Dancing in the Kitchen
Dancing in the Kitchen is an honest, inspiring, and joy-filled treasure of recipes and stories that will transform your relationship with food and self-care.
Dancing in the Kitchen
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Clear Broth
- Miso Soup
- French Onion Soup
- Beans and Bean Soups
- Pinto Bean Soup
- Split Pea Soup
- Black Bean Soup
- Red Lentil Soup
- Creamy Potato Leek Soup
- Great Northern Bean Soup
- Sweet Chickpea Soup
- A Few Favorite Salads
- Chickpea Salad
- Roasted Red Peppers
- Quinoa Salad
- Summer Potato Salad
- Black Bean Salad
- Nori Rolls
- Millet Potage
- Other Favorites
- Mexican Lasagna
- Soaked and Dried Nuts
- Almond Milk
- Pumpkin Pie Filling
- Coconut Cookies
- Chocolate Pudding
- Lemon Tangerine Pudding
- Almond Crème
- Peanut Butter Cookies
- Apple Crisp
- Date Bars
- Almond Cookies
- Best Balls Ever!
- Pecan Pie
- A Word on Breakfast
- Soft Rice Porridge
- Millet Apple Porridge
- Banana Pancakes
- Maple Nut Crunch Granola
- Adaptations and Transformations
- Grandma Duffy’s Cookies
- Soul Soup
- Serenity’s Chocolates
- Grandma Duffy’s Fruitcake
Before the words were born onto the pages that would become my book, I knew what the title would be. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing food for my family and friends, and I realized one day that I actually dance while I’m cooking. Standing in front of the stove, I move two steps to the right to stir my pot of beans. Remembering I need carrots, I twirl and take three steps forward to get to the refrigerator. With a half turn and two steps to the left, I arrive at the sink to wash the carrots. With each day and each delicious meal, a different dance is created.
Sometimes when we dance, we have a partner. It’s important to watch, feel, and follow each other’s steps so that together our rhythms are one, creating a beautiful dance. The image that comes to mind when I think about dancing in the kitchen is a connected and conscious dance between our bodies and food, preparing and eating healthy nourishing meals with balance and awareness. Following the leads of hunger and fullness can guide our steps in a graceful dance with food.
I don’t recall how many times I’ve heard or used the phrase, “dancing through life.” Just like dancing to music, we each hear our own life’s tune. We maneuver our way through the years with a style and rhythm that aren’t quite the same as anyone else’s. So my story is about my life’s dance, as it twisted and turned through twenty years of an eating disorder to eventually find healing through dancing in the kitchen.
Dancing is so personal. It is an expression of the soul. The way we move when we hear music is unique to each and every one of us. How we hear the music and the way it makes us feel determine how we move our bodies to express our uniqueness. But let’s say that you want to learn a particular type of dance, so you take lessons. Once your dance moves are perfected and you know them by heart, you can add slight variations to make it your own. This cookbook is meant to share some of my cooking “moves” with you. My goal is to help you build a foundation of preparing foods in a way that may be more nourishing and healthy. My hope is that once you learn my recipes, you will find the confidence to add your own personal touch, making each recipe your own. By adding your own flare, you will make them ideal for you and your family’s taste buds. Cooking, like movement, is both an expression of the soul and a way to nourish the spirit.
The recipes here encourage flexibility and experimentation. You choose a recipe, learn how it’s made, and then make it your own. I give you the basic steps, and once you feel comfortable, you have the freedom to add your own personal twist. Play and have fun preparing your own dishes. Cooking to feed yourself and those you love is a lovely dance, a dance that is definitely worth learning. It is my honor to share my story and recipes with you in hopes that they may show you a new way of dancing in the kitchen.
Life is a journey, not a destination. It’s not about the arrival but all that is learned in the process of getting there. I believe that it is important to keep this adage in mind, and I remind myself of these wise words daily.
