I have a passion for cook books. Not only because of the inspiration you can find in the sum of recipes thoughtfully gathered in one place, but because a good cook book means so much more than that. It involves the culture around the food, it tells a story, it offers practical advice and life lessons we can benefit from. And it can just as easily be found on my living-room coffee table or night stand as in my kitchen. Sarah Britton’s My New Roots is one of these books. I’ve been using her recipes from her blog by the same name for a long time, but a proper cook book always feels that bit more special. I bought it for myself for Christmas and everybody in my family gathered around it numerous times during the holidays cooking various dishes. It was fun, mindful and even life-changing (read on and you’ll see). And I think I might have just created a new Christmas tradition.
Toronto-born Sarah Britton confesses that until she was twenty-three, when she went to work on an organic farm in Arizona (a city girl freshly graduated from design school), she had eaten only processed foods, or fruits and vegetables that had been picked before their ripeness and traveled thousands of miles. She was a sugar addict, overfed and undernourished, never really considering what she ate. The taste of a yellow pear-shaped tomato she hand-picked at the farm changed everything for her. Not only did she want a life more in tune with the natural world, but she changed her approach to food dramatically. When she went back home she enrolled in the Institute of Holistic Nutrition and soon after, her blog was born, and with it, one of the most authentic, strong, enthusiastic, motivational voices in whole-food, plant-based cuisine and its wellness and healing power.
“Food matters, and we are connected to what we eat. The beauty of the world can be experienced through taste, smell, and texture of a single fruit.” In that vein, here are nine lifestyle (not just eating) lessons you can take away from Sarah’s book. But note that the greatest joy you will find in experiencing her recipes made by your own hands.
Let the seasons guide your senses. Buy local.
Discover and feel the benefit of eating with the seasons and enjoy their specific flavours. I’ve always said it: I don’t really believe in organic fruits and vegetables that travel thousands of km. Buy local, seasonal and organic (preferably grown in your own garden or from a reliable source) as much as possible. “This not only helps the body acclimatize to the external environment but also contributes to the health of the environment in choosing foods that travel shorter distances.”
One of the first things I noticed in Sarah’s book is that she divided it not into chapters for each course, but into chapters that flow with the seasons, with a special emphasis on Summer. There are five seasons, not four, as Summer is divided into two parts, early summer and late summer. She was influenced by the Traditional Chinese Medicine in her approach, but, as Sarah says, if we pay more attention to the changes that take place during the warmer months in North America and Europe, it makes perfect sense. Being the summer girl that I am, I have always referred to my favourite season as early summer and late summer and have always indulged in the transition from the bright sun and long days of the beginning of summer to the golden light and shorter days in those weeks leading up to autumn. And the produce harvested is so distinctively different at the beginning and at the end of summer. The realisation Sarah makes is such a beautiful reminder that Summer is an invitation to mindful living, to take your time, be more present, enjoy every moment and flavour it offers. “Set aside extra time for the late summer celebration.”
Can the can!
The less ready-made and packaged foods, the better. It’s a common sense rule for healthy eating. But I particularly want to stress out the importance of cooking dried legumes and not using canned legumes. I have never bought one can of beans or lentils or chickpeas in my life, and, in time, I have been unpleasantly surprised to find them as ingredients in many “healthy” recipes. The first time she cooked dried beans, she “vowed right then and there never to open a can of beans again”, Sarah writes in her book. As I said, this is an old habit of mine, and I will keep it.
Cacao is one of the best things in your life.
Cacao (not to be confused with cocoa) is raw, meaning that it retains all of its original nutrition, powerful antioxidants and fragile enzymes. Cacao is not only the food containing the highest concentration of antioxidants and magnesium, but it’s one of the most protein-packed plant-foods, too. Isn’t this the best news or what? Even if it’s not news to you, it’s worth repeating (which is what I do every single time I read or hear about it from an expert). Be sure to buy only the best quality cacao though.
Eat your grains.
It is true that some people are intolerant to grains, especially gluten-containing ones such as wheat, “but that is no reason for everyone to give them up”, Sarah insists. I agree. Let’s not eat gluten-free just because it’s trendy. Whole grains are good for you.
Stop using extra-virgin olive oil for hig-heat cooking!
I have known this for a long time and have always found it puzzling why so many cookbooks misuse it, for stir-frying, sautéing and baking (which led to my starting to misuse it too sometimes). Sarah’s book is among the very few that advice against it. The extra-virgin olive oil’s low smoke point means that it is by no means suitable for any high-heat cooking. Use it only in salads, dips, sauces and add them to hot dishes as a garnish.
You can have the cake and eat it too!
Sarah not only created the life-changing loaf of bread (the famous recipe that launched her blog into stardom and which continues to convince skeptics everywhere around the glove that healthy food can also taste delicious), but the life-changing chocolate frosting, too. Of all the things I have found difficult to give up once I embraced a healthy eating philosophy, chocolate was the hardest. But once you make and taste Sarah’s raw vegan chocolate frosting (I recommend you to go all the way and make her decadent, towering blood orange chocolate cake!), you will never go back. Why would you? It is THE BEST I have ever tasted, healthy or non-healthy, vegan or non-vegan. It’s insane. It’s life-changing – and our faces at the Christmas table when we tasted the cake would certainly prove it.
Bees are your best friend.
Whenever I feel that my immune system is starting to fail me, my father always says: “Take your bee pollen.” Sarah names bee pollen as her favourite superfood. “It contains nearly every single nutrient the human body needs to survive.”
Don’t diet. Enjoy food!
It is all about eating habits. About healthy, whole-food ingredients, about finding satisfaction in the food that is good for you, about finding pleasure in home cooking. “It’s not about sacrifice, deprivation, or labels.” As someone who shares the same food philosophy, I am telling you, once this way of eating gets into your system, and mind, you will not look back. It will be part of who you are, as it should. When healthy food tastes this delicious, making it part of your lifestyle is only logical. I’ve been health conscious for a long time and my transition to whole-foods and plant-based eating has been very natural and going on for years, but if you are a new comer who wants to embark on this path, Sarah’s practical advice and essential techniques will be of great help. I also do the following: whenever there are moments when I’m craving something unhealthy (although these moments are fewer and fewer), like store-bought ice cream, I am asking myself: would I give this to my son to eat? If the answer is no, and it usually is, I give it up without a moment’s thought.