Edition 15 | Winter 2019
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Food and Cooking: Therapy for the Soul
A journey to using food as medicine
Story by Steve Norton
The holidays often invoke memories of a fancy tablescape and the smell of roast and pie filling the air as the family comes together to eat. No one had to know on the other side of the kitchen were strewn pots and pans and a burnt version of the entrée.
I know the feeling of chaotic cooking. Before my stroke, I was a professional chef in Los Angeles who had every gadget from William Sonoma in my arsenal. I’d cook elaborate meals for the families I worked for and presented them on equally intricate platters. I loved how happy my food made them.
After serving 17 people on Thanksgiving, my stroke happened. The brain cells controlling the left side of my motor movements died. Doctors said I would never cook again.
They were right–partly. I never cooked again. At least, not in the way I used to.
After my stroke, cooking became a part of my recovery. After losing some mobility, cooking became a way for me to fully experience and celebrate my five senses in all their glory. The heftiness of a knife as it slices through squash. The beautiful black char blistering bright red tomatoes. The cackle of oil as it touches a hot pan. The air, pungent with rosemary and thyme.
And the taste. The reward.
My love for food propelled me to discover innovative and healthier ways of preparing the dishes and meals I had enjoyed for so long and to create new dishes within my abilities. I was on a new path of approaching food as medicine but without compromising the endless possibilities of great flavors and tastes. There was something very healing and calming about holding a chef’s knife in my hand and trying to figure out on my own how I was going to chop that carrot, onion or celery stock. The rewarding sound and smell of fresh vegetables sautéing brought me a sense of solace.
I was once again doing what I love to do–creating culinary art.
I don’t have any need for those fancy gadgets anymore, not when my knife and my spatula help me cook with all five of my senses. I no longer need to harvest my grains from the depths of the Amazon or import my spices from across the ocean.
Good food doesn’t have to be indulgent. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring.
Years after physical therapy, cooking is still more than sustenance. It is creating in a soothing, relaxing environment until I have a soothing, relaxing, a process of trial & error and ultimately a finished product of one’s efforts.
Now that the new year has started, and the holiday parties are a thing of kitchens’ past, take the time to cook for yourself. Feel–and appreciate–how your knife sinks into a beautiful piece of chicken. Blanket yourself in the aromas you created in the pan.
If you take the time to look at food as therapy for our souls the possibilities are endless on what you can create and what you may learn about yourself as you continue on your journey of what we all call life. Prepare and share a meal with someone you care for and enrich your soul with food.
If you need inspiration, look no further than this recipe for Southwestern Chicken & Vegetable Stew.
Recipe: Southwestern Chicken and Vegetable Stew
Winter Comfort Stew Full of Southwestern Flavors
1 tablespoon avocado oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chopped carrots
3 cups chopped celery
1 large zucchini, chopped
1 large yellow squash, chopped
1 sweet red bell pepper chopped
1 sweet yellow pepper chopped
¼ cup flour
4 cups vegetable broth
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
(1) 19 oz. can black beans, drained & rinsed
(1) 4 oz cans fire roasted diced green chilies
(1) 28 oz. can roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup diced or shredded cooked chicken breast (can use rotisserie)
1 cup fresh spinach leaves or kale leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
fresh parsley & Cotija cheese
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the butter and avocado oil.
- Add the onion, garlic, carrots and celery; sauté for four to five minutes, until tender and fragrant.
- Stir in the zucchini, yellow squash and red and yellow peppers. Cook for two minutes until slightly softened.
- Sprinkle in the flour to create a roux and cook for another minute.
- Slowly add one cup of vegetable broth while continuously stirring until it starts to thicken and come together.
- Slowly pour in the remaining vegetable broth.
- Stir in the chili powder, garlic powder & red pepper flakes.
- Add the black beans & the can of roasted diced tomatoes and the can of roasted diced green chilies.
- Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add chicken, reduce heat to low & simmer uncovered 25-30 minutes with occasional stirring.
- Stir in the spinach and cider vinegar.
- Cook an additional three to four minutes or until heated through.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve hot garnished with fresh chopped parsley and cotija cheese.
- Serve with warm tortillas of your choice.
A native of Santa Ana, CA, Steve Norton has been in the hospitality industry for the past 30 years. He attended New York’s prestigious Culinary Institute of America and has worked as a private chef. Norton loves to share his knowledge and expertise in healthy eating, including menu planning, managing a food budget, and cooking with fresh ingredients.
Read more by Steve Norton.