I don’t consider myself religious. Spiritual? Yes. Some days I wish I were more spiritually evolved than I am now. When I reflect upon where I was thirty years ago, I sometimes don’t recognize the person I was. I have made so many changes over the years that my memories can feel like figments of my imagination. Today, I am so different—mentally and emotionally—from the person I was before I embarked on a twenty-year journey at the age of eighteen. And yet, the experiences of my life are lessons that brought me to where I am today, right here, right now.
This is my story. Some, whose paths have intersected with mine, may weave a different tale of the experiences we shared because their view of these events is seen through their eyes, not mine. So to those of you who know me, I say, this is how I perceived my life through my eyes and mine alone.
Dancing in the Kitchen
Have you ever had an “ah-ha!” moment about something that happened years earlier? You realize you missed something really big in your perception of the event. I had a very big “ah-ha!” moment when I started writing this story.
My childhood was rough. I didn’t have many friends, was teased a lot, and wandered rather aimlessly through my preteen years. I was born in the middle of eleven children, and even though I had many siblings around me, I felt lonely and lost. I don’t have many memories of these years except one, one that changed my life forever.
In 1972, I celebrated my twelfth birthday. I had invited a few girls over for my party, and we were eating cake and opening gifts when my mom called to me. “Hey, I think I see something in the backyard.” I looked through the sliding glass doors that opened up to our backyard and didn’t see anything unusual, so I went back to opening presents. I heard her voice again. “Why don’t you go outside and see what that is?” Unwillingly, I went to the door and still saw nothing. My friends encouraged me to step outside, and when I did, my life changed forever.
Outside was a beautiful chestnut-colored horse. Was this horse for me? As I looked into the faces of everyone standing there with me in the yard, their expressions told me the answer was “yes!” My parents had bought me a horse for my birthday! MY PARENTS HAD BOUGHT ME A HORSE!!! I ran to the mare and couldn’t wait to get on her. I adjusted the saddle, put my foot in the stirrup, and pulled myself up and into the tack. I rode around our yard like a queen while everyone cheered! Was this really happening to me? Was she really mine? I was so full of joy, and I couldn’t remember a time that I was happier. I had been taking riding lessons but never thought in a million years that I would have a horse of my own.
This mare, Mecca, became my confidant, my best friend, and my teacher. I loved her so much! As the years went by and I became a teen, my love for Mecca grew deeper and stronger. I spent many hours riding her bareback in the fields behind our house, never tiring of her company. Mecca and I became one when we were together. I could ride with just the twine from a bale of hay around her neck, and we would travel for miles. All I needed to do was think about where I wanted to go, and Mecca would just know where to take me. To this day, I don’t know how we communicated. What I do know is we understood each other so well, we were so free together, and we had a heart-to-heart connection.
I sold Mecca when I was almost eighteen, knowing that I would be going to college soon. I don’t remember saying goodbye, and this omission still haunts me. I didn’t hug her or tell her how much I loved her or how much she meant to me. The next day, after the trailer had picked her up and hauled her to her new home, I realized I’d made a huge mistake. I felt as though a piece of my heart had been ripped away. I felt physical pain in my chest. I pulled out a piece of paper from my pocket and dialed the phone number written on it. A woman answered, and I told her I wanted to buy Mecca back. When she said that Mecca had already been sold to someone else, my heart sank. What does a seventeen-year-old know about the consequences of living without her best friend? Mecca had been such a huge part of my life, and now I was all alone, again.
I tucked my precious memories of Mecca into a small, protected place in my heart. She lives there now, and I often think about her and the gifts she gave me. She offered me her unconditional love. I knew she loved me; she was always there for me. Where does one find a friend like that? This was my first experience with a deep and connected love. Many years later, Mecca still wields her magic because, you see, she lives within me.
