Monday, December 12, 2011

Jill’s story: Packaged and Processed to Plant-strong

When I first started blogging (almost 2 years ago--oh my!) I regularly posted stories from friends and acquaintences that had their own food journeys. Today I want to share with you one of those stories.

It wasn't that long ago that Jill and I were excitedly talking about roasting our own beets. It was early on in our plant based eating lives and we were both amazed at how you could prepare beets in some way other than popping open a jar.

Today Jill is becoming a regular contributor to Healthy Girl's Kitchen with her recipes for Roasted Swiss Peas with Swiss Chard and Smashing Black Beans.

We've come a long way baby!

Here is Jill’s story…  

Packaged and Processed to Plant-strong

I never cooked as a kid. In college, I survived on Ramen noodles and pizza with extra sauce and extra cheese. When I was in my twenties, I lived in a small apartment, with a small kitchen and an even smaller closet. The closet part--THAT was the real problem. The oven served as great storage space for my sweaters. Really.

One time, a guy I was dating offered to make me dinner in my apartment. He was a chef and wanted to know what kitchen equipment he should bring over my place so he could make us dinner. He asked if I had a broiling pan. Was he speaking Swahili?  “A broiling pan, what’s that?” That relationship didn’t make it through dessert.

When I met my boyfriend (who moved in with me and who eventually became my husband), there was no space for his clothes. More importantly, there was no more room for my shoes. Time to move.  We bought a big house, with a big kitchen and an even bigger closet.  I had no excuse to use my oven for sweater storage anymore, but I still didn’t cook. Luckily, my husband wasn’t the type that demanded a home cooked meal each night (or any night, for that matter). If he was, he probably wouldn’t have become my husband. Our main course for dinner was usually Lucky Charms. Dessert was Cocoa Puffs.

Marinating: The Gateway Cooking Technique

Looking to expand my repertoire of cooking skills, which was limited to pouring milk into a cereal bowl, I hosted a potluck dinner with my girlfriends and their spouses.  I called my mom and asked for a recipe; I wanted “The Sure Thing”. Incidentally, I once called my mom and asked her how to cut lettuce. My mom gave me her marinated shrimp recipe. Easy, no cooking involved, just marinating.  The best part was arranging the shrimp to look pretty on a bed of that purple lettuce stuff used only as a decorative garnish.  Turns out that the decorative stuff was edible! It was kale and Swiss chard— staples of my current diet!

After my marinating experience, I moved on to other cooking techniques. Baked boneless chicken breasts coated with Frosted Flakes were my specialty. Cooking was fun! Experimenting was fun. The more I cooked, the easier it became. I used to read and follow recipes verbatim-- afraid I might mess up. Over time, I got brave and playful with cooking.  I took cooking classes, including an Indian cooking class and fell in love with Indian flavors like curry, garam masala, cumin and cardamom.  I used my food processor, substituted spices, and added brown sugar-- to everything (except cereal).  I boiled eggs, roasted turkey, poached chicken, barbecued brisket, simmered soup and made meringue. I used blenders and mixers and whisks. Oh my!

My inspiration grew even more once I had kids.  No longer afraid of cooking or using my kitchen equipment, coupled with a desire to give my kids healthy meals not Happy Meals,  I poured through recipes and cookbooks obsessively; I still used butter, oil and white flour, albeit moderately. Eventually, I stopped adding brown sugar to everything.

My kids, like most, were picky, unadventurous eaters.  I remember hearing that children must try vegetables fifteen times before acquiring a taste for them.  Fifteen tries of broccoli later, there was still no love connection.  I figured that chocolate made everything better, so I steamed broccoli and let them dip it in Hershey syrup.

I’ll have what he’s having.

My husband gets the credit for propelling our eating style into the plant strong world. He went to a lecture that Dr. Esselstyn gave on the importance of eating a plant-based, oil-free diet and was inspired to change.  I, however, was worried about how this change would affect our lives.  Would we still go out to restaurants? Would our friends invite us over for dinner anymore? Would we become the “difficult” couple? What would I make for dinner? Would we eat beans five nights a week? Would we have the worst gas?  Eliminating dairy, meat and oil would be a huge challenge. Was I afraid? Yep, but I embraced the challenge.  To my delight,   I loved the food, the creative cooking, and most importantly, how my body felt! Even my skin looked better.

We’ve come a long way.  Now my kids crave Brussels sprouts, kale, artichokes, zucchini, cauliflower and broccoli—minus the Hershey syrup. I don’t believe in sneaking vegetables in dishes to disguise them. Let the green goodness glow! I make green smoothies regularly, chock full of spinach or kale. For the first month, my kids were grossed out. Now, they request them, even when their friends come over—a sure sign that they think they’re cool. 

 I practice a plant strong diet. Like my yoga teacher says (about yoga), it’s a practice, not a “perfect”. I still enjoy a good bowl of Life cereal every now and then, just with almond milk.

Does your story have anything in common with Jill's journey to a Plant-strong diet? Do you have your own journey to a plant based diet story that you would like to share? I'd love to publish it here on HGK. Please send submissions to
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