Monday, April 27, 2009

Culinary Counseling

I really like to cook. But, as is the case with most things I really like to do, I don't participate in the activity very often. I mean this is the whole premise of this blog, right, so if what I just wrote was news to you, you have a few posts to catch up on.

Just about an hour ago I decided to prepare some food for the morning. Nothing exciting, some cumin-scented quinoa and yam for a breakfast burrito similar to the one described in a previous posting. During the process of chopping up some onion and garlic, for a brief moment, I wasn't thinking about anything but chopping up some onion and garlic. In that moment I realized why I haven't been cooking for myself lately (as in the last 10 months). Cooking prevents me from doing anything else. There may be chefs out there who can successfully multi-task, but I am not one of them. When I am in the midst of preparing a meal I can get totally lost in the dicing, the slicing, the sauteeing, the steaming, the broiling, the baking. And what do I have to show for this 30-60 minutes of committment to food and utensil? A result that only benefits me. Unless, of course, the meal turns out wretchedly in which case it doesn't benefit anyone. Maybe if I had a dog or some other pet or even a roommate with a less discerning palatte than my own than at least some good would come out of it...

But in reality, it's just me and when I cook its purely for my own benefit. Two years ago, I lived in San Francisco with 5 other volunteers. We took turns manning (or womanning as the case may be) one of 2 kitchens to create culinary delights (I use the term loosely) for the enjoyment and nourishment of our housemmates. The days I was in charge of dinner someone had to nearly pry the wooden spoon from my hand. Granted the menus I came up with were typically overly ambitious and the meal was often late getting to the table. Still, I enjoyed every last minute in that kitchen because I knew that when the smoke cleared (our oven had a tendency to burn things) I would be able to present this food, this gift to nurture 5 other humans.

Cooking for myself feels indulgent...

(At the moment so does writing this blog when I have a dozen other assignments to work on so I'll pause for a brief interlude...more later)

From the psychiatrist's couch,

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not Hungry

I haven't been very hungry these past few days. Don't worry, I'm not going to have to change my blog title. The descriptor "hungry" in the title is much more complex than simply the urge for sustenance from food it refers to my appetite for knowledge, for balance, for a new way of eating in America, and so many other things that don' t even relate to food directly. How did you not get that?

As I was saying, I haven't been hungry for the past few days. This hasn't stopped me from eating and I can't say I've even consumed less this week than I would any other. It is pretty evident that I don't really listen to my hunger. In fact, since college my hunger and I have had a rather rocky relationship. Even before early adulthood I'm not sure I ever paid very much attention to my hunger. Growing up in an upper-middle class Italian-American household meant that food was never in short supply. My mother prepared home-cooked food at regular meal times and did her best to keep sugary cereals and soda to a minimum so the food environment was a healthy one. I had no reason to think that my hunger wouldn't always be satisfied with minimal effort. Thus, I paid it little mind. As was usually the case, I would eat when food was presented to me whether my hunger dictated it or not. So, as I said, before college I didn't pay much attention to my hunger.

This changed during my freshman year. Whether it was my own body image insecurities or a need for some control in a time of great flux, I began to eat less frequent and smaller meals. Soon my hunger began to speak up and I had a harder time ignoring it. I remember going to bed while my hunger screamed at me, "Get up and eat something!." Though I could have easily gone to the small fridge in my dorm and quieted my hunger with a snack, I chose not to and I enjoyed the control I had over my hunger. Over the next year, I fought hard against my hunger but as I entered sophomore year of college my hunger won the battle. I began to eat more frequently and larger portions and my hunger was usually satisfied. However, the fight with my hunger is far from over and, though I listen to it more now than in the past, our relationship remains a tumultuous one.

Often I find myself angry with my hunger because it interferes when I'm trying to do schoolwork or exercise or when it decides to show up just as I enter my favorite co-op with an empty grocery cart. At other times, I wait in great anticipation for my hunger to arrive only to get angry when my hunger doesn't show up at restaurants or is late for a date with a plate of freshly baked (vegan) brownies. When my hunger does appear, I get upset when it doesn't stay long enough for me to enjoy that second helping of piping hot cornbread smeared with honey.

Still our relationship isn't all negative. I do appreciate how my hunger reminds me of another opportunity to nourish my body and tantalize my taste buds with a new edible experience. When I really stop to listen to it, I find that my hunger leads me to a meal that satisfies me nutritionally, emotionally, and sensually. If only I could learn to listen to it more often.

In satiety, Jenna

Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting Back to the Table, Part III

Bring in the crepe!

