Here We Go …

WOW. This is my first post on our brand new, revamped site. I’m blushing from the momentousness of the occasion.

Even more exciting, though, is what’s ahead. First, though, let me tell you a bit about why we redesigned the site.

As many of you know, I launched NOURISH Evolution in 2009 because I wanted a place where we could explore that sweet spot where health and sustainability and enjoyment all intersect. Early on, I recruited Alison, my long-time editor at Cooking Light and dear friend, to be my right hand gal. And all was good.

Then, once NOURISH Evolution was rolling, quite a few people said to me, “you know, you’re so good at explaining all of this and making it easy to understand … what would you think of creating a coaching program to help people actually make the changes you’re talking about?” And that landed. Big time.

So I delved into the (total) unknown of creating a lesson plan and curriculum and worked like crazy to make My Nourish Mentor. At the time, it was a 6-month program that was divided into small groups that all came together for a weekly phone call (thank you to all the pilot testers and early adopters!!!). It was awesome. After spending almost a decade and a half writing articles and sending them out into the ether, here I was with a front-row seat watching people’s lives change because of what I was teaching them. There was no turning back.

A few months ago, I tweaked the My Nourish Mentor program to make it more accessible–changing it from 6-months to 12-weeks, making it more affordable, and moving it entirely online. I also started developing a full library of online e-courses called NOURISH-U. But … everything felt very disjointed in the Nourish world. NOURISH Evolution had our awesome articles and recipes that people had come to rely on, but My Nourish Mentor and NOURISH-U were like little orphans out in the cold. So Alison and I decided on a total redesign to bring them under the fold (plus a REALLY exciting new offering coming later this week).

Now, at last, I feel like NOURISH Evolution is all I want it to be — a place where you’re empowered to live and eat in a way that nourishes all of you … and your family, and your community, and our planet. I’m glad you’re here.

PS — Is there something you’d like to see on NOURISH Evolution? A topic on our blog, a course on NOURISH-U? Let me know–leave a comment here.

PPSS — If you haven’t already, please join us on Facebook; we’ve got a stellar community gathering over there!

Ode to Mortars and Pestles

By Lia Huber

I have a thing for mortars and pestles. Part of my fascination, I think, comes from the fact that they’re so utterly primitive. They don’t have a plug. They don’t make motorized noise. They don’t even have a sharp edge. Even the name—mortar and pestle—is simple when traced back to its Latin source: “mortarium” means receptacle for pounding and “pestillum” means pounder.

mortar-pestle-postBut don’t let the simplistic nature fool you into thinking they’re not useful tools. I use mine far more often than my food processor. With just a few whacks and a pinch of salt, garlic and herbs are rendered into a pungent paste; spices are crushed to fragrant bits; simple vegetables are transformed into a surprisingly full-flavored sauce. And you get to let off steam while taking in a little aromatherapy.

Part of what makes mortars and pestles so effective is that pounding ruptures the cells in food, as opposed to slicing or processing which semi-cauterizes them. That’s why one clove of pounded garlic can taste and smell so much more powerful than three cloves of minced.

No wonder nearly every culture has created its own version over the millennia. Each is made of materials abundant in a particular region and fashioned for the culinary needs of a particular cuisine. In France, they tend to be deep bowls made of marble. In Southeast Asia, they’re conical and often made of clay with a wooden mortar. In Latin America, you’ll find giant stone receptacles called molcajetes with a nubbin of a pestle called a tejolete.

It was a quest for the perfect molcajete, in fact, that cemented my infatuation with the tool. My husband and I were on an extended road trip from San Francisco to Costa Rica and had just spent a week in Cuernavaca, Mexico, taking a cooking class. Many modern sauces are now made in blenders, but the dishes that stole the show for me were the ones we pounded in the behemoth basalt molcajetes. The following week, when we paused in Oaxaca for a couple of weeks, I was determined to find the perfect version amidst the city’s sprawling market.

