Last summer I had the opportunity to shoot some Olympic triathletes a few weeks before the London Olympics down in Costa Rica. They were staying on this unassuming strawberry farm/training center at 7,000 feet on volcano Irazu just outside of San Jose. It was a minimal little house down a dirt road in the middle of the farmlands. There was no need to shut the door because the whole house was made up of these leaking windows. Weather changes were constant – sunny one minute giving way to dense fog minutes later. One night the wind knocked out the power for a few hours. This was a common occurrence, so Leo fired up his truck to give us light for a few hours until bedtime.
During an after-workout nap, I had time to wander and shoot. Talking to the owner of the farm, I asked where all these strawberries go. He told me they all go to the US. I’ve never felt a connection with food imported from other countries, but this made me imagine all the cool little farms all over the world that supply us with a good portion of our food. I often picture these farms as acres of monoculture, but looking around most were only about 5 acres or smaller. This farmer tends the whole fields with one other helper. While I was shooting, they were hand watering each plant with calcium. Seeing this man’s hard work and humble operation made me really appreciate the process of growing food.
When I was talking to Leo and Manny about how they change their diet in the weeks leading up to the Olympics they told me that they didn’t change a thing. They still eat rice and beans everyday with some meat and vegetable. It’s amazing how much power you can get from such a simple staple food. I don’t think I ever saw an empty crock-pot in the house; black beans were on tap 24/7. We started every meal with fresh fruit, and the flavors they got out of such simple ingredients was amazing. I noticed they used a combination of finely chopped celery, green pepper, onion, and cilantro in many dishes.
My friend Aaron gave me a good idea a few weeks ago because he said he hates recipes that use ingredients you’ll never use again. He said he ends up omitting ingredients that he wouldn’t see himself using in the future. This point is very true, which is why I like to simplify my cooking as much as possible. So now I’m starting a new category – Ingredients you’ll always use.
The first ingredient is one of the simplest things to make, and it’s a perfect staple food to have in the cupboard. Buy it plain in bulk from the bins, and try to avoid the flavored packaged version. Packaged mixes are good, but if you want to control the flavor and have more versatility, then get the non-flavored.
It’s the easiest thing to make. If your smart enough to boil water, then you 100% wont have any problems cooking this. Just bring one cup of water to boil, add 1 cup couscous, turn off the heat, and wait 5 minutes till the couscous sucks up the water.
Recipe for 3-4 servings:
1 cup plain couscous
1 cup boiling water
small handful cilantro
2 teaspoons dried chicken bullion
2 teaspoons bragg amino acids or soy sauce
Bring water to boil. Add couscous, chicken bullion, and bragg. Stir. Turn heat off and cover with lid. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Check out this video on sprouting. Sprouting is an easy way to grow greens and eat a ton of high nutrient dense food. There are a ton of sprouting systems in all price ranges, or you can just do it in a mason jar if you want. Check it out.
I recently learned about the ANDI score and it really helped me identify the best foods to eat for optimal health. It stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, which is basically a listing of every food and it’s nutrient content per calorie. It analyzes a wide gamut of micro-nutrients including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. If you are trying to improve your health, take a look and start eating some of these foods more.
I also wanted to touch base on a concept I truly believe in, which is the concept of incremental change. It’s the concept of baby steps applied to your health. You basically look at where you are at, develop an ideal long term goal, and then apply small changes weekly to help achieve that goal. Everyone has these grandeur new years resolutions, but most fade after a month or two because people try to do too much at once, get burnt out, and quit. I say take your time. If your eating out 7 times a week, strive to eat out only 5 times and cook 2 meals from whole ingredients. If you cook healthy meals everyday, maybe start growing a small portion of your food. If you are already growing a small portion of your food, figure out how to grow more in an attainable way. If you eat healthy, maybe start juicing or eating raw. Always push forward. Never stop learning. No matter how smart you are, you can always learn.
If you go from eating cheeseburgers to drinking 100% kale juice, you’ll probably throw up and you’ll never make that mistake again. You can’t put the cart before the horse, and by that I mean that you need to change your pallet SLOWLY! It takes about 3 weeks to change your pallet if you consistently eat something new. By eating whole healthy foods, you will naturally stop craving sweet, salty, and fatty foods and start craving healthier options. Getting used to the flavor of olive oil is a prime example. Start making your own dressings using olive oil. At first, you’ll get slammed in the face with the flavor of olive oil, but I guarantee you that you’ll get used to it after 3 weeks if you eat it everyday. Then you’ll develop the taste for a healthy fat (olive oil) instead of the unhealthy fats (french fry oil). Use the search function to find older posts for healthy salad dressings.
This process takes time. Don’t run before you can walk. And don’t give up!
Check out this index and see which foods you can handle and learn a new recipe using them. A quick hint: lentils are very quick to make (only 10 minutes) and delicious. If you are new to leafy greens, try chard and bok choy first and then graduate to kale and collards. Eat them steamed for a few weeks and then eventually start eating them raw in a salad. Cooking kills nutrients, so the goal is to eventually eat things raw. Also, learn to chew well because it aids in digestion.
