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
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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!