People are often curious about why I eat the way I do.
It may seem strange at first, especially if you were to look in my pantry and find things like nutritional yeast or dried sorghum. And then you might be really confused when you find the ice cream and pizza in the freezer!
One of my great passions in life is cooking, eating, and sharing really good food, and more recently, food that is really good FOR you.
Today I want to share how I got to this point, my basic philosophy on eating, and some fun recipes for you to try.
I developed an appreciation for really good food from a pretty early age.
I still remember nights when my dad would come home with a box of chocolate truffles as a special treat. He LOVED chocolate. Still does. He taught us kids that gobbling chocolate was a sin, and you would answer to God himself for it one day, should you be so brazen. He taught us how to take a small bite, allowing it to melt in our mouths. To close our eyes and savor the unique flavors of mocha, dark cacao, rich butter, and smooth cream that came together in a collision of sensory delight. To notice the change in flavor and texture and warmth. I felt like I knew a secret. No one else my age even knew what a chocolate truffle was, let alone how to experience it to the fullest. I had “the bug.”
Sure, we ate Hamburger Helper on weeknights like the rest of the families in the 80s. But on weekends or special gatherings with friends and family, my dad would cook up things like Salmon Corn Chowder or Teriyaki Chicken and we would eat like kings and queens.(He had his own special recipe for teriyaki sauce which was super exotic around 1990 and we still to this day make it and call it Ray’s Teriyaki Sauce and everyone agrees it is better than all the other sauces). I came to appreciate all that went into a delicious meal: the shopping, the preparations, the ingredients, the flavors, the spices, the textures, the heat. And garlic. So much garlic.
My food journey in the last couple of years has taken some crazy turns I never would have anticipated and it may come across that I am vegan (I am not) or vegetarian (nope). But after some researching and soul-searching, I do think a LOT more about what I am putting in my and my family members’ bodies. Allow me to unpack this a bit, if you will.
As many of you know, I have worked in our local Oncology Clinic for the last 5 years. About 4 years ago, Kris Carr, the author of Crazy, Sexy, Cancer, came to speak right here in tiny little Jackson Hole. She was amazing, graceful, beautiful, swanky (you guys, she has pink hair sometimes), and personable and shared her story of how she has kept her cancer at bay by eating a plant-based diet, among other things. It was super inspiring and really caught my attention, especially since I found myself working in the field of cancer on a regular basis.
Fast forward to 2015. My daughter developed a gluten sensitivity (it wasn’t an allergy, and say what you will about gluten, but believe me when I tell you that all HELL broke loose on her tiny little 5-year-old body when gluten invaded it).
Around this time, I had two family members develop colo-rectal cancers. They were young and it was scary. I started to really think about preventative health measures, particularly diet.
Then, my fun and smart sis-in-law Kristin brought a book to my house called Eat For Health, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. She wasn’t trying to convert me but I really wanted to know more. I was enamored with the ideas in the book, and read about half of it before she left. So I bought it. Read it. Made my husband read it. I bought The China Study and read that. Made my husband read it. Watched Forks Over Knives. Made husband watch Forks Over Knives.
Armed with new knowledge, I became convinced that what we eat CAN and DOES have a profound impact on our overall health as well as the diseases we are bound to experience (or not) as we age.
Think about what you eat in a day. How has it been prepared? Did you get it out of a package? From a nice lady through a window? Was it made with actual ingredients that grew out of the ground? Do you even know what was in the food you ate? How much salt, oil, sugar?
We live in an age of convenience. We are busy humans doing important things. Fast foods and pre-packaged foods and convenience foods are an easy answer to the inconvenience of extra time required to prepare meals.
Over time, these foods can have a detrimental impact. For me, it was time to make some changes.
I’m not here to preach, only to share what I know and practice. You do what you want. I’m not the boss of you.
My Philosophy in Practice
The Bottom Line: Eat Vegetables All the Time.
The age-old adage “eat your fruits and veggies” is turning out to be truer than ever. At our house, I strive to prepare a plant-based, whole food, gluten-free diet when possible. This sounds awful and gross, and I cringe just typing it out. But thankfully, THE INTERNET. You guys, the internet is chock-full of delicious recipes, and I will get to that in a minute.
While I’m convinced that eating a plant-based diet is ideal, sometimes it is just not possible. At least, not without being a total jerk or stress-case about it.
As you may or may not know, my husband Ben is the pastor of a vibrant church and we are busy within our community several nights per week. We often eat outside our home, whether it be at events, at other peoples’ homes, or on the go. My kids eat frozen pizza every Friday night and I am not opposed to throwing down chicken nuggets or boxed mac ‘n’ cheese on occasion. Life is full and super busy here at the Pascal house, as I’m sure it is for many of you.
