Let Your Voice and Your Frying Pan be Heard -How We Can Turn Thanksgiving Meal Preparation into a Different Kind of Vote

Thanksgiving is rolling around yet again, and stress may or may not be running rampant among those of us hosting our families and friends for this annual belly-filler. But it’s becoming easier (and more tempting) than ever to hand over the reins to various corporate kitchens and let them take over what some would argue is the most stressful aspect of the holidays: cooking. Whole Foods, local grocery stores, and online companies like Foody Direct are among the many businesses that offer everything from fully-planned and catered Thanksgiving meals to a la carte sides and desserts when you just need “a little bit of help.”

How convenient, right? After all, in the words of the Trader Joe, “Less time in the kitchen means more time to enjoy!” I read this on a sign during a recent visit to the popular grocery store.

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But, enjoy what, exactly? Visions of a dad throwing a football to his 8-year-old son in a leaf-strewn backyard popped into my head. A mom pushing a stroller down the sidewalk with a latte in hand, chatting to her friend on Bluetooth. A family sprawled out on the living room floor, hours deep into an intense Settlers of Catan game. Maybe this is what the sign meant: when you aren’t slaving away in the kitchen, you have many more hours to enjoy quality time with friends and family!

This is true. It’s pretty simple logic – if you free up hours that you would’ve spent in the kitchen, you can choose to spend them in a more enjoyable way. Certainly today’s society values and seeks out certain pastimes over others. Cooking for hours in high-stress conditions typically isn’t one of them. Even outside of holidays, we’ve long since signed the majority of our meal prep over to corporations so that we can busy ourselves with other, more pressing matters in our day-to-day life. Why should you have to rinse and chop kale or sweet potatoes or garlic when you can buy these in conveniently vacuum-sealed packages on your way home from work?

This is where the story turns. I’m not going to write about the glory of processed and prepared foods and how much easier they make our lives – quite the opposite, actually. That Trader Joe’s sign was one of the most depressing things I’ve read in a long time. I think being in the kitchen is a healthy and meaningful way to spend our time, for many reasons. Who influenced this mindset of mine? One of my favorite writers.

Anyone who’s asked me “what person, living or dead, would you most want to invite to dinner?” (which has happened oddly frequently this past month) knows how much I admire Michael Pollan, a journalism professor at UC Berkeley and a passionate food writer and activist. He has an impressive amount of books, articles, and other publications under his belt, and he’s even added a four-part Netflix series, Cooked, to his collection of inspirational and investigative media. His work explores the path that food takes to our plates and how that has changed throughout the years. In college, when I was beginning to take an interest in food beyond how it tasted and how much it cost, Michael Pollan’s views were what stuck with me beyond any other diet, trend, or scientific publication. He is a huge proponent of stepping back into the kitchen and taking charge of our meals and our ingredients – and Cooked, a read I highly recommend, will tell you all about it. Here, I mainly want to focus on how his ideas can help us feel empowered in our kitchens.

I don’t want to speak for Michael Pollan, of course, but I have a feeling he’d be all for each and every one of us making an effort to take back the responsibility for at least some  (if not all!) of the Thanksgiving cooking this year. Maybe that’s what your family has been doing all along, and maybe you do always make an effort to prepare your dinners from scratch. That is so wonderful, and it really shows what is important to you. For many of us, however, the focus is on instant gratification. We want to get the meal on the table in the quickest, most convenient way possible. But this isn’t how it’s always been. Cooking and eating used to be about spending time with your family and bonding, socializing, and connecting with each other over a common necessity: food.

