Q: What inspired you to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)?
A: After college I moved to Peru where I was working with a U.S. non-profit promoting healthy behavior change in rural and impoverished communities. The diet in this rural village was extremely limited, leaving many feeling sluggish and unhealthy, and was causing serious and irreversible health issues amongst some of the residents. I would spend hours trying to create new recipes that maximized nutrient intake and offered new flavors for the same foods. I was inspired to study nutrition in more depth and learn how to transform everyday food into medicine, because I wanted to learn for myself, but also for others who don’t have access to this vital information.
Q: As a RDN, do you have any hard and fast rules about what you should and shouldn’t eat?
A: Short answer–No. Food is inherently neutral. We tend to attach moral value to foods and label them as “good” or “bad”. This is concerning because we then become “good” or “bad” people for eating such foods. When we release these judgements and look at food for what it really is, neutral, energy-providing food, we are able to make decisions based on more important factors like hunger and satiety, desire, and self-care rather than personal worth. As a dietitian, I spend a lot of time discussing this concept with my patients. It all comes down to this… Each person is a unique being with unique needs. What works for one person, doesn’t for another, and vice-a-versa. I always encourage a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.
Q: What’s your philosophy when it comes to eating and cooking?
A: My food philosophy is centered around the idea that food should taste good and bring you joy! My patients are always surprised when I say this. They often think that “nutritious food” is bland and boring and that a dietitian only promotes diets and restrictions. I promote nutrition, of course, but not at the cost of sacrificing flavor or satisfaction. A healthy diet can be inspiring and include many diverse ingredients–I love to show people how!
My happy place is in the kitchen showing someone how to transform whole foods into medicine using simple and flavorful techniques. Educating people on seasonal foods and the benefits of eating with the seasons is a passion of mine. When you cook with foods that are in season, you don’t have to do much to them to make them taste good. For example, roasting tomatoes with olive oil and sea salt at the peak of summer creates the most delectable and savory tomato “candies”. Or, lightly dressing raw baby greens, at the first sign of spring, makes the most tender and sweet salad.
Q: Why do you love to cook?
A: Cooking is meditative for me. It’s an opportunity to slow down and live in the present moment. I enjoy experimenting with different flavors and seasonal ingredients and transforming whole foods into delicious and nutritious recipes. Nourishing my loved ones is my ultimate happy place–the greatest act of love!
Q: What are 5-10 basic foods or ingredients that are healthy, affordable, versatile, and easy to use in cooking?
A: Beans – Dried or canned, beans are a fantastic source of protein and fiber. They’re typically very inexpensive and are a great centerpiece or side dish to any meal. Cannellini beans or corona beans with olive oil and fresh herbs make for a lovely side dish or warm salad. Corn and black bean tacos with pickled red onions are another tasty way to eat more beans.
Whole grains – There are so many different whole grains to choose from. Some of my favorites include quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat, and wheat berries. I like to make a batch of quinoa and buckwheat and mix the two together to create a warm breakfast cereal or porridge–a refreshing alternative to standard oatmeal. I add warm almond or oat milk and top the cereal with toasted nuts and dried fruit or stewed apples and cinnamon. Also, I like to add quinoa to a classic chili recipe which adds more fiber, protein, and vitamins, and also helps to “thicken” the chili. Another favorite is a cold wild rice salad with hearty greens and a tangy vinaigrette. The wild rice holds up over time and adds a great texture to the salad.
Seasonal vegetables and fruits – Fresh produce at the peak of the season is often less expensive and more flavorful. Seasonal produce also typically travels less distance to get to the marketplace, so the carbon footprint is smaller, too. Peaches in July and August couldn’t be juicier or sweeter. Chanterelle mushrooms in October and November are meaty and rich. Both of these outside of their growing season tend to leave you wanting more.
Yogurt (dairy or plant-based) – Yogurt is so much more than just a breakfast food! It makes a fantastic marinade for meat and vegetables or can be added to soups and sauces to make them creamy. The probiotics or cultures in yogurt are also a winning addition.
Chicken – Cooking a whole chicken instead of separate cuts of chicken is a great way to save money and time in the kitchen. It’s often less expensive pound for pound and is also a time-saver in the kitchen as a whole cooked chicken can provide multiple meals.
Fresh and dried spices and herbs – You could eat the same food every day and be convinced it was new and exciting if you use different spices and herbs in preparation. These flavor-makers can also help people reduce their salt and sugar intake without compromising taste. Many herbs and spices offer incredible health benefits too, so that’s a plus!
Q: You teach cooking classes at a Community Teaching Kitchen. What are the simplest most satisfying meals you prepare? What do your students seem to like most?
A: My students love the simplicity and flavors of the Tex-Mex Skillet made with ground chicken or white beans and vegetables and served with whole grain tortillas. Also, vegetarian lasagna is a well-loved meal. We use a ton of vegetables like zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach, and whole wheat lasagna noodles. You can even sub the noodles for thin eggplant slices.
