The Cottage, Cousins and Cauliflower Soup

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Last weekend we took the kids and my mom to our family’s cottage in Indiana for one last hurrah before my uncle closes it up for the winter. My brother and his sweet family met us there.  It was a perfect fall weekend full of hikes through the woods, races down the sand dunes, crackling fires and giggling cousins.

This sweet little house, located near Indiana Dunes State Park (only 47 miles east of Chicago) has been in my mother’s family since the 1930s. I love the story of how it came to be.

My grandpa “Pop” had two maiden aunts who were both school principals, quite an accomplishment in those days, and loved to hike.  They first took the South Shore Line from Chicago to the Indiana Dunes with one of their hiking groups.  After falling in love with the mountains of sand, long stretches of beaches and accessible hiking trails, Katherine and Martha purchased a one room cottage, made all of knotty pine, nestled in the woods just a few minutes from the beaches and trails.  The small cottage was built through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program created by FDR for unemployed, unmarried young men as part of the New Deal.

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Thanks to my two independent great-great aunts and the following generations who have worked tirelessly to keep it habitable, my children are the fifth generation to romp around in “The Cottage.”

And what would be a fall weekend at The Cottage without homemade soup?

I made two different kinds; Chicken Soup for the meat-eaters and Cauliflower Soup for the others.  I’ll post the chicken soup another time, but I just have to share this simple cauliflower recipe with you.  I know it sounds a bit bland, but it is absolutely delicious, I promise!  And it’s one of the easiest things to make.  It’s gluten-free, nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free, although it is so rich and smooth, it tastes as if there might be a pound of butter in it. The cauliflower also has a natural nutty flavor and while many vegan cauliflower soup recipes call for a cashew cream, I don’t think it needs it.   I’ve always used the traditional white florets, but I suppose you could make it with any one of cauliflower’s lusciously colored versions.  How gorgeous would that purple be in a soup?!?!

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Cauliflower Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 white onion

2 leeks (only the white parts)

1 head of cauliflower

6 cups vegetable broth (I use Pacific)

1/2 lemon, juice

sea salt & pepper

chopped chives to garnish

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté garlic and onion until the onions soften, stir occasionally.  Add the chopped cauliflower and leeks and sauté for a few more minutes.

Add the broth, increase the heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until cauliflower is nice and tender.

Pour soup into a blender. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and blend on high for 1 to 2 minutes until soup is smooth and creamy.

Return soup to saucepan and warm over low heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If too thick add a little warm water or broth.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped chives.

 

10 Tips for Successful Family Dinners

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I adore this photograph of my grandparents and their brood posing Norman Rockwell style just before feasting on what was sure to be a delicious homemade Christmas dinner prepared by my grandmother, Agnes, sitting at the head of the table.

Can you imagine trying to feed and nourish all these little munchkins? And, by the way, Agnes likely has a bun in the oven on this Christmas Day in 1948. They would soon be adding another leaf to the table making room for my Aunt Jean followed by my Uncle Steve who have yet to arrive.

When I decided to make feeding my family well a priority a few years ago, I often found myself thinking of the generations that came before me. I thought about my grandmothers, two very smart and accomplished women who were destined to make babies (lots of them!) thanks to the opinions of the Catholic Church, and how they must have been relegated to the kitchen most of their days in order to prepare enough food to feed their ever-expanding families. I thought about my mother, running through the door after a long day at the office donning her usual pantsuit and pearls carrying a single bag of spaghetti noodles, a head of lettuce and the 5 ingredients she would need to make her famous homemade sauce to feed me, my brother and my dad.

These women, despite their own generational challenges (my mother always trying to balance work and family life and my grandmothers who, I’m certain, would’ve traded places with their husbands in a nanosecond if they had the chance), somehow made feeding their families home-cooked meals work.

After years of acting as if food didn’t matter to me, as if eating together as a family didn’t matter, I finally decided, as my mother and my grandmothers did, to just make it work.