In 2012, I started writing this cookbook, and as I struggled with where to begin, the story of Mecca seemed to flow out of nowhere, filling up the pages on the computer. Then my “ah- ha!” moment struck. Growing up in a large family doesn’t guarantee that you will never feel alone because I felt lonely often. I believed that I didn’t matter to anyone. I thought no one loved me, not even my parents. As a teen, I had a rocky relationship with my mother. Not that I was a bad kid or that she was a bad mom but we just didn’t get along. For many, many years I had placed this feeling of being unlovable in a deep place at the core of my being.
As I wrote on a rainy winter evening, the story of Mecca and my childhood appeared on the pages. Mecca had once again worked her magic. For the first time in forty years, as I read the words I had typed, I had a revelation: My parents had loved me. They had recognized my preteen pain. To help me through a difficult time, they had bought me a horse, a companion to spend time with and someone to love. I felt so ashamed at not seeing what they had provided for me until that moment. For forty years, I had been unable to see their deep love and concern for me, even though it had been there all along. At that moment my soul began to heal, as I finally comprehended my parents’ love for me.
I called my parents the next day and could barely get the words out through my uncontrollable tears. I told them how thankful I was for their understanding and for what they’d done for me. I apologized for not realizing this sooner and said I regretted that it had taken years to understand their love for me. On this journey called life, messages are revealed when one is ready to receive them, and for some, it can take decades to fully understand. For all of us, it’s important to trust and enjoy the ride.
So, what does my story have to do with dancing in the kitchen? Not long after I sold Mecca and went off to college, I developed an eating disorder. Even though I didn’t know what to do with my life after high school, I went to college because that’s what everyone did. I’d had a rough time making friends in high school, and college was no different. I felt like I didn’t fit in, and as the months passed, I became more and more reclusive. My dorm wasn’t on campus because of an overflow of students; it was about ten miles away. There weren’t as many girls in this particular dorm, and everyone had their own room. I spent a lot of time alone, feeling that nobody wanted to spend time with me and that I wasn’t good enough to have any friends. So I focused on something that was familiar to me: food.
I’d been interested in natural foods from a very early age. When I was twelve, my mom urged me and my siblings to stop eating candy and chips and drinking soda, after she’d seen Adele Davis on television. This advice resonated with me, so I did as she suggested. I don’t remember missing any of these foods. My hungry mind ate up any and all information about eating healthy.
In college, I wanted to continue eating healthy foods, so I prepared my own meals in the dorm’s kitchen. In hindsight, I can see how this choice created separation between me and the other women in my dorm. Sharing meals together was a time for bonding, and I missed out on that.
During my first semester of college, I gained some weight, which my brother noticed when I went home for winter break. I committed myself to starting a diet at the beginning of the new year, after all of the holiday celebrations were over. I followed a fat-free diet and took up running. Eating whole grains, salads, fresh fruit, and low-fat yogurt practically melted the unwanted weight from my body. In one month, I dropped 15 pounds, and with it, I lost my period. The new me felt invincible! I had set a goal for myself and achieved it. I felt in control of my life. I was running three to six miles per day and eating healthy. I had never felt better. Until everything fell apart.
In May, I went home for my brother’s confirmation, and there was a party afterward in the church hall. Some elderly women had placed cakes and cookies on the tables. There were plates and plates of them. I figured that since I hadn’t eaten any sugar in months, it wouldn’t hurt to have just one cookie. But was I wrong! I ate one cookie, then two cookies, then cake, and then more cake. I felt as if someone had jumped into my body and taken control of me. I didn’t stop eating the desserts until I was so stuffed that I could barely move. That night, I fell asleep with horrible stomach pains while trying to comprehend what had happened to me at the church. I slept fitfully.
When morning came, I boarded the bus back to school. I told myself that the binging was a random indiscretion and that I would get back on track with my healthy eating. It was a new day, and I put what happened the day before behind me. Little did I know how wrong that assessment was. This was the beginning of a full-on eating disorder that I would struggle with for years, as I tried to stabilize and create a healthy relationship with food. So the battle began to control my out-of-control eating, and eventually, I lost all direction and momentum on my quest for a healthy relationship with food.