After the 6-week cooking class series is complete, I often hear from students that they’re surprised to learn they actually like vegetables! We prepare vegetables, along with many other foods, in wholesome yet exciting ways. Some other favorites include beet hummus (it’s hot pink!) and black bean brownies that are as sweet and fudgy as traditional brownies.
Q: What is your favorite make-ahead meal—one that can be prepped early in the day or prepped and frozen?
A: A tangy tomato sauce or pesto with polenta and chicken meatballs. These can all be made ahead in large quantities and portioned out into freezer meals. Or, another favorite of mine, Roasted Carrot and Quinoa Salad with Sunflower Seeds–it gets even better with time!
Q: What are your top 5-10 fridge essentials?
A: Whole milk yogurt, unsweetened soy milk, eggs, butter, leafy greens (rainbow chard, curly kale, red leaf lettuce), batch-cooked whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat), green olives, homemade honey mustard salad dressing, maple syrup.
Q: What are your top 5-10 pantry essentials?
A: Raw nuts and seeds (stored in the freezer), nut and seed butter (almond, cashew), chickpeas and black beans (dried and canned), onions, potatoes, garlic, rolled oats, homemade unsweetened applesauce, whole wheat pastry flour, dates (stored in the fridge), vanilla extract.
Q: What cookbook do you use most and what cookbook do you recommend for the beginner cook?
A: I’m OBSESSED with cookbooks. I have far too many favorites to pick just one. Lately, I’ve been loving Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking, Julia Turshen’s Small Victories, and Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini’s The Cook’s Atelier. But, check back soon as these will most definitely change!
Q: What are the kitchen gadgets you use most and why?
A: High-powered blender – I make so many things with my blender! Soups, smoothies, salad dressings, marinades, pancakes, the list goes on and on.
Salad spinner – I use this for so much more than just drying salad greens. I use mine to wash and dry fresh herbs, drain beans, clean vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, and remove moisture from shredded veggies like zucchini (for chocolate zucchini bread of course!).
Microplane grater – I use this to zest citrus, grate cheese, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, chocolate, frozen chili peppers (Google it!)… I’m sure there’s more.
Cast iron skillet – Every cook needs a cast iron skillet. It’s an essential piece of (inexpensive) kitchen equipment. I make frittatas, cornbread, stir fry, and more in my skillet, but where I think cast iron really shines is when cooking various proteins like steak or tofu. The hot skillet gives you that golden brown sear you’re often looking for.
Q: What is your strategy for using up all the bits and pieces of fresh produce? Hate seeing things hit the compost that should get eaten!
A: Homemade stocks and broth are a great way to use up all of the bits and pieces of produce, meat, and seafood. I keep three containers in my freezer–one for vegetable stock, one for seafood stock, and one for beef and/or chicken stock. Then, depending on what I’m discarding, I add it to the appropriate container, which can include peels, bones, cores–you name it! Then when the container is full, I empty the contents into a large stock pot and add water to cover the bits and pieces. I put it on the stove on high heat and bring it to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to a simmer for at least 30 minutes. The longer it simmers, the richer the stock becomes. Lastly, I strain the contents and store the liquid stock in my fridge in a glass jar with a lid. Homemade stock, ready to go! Oh, and it freezes really well.
Q: If you were to cook the ultimate meal—your absolute favorite—what would it consist of?
A: Well, my absolute favorite food is raw oysters, so no cooking necessary! I’d eat them on the half shell with a tangy mignonette. The rest of the meal would probably have to be a vegetable platter with some fantastic dip and a cheese platter with seeded crackers, olives, and pickled veggies. My mouth is watering! You said cook though haha… If I were to cook my favorite meal, I’d keep it simple, but loaded with flavor. I’d probably sauté shrimp with garlic butter and serve it with crusty homemade sourdough bread and roasted broccolini to go alongside. Simple but delightful. Can you tell I’m from the Pacific Northwest with all the seafood!?
Q: What do you think of supplements?
A: Supplements are necessary for some people. Pregnant or nursing mamas, vegans and some vegetarians, elderly people, people with medical conditions and/or those with nutrient deficiencies, and anyone who has a limited or restricted diet for one reason or another should supplement. For others, I think supplements can help fill in the gaps, but aren’t necessary.
However, I do prescribe many of my patients probiotics, vitamin D, and fish oil–three great supplements for many of us. Although you can find probiotics, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids, specifically EPA/DHA, in foods, I find that most of us could use the extra support.
Q: Favorite not-so-guilty pleasure?
A: Raw radishes with butter and flaky sea salt. Banana, almond butter, and cacao “milkshakes”.
Q: What’s your favorite breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Dessert?
A: My answer to this question is likely to change day-to-day. Right now, I’m loving Nordic-inspired food for breakfast–seafood, berries, fermented vegetables, cheese, and rye bread. For lunch and dinner, I like Vietnamese fresh spring rolls with vegetables and tofu, Bun Tom (rice noodle bowls with shrimp), or pho (brothy soup). Dessert is easy–chocolate ice cream! Anything chocolate, really, or homemade apple pie with vanilla ice cream.