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Beautiful veggies at a market I walked through on a recent trip to Cambodia

 

But decades ago, we started outsourcing our foods to corporations. We stepped out of our kitchens and gave the frying pan to someone else. And since then, there has been a rather alarming decline in the health of Americans and the land. Obesity and high blood pressure are just a few of the drains on human health, and farmland is brutally abused by industrial agriculture (it reduces biodiversity, pollutes the air and water, and contributes to climate change – and these are just a few of the threats). Corporations want to be profitable, and so they buy from big monoculture farms and big companies that only care about the most efficient (and frequently unhealthy) agricultural practices. They don’t give two shits about your local farmer’s market or the Slow Food movement. But many of us do give a shit, or we at least say we do. And if we look deeper, we’ll see that the success of the organic, local food moment that’s been gaining popularity lately is directly related to the revival of cooking. Those locally grown greens we just bought aren’t going to dance their way into a colorful salad all by themselves, after all! And when we assume the role of home cook, we are the ones who can best support small farmers because we directly buy and prepare their food products. It’s a way for us to say “no thanks” to the big guys and instead support the locals.

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Happy cattle on a dairy farm owned by friends of mine in South Africa

Aside from all the benefits to health and nature, I think time spent in the kitchen is personally rewarding. What an act of love it is to create something delicious from scratch and be able to serve it to your friends and family. We all need to eat, after all, so we might as well make it special! And our body is our constant companion day-to-day, so arguably, we should really want to treat it well. When we cook ourselves, we tend to use less salt, fat, and sugar than large corporations do (they simply want to make the food taste “good” with the cheapest ingredients possible, often in the form of these and other unhealthy additives). This means cooking often leads to better health. For me, cooking isn’t just about making my body feel good, although that’s a big part of it – it also serves as a fun stress-reliever. It allows me to become a producer and temporarily step away from the role of consumer that is a much larger part of my identity than I’d like it to be.

“We find time for what we value.” These are words Michael Pollan mentioned during a book tour for Cooked. This is ultimately what it comes down to. If we want to support local food, if we want to improve the health of ourselves and our families, if we want to take an active stance towards the health of our planet (and combat climate change!), we’re going to need to make the time to step back into our kitchens and cook. We can treat these everyday food choices as a vote for something, because how we eat directly shows our support for how we’d like the land to be treated. Do we want to see our planet abused through industrial agriculture? Or do we want to see it nurtured and cared for with good farming practices?

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Kauai – as they say on the islands, it’s our responsibility to care for the ‘aina (land)

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How could we not cherish something so beautiful? Vineyards in South Africa 

Sure, it might seem like a grand notion to assume that cooking our Thanksgiving dinner at home will save the planet. But the point is to stand for your beliefs and let your choices reflect your values. So let’s start small! Let’s start somewhere! And what better time to step back into our kitchens and cast our votes for a healthier planet than during a holiday that’s all about sharing with loved ones and showing gratitude for what we have? If you’re feeling frustrated about recent events, and helpless or unheard, cooking is something that you have power over. You do get another vote. Even Patagonia (an environmentally-minded company that has recently expanded to include Patagonia Provisions) stands behind positive change in the food industry, with an expert from their recent e-newsletter still bouncing around in my mind: “You can still vote with your stomach. As the dust from the election settles, we can all find hope for our planet in better ways to grow and harvest food.”

This is something I’m passionate about. And, yes, it’s a lot more complicated than I’ve made it seem above (there’s always the issue of affordability, among other things – eating local and cooking with fresh ingredients is certainly not the cheapest option). If we’re not quite ready to take the full plunge into cooking from scratch, it’s something that we can at least think about and shift towards the top of our priority list. We can start to appreciate cooking as an act of empowerment and a vote for our beliefs. So…pick up your frying pan (or sauce pot, or baking sheet, or preferred cooking vessel). Light a nice candle. Open a bottle of wine. Put on your favorite Spotify playlist. And let’s celebrate this holiday by giving Mama Nature a big hug!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Get out there and love the land! (Be fruitful and dig up your own clams for chowder!)

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grain-free granola…the South African “Banting” way

Banting…a word I haven’t heard uttered once since I arrived back home in the U.S. in March, and yet one that I’d hear at least five times at any gathering in South Africa that involved two or more women. Oh, how I miss that Banting banter.