We searched for hours and hours and had almost given up when we turned the corner and spotted it—wide and irregular and pitted and rough. A tiny woman rose to her feet in front of the stall. Her face crinkled into a smile and as we looked each other in the eyes I could see a joy that matched my own. It felt, somehow, like we’d been seeking one another. We made the exchange and shared a hug, and Christopher and I packed up the molcajete for the remainder of the drive. Later, when we pulled the bowl out in our Costa Rica kitchen, I noticed that the bowl had writing around the edge—Recuerdo de Oaxaca, memories of Oaxaca.

I hope that woman knows how rich they are.

Cultivate Your Soil

I’ve been gardening “organically” for nearly a decade now. But up until recently, I carried a narrow definition of “organic” in my head as what I wasn’t putting on my plants—no pesticides, no herbicides, no synthetic fertilizer. And while that is part of the equation, I’ve learned that organic gardening is so much more than what you don’t do; it’s about how you nurture the soil to be healthy long-term and, consequently, produce fruitful crops.

cultivate-soil-postThis isn’t revolutionary. In fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote this advice—about pesky pests—to his daughter in 1793:

“When the earth is rich, it bids defiance to droughts, yields in abundance, and of the best quality. I suspect that the insects which have harassed you have been encouraged by the feebleness of your plants, and that has been produced by the lean state of your soil.”

There’s a strong parallel here to the NOURISH Evolution approach. One of our fundamental aims is to help people get beyond thinking of healthy eating as being what we don’t eat (fat, carbs, sugar, processed, whatever) and instead take a long-term view to mindfully nurture themselves through the foods they do. And, to come full circle, a healthy garden can be one of the best ways to achieve that.

This week, consider cultivating a garden (from the soil up) as you ponder the concept that a healthy body is as much about what you put into it as what you refrain from eating.

If you’re curious about what it takes to start a garden, here’s a helpful guide from the Sonoma County iGrow program

Our Faves from the Fancy Food Show Part II

This week, we continue our roundup from the Fancy Food Show. Here are six more of our favorites:

Project 7 – What a concept . . . changing the world through [bottled] water. The leaders of Project 7 donate 50% of their profits to non-profit organizations (which are voted for by the public) impacting seven critical areas of need: Build the Future, Feed the Hungry, Heal the Sick, Help Those in Need, Hope for Peace, House the Homeless, and Save the Earth. So each time you buy a bottle of Project 7 water (or gum or mints or t-shirt), you’re donating directly to an important cause. Feels good.

Bruce Gore Salmon – This fish is the best of the best from beginning to end. It’s troll-caught, which means it’s gentle on the environment, by family-owned and operated boats (Triad Fisheries). It’s processed and flash-frozen at sea within 90 minutes of being caught, which means it’s preserved at peak freshness. It’s shipped by barge instead of plane, which means it has a vastly reduced carbon footprint by the time it gets to you. And each fish is tagged and tracked for traceability to the source. But how does it taste? Sublime. Some of the silkiest, most sumptuous raw fish I have ever tasted.

Sub Rosa Spirits – I’m partial to unique flavor combinations. Blood orange vodka, been there done that. Chile vodka, ho hum. So Sub Rosa’s flavored vodkas—tarragon and saffron—caught my attention. Crafted by one of Oregon’s burgeoning crew of micro-distillers, Sub Rosa vodkas are clean and smooth enough to warrant attention on their own. But the beguiling hint of flavor—floral and minty with the tarragon, warm and seductive with the saffron—leave me wanting more.