But my challenges were different than the previous generations. I had three children who were accustom to snacking on pretzels and juice boxes whenever they felt like it. My children had become so used to the taste of hotdogs, fries, chicken nuggets, frozen pizzas and noodles that trying anything new was going to be tough, really tough. We also had an after school schedule of extra-curricular activities that made preparing food and sitting down together a complete impossibility. To top it off, my daughter had a slew of severe food allergies. Coming up with meals that were safe for her that everyone else would enjoy felt like a daunting task.

Yet I yearned for a simpler time when families sat down together and everyone ate the food that was lovingly prepared for them without complaint and they talked about their days and reminisced about the past and made plans for the future.

It has been a group effort for us. Children had to cut back on activities. My husband had to alter his work schedule to be home by 6. I had to make time to get to the store and plan ahead. But today the five of us eat a homemade dinner at a set table almost every night of the week.

Don’t get me wrong. It is far from perfect. Sometimes I have a sulky teenager who refuses to touch his food. Sometimes the kids fight. Sometimes someone has a meltdown (me).  Sometimes my attempt at cooking a new dish fails miserably and the hotdogs come out. But, for the most part, it’s pleasant. We’re spending quality time together every day and my children are finally learning how to eat.

I put together a list of tips that helped my family stay focused as we transitioned to family dinners. Maybe it will help you, too. Good luck!

Ten Tips for Successful Family Dinners

  1. Commit to eating home together as a family at least 5 days a week. This might mean cutting back on extra-curricular activities that interfere with dinnertime. If 5 days is too much at first, try 3 or even 1. Whatever you decide, commit to it and stick with it.
  2. Prepare meals that you would want to eat. What inspires you and would make you feel nourished and satisfied? If no one else enjoys it, at least you will.
  3. Share the duties. One parent does the cooking, the other does the dishes. Or the kids can do the dishes if they’re old enough.  Most kids can set the table by the time they are 6.
  4. No more short-order cooking! Do you think my grandmothers who had 13 children between them would ever make an extra meal for a picky eater? No way.
  5. Sit down at a table with no distractions. That means no tvs, phones or screens during mealtime. That goes for parents, too!
  6. Don’t force anyone to eat. I tried this. It will only backfire. Allow the children to decide what of what is prepared they will eat and how much.
  7. Avoid rewarding good eating with dessert. Children get more than enough sweets and sugary snacks throughout their day. Dessert should be saved for special occasions.
  8. It’s a family affair. Get children involved in the cooking and searching for recipes. Take them to the Farmers’ Market. Teach them about nutrition and why it’s important to eat well.
  9. Be persistant. Make your own set of guidelines that works for your family. Stick to them, but be flexible. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s a frozen pizza kind of night.
  10. Make dinnertime a pleasant time. Focus on each other’s company rather than the food. If you are eating and enjoying the food, they will catch on, eventually.

 

Eat Pretty Part II–Interview with Jolene Hart

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Last month I featured Jolene Hart’s wonderfully informative book, Eat Pretty, in which Ms. Hart reveals her own journey to healing and explains how nutrition can be our most powerful tool in the quest for radiant beauty at any age.  I got such a great response from you all that I decided to track down Ms. Hart myself and snag an interview.  I am so glad I did! I absolutely loved connecting with this soul sister of mine.  Isn’t it just the most magical thing when you meet somebody and it’s like boom! you’ve just met, but you totally get one another?  There is nothing else like it!

I just adore Jolene’s approach to beauty and completely relate to her health journey.  I hope you do too. Enjoy!

You worked as a beauty editor for years while dealing with your own skin issues like eczema, rosacea and acne.  How did you finally come to an inside out approach to healthy skin?

