‘HOME COOKING is making a comeback,” writes environmental activist, documentary producer and author Laurie David in “The Family Cooks,” and I hope that’s as true in your household as it is in mine. Learn to knead your kale and roast your ‘Delicata’ squash seeds-in; get a genius, no-cook summer take on oatmeal—plus a look at the new documentary “Fed Up” that she produced, and a chance to win her latest cookbook.
One of the least expected but most beneficial side effects of my departure six or so years ago from my city and corporate rat race lifestyle for life in my rural garden is that most days, I prepare three meals for myself. On so many levels, that old-fashioned and pretty simple act has been a game-changer.
In “The Family Cooks,” and in the recently released film “Fed Up,” which Laurie co-produced with Katie Couric (the trailer is farther down the page), the message is clear, and it’s summed up in Couric’s foreword to the cookbook:
“The single most powerful thing anyone can do to protect their health, live a healthy life, and to have a healthy future is to go into their own kitchen and cook for themselves.”
Laurie joined me on the radio this week (listen now) to talk about some of the compelling reasons to get cooking, and also some delicious, fun and tactical advice for doing just that. Enter to win the book at the bottom of the page.
my q&a with laurie david
Q. You have a long history as an environmental advocate, and also produced the Academy Award-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” (about climate change), for instance. How did this new book, “The Family Cooks,” and the documentary “Fed Up” (about the obesity epidemic and sugar) happen?
A. I’m so happy that the book came out the same time as the movie, because the book is the solution. My motto is, “Cook, or be cooked.” That’s what it comes down to. If you don’t cook the food yourself, you don’t know what’s in it.
We’re outsourcing this job to strangers, and to corporations, and trust me: They do not the health of you or your family in mind. They just want to sell products.
Q. You make the point early on in the new cookbook that, “Our modern industrialized world has been fed by food scientists more than by chefs….” A scary thought when you put it that way.
A. And the food is chemically formulated, if it’s packaged, to addict you. “Fed Up” is about what we’ve all been eating and why it’s making everybody so sick. Diabetes, obesity, all these metabolic diseases are all connected to what we’re eating. It’s a problem of the last 30 years—our genetics haven’t changed in 30 years; something else has, and it’s the food we’re eating.
Q. The entire subject of sugar in itself–as you say in “The Family Cooks” and “Fed Up,” which was once a condiment but now a dietary staple. That’s chilling, too.
A. There are a few things like that: cheese, for instance, which you used to be something you would serve before dinner with cocktails, and now it’s an ingredient that’s added to everything we eat.
One of the big reveals in “Fed Up:” how much sugar we’re all consuming without knowing it. If you’re having dessert, you know you’re having a lot of sugar, but you may not know how much sugar you’re having if you buy store-bought spaghetti sauce, or fruit yogurts (which are marketed as a breakfast food, but are really a dessert).
Q. Which have like 8 teaspoons of sugar in them…
A. It’s crazy.
Q. If you have a fruit yogurt and a small bottle of apple juice, you may be having 16 or more teaspoons of sugar at breakfast.
A. You’re seriously already over the maximum that you should be having in the course of a day. The maximum for an adult woman is 6 to 7 teaspoons of sugar; for a kid it’s 3 to 4. Most people are consuming 22 teaspoons a day.
Q. And as the book and documentary point out: Sugar comes in many forms, with many pseudonyms—and you list them in the cookbook.
A. There are over 56 names for sugar. Sometimes a label will use many of them—like you might see sugar, and then you’ll see barley malt, and maybe lactose, or honey. Why are there so many names for sugar? I think it’s a way for the food industry to confuse the customer, and I think it’s working.
The other problem: Sugar on food labels is expressed in grams, and I don’t know what a gram is—nobody does. But 4 grams equal 1 teaspoon, and nobody can do the computation as they’re rushing through the food store. And that’s the thing that makes me fed up—like calling something “natural,” which means nothing.
Q. The cookbooks has a great list of misleading or meaningless package-label terms, like “made with real fruit,” or even “no antibiotics used” or “no hormones added” aren’t necessarily the pure things they sound like.
A. And this goes back to the whole point: Cook real food yourself.
Q. So let’s get cooking.
A. First, we have to rethink breakfast. We cannot keep giving kids cereal and orange juice.
Q. I loved that “The Family Cooks” includes a recipe for a no-cook oatmeal that’s perfect for summer breakfasts (photo up top, recipe below).
fresh, fruity summer porridge
makes 6 servings
prep time: 15 minutes; chill out time: overnight
Summer porridge? It may sound like an oxymoron, but this hearty mix of raw oats, yogurt, and fresh fruit is cool and tangy. Spoon it into pretty glasses or mason jars, pop them into the fridge, and let chill overnight so the oats soften and all the flavors get to know each other. The next morning, enjoy breakfast in the sun, or just tuck a jar to go into your pocket–or into little hands–if time is tight.