479 Popcorn – I saw these guys in a candy shop on Chestnut Street in San Francisco months ago and liked the packaging enough to take a pic with my iPhone (no tasting at the time). So I was glad to see them in person (with samples) at the show and, even better, to find the quality lives up to their look. 479 is organic popcorn popped in small batches and crafted into unique flavors—like black truffle and white cheddar, and fleur de sel caramel—from scratch. A worthy indulgence.

truRoots Sprouted Lentils – Alison and I are always ones to seek out good legumes, but both of us were a bit confounded by the concept of sprouted lentils. They didn’t look like the sprouts I knew. But Esha Ray, one of the founders of truRoots, explained that sprouting a seed creates an enzymatic reaction that makes the nutrients within it even easier for our bodies to absorb. They’re in essence captured and dried somewhere between bean and green . . . and they cook faster too.

bambuBambu – Bambu is no stranger to NOURISH Evolution. I’ve loved their biodegradable “disposable” line of plates and utensils. Now I’m smitten with their colorful coconut bowls, made from reclaimed coconut husks, and cork cutting boards.

Fancy Food Show Roundup Part I

Last weekend, the NOURISH Evolution crew scoured the aisles of the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco looking for companies that really embodied our values of enjoying food that’s healthy for our bodies and the earth. Here, the first in my three part series (I’ve got a lot to say and didn’t want to overwhelm you) on our 18 favorites:

Village Harvest Frozen Fully-Cooked Grains – You may not think of brown rice as cutting edge; but these are—and the quinoa too. In this truly unique product line, Village Harvest cooks various grains to perfection (honestly, Alison and I were both marveling how their quinoa was cooked better than ours at home), and then freezes them instantly. Which means all you have to do is heat and eat. I love the idea that I can have brown rice or a medley for dinner even if I don’t have 50 minutes to cook it. And if I need even more of a boost I can reach for their “Un” Fried Brown Rice or Spicy Thai Brown Rice, both of which have surprisingly few ingredients (all of which are readable), low amounts of sodium, and a clean, simple taste. Because these grains are flash-frozen and kept frozen, there’s no need for chemical preservatives—and you can truly taste the difference. Seek them out in your grocer’s freezer case.

Ayala’s Herbal Water – I’m not a soda person, so I’ve wholeheartedly embraced the influx of naturally flavored waters coming onto the market. But some of them taste like your Britta does when you come home from a two week vacation. Not this one. With a crystal fresh taste and flavors like Cloves Cardamom Cinnamon (just a hint of spice in the aftertaste) and Lemon Verbena Geranium (my favorite . . . gorgeously perfumed), these are just what I’ve always wanted in a water.

KIND Bars – I’ve been a fan of KIND bars for a while now. Where other bars are a lot of filler, KIND bars are essentially just dried fruit and nuts. They’re super-satisfying, low in sugar, reasonable in calories and packed with fiber, protein and healthy fats. A winner all around.

Dragunara Organic Sweet Chili Sauce – Finding this was kismet. The night before the show a Brussel’s Sprouts with Chile Sauce dish was a standout at dinner. But I was lamenting that all the chile sauces I’ve ever seen are loaded down with thickening agents.  Then the very next day I rounded the corner at the end of an aisle and found Dragunara, made with just five ingredients: water, sugar, chiles, vinegar and salt. Finally, a chile sauce with bright, zippy, natural flavor. I got so excited I think I freaked people out.

Chuao Chocolatier – Alison and I had just hit ‘overload’ when Brooke from Chuao (pronounced choo-WOW) Chocolatier deftly finagled us into a tasting. Which really wasn’t that hard to do once we’d eyed the flavors, like panko, caramelized chocolate nibs and anise. What struck me immediately was that these innovative flavors were paired with high quality dark chocolate, as opposed to the more common milk chocolate. During a grilling on production practices, Brooke taught us that despite being without Organic and Free-trade certification, the people behind Chuao chocolates (Venezuelan-born brothers) are working to ensure sustainable production and social responsibility within the Venezuelan cacao market. And, for those who have no will power with an open chocolate bar, Chuao offers individually-wrapped mini bites of just 100 calories each. I’ll definitely be seeking these guys out.

Field Roast Grain Meat Company — I have to admit; I walked right by these guys the first time. But then Nicki tasted through the line and was so excited by it that she all but ran me back to the table.  And I’m glad she did. Founder David Lee combines ancient Chinese and Japanese vegan preparations with the European tradition of charcuterie to create sausages, meat loafs and pates—all without meat—that are superb. The Celebration Roast, a vegetarian roast stuffed with a puree of butternut squash, apples and mushrooms, and the Italian sausage were my favorites.