Honestly, the changes I made came from desperation, and a feeling that I had exercised every other option to heal my skin, without results. I wish I had more confidence in my early instincts that my diet and the state of my skin were closely connected, but for years I heeded the assurances of the many experts I consulted who discounted any link between diet and skin conditions. I really wanted the fastest and most effective route to healing my skin, and the idea of changing my diet to try to see a difference in my skin seemed unreliable, unscientific, and certainly more effort than taking a pill or applying a cream at that time in my life. But I was so, so wrong! When the prescription antibiotics, creams, lotions and gels didn’t work, when the mail-order acne products I was using didn’t resolve the problem fully, and when the over the counter products I was constantly experimenting with as a beauty editor failed me as well, I decided that I had to look more closely at my diet. The healing of my skin issues didn’t take place instantly, because I spent awhile experimenting with different foods and styles of eating. But the general move toward consuming whole, fresh, seasonal food quickly made me feel like I was on the right track. Over the course of that first year of experimenting with my diet, my skin made a major transformation.

You initially changed your diet to improve your skin, but what else happened to your over-all health when you began to eat differently?

This is something I don’t talk a lot about actually! My skin was my biggest focus, but in changing my diet, my moods and energy improved so much, and I reached a weight where I feel healthy, happy and nourished. Battling the scale was a daily thing for me, and such an enormous weight lifted from me when I stopped focusing on calories and truly learned to love food again, for all of the good things it was doing for my body. Just to be clear, I ate a plant-based diet for almost a decade before my skin issues even started— but I had no idea how to eat to support my skin! I thought eating vegetarian was eating healthy, but I didn’t know how to manage my blood sugar, create meals from whole, unprocessed foods, and support healthy digestion. Now that I’m a mom of a 19 month-old, I think all the time that I would be a cranky, exhausted mess if I were still eating and feeling the way I used to. I need my diet to nourish and fuel me through the day!

In your book, you refer to Beauty Betrayer Foods.  What are some of the worst offenders?

Sugar is definitely a big one. It’s seriously aging and inflammatory in our bodies, wrinkle-promoting in our skin, it’s incredibly addictive, and it’s just packed everywhere in our diets. Beyond that, processed food really has very little to offer for our beauty, and we eat so much of it. Transitioning away from processed foods to fresh sources of nutrition for your body can truly take your skin and beauty to the next level.

For years, the general consensus was that fat was best avoided in a healthy diet, but how is some fat essential to an Eat Pretty way of eating?

It’s interesting that we’ve gone from obsessively avoiding fat to adding it into things like coffee and water (trends I’ve seen lately)— opposite ends of the spectrum. We’ve realized that cutting fat from our diets isn’t an easy route to losing excess fat from our bodies, and that we actually need healthy fats (some of my favorites are found in coconut oil, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, wild salmon, and sardines) to support our metabolism, absorb fat soluble beauty nutrients, manufacture hormones, and keep our cell membranes strong so that our skin is supple and moisturized. Fat also helps keep us satiated and our blood sugar stable so that we’re not constantly craving sweets and snacks, and feeling our energy spike and dip all day long.

What are your top three beauty food pantry staples?

Coconut oil. This fat is pure beauty fuel for the body! I love cooking and baking with it, melting it over freshly popped popcorn with nutritional yeast, adding it to smoothies and spreading it on gluten-free toast now and then.

Chickpeas. I always by them in BPA-free cans. I use these for homemade hummus, chopped into a mock chicken salad for lunch, roasted and spiced as a snack, and in all kinds of cold salads. They’re packed with zinc, protein and B6, so they’re amazing for healthy hair.

Hemp seeds. I love these tiny seeds as a beautifying source of protein, minerals and fats. They’re an ideal protein source in a morning smoothie, especially if you don’t like anything heavy at that hour, and I always sprinkle them on my son’s oatmeal and yogurts to boost their nutritional content. Even though I consider them ‘pantry foods,’ I store them in the fridge.

Will you be writing another book?

Yes, I have two follow-ups to Eat Pretty on the way for 2016! They’re both designed to help you take the philosophy behind Eat Pretty and turn it into a lifestyle that’s inspiring, motivating and beautifying inside & out. Stay tuned!

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Thanks so much, Jolene!  Can’t wait to read your new books and try out your beautifying recipes like this Banana Buckwheat Pancake! Yum!