In general, I ate well, continuing with my fat- and sugar-free diet. Sometimes, when I was offered something sweet and rich, I would find that I had no willpower to resist the temptation. If I decided to indulge myself in a delicacy, I would eat it uncontrollably. Then, to offset the binge, I would run extra miles or fast from food for a day or two. I had deemed certain foods, mostly anything with sugar or fat, as “unhealthy.” If I even tasted any of these items, it would lead to a binge. The conversations in my head were never-ending, “Eat this, not that. Eat it! Don’t eat it! Yes! No!” The mental chatter was exhausting, and I was exhausted. I felt out of control, with not a minute of peace in my life. The constant conversations had taken the place of that invincibility I’d once felt. Even without the binges, my life was an uncomfortable one, and my relationship with food was a constant battle.
Months went by and then a year, as I continued having ups and downs with food. I gained some weight and lost some weight, drifting along with no direction or purpose. The summer after my sophomore year of college, my parents and I agreed that I would go to Sweden and work at a roadside inn called Kungshaga Hotell. My parents had met the family who owned the hotel, and after a conversation with them, it was agreed that I would work there for the summer. Because of my interest in food, my parents thought it would be good for me to work in a commercial kitchen preparing food for the hotel guests.
However, as the time drew near for me to fly to Sweden, I changed my mind. I really didn’t want to leave home, but because the plans had been made and I had my ticket, I didn’t tell anyone how I felt.
A week before my scheduled flight, I was feeling very depressed about my life. I recall feeling so low that I contemplated suicide. I sat outside on the grass in my parents’ backyard and planned how I would do it. Then I cried and cried until there were no tears left. Luckily, I became so afraid that I couldn’t go through with it. So I moped around until the day arrived to leave for Sweden. As I boarded the plane for Stockholm, I turned myself on “auto pilot,” shut down all my emotions, and flew into the unknown.
Once in Orsa, where Kungshaga Hotell was, I missed home and wanted to go back. I called and begged my parents to allow me to come home. “No, you have to stay the three months as planned,” Mom said. I was miserable and depressed. I turned my focus inward and went on a very strict diet of salad, apples, and Wasa crackers. I also ran two to three miles a day. The diet gave me something else to focus on other than wanting to go home; it gave me a purpose.
Before I started my diet, I had gained about ten pounds within the first couple of weeks of my arrival in Sweden. None of my clothes fit me, so I’d purchased a pair of baggy, purple pants in Orsa that I wore every day.
On July 1st, I started my diet. About two weeks later, my purple pants were dirty, so I needed something else to wear. I dug into my suitcase and pulled out a pair of jeans. I put them on and was shocked. In two weeks’ time, I’d lost 15 pounds! I grabbed the extra fabric on the jeans and felt proud of the results of my dieting.
I continued my regimen of eating minimal calories until I met my mother in Europe six weeks later. We would be traveling around Germany and Italy for a couple of weeks, and then I would take the train back to Sweden to finish out the summer. I was so relieved to be with my mom that in the time we spent together, I gained back all of the weight I’d lost. I wasn’t binging, just eating anything I wanted. I had starved myself for weeks, and now I could celebrate that my mom and I were together and having so much fun. When the time came for me to go back to Orsa, I convinced my mom to let me go home with her. I did not want to go back to Sweden. Fortunately, we found a reasonably priced ticket back to the United States. I was going home!
Once I returned, I felt so guilty over gaining all of the weight back that I started another diet, and the roller coaster ride continued.
I quit college at the beginning of my junior year and went to work for a health food restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota called Good Earth. It was a great job, and I made good money as a waitress. It was here, while living in St. Paul, that I learned about the macrobiotic diet after reading an article in a magazine. I took cooking classes and read a lot of books to learn more about the macrobiotic philosophy. I was drawn to this way of life and the control that the diet offered me. There were a lot of rules to follow, which I was actually pretty good at. Although I loved the food and the macrobiotic way of life, my eating disorder wasn’t improving. I weighed the least I had in a very long time. I was stick-thin and cold all the time.