I should preface this blog entry by stating that I've been a rather strict vegan for nearly 2 years. I alluded to the reasons behind this in a previous post but the root of it was for my health. I had been diagnosed with the GI world's favorite umbrella term for anything that ails ya, IBS and as directed by some website on the subject I set out to rid my diet of all the most common trigger foods: spicy food, fried food, meat, dairy, etc. With meat and dairy out of my diet it wasn't long before eggs and fish followed and, voila! I was vegan. Over the past two years I have felt better about my dietary choices. On a teleological level, the vegan diet makes sense to me. Consumption of dairy, in my opinion, is counter-evolutionary and I don't want to eat meat/eggs from an immoral and environmentally toxic industry as is the case in the US.

However, the vegan way of eating hasn't really done wonders for my health. I don't feel worse by any means but I don't feel better either. I'm still plagued with GI issues and my energy level isn't always where I'd like it to be regardless of amount of physical activity and other factors. Lately, this fact and the idea perpetuated by my Bastyr education that I'm suddenly deficient in B12, iron, and several other essential nutrients has gotten me reevaluating what I'm eating or rather what I'm not eating.

To this end, and as futher evidence that I could participate in a normal social gathering where food is involved, I went out for crepes! What a grand experience it was. Accompanied by two of my closest friends (one of which made the accusatory remarks that started this venture) I went to Saley in Capitol Hill and enjoyed not one but two of these French delicacies. The first was a savory delight. A crunchier version of the airy egg-including pastry acted like a shell encasing creamy avocado, pink (is it just me or have you not had a good tomato since 1972?) tomato, and bright spinach. The only downfall was the unexpected dousing of the above ingredients in a "special crepe sauce". Not only did this ruin my only egg rule by including yogurt in the dish but it added a creamy redundancy to the richness offered by the avocado. That aside, the crepe was just great! What made it better was that I could watch the whole crepe-making process from my table. It's always a treat to see a restauranteur devoted to her craft lovingly create your lunch right in front of your eyes. The meal was topped off by a sweet crepe, the much more silken variety I was used to, spread delicately with strawberry jam and folded over itself to form the familiar crepe triangle. Every bite melted in my mouth. A mouth that was grinning widely even now, 2 days later, thinking about how good it was to be back at the table!

Note of thanks...I'd like to give a shout out to a blogger peer of mine who's blog has reminded me of the importance of getting out of my head and into my stomach a bit more. Maybe bratwurst and kale isn't far off?


Getting Back to the Table, Part II

Funnily enough my endeavors to get away from the "quinoa and kale salad" mentality began with a dish that contained both quinoa and kale. This is the burrito I whipped up the morning after I learned how close this blog had come to being called "Reservation for One". It's a compilation of leftovers and this is how it was lovingly composed:

My sister had some kale and broccoli in the fridge for what I judged to be a long enough time for them to become public domain. I was careful to take a rather inconspicous amount of both and finely chopped them before sauteeing in some olive oil and adding a pinch of garlic powder and some cumin. This was the unseasoned greens' orientation to the Mexican-themed gathering they were ultimately in store for. I then added to the skillet a couple large spoonfuls of Mexican quinoa that my pal, Sherrill (check out her blog, The Saffron Spoon) had lovingly prepared the night before. To this medley, I introduced the taco-style black beans that served as the main feature in the previous evenings mexican feast. After warming the mixture thoroughly I removed it from the pan and prepared its edible container, an Ezekial 4:9 sprouted grain tortilla. My favorite way to ready this for eating is to massage either side with some olive oil and heat on medium until it is maleable and slightly crispy on the edges. I gently tucked the bean/quinoa/broccoli/kale into its warm tortilla blanket and laid it upon a plate with a smidge of hot salsa and a couple fresh strawberries. ( The last two additions acted more like edible airbrushing for the sake of the above photograph.)

I should add that I sat down with fork and knife and ate this mindfully and joyfully (it was damn tasty) as I sat on a chair at a table in my sun-lit kitchen.

Assessment, step 1 was a success! I was at a table, but I was still eating quinoa and kale, my two safest foods. Step 2 would have to involve something a little more out of my current culinary box....

Getting Back to the Table, Part I

So in one of my last posts I described how I've had a hard time savoring food lately. I spend far too much time thinking/worrying how a food will make me feel or how it will affect my carbon footprint and too little time thinking of how it tastes. Well, before I even had a real chance to deal with that, my situation got worse. It seems that my cerebral way of dealing with food has infected the time I spend dining with others.

You see, no one wants to eat with me anymore. I've become one of those hippy vegan types that, to quote a friend, "gets upset when someone else has already brought the kale and quinoa salad to the potluck." I was unaware of how bad it had gotten until the same friend described a recent visit to a local sushi restaurant. Apparently, while she attempted to enjoy her burdock tempura roll (which I have enjoyed myself in the past) I made several negative remarks about the amount of white rice in the meal and lamented the absence of brown rice sushi at local sushi restaurants.

Of course, what I meant was that, in my case eating lots of white rice makes me feel sluggish and irritable and I, for the benefit of myself and others, choose to have brown because it makes me feel better than the white. But by pointing this out it sounds like, in my opinion, anyone who wouldn't choose brown rice is making an inferior decision. Either that or all my talk about the physiological and psychological effects of food really takes away from the enjoyment of the food itself.