(Photos provided by Jolene Hart)

Outdoor Food Markets + The Best Kale Chips

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Last summer my family and I traveled to Paris where outdoor food markets are found on nearly every corner. Each morning I would wake up before the rest of the family, purchase THE BEST cappuccino on the planet from the cafe below our apartment and walk to the market to purchase our food for the day. It was so fun and fresh and such a great way to eat and live!  No wonder those Parisian women are so svelte and gorgeous!

I love this National Geographic article about Outdoor Food Markets around the World. The photos are brilliant, of course! Doesn’t it make you want to quit your job and travel the world in search of the perfect eggplant?

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At home I go to the Evanston Farmers’ Market every Saturday from May until November, rain or shine. Sometimes I bring a kid with me, other times my whole family might tag along, occasionally I’ll meet my mom or a friend, but most often I go alone. The weekly ritual has become about so much more than simply purchasing fresh, local food. The Market feels like a sacred space to me, a place where I can recharge my batteries, connect with people and nature, and be inspired. The sights, sounds and smells ignite my senses.  The weekly interactions with the farmers, some of whom I’ve come to know personally over the years, satisfies a craving for a “small-town” life despite my love for the big city. The whole experience feels raw and real in a time when so much doesn’t.

That nostalgic feeling is likely a part of the reason outdoor food markets are up 180 percent since 2006 according to new research from the University of Iowa. Yea!

The bounty I bring home every Saturday changes with the seasons, but I ALWAYS grab a large bunch of organic kale. Kale has been added to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of foods with the highest levels of pesticides so I try to buy it organic whenever possible.

Kale has gotten a bum rap recently as many are quick to claim the dark leafy green’s 15 minutes of fame are “over,” but considering kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth I certainly plan to keep on eating it.  I use kale in salads and smoothies, but I also use it to make kale chips. These are so simple to make. They are light and salty and your kids will gobble them up even though they’re green…I promise!

The Best Kale Chips

1 extra-large bunch of lacinato kale

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp pink Himalayan sea salt

Preheat oven to 300°F. Remove stems and tear leaves into large pieces. Stems can be removed very easily by holding the base of one stem with one hand and pushing with the other hand along the stem to slide off the leaves (save stems to use in your smoothies).

Wash and thoroughly dry leaves before beginning. If leaves are damp at all, you will end up with soggy chips. I spin the leaves in a salad spinner and lay them out on a baking sheet to dry for a good 10-20 minutes before beginning.

Place the leaves in a bowl and poor oil onto the leaves. Massage the oil into the leaves with your hands. Make sure the leaves are fully coated but not drenched.

Place the leaves into a large Ziploc bag and poor sea salt into the bag. Seal and shake well until the salt is evenly distributed.

Spread the leaves in one layer onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Let cool for 3 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

These little munchkins even took time out from their jumping to nosh on some kale!

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P.S. It’s always a good idea to bring your own bag to the farmers’ market. There are so many adorable and affordable reusable bags out there, you might as well head to the market in style. I like this farmer’s market tote and  this cheeky one too, but I really love the pattern on this one AND it’s made by a company that supports marginalized women in India.

Summer Vacations Good for your Health

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Are you taking a vacation this August?  Where we live, in Chicago, August is the perfect time to get out of town.  After camps are out and before the school year begins, many families flee the hot and humid city for cool lake breezes in cabins and lake houses across Michigan, Wisconsin and beyond.

We are heading to the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York! Have you ever been there?  It is breathtakingly beautiful.

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My husband, Sam, grew up in Buffalo, NY and spent his childhood summers at his grandfather’s camp on Upper Saranac Lake.  Sadly, the camp was sold after his grandfather died in the early 90’s, but his family has kept up the tradition by renting a camp together for a week every summer.

I can’t wait for an entire week of lazy summer days, lounging on the pier, hiking a few mountains, water skiing (or in my case watching other people water ski), afternoon naps, eating fresh food we pick up daily at the roadside market and catching up with our Bodine relatives.   I’m planning to read this book and maybe this one, too!

