I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Are you meeting your quota?

Last week I announced my plan to move toward more real food and away from processed ingredients. Real food can be defined as a "product of nature more so than a product of industry." It is whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. It is organic and humanely raised meats and wild-caught seafood.  Whole dairy products are also in this category. It is the way our predecessors ate before the rise of manufacturing, industry and government took over our food production. You can think of real food as something that comes from the ground or from a plant or tree or as something that has a mother.

Real food does not contain preservatives and ingredients that you cannot pronounce. It is not artificially colored, flavored or sweetened. It does not have the shelf-life of a millennium. Real food is not dispensed from a drive-thru window.

Most times when you make a decision to change, the first impulse is to discard everything that has to do with the old habit and make a complete and immediate 100% change in every aspect.  Quite frankly, this is nothing but a set up for failure.  Making a lifestyle change is something that takes time and should be a gradual change so that it is not so much of a shock to your system.  Kitchen Stewardship sums it up best by equating your real food journey to learning to read and write.  As a child you didn't just one day pick up a pencil or book and start to read and write.  You learned to recognize letters.  Learned what sound they made.  Learned how to write them.  Learned to put letters together to form words.  And before you knew it, you were reading and writing for the rest of your life!  Although we are far from being little kids now, the fundamentals are still the same:  take small steps and learn as you go.  I won't be immediately clearing out all processed food ingredients from my pantry and refrigerator and completely changing my diet right away - I plan to use up what I have and replace it with more suitable items as I progress. 

100 Days of Real Food has done an excellent job of taking the overall move to real food and breaking it down into smaller, easy to follow steps.  I'm currently working my way through the 14 weeks of mini-pledges.  The week 1 pledge asks that you incorporate at least two different fruits/vegetables with each meal.  I was always under the assumption that I ate alot of fresh fruits and veggies, but do I meet the quota of at least two per meal? No. This pledge made me mindful of doing so.  Lunch and dinner aren't so much of a problem for me, but breakfast is tough because I'm not a big fan of breakfast and a piece of raw fruit will sometimes upset my stomach. It is also hard to continuously think of healthy and easy things to eat when you are a desk-jockey limited to a toaster and a microwave. I do try to throw in a few extra pieces of fruit during the day as a snack, so I think it all balances out in the end. 

Fresh vegetables are so easy to incorporate into your meals - they can take mere seconds to prep and only minutes to cook.  I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you although there is no actual recipe for any of them.  I roast alot of my veggies and I could literally eat an entire pound of roasted asparagus myself.  Snap the tough woody ends from the stalks (about 1 or 2-inches from the bottom), wash and dry them well.  Arrange the stalks in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil  (1 to 2 teaspoons), sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for about 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.  Give the pan a good shake at least once to make sure the asparagus isn't sticking or getting too done in one spot.  Once it comes out of the oven, grate some fresh lemon zest over the top and if I'm feeling all fancy schmancy, I'll crumble some creamy tangy goat cheese on top.  Yum!

I use the same technique for cauliflower, broccoli and whole cloves of garlic except they need to roast just a little bit longer, maybe more like 12 to 15 minutes.  If you have some baby carrots, throw those in as well.  They are pretty much the same density and take about the same amount of time to roast.  When you put them into the serving bowl, make sure you get all of the olive oil from the baking pan as well.  I usually finish this off with a sprinkle of sea salt.

I love this medley of vegetables that I call "farmstand saute."  You can adapt it to use pretty much any combination of fresh veggies that you have on hand.  I usually have squash, zucchini, bell peppers, onions and cherry tomatoes.  Add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a non-stick skillet (sometimes I add just a bit of butter too) and bring to medium-high heat.  Add your veggies along with some salt and pepper and any seasonings that you'd like.  If you use dried herbs, you can add them now but if you use fresh ones, wait until the last minute or so of cooking.  I use either dried Italian seasoning or fresh dill that grows rampant in my yard and flower beds.  Saute for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the veggies are crisp-tender (if you are using cherry tomatoes, add them about when there's only about 5 minutes left to cook as you don't want to overcook them).  Now here's the best part....

During the last minute of cooking, add a splash of vinegar - my favorite is rice wine vinegar, but you can use any kind of flavored vinegar that you'd like.  It adds a bit of unexpected freshness to your veggies.  I get rave reviews every time I prepare it. 

See?  It's as easy as that to add real food to your diet.  Don't be afraid to try different techniques of preparing vegetables - roasting, sauteing, or steaming - as each method brings out different flavors in whatever you are cooking.  Go forth and experiment and have some real food!

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