So, in a manner not unlike exhibiting my ability to sit with the adults during family gatherings when I was a child, this weekend became all about proving to myself and others that I could be invited back to the table...

Friday, April 17, 2009


Mmmm...polenta. Just take a minute to bask in the ethereal glow of a bowl of polenta, a dash of cinnamon, a sprinkle of toasted almonds, and a drizzle of warm maple syrup.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just Food

"Every morning I get up and I can't decide whether I want to save the world or savor it. " ~ E.B. White

When I was formulating ideas for this blog. I tried to embellish the notion of food. Should I write about the politics of food? Should I write about how to practically incorporate whole foods into one’s life? It didn’t seem like enough to write about just food. What I neglected to realize, and what was made abundantly clear to me as I listened to Shauna James Ahern (Gluten-Free Girl) speak this afternoon, is that it is impossible to write about just food. Food is such an integral part of our lives one can’t write about food and not talk about human connections. You can’t talk about food and not talk about human emotions: love, passion, comfort, joy. When a food truly satisfies hunger it touches on the human need and desire for all of these things.

I chose to study nutrition to save the world. That may seem grandiose but I truly saw this master’s degree in nutrition as the first step to creating a healthier, happier global society. I wanted to make wellness a choice everyone could make, not a luxury reserved for the upper ten percent. I made a choice to give up my consumption of animal products because I didn’t want to use my resources to power an industry that is contributing to an unhealthy environment on many fronts. These days, each choice I make at the grocery store or the farmers market, at a restaurant or in my own kitchen is made to be in concert with my goal to save the world. I rarely make the choice to savor it.

Don't get me wrong, I still want to wake up tomorrow and make the decision to save the world, but I also want to savor it. With the help of this blog I hope to find a balance between the two. There are days where I might delve into deeper issues surrounding food and how it needs to be saved, but most days I want to talk about just food and how it needs to be savored.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, April 12, 2009


One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered when trying to change my own eating habits as well as when motivating others to change theirs is tradition. Whether cultural or religious, so many of our traditions revolve around food.

For instance, if I were in Pennsylvania right now celebrating Easter with my family I’d be presented with a plate of ground sausage and scrambled eggs for breakfast. We’d then munch on a delicacy called Easter Pie that is essentially a very dense quiche with some combination of the following: ricotta, Parmesan, ham, pepperoni, pasta, salami, eggs, and sausage. Rounding off the day would be an evening of some crackers, bread, cheese, and still more ham.

Now if you’re relying on the Italian-American food pyramid you’ve hit all the major food groups: MEAT, CHEESE, and BREAD. From the perspective of a whole grain loving, vegetable chomping vegan…you’re in the third circle of Hell.

You could sit there all grouchy and judgmental, but there are better options:
Like bringing something for everyone to share that meets your preferences and their tastes!

Last year I provided an “Easter Pie” of my own made with tofu, fresh spinach and tomatoes, a little nutritional yeast and lots of fresh basil (Italians love anything with basil in it).
Did everyone try it? No. But a few did and, if nothing else, it kept me from being a hungry, irritable daughter/cousin/niece on that day. I hope too, it showed that I’m not denying the importance of sharing a meal together with my family even if our dietary choices are different.

After all, the love of family should be what brings you to the table not just the food, right?


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stepping Up to the Plate

Thanks for visiting The Hungry Nutritionist!

This blog is for all those people out there who know what they need to do to be healthier but aren’t actually doing it. It’s for the doctor that won’t quit smoking, for the Phys Ed teacher who hasn’t gone running since she was in middle school. What makes me qualified to write such a blog you might ask. Well you see, I’m the nutritionist who doesn’t feed herself balanced meals.

It’s not that I don’t eat my vegetables or that I fill up on “junk” food. I simply don’t take the time to practice what I preach. I spend my time studying and speaking about the benefits of sitting down and mindfully eating a meal composed of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables accompanied by a hearty whole grain and legume. Yet, I’ve been known to prepare myself a hurried dinner of oatmeal partnered with broiled asparagus that I scarf down while standing in the kitchen waiting for the grain to cook.

I extol the economic benefits of bulk, dry beans…but I’ve never prepared a chickpea that wasn’t canned or frozen.

I talk at length about the need for farm to school programs…but my hands have never tilled the soil or planted a single seed.

This is all about to change. At the end of this I’ll be able to speak about the importance of nutrition not just from a book, but from experience. My endeavor to change the American food system one plate at a time starts now...with my own. Who knows? Maybe one of you will be inspired to contribute to your own health in a way you haven't been brave enough to try.

I hope you’ll come back and visit again to follow my progress and weigh in on the issues. In the meantime, do as I say not as I do.