Also, there’s just so much wrapped up in food, right? Cultural practices, family traditions, comfort foods from your childhood, local delicacies specific to where you live. Think about what you had for dinner yesterday. Have you had it before? Does it invoke a memory of sorts? Did you eat it out of habit? There’s a lot more to food than just satiating hunger. I know. Our youngest child lived her first 18 months of life in an orphanage in another country, and if you think for one hot second that it has not affected her behavior around food, friend, think AGAIN. It has affected everything about every meal since she has been a part of this family. As a parent you have to pick your battles. And the battles can’t all be about broccoli.
I just love food.
Like, all the food.
When I go to another country, a highlight for me is trying national dishes. Shiro and doro wat in Ethiopia? Yep. Spaetzle smothered in Emmenthaler cheese in Germany? You betcha. Sukuma Wiki and Ugali in Kenya? Yes, please. Casados in Costa Rica? All the live long day. A Florentine steak with handcut pasta and the most perfect glass of Brunello on the Planet Earth in Italy? Duh.
Equally important to me as eating a nutrient-dense diet is having vibrant and healthy relationships with my friends and family. Food is personal and meaningful. When I head to someone’s house for dinner and they have worked hard to prepare their favorite dish, all for me, I am honored and I can’t WAIT to savor it while sitting at their table as a guest and friend. Mealtime is about so much more than food. It’s also about sitting down together at one table, sharing stories, asking questions, laughing, tradition, enjoying the company of friends and family. You know what really kills the mood around the table? When someone says, “Oh, I can’t eat this.” “Really? Why not?” “Oh, um, because I don’t want to.”
Basically if you invite me over for a meal, I will eat with great delight anything you prepare, because, as you may recall, I love all the food. And I am honored to be a guest at your table. Alternately, if you come to my house for dinner I might serve you something like Veggie Enchiladas with Cashew Cream, which will be stuffed with bright bell peppers and creamy black beans and warm spices and fresh everything. And you might be a grown-up man from Mexico and you might tell me they are the best enchiladas you’ve had in your whole life. (True story).
I love my people and my love language is food (if you hadn’t gathered that by now). Feeding people delicious food that is nourishing to both the body and soul is my quirky little way of saying, “I love you.”
*Side note: I never, ever tell my children they can’t have something because it isn’t “healthy” or has dairy, meat, sugar, etc. Food shaming is not part of our philosophy in any way. We eat as nutritiously as we can, but we also enjoy indulging in special treats.
Trying to pack in the most nutrients possible to all your meals every day can sound like a hassle. But I’m going to tell you this: with the right recipes, it’s easier than you think, and more delicious than you can know until you try it.
So now for the fun part!
For your reading and gustatory delights, I am about to provide a FULL DAY worth of plant-based recipes. I challenge you to try it! It’s fun and delicious and there are exactly no weird ingredients in these recipes. Go on, you know you want to.
Now, I know that when most people think of “plant-based” diets, they probably think of smoothies for breakfast. Well, you can find exactly 47 million smoothie recipes online. But I have something different for you. My kids all eat this, and maybe yours will too! You are going to laugh at how easy this is. You will laugh and laugh as you sit back and enjoy your coffee while your offspring eat a healthy breakfast that took almost zero prep. What is life, even?
Creamy Overnight Oatmeal
Adpated from Oh She Glows Everyday by Angela Liddon
- The night before you, take 2 cans of light coconut milk, 2 large bananas (peeled, of course), and 6 pitted dates and throw them all in a blender. Throw in a pinch of salt if you must. Blend on high for however long it takes to make it smooth and creamy.
- Meanwhile put 2 cups of oats (gluten free if needed) and 6 tablespoons of chia seeds in a medium to large-ish bowl.
- Pour your coconut milk/banana/date custard over the oats/chia seeds. Whatever you do, DO NOT taste the custard. If you do, you will eat it all, and that is no way to start breakfast tomorrow morning.
- Mix it up, cover it, and put it in the fridge.
- The next morning, try not to look too smug as you pull breakfast OUT OF THE FRIDGE READY TO EAT.
- You can warm it for a bit (I prefer this) but not too much. Remember, there are bananas in there, and those little guys turn brown if they get too hot.
- Top with, like, WHATEVER, MAN. Chopped pecans, shredded coconut, fresh fruit (my crew prefers mango, peaches, strawberries, or pineapple. I like kiwis, which all the other Pascals detest. Jesus, help them.)