To put it simply, Banting is a way of eating, one that’s taken South Africa by storm over the past couple of years. I wouldn’t consider it a diet, seeing as you’re meant to adopt this method of eating for life. It was made famous by Tim Noakes, a South African exercise and sports science professor at the University of Cape Town. The man is a bit of a legend…having run over 70 marathons and ultramarathons, he knows his stuff, so when he wrote his most popular book to date, The Real Meal Revolution, people listened. The book hasn’t been published in the U.S. as of yet, but is set to release on July 30, 2015, so make a note in your handy little iCal and plan to Amazon.com that baby.

Banting supports a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet, and is described as “a long-delayed return to the way human beings are supposed to eat” (Source: Amazon.com). It gets rid of the myths that fat and cholesterol are detrimental to our health, using solid scientific research and hard evidence to back these claims. You’re allowed meat, seafood, eggs, cheese, butter, nuts – many things that are the first foods to be smacked away by other popular diets.

When I lived in South Africa, I was able to experience firsthand what it meant to say, “Oh, sorry, I can’t have that, I’m Banting.” Everyone immediately knew what you were talking about. No grains or sugar for you! Markets had signs labeling certain foods as “Banting-friendly!” and some restaurants even had separate sections in their menus for “Banters.”

Tim Noakes claims that Banting can help do away with a plethora of health issues, including weight gain, low energy levels, high blood pressure, even certain skin conditions. In The Real Meal Revolution, a good half of the book is dedicated to the science and history supporting this style of eating, with evidence and studies carefully cited. The other half is devoted to some (pretty damn delicious) recipes that are all Banting-friendly.

Without going into the details of my own personal food philosophy, I have to say many aspects of the Banting diet make sense and appealed to me. This is one of my favorite recipes out of the book: a grain-free granola based on nuts and spices (no oats, other grains, cane sugar, nada). And, as a bonus, I knew this granola would immediately propose to my favorite plain full-fat greek yogurt, and a happy breakfast wedding would occur.

The recipe is also incredibly simple, and under 30 minutes from start to finish! Give it a go, and let me know if you come up with any creative uses for this granola. There’s bound to be bunches. Feel free to mix up what nuts and seeds you use!

“Banting” Nut Granola

Ingredients:
100 g (~1 cup) walnuts
100 g  sunflower seeds
100 g  hazelnuts
100 g  slivered or chopped almonds
3 tbsp coconut oil (adds some heavenly flavor, but you can also sub olive oil)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger powder (you can also grate fresh ginger, which is what I did)
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Optional:
Any other nuts/seeds you want to add (pecans, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp honey/agave/maple syrup to sweeten, if you’re into that! It’s not exactly Banting at this point, but it will taste absolutely fabulous.

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 C).

2) Chop the nuts up roughly and mix them all up in a bowl with the seeds.

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3) Melt the coconut oil over a medium-low heat in a nice big frying pan, then add all the spices and swirl them around. Be careful not to burn them! If you’re using sweetener or vanilla, add them to the pan at this point.

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4) Add the nuts to pan and toss them around until everything is all nice and coated in coconut-y spice-y goodness.

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5) Remove from the heat and smooth the nuts out onto a baking tray in an even layer.

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6) Pop the tray in the oven and bake for around 10 minutes – just enough to give them a nice little roast. Be warned: it will start to smell like Christmas. Don’t blame me if you get the urge to put on a little Josh Groban Noel. 

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All nice and roast-y.

7) After 10 minutes, remove, let the nuts cool to room temperature, and store in a cute little mason jar (or any other container, but I love me some mason).

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8) Eat it however the heck ya want! Top your yogurt, eat it as a snack, mix with some fruit…pick your poison (that’s just an expression, it’ll actually do your body wonders), and enjoy the wonderful effects of a nutritious, full-fat, Banting breakfast. Make note of the fact that you don’t get those annoying cravings mid-morning – no donuts for you. You should feel nice and full right up to lunch time.