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not “instant”)
3 cups plain yogurt (whole or low-fat) or kefir
3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
2 large apples (not peeled), grated
1 cup mixed fresh fruit, such as sliced kiwi or strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries (save a little extra for garnish)
1. Combine the oats, yogurt, honey, apples, and mixed fruit in a bowl, making sure that the apple is completely folded into the yogurt .
2. Divide the porridge evenly among six 8-ounce glasses or mason jars, cover tightly with wrap or lids, and refrigerate overnight. Have a good night’s sleep.
3. The next morning, as the sun rises, garnish the porridge with more fresh fruit and call the troops to breakfast.
Q. There are so many tactical tips and tricks in the cookbook—like Kneaded Kale. Tell us about that; what a great idea.
A. You haven’t been doing that? It’s a great way of preparing kale for salads or any way you want to cook it later. For the Kneaded Kale, you clean it, take the ribs out, chop it up, and add maybe a teaspoon of oil per bunch or handful, and you massage it like 15 or 20 times to rub the oil into all the leaves. It sort of softens the kale up, and people say it makes it more digestible.
You can store it in a glass jar in the refrigerator and serve it the next night with pine nuts or sunflower seeds on top of it, as a salad, or you can toss it into eggs, or sauté it (it’s already got the olive oil in it). It’s fantastic.
Q. I read that you grow shiitake mushrooms on your farm—and that they can taste like bacon? What?
A. Yes, you can sauté shiitakes and they taste like meat.
Q. You have a recipe for a S “B” L T—as in shiitake “bacon” lettuce and tomato—where you take the stems off the mushrooms, toss them in tamari, oil and a little salt, and roast them in the oven.
A. They taste fantastic. And doesn’t every vegetable when roasted like that? We have cauliflower “popcorn” made the same way—roasted in the oven. Just pull the cauliflower apart into popcorn-sized pieces, toss in salt and olive oil, and roast at 450F degrees, tossing the pan every 10 minutes until evenly browned.
Q. I loved the way you prepare cauliflower and broccoli for roasting, too, slicing them first from top to bottom in thin slivers that look like the silhouettes of trees—so they cook evenly.
A. And here’s another news flash: If you peel the stem of the broccoli and slice it thin, and add a little lemon and salt and pepper, it’s so fantastic raw.
Q. Isn’t it amazing how many of us discard the stems?
A. I did that, too, until a few years ago. Another tip in the book: Keep a big glass jar in the refrigerator for all those trimmings, and at the end of the week, use them in a soup. That’s another of the tricks from Kirstin Uhrenholdt, who did the recipes for the book [below, left, with Laurie]. She’s a family chef–not a restaurant chef–and learned to cook from her mother and grandmother, so they use few ingredients and are easy to prepare.
A. With chickpeas not chicken—chickpeas are such a great ingredient.
Q. And how you roast ‘Delicata’ squash without taking out the seeds.
A. This is the brainchild of Daniel Klein of The Perennial Plate, a filmmaker and food activist. I didn’t know you can eat the skin, or the seeds (which get crunchy and delicious). You just slice the ‘Delicata’ [crosswise] thin, and put it in a pan and roast it. So easy.
Q. So tell us where we can see the movie, “Fed Up.”
A. It’s on 80 screens right now across the country, and I just saw that soon you will be able to pre-order it on Amazon.
more from laurie david
enter to win ‘the family cooks’ cookbook
I’VE GOT TWO EXTRA COPIES of Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt’s “The Family Cooks” to share with you.
All you have to do to enter to win one is answer this question in the comments box way down at the bottom of the page, after the last reader comment:
Do you have any tips or other tactical advice for managing to eat better, like Laurie’s Kneaded Kale or Summer Porridge instead of store-bought, sugar-laden “fruit yogurt”?
Me? I find that making sure to always have seeds and nuts on hand to make salads more inviting means I eat more salad. (So they don’t go “off,” I keep small mason jars in the freezer of pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, and I often coarsely chop raw almonds into tossed greens, too.) And I always cook a big pot of brown rice on Sundays, to use all week.
No answer, or feeling shy? You could just say “count me in” or something like that, and I will, but an answer is even better. I’ll draw two random winners (U.S. and Canada only) after entries close at midnight Monday, June 23. Good luck–and good eating–to all.
prefer the podcast?
LAURIE DAVID was my guest on the latest radio podcast. You can listen anywhere, anytime: Locally, in my Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) region, “A Way to Garden” airs on Robin Hood Radio on Monday at 8:30 AM Eastern, with a rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Get it free on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or streaming from RobinHoodRadio.com or via its RSS feed. The June 16, 2014 show can be streamed here now. Robin Hood is the smallest NPR station in the nation; our garden show marked the start of its fifth year in March, and is syndicated via PRX.
(Photos by Quentin Bacon; photos and recipe, courtesy of “The Family Cooks” and Rodale Press. Used with permission. Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may yield a commission that I use to purchase books for future giveaways. )