I’m also looking forward to checking out this yummy looking place!   But mostly I will be found sitting right here!

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I think everyone can agree vacations are good for our over-all health. We don’t need studies to tell us that!  It’s a time to decompress, get out of the routine and away from the bills, the work, the laundry, all of it! The only downfall might be that we eventually need to come back.

Are you heading anywhere this month?  I’d love to hear where you like to travel during the summer.

P.S. This made me laugh out loud!  And someday I would love to take Sam to The Point for a little getaway. Doesn’t it look fabulous? It’s the old Rockefeller Camp and is located adjacent to his grandfather’s old camp.

 

3 Super Simple Smoothies

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One of the first things I did to begin to change my sugar, bread and dairy-laden diet to a whole foods, plant-based diet was drink a homemade green smoothie almost every morning. I love smoothies because they’re a great way to get a whole bunch of plant-food nourishment straight to your cells. And starting the day with a bright green drink as opposed to a dark black cup of coffee just feels like a smarter choice.  I am not kidding you, the buzz I get from my green drinks is just as satisfying if not better than the one I get from a cup of jo (full disclosure — I still have an on-again, off-again love affair with coffee, a topic that will have to be left for a later post).

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Thanks to a tip from my friend, Kristin, a few years back, I ordered this book by Kimberly Snyder. After feeling initially put off by the cover, suspecting it was another fad diet book, I quickly realized Kimberly Snyder and I were on the same page about food.  She recommends her clients drink her Glowing Green Smoothie every day.  So I started with that.

Eventually, my morning smoothie evolved into an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of smoothie, using basically anything I have in the fridge. I also realized if I used more fruit I could easily slip in some healthy greens and maybe even pass these nutritious drinks off as a treat for my kids!

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Here are a few kid-tested recipes we like to use.

Berry Bomber

2 cups filtered cold water

1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)

1 cup raspberries (frozen or fresh)

1 cup romaine

1 cup spinach

1 celery stalk

1 green apple peeled and sliced

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 banana

Go Green

2 cups filtered cold water

1 cup romaine

1 cup spinach

1 celery stalk

1 handful of cilantro

1 green apple peeled and sliced

1 banana

1/2 cup pineapple (frozen or fresh)

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Yellow Surprise

2 cups filtered cold water

1 cup spinach

1 cup romaine

1 cup mango (fresh or frozen)

1 cup pineapple (fresh or frozen)

1 banana

Blend ingredients together until smooth using a high quality blender.  I have this, but this one is budget friendly and also very popular.  Pour over ice and add a straw…kids love straws!

Tip: Pour the smoothie mixture into popsicle molds and you will be the coolest parent ever serving popsicles for breakfast!

 

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P.S. Check out these helpful tips for smoothie newbies!

 

Can Food Heal Us?

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A friend once told me that our relationship with food is the most intimate relationship each one of us has. At the time, I thought that was absolutely ridiculous. Food is just food. It is just there, and we eat it.

Today, nearly 20 years later, I could not agree with that friend more. Food IS the most intimate relationship we have.

We eat food every day… usually several times a day. And every time we eat, we’re faced with choices. What am I going to eat? How much am I going to eat? Where am I going to eat? With whom am I going to eat?

Then we eat. We chew it, we taste it, we digest it, and it literally becomes us. Our incredibly efficient bodies take the vitamins, the minerals, the enzymes, the proteins, the fat and the carbohydrates out of the food and they become our cells.

YOU really are what you EAT!

My relationship with food has shifted dramatically throughout my life.

As a child, I felt indifferent about food, preferring bland meals. My parents prepared it for me and I ate it. It was fairly simple.

As a teenager, food became something I felt I needed to limit. Like many teenage girls, it became something that I believed could make me fat. This belief coincided with a feeling of guilt and shame whenever I indulged. Food became something I needed to have a certain amount of control over.

By my twenties, food turned into something that often made me feel sick. I almost always felt bloated after eating and was consistently constipated. I felt lethargic most of the time and began suffering from migraines.

