buy low fat anything, you’re in the wrong place.
What If I Get Off Track?
The hardest part will probably be ridding your cupboards of white sugar and white flour. Don’t worry or beat yourself up. Once the other foods are in place and you’re feeling confident with homemade salad dressing and cooking beans, quinoa, and brown rice, you can move onto these bigger things. Eventually you’ll want to learn how to bake without using white sugar, and you’ll actually find the challenge fun. The same will hold true with white flour.
If you have a bad day and show up at the house with a frozen pizza after a long days work, it’s OK. Start over tomorrow. Examine what went wrong, regroup and you’ll be better prepared to handle the situation next time. After all, we learn through our mistakes, not our successes, and no one is perfect 100 percent of the time.
We’re all in this adventure together. So, let us know how you’re doing on your journey and how far you’ve come by joining the conversation here. Or maybe you’re just starting. What are your motivating factors for change? Don’t be shy, maybe your story will motivate someone else!