Happy Banting!

 

 

let us eat tacos

I can’t really give a proper explanation for my intense passion for tacos. It was a love affair that was destined from the very beginning. Well, not really. I was a quesadilla kid. Oozy gooey cheese stuffed into a flour tortilla? Nothing made me happier.

Until I ventured into the taco world. What is it about the moist and tender spiced meats and zingy salsa, sometimes layered with good ole guac if I’m really having a stuff-my-face-with-avocado kind of day (side note, for me, that’s every day…), complete with the delicate green cilantro leaves laying happily on top….that’s it. I know what it is. It’s the perfect combination of flavors and textures that make tacos so irresistible.

Maybe you’re a flour tortilla person. I’m not. No judgement on those who are! I’m just a corn tortilla lover. It might be my quiet aversion to wheat, but really, whatever medium you choose to get those taco fillings in your mouth is a-ok by me. It all goes to the same place.

So, being that it was just recently Cinco de Mayo (thank you to the Mexican army for their unlikely victory over Napoleon III’s forces at the Battle of Puebla, circa 1862…this margarita’s for you!), I spent the morning of May 5th dancing around the kitchen in celebration of the magic flavors and rich culture of Mexico. And trying my hand at creating a version of huevos rancheros, a traditional mid-morning meal originating on rural Mexican farms. Basically, a heavenly breakfast taco. The basics: fried eggs on fried corn tortillas (fry anything in butter, I’ll eat it and I will smile a happy butter-induced, slightly delirious smile), drizzled with tomato-chile salsa. Some traditional accompaniments are guac, Mexican rice and refried beans. Or if you’re a Tex-Mex fan, throw in some cheese and sour cream…we Americans love our cheese and sour cream. Yes, yes, you could even use a wheat tortilla.

I have a love affair with Jamie Oliver, and followed the Brit’s own version of the recipe that I found here.  He swears it’s the ultimate hangover cure….so really, no need to hold back on those tequila shots knowing you’ve got this delight waiting for you to cook up in the morning.


I made mine with some black beans and added a dash of cayenne pepper. Life’s nothing if not better with a little spice, right? Oh, and I may or may not have left out the chorizo. It’s just as good as a veg option!  After everything was all prepped (salsa blended, avocados sliced, plain full-fat greek yogurt dragged out of the fridge in lieu of sour cream, fried eggs sizzling in the pan and tortillas hot and slightly crisp in their butter-induced coma), I assembled these little beauties. Tortilla + beans + egg + salsa + avo + yogurt + cilantro.

Oops, forgot the = Lauren’s happiness.

Then I ate them. Happy Cinco de Mayo, indeed.

And then my dad was mad when I sent him pictures and he wasn’t at home to have any of the amazingness that was my huevos rancheros. So, come May 6th, I decided that there is no such thing as over-celebrating Mexico’s victory over the French. Let it be Taco Round 2 of the week, this time based off  of some leftover slow-cooked shredded beef.

Wasn’t hard for my taco-minded brain to come up with the fabulous idea of beef tacos…we based it off of this Food Network recipe.

Heaps of Leftover Rump Roast

Man, that was some tender beef. And again, shout out to Mexican cuisine for its outstanding marriage of taste and texture, and my mouth for its agreement to be a constant venue for the wedding.

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We whipped up some salsa and guac, heated up some leftover black beans from the huevos rancheros of yesterday morning, and sang some mariachi songs while drinking tequila from the bottle.

Oh, wait, no, we didn’t do that last bit, that was last Cinco de Mayo at Notre Dame…

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And yep. There was that taco-induced happiness making my mind spin around in a dizzy blur.

For my fellow taco lovers out there…let us remember that the glory of Cinco de Mayo can be any night of the year, if we are only brave enough to submit to our inner taco passion.

Me gustaría bailar desnuda para tacos.