I had my first child when I was 28, followed by two more adorable, but very hungry little people.

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Now food became a chore that threatened to chain me to the kitchen like a 1950s housewife. I had better things to do than slave over a hot stove for these people! I took every possible shortcut regarding food as I tried to rebuild a career I had put on hold for these little darlings. There were a lot of hotdogs, a lot of chicken fingers, and a lot of frozen pizzas for many years.

Then my daughter really shook things up. By the time she turned one, we learned she had severe food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, sesame and was highly sensitive to gluten and soy. Now I was forced to pay attention. My daughter’s life depended on it.

Needless to say, by this point, my relationship with food had really been through the wringer. Over the span of my lifetime, food went from being something I felt mostly indifferent about, to something that could make me fat, to something that made me feel sick, to something that threatened my freedom and career, to, worst of all, something that could send my daughter to the emergency room in seconds with just one bite!

I hated food. I despised it. I resented it. I was scared of it. And yet, I still had to eat it. I still had to feed my family. Food was not going to go away.

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Then one night, while searching the internet for answers to help my daughter who not only had to restrict her food to protect her own life, but also suffered from terrible eczema and basically had developed a full-time rash that kept us both up most nights (2 a.m. oatmeal baths were a common occurrence), I came across a woman who claimed she cured her own eczema by changing her diet.

I devoured this woman’s whole story that night. She wasn’t selling anything. There was no magic pill or cream to buy. She was just telling her story. She cleaned up her diet. She nourished her cells and healed her gut with pure wholesome food and although it took some time and a lot of persistence she eventually healed herself from the inside out.

Her story made so much sense! It was so logical and resonated deeply with me. If certain foods could make my daughter sick, could different foods make my daughter well?

I had to give it a try. I cleaned up shop. I went through my refrigerator and pantry throwing out pounds and pounds of non-food that I had been feeding my family and myself for years. I read everything I could get my hands on about healing with food. I started to cook. The journey began.

I’ll admit it has not been easy at times, but boy has it been worth it! First and foremost my daughter’s eczema and chronic itching improved dramatically. Within a few months of changing her diet, I was able to take her off the doctor prescribed, daily dose of anti-histamine she had been taking since she was one. And we were finally sleeping!!!!!!

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I would’ve been satisfied with that, but for me there has been so much more!

One of the first changes I made was eliminating dairy. I hadn’t realized that I had been drenching nearly everything I ate with cheese. I put cheese on my salad, on my pasta, in my sandwiches, on my meat, melted on my vegetables. You name it, I added the cheese.

When I took the cheese away, I started to really taste food for the first time. My taste buds felt like they were coming alive. I tried new vegetables. Oh, the vegetables! The bright colors, the wide range of tastes and flavors from food that was grown straight out of our earth was truly overwhelming to me at times.

I’d always been a fan of salad choosing to stick to the basics…tomatoes, cucumbers, romaine and cheese of course. Now, I was eating and tasting asparagus, beets, zucchini, artichokes, kale, cilantro, chard, squash, peppers, eggplant while simultaneously learning of their healing properties: asparagus, chock-full of iron and folate, supports cell repair; butternut squash brimming with the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene strengthens skin, hair and nails; chard’s biotin helps the body use protein while its vitamin K and calcium are critical for healthy bones.

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As the food I ate became brighter, my world also became brighter. The fog I hadn’t realized I had been living in for years lifted. My mood elevated. My hair looked shinier and my skin brighter. My headaches improved. My constipation went away. My overall enthusiasm for living increased. I wanted to do more fun things. I wanted more adventures, to take more chances, to meet new people!

Just a few years ago, I hated food. Today, I am madly in love with it. I create with it. I nourish my children with it. I appreciate it. I enjoy it every single day.

So, did food heal us?

I can’t really speak for my daughter because her  journey with food will be her own. But for me, I wonder, was it the food that made me feel better or the change in the way I thought about the food? I’m guessing it was a bit of both.

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Either way, there is no going back. This is definitely my new beet!