Child’s Play: A Salad Story

The seeds for this piece were planted when, on a trying evening, I recruited my daughter to help me make a “special” salad and pouts and whines (from both of us) turned to laughter and pensive smiles. Here’s a poem inspired by the spirit of that night . . .

child's-play‘Twas a night before Christmas and all through the day, visions of pomegranates and persimmons had played.
I thought to myself, “What a lovely salad this would be,” and was pretty darned sure my husband would agree.

When what to my weary knees should appear, but a wailing toddler in full princess gear.
“My shoes don’t fit, my nose it runs, and I don’t like the look of this one!”

Up to her stool I whisked her, inspired. I gathered my fruits. “Will you help me?” I inquired.
I filled a bowl with water and placed it before her. Then ripped open a pomegranate and gave her a quarter.

“You see?” I teased out the garnet seeds. “They’re beautiful,” I said, and my daughter agreed.
She splashed joyfully and, with surprising speed, managed to get out every last little seed.

By this time, both of our spirits were soaring and suddenly this salad was anything but boring.
A handful of pecans onto parchment I spread, and taught Noemi to crush them without hitting her head.

She patted and shaped each cheese disc just right, while I dressed the greens and the persimmons did slice.
We assembled the salad and then took our places, and I noticed with joy smiles on everyone’s faces.

Our plates were full, our hearts were light. A delicious meal for all, and for all a good night.

Harvest Time

For some reason, I have a tough time each year letting go of summer and welcoming fall—much as I love both seasons. When the sun takes on a lackadaisical slant and the earth smells wet, it makes my chest swell with a sort of nostalgiancholy. So I thought I’d take a cue from one of Noemi’s alphabet books and spell out how harvest feels to me.


HHope. There’s something about harvest that conveys hope to me. It’s the end of a cycle, a time of reaping what was sown in faith knowing it would grow.

AAbundance. I feel such gratitude during harvest for the abundance that it brings. Some of it is subtle, a smile that creeps up when I smell the last of the tomatoes roasting in the oven. Some of it is intimate, gathering with close friends to laugh and toast and enjoy the fruits of our labor. And some is universal, a feeling that the earth has yielded what it will for this year, and that now is the time for restoration.

RRest. I love how the pace here slows as winter sets in — in the vineyards, in our homes. It’s a time when we’re deepening our roots and gaining nourishment to enable the fruits of the next season to flourish.

VVaried. When I hear people say that California doesn’t have ‘real’ seasons, I always beg to differ (and I grew up in Illinois and Connecticut, so I know what people mean by ‘real’ seasons). No, we don’t get snow (although the Mayacaymas mountains do get dusted every few years, and it is magnificent), but each year I’m riveted by the beauty of the vines in their cloak of colors, and the way the autumn mist brings an otherworldly element to the mornings. We most certainly do have seasons here in wine country.

EExuberant. When I think of harvest, I think of laughter. Laughter floating above the vines as we help our friends clip grape clusters row by row. Giggling about garden mishaps that wind up weaving their way into our collective stories. The deep contentment that seems to radiate from people’s faces around the dinner table.

SSustenance. Sustenance is about more than just fueling your body with what it needs to survive, it’s about being a part of a larger whole that feeds our soul . . . as is harvest. Sharing the bounty with those we love is just as much sustenance as the fruits of harvest itself.

TTrust. I sometimes find it hard watching the vines go dormant, the garden laid bare-–both literally and metaphorically. I get impatient for the next season of growth to arrive. But I need to trust-–that the buds will come again, that the fruit will follow, and even that there is purpose to this season of starkness.

