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America’s Healthy
Cooking Teacher

Listening In the Kitchen

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  It’s my job. I love every second of it.  Having worked as an artist in my earlier years, I love the creative outlet I have always found in cooking--developing recipes, creating beautiful presentations, discovering new combinations of food and of course, always discovering how the energies come together to create the dance of life. In truth, I love everything about cooking and nourishing.  I love planning each menu--even if it’s just in my head as I wander the produce section of the market, checking out what’s in season.  I am always struck by the beauty of fresh fruits and vegetables as the colors complement and coordinate with each other in the kind of splendor that only nature can provide. 

It always makes me pause in wonder--even on those days when I’m so busy, I can barely stop to take a breath.

I love the action of the kitchen; every step in the process of creating a meal.  I love watching clear water sliding, glistening, over the vegetables I am about to prepare.  I love the feel of my knife in my hand as I slice and dice my way through the ingredients.  I love the sputtering of the pressure cooker, as it softens my grain and beans.  I love simmering stews and bubbling casseroles.  I love the sizzle of a sauté as I move the veggies around the skillet, shiny with oil.  I love seasoning and the variety of flavors I can create with a pinch or a sprinkle.  I love the fragrances of a meal in progress.

I love the challenge of creating meals that will help us meet our goals. I love the variety of ingredients, techniques and cooking styles that I have available to me. I love the daily self-discovery of seeing how the energy of food works in me to make me the person I am. I love playing with the energy of food as I cook and seeing how we differ each day.

I love serving meals each evening, setting the table and deciding which serving bowls will look best with each dish.  I love the social aspect of our meals, as we catch up with each other after our busy days.  It’s a time for us to slow down and remember each other and what’s really important in life.  It’s the most rejuvenating time of the day.  If you haven’t done it lately, give it a go; you’ll be amazed at how splendid it is.

I love cleaning up.  You heard me right.  I love cleaning up after dinner.  Now, I’m not some new age ex-hippie, lost somewhere between Earth and Mars, zoning out over the kitchen sink, staring at soap bubbles.  Cleaning is meditative in its symbolism.  It signifies, for me, the end of the day.  As I wash and rinse dishes, it’s a quiet time that I use to reflect on the day I’ve had.  It’s the beginning of a restful evening, cleansed of the day’s challenges.

I tell you all this for a reason.  For me, cooking is a complete experience, not a chore to be endured at the end of a hectic day.  I am convinced, down to the very core of my being, that in order for us to create the life we want, we must begin to see food and cooking in a new light.  We must remember that the act of cooking is the act of nourishing ourselves, of listening to what our bodies reveal. 

Have I had to re-think my priorities to create the space in my day to cook meals?  You bet I have.  I face daily challenges just like everyone else.  I have bad days, tough days, cranky days and low days just like everyone else.  Through the preparation of daily meals and the ever-continuing observation of how food affects us--by listening--I have helped create the life that we live.  We work very hard and have the strength for that work.  We face business stress every day and handle it with grace and balance.  We are able to let go when the day is done.  The way I choose to eat has opened many doors for me, not only in maintaining my health.  It gives me the clarity of mind to see my way through any situation, making decisions and being responsible for the outcome.

I think that understanding the energy of food--and how that energy behaves in our bodies, creating the people that we are--has given me freedom.  Being responsible can be seen as either a burdensome load, as guilt and blame.  Or we can view responsibility as it is defined--as the ability to respond.  Isn’t that a liberating thought?  Just think about it--the food we choose to eat can either enslave us to its energy, dominating our thoughts and actions, or we can choose to eat foods that will serve us as we strive to achieve our dreams.  We live in a world that can crush our desire.  We get caught up in the day to day routine of survival in a world that seems to move faster and faster, threatening to leave us behind. 

It’s time to stop, think and care for ourselves, so that we have the strength to step back on the roller coaster of life each day, so that we remain an oasis of calm in the maelstrom of daily challenges.

Cooking can open your eyes to the wondrous being that you are--and then you can discover the way to nourish yourself so that you can create the life you want if you’re listening. So skip the resolutions that you know you won’t keep and commit to a bit of self-care. It begins in the kitchen. Who knows where it will lead?

Butternut Squash & Leek Pie

I love to make this pie on cold days when the oven is calling my name and my body is craving sweet taste and rich nourishment.  Creamy squash and buttery leeks come together with sweet chestnuts to create a relaxed energy, endurance and deep, inner warmth.

Makes 6-8 servings

Filling:

2 teaspoons avocado oil

2 leeks, split lengthwise, rinsed free of dirt, thinly sliced

Organic soy sauce

1 small butternut squash, seeded, diced

1 cup cooked chestnuts, coarsely minced

3 tablespoons plain soy, almond or oat milk

 

Walnut Pastry:

1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour

pinch sea salt

½ cup walnuts, finely minced

1/4 cup walnut or avocado oil

spring or filtered water

 

small handful coarsely minced walnuts, for garnish

To prepare the filling, heat oil in a deep skillet and sauté leeks, with a splash of soy sauce, until limp, about 5 minutes.  Add squash, a splash of soy sauce and stir until mixed in with leeks and shiny with oil.  Stir in chestnuts and ‘milk,’ season lightly with soy sauce, cover and simmer over low heat until squash is soft, about 15 minutes.  Remove the cover and continue to simmer until vegetables reduce and thicken.

While the vegetables simmer, prepare the crust. You will need a rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom. 

Preheat oven to 350o.  Combine flour, salt and walnuts.  With a fork or pastry cutter, cut in oil to create the texture of wet sand.  Slowly mix in water until dough gathers into a firm ball.  Roll dough between two sheets of parchment to create a rectangle that is about one inch larger than your pan. 

Transfer crust to pan and press, without stretching, to fit into the crevices of the pan.  Trim away excess crust flush with the top rim.  Pierce in several places with a fork.  Fit a piece of foil over the crust, pressing for a firm fit.  Fill the crust with dried beans (to serve as a pie weight) to prevent the crust from bubbling.  Bake for 17 minutes.  Remove from oven, lift off foil and beans (you may use the beans over and over for pie weights) and set the crust aside to cool.

In a hot, dry skillet, pan toast walnut pieces until lightly browned and fragrant.  Set aside to cool. Mash cooked filling with a fork to create a coarsely creamy texture and spoon evenly into cooled pastry.  Sprinkle with minced walnuts and return to the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for about 15 minutes before slicing. 

Cook’s Tip: You may also use a standard pie plate for this recipe.