As my binges increased, my self-esteem sank. Looking back, I don’t think I would have survived had I stayed in Minnesota. In addition to cutting calories and over exercising, I had learned how to make myself throw up to help me manage my weight. I now had many destructive tools under my belt to keep weight off my body: running, fasting, and purging, all to an extreme. Although it is hard to look back sometimes, I have to remember that life is a journey. To this day, despite the difficult struggles and mental anguish, I wouldn’t change any of these experiences. They have made me into who I am today.
While my health continued its downward spiral, a force outside of me was pulling in the direction of California. I was visiting a friend in San Diego for a couple of weeks when I decided that California would be a great place to live. From there, every possible door opened, paving the way for me to move west and leave my family, my job, and all that I had known. I lined up a waitressing job at another Good Earth restaurant just east of San Diego and felt very lucky to be able to transfer. I also found a woman who needed a roommate to share her one-bedroom apartment. It was expensive, but it was also one block from the beach. It didn’t matter to me that I’d be sleeping on the couch. I had a place to live and a job.
I flew back to Minnesota filled with hope for a new beginning. I would be leaving my pain and sorrows behind and starting a new life where no one knew me. I forgot one thing, that ultimate truth: “No matter where you go, there you are.” My move to California marked the beginning of finding myself.
Always, always remember that this is your life. There is no judge or jury here, no one who has an expectation of what your journey should look like. Allow your healing to unfold according to what works for you. The recipes I share here are just ideas and suggestions that have worked well for me. My hope is that my journey will provide some inspiration for you on your journey.
Your process will be your own. If life is hectic, and you don’t have time to cook beans or grains, there are plenty of canned beans or quick-cooking grains available to you. If you are unable to get the vegetables that are in my recipes, use the ones that you find in your local market. You can use frozen vegetables for your soups and dried herbs instead of fresh, too! Remember, you can add any type of meat or dairy to many of the dishes as well. If you can’t find organic or some other food specified in a recipe, make it with what you can find. What sounds good to you? What’s within reach?
This dance isn’t about rules and being rigid. It is about adapting and changing, flowing with life. Each of us hasdifferent financial obligations and time constraints, so yourdance in the kitchen must fit your life. And, when you are ready, try something new, and see how it works for you.
This is the beginning of your journey—a time of transformation and taking care of yourself. It’s the beginning of a new and healthy relationship with food. So go ahead, take that first step. In no time, you will be dancing in your kitchen, and the richness and beauty of what that creates will nourish not just your body but also your soul!
And that secret I mentioned earlier? My Zen practice. I had to give up the need for control to find the peace and contentment I was trying to provide for myself with control. In the process of letting go, I found what I needed. I found out that life isn’t about the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” I had created for myself. It’s about balance. My life had been made up of so many rules to keep myself safe that I’d become deathly afraid of breaking any of them. It wasn’t until I was able to let go of the need for control and all of my rigid, inflexible rules that I was able to recover completely.
Once I set aside my armor, with no rules to follow, I freed myself. I was free to try out new ideas, and if they didn’t work, I tried something else. Control shifted to present-moment awareness, and I connected my emotional, physical, and mental parts into a whole me. I recognized that life really is about the journey, not the arrival. Our lives are worth celebrating every day, and what better way to celebrate than by cooking good food and sharing it with family and friends? I have created a beautiful dance in my kitchen, and it is a joyous dance.
After all is said and done, what would I like you to walk away with after reading the story of my journey? I’d love for you to feel a sense of calm. Take a breath. I’d like you to believe that you can do anything, even though it may take time and hard work. My father-in-law, who was born in Baghdad, used to always say, “All good things come to those with wait and faith.” Every word of this book was written with patience and faith. I hope that my story and my recipes inspire you to start dancing down the road toward a peaceful relationship with food, leaving behind anything that doesn’t serve you. Can you hear the music? Let’s start dancing.