This harvest season is heightened for me as we count down the days for NOURISH Evolution’s launch out of beta. It has been a long spring and summer of sowing and hard work and next week, it will all be ripe. You’ll see dramatic changes to the site that will make it much easier to navigate, connect and share. And stay tuned for news on November 2 of an exciting sweepstakes to promote the launch (or shall we say harvest?). Thank you, thank you, thank for your support through this stage . . . I look forward to sharing many more seasons here with you.

Lia’s 16-1/2 Minutes in the Limelight

It has been an interesting month. Some of you know that Cooking Light trained me to be one of their West Coast spokespeople back in May of 2008 (some of you may even remember sputtering oil that drowned out microphones and questions about caraway seeds). But a full 18 months passed by after those first initial segments before I got the call to go back on air (could it have been the oil?). And then, suddenly, I was in the midst of a media blitz.

VFTB-postAt ABC’s View from the Bay with hosts Spencer Christian and Janelle Wang

My first stop was San Francisco’s View from the Bay on ABC, where I talked about how to make healthy lunches fun for kids . . . host Spencer Christian enjoyed them, acting like a kid to get a taste of the peanut butter banana roll-ups.

Next up was KTLA Morning News in Los Angeles where I talked viewers through how to pick a whole grain bread–I loved how everyone on the set came over to learn about what to look for on the label.

Then it was back to San Francisco for another segment on View from the Bay; this one on how to choose–and use–healthy carbs. I even got host Janelle Wang to cook!

I have to admit, I had a ball with all of these, and I really enjoyed sharing information and encouraging people through a new medium. I’ve also been so impressed by how down to earth and just-plain-fun everyone has been, from producers to interns to hosts. Such an experience for someone who (confession) doesn’t have television. Thanks to Cooking Light and to everyone at KGO and KTLA for everything.

And keep an eye out . . . I may just be coming to your screen sometime soon!

The Kitchen That Sings

La Cocina Que Canta; the kitchen that sings. It’s the name of the cooking school at Rancho La Puerta Spa in Mexico where I’ve been teaching classes this week. My aim here, as it is with NOURISH Evolution, is to show people how to enjoy food that’s healthy for both our bodies and the earth. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant; just incredible flavor coaxed from inherently healthy ingredients eager to give it.

[ photos clockwise from top left: a storm brewing; one of the many fountains gracing the grounds; sunrise on ancient “metate” divets in stone; sunny flowers swaying along the pathways ]

We start in the garden harvesting basil or spinach or greens or eggplant—and a bundle of fresh herbs for centerpieces—with Salvadore. Salvadore is the man in charge of the six acres of organic gardens. The man whose eyes twinkle with pride as he lifts handfuls of soil up to people’s noses. The man who brings me “dancing carrots” each morning, of roots entwined together in odd shapes. The man who stops to point out a bee burrowing in a head of romaine to explain that it, too, is looking for food.

[ photos clockwise from top left: a sculpture blessing the garden; rich, organic earth; Salvadore’s “dancing carrots”; students ready for the garden ]

Then it’s inside to the airy tiled kitchen where I encourage the students through chopping and slicing and pounding and grilling their way towards our meal. Some learn new techniques for chopping garlic. Others reconnect with roots through long-forgotten words and scents. Still others discover the ease and enjoyment of pounding the day’s pesto with the basalt molcajete mortar and pestle.

RLP-3[ photos clockwise from left: slicing figs for the mini oatmeal tarts with figs and honey; a very content instructor; pounding several varieties of basil for the pesto ]

What we do in the kitchen is really just gilding the lily on what’s already been accomplished outside in Salvadore’s soil, whether the end form is a creamy corn polenta, a fig and oatmeal tart or a smoky melizansalata with Mexican spices.  This is healthy cooking. This is cooking that’s gentle on the earth. This is cooking that brings a smile to the soul . . . and to everyone seated at the table.

Si, this kitchen sings indeed.

Salvadore’s Garden

Leaves rustle,
A rooster crows,
Laughter wafts over fields of green

And gold and crimson
And plum and rose.
More than a meal, a feast.