- Delight at your homemade, whole food, gluten-free breakfast that took almost zero work.
- Start your day with a lot of fist bumps because you are ready to CONQUER IT ALL.
Dr. Fuhrman, from Eat For Health, says that “Salad is the Main Dish.” There’s no way around it. We have to get our greens in. They are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. And usually lunchtime is a busy and quick meal for most. So here’s a quick and easy solution for you that’s packed with nutrients!
*Side note: There are some convenience foods that are worth taking advantage of and pre-roasted packaged beets are one of them.
Beet and Arugula Salad with Naan and Hummus for Fun
Serves 1; multiply accordingly
Put all this together in a salad:
- Salad dressing of choice, but please be mindful of sugar and overprocessing of ingredients. My go-to: Hilary’s Apple Fennel Dressing and Marinade
- 1-3 roasted beets (can buy in almost any grocery store’s produce section), sliced
- 1-2 cups arugula
- 1-2 sliced green onions
- 1-3 tbsp pistachios
- 1-3 tbsp crumbled goat cheese
- You can literally put all these things in a container, IN THIS ORDER. When it’s time to eat, simply shake and devour. A little sliced avocado won’t hurt either.
- If you need more for lunch, add in naan (I love the Stonefire brand of individual naans) with hummus of choice
- Satisfied? I think so. Continue on with your day in epic abandon. You are all that and a bag of chips. Gluten-free, whole grain, minimally processed chips. But chips, nonetheless.
I gotchu! Never fear. There are plenty of snacks should the afternoon hangries attack. My favorite is a protein-dense, rich, satisfying mixture. And here it is:
- Mix equal parts dried apricots, raw almonds, and chocolate chips. Eat about a cupful.
Warning: This will become an addicting weeknight meal and I won’t apologize for that. Plus, don’t even bother if you hate delicious things like peanut sauce. Also, if you hate peanut sauce, you should just stop reading. We will probably never be friends. It’s over.
This is a recipe with many variations. My insanely cool sis-in-law Mari introduced me to the noodle part. My bestie Joy made it Rainbow. She’s basically my soul mate in food matters and also all matters of life.
Rainbow Stir Fry with Creamy Peanut Sauce Noodles
Serves 4-6, depending on the hunger factor of your gang
Prep and cook time: 30 minutes or less
- Cut up about 6-8 cups of fresh veggies, just whatever is in your fridge. The more colors of the rainbow you have, the more points you get. And listen. If you have a hard time with purple (basically red cabbage or eggplant), here’s a swift solution: wine. Don’t say I never helped you out.
- Stir fry said veggies (add the most dense ones first, like carrots, and the most tender ones last, like tomatoes) in a smidge of olive oil over medium heat for 7-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the Creamy Peanut Sauce on the fly. IT WILL ROCK YOUR WORLD. YOU WILL NEVER BUY STORE BOUGHT PEANUT SAUCE AGAIN. WHY WOULD YOU? This takes 5 minutes in a food processor and you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry this exact minute. If you don’t, you should.
- Ok, here’s the recipe, compliments of Isa Moskowitz of Isa Does It: 4 cloves garlic, 1 cup creamy peanut butter, 2/3 cup water, 6 tbps rice vinegar, 4 tbsp soy sauce or tamari if you are GF, 2 tbsp agave nectar, 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp salt. Blend until smooth and amazing. *Note: I like to blend the garlic on it’s own first so I don’t get any weird and large garlicky chunks later.
- Take Lotus Foods Rice Ramen Noodles (available at Costco, but also regular grocery stores) and cook 4 cakes in 4 cups of veggie broth for like, 4 minutes. LISTEN TO WHAT I AM SAYING. Do not cook according to the bag instructions. Because…
- You will then add all the noodles AND broth to the stir-fried veggies, which should be just about perfect by now. And you don’t want runny peanut sauce stir fry. That is no way to live.
- Add about half the peanut sauce to start, more later if you want, and mix all together.
- Add extra protein like cubed tofu or even chicken, beef, or shrimp if you must. I don’t care. I’m not your MOM.
- Listen, I’m doing you a favor. You will probably have leftover peanut sauce. If you don’t want that, well, I feel sad for you. You can just cut the peanut sauce recipe in half. Otherwise, jar it up and save it for salad dressing, dipping sauce for veggies or naan, or another batch of Rainbow Stir Fry in the next week. Also, I will not judge you if you eat it straight out of the jar. *Side eye in the opposite direction.
Happy healthy eating folks! Thank you for being brave to try new things. And PLEASE. Let me know how it turned out for you. I love food, as you well know by now and can talk about it for always.