My brother Nate went to Tijuana for a weekend and came back raving about the way they drink coffee. This recipe is just brewed coffee with whole cinnamon and cane sugar. The cinnamon and cane sugar make it sweet enough to drink black. Try this with some high quality light or medium roast coffee, and I think you’ll love it – even if your used to drinking Starbucks with 17 pumps of sugar and cream.
Here is the recipe:
1 cup burnt over brewed coffee
6 pumps cinnamon
8 pumps caramel
12 pumps sugar syrup
I’m just kidding – I’m not about to “pump” anything into my coffee
Here is the real recipe using whole ingredients:
2 cups of properly brewed coffee
1/2 cinnamon stick crushed up
Cane sugar to taste
You can french press the coffee and the cinnamon together for a lighter cinnamon flavor OR you can take brewed coffee and simmer it on low in a pot with the cinnamon and cane sugar. Either way, its up to you. Fiddle around with the amounts you until you get it the way you want. Just don’t use powdered cinnamon because it has a completely different flavor, and it doesn’t really work.
This is my new favorite dish. It’s a perfect appetizer. It’s very simple and looks beautiful. The ingredients are inexpensive. It’s super fresh but still bold in flavor. What more could you ask for? I’ve done a chimicurry in the past, but this one is a bit different. I’ve added fresh thyme and oregano, and I think it really changes the flavor.
Try to use fresh oregano and thyme. It’s well worth the extra cost. If you don’t already have a plant of each growing in your garden or in your window, just use the two dollars you would have otherwise spent at the grocery store buying cut herbs and buy a plant. They are only three dollars at the home depot. They grow like a weed and you can’t kill them. Having herbs fresh at your fingertips is well worth it.
Recipe for 4 servings:
1 pound calamari steak
Handful of cilantro
3 cloves garlic
1 packed teaspoon fresh oregano
1 packed teaspoon fresh thyme
1 red chili finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground bay (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cut calamari steaks in thin strips. Add salt and pepper
Warm pan on medium heat WITHOUT OIL. When pan is warm, add oil, wait a few minutes, and then add calamari. Starting with medium heat avoids spitting oil and allows you to cook the calamari with a nice crust. After adding to the pan DON’T touch the strips. Just set the temp on medium low and let cook. They will stick at first, but they will lift off when the crust forms. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium low on each side. Remember medium low. Cook them slower and they will be more tender. It’s the slow down cook more philosophy.
In a food processor, add the cilantro, garlic, oregano, thyme, and bay powder and pulverize. If you don’t have a food processor your can do it the old school way like I do. Just finely mince all the ingredients with a knife and bash it up in a pestil and mortar. Then add the oil and lemon juice to the mixture and stir it together. Add salt and pepper to taste. This can be made a day ahead of time if you want.
When the calamari is crispy and delicious, just combine it with the chimichurry and top with more chili and lemon zest. Eat warm or at room temp.
My friend Minh makes sauces that boost your immune system and help prevent different ailments. This is his cold and flu prevention sauce. Check it out. I think you’ll like it.
My favorite flavor in this recipe is the sun dried tomatoes. You can cook this with any meat or vegetables. Minh chopped some sun dried tomatoes and added them to some ground beef, and then we added the sauce. The sun dried tomatoes add a sweet tangy flavor to the dish.
When I was in Costa Rica, I ate this combination of rice and beans every morning, which they called gallo pinto. This same thing eaten at lunch is called arroz y frijoles (rice and beans), but for some reason they call it something different for breakfast. I thought that eating rice and beans for breakfast would be odd, but it turned out to be a really good way to start my day. The combination makes a complete protein, and it is surprisingly delicious with ham and eggs. I also had more energy throughout the day because this is a powerful combination. As soon as I came home, I tried to recreate what I ate down south, and this is what I came up with.
Recipe for 2 Servings:
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup cooked black beans
1 small pepper (half a large pepper)
1 tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
small handful of cilantro
1/2 stick of celery
Juice from 1/2 lime
Cook rice and beans from dry (or used canned beans). You can cook the rice and beans the night before and eat some for dinner, and make a little extra for the next morning.
Finely chop pepper, tomato, cilantro, and celery.
Add lime juice. Mix everything together and serve with eggs.
This is the soup I made from the ridiculously cheap squash I got from the farmers market featured in the last post. If I find a deal on any ingredient, I just buy a bunch and figure out how to use it. This keeps me trying new things and new recipes. If your ever confused on what to do with an ingredient, just look it up on google or youtube.
This is a simple recipe that is quick to make and perfect for the holidays. You can use summer squash, butternut squash, or any squash you come across.
Here is the recipe for 4-5 servings:
1 squash (any squash in the 1 lb range)
1 cup of cooked white beans
1/4 stick of butter
salt and pepper
Remove seeds from squash, rinse, and put in a pan on low. Add salt and a touch of cinnamon.
Cut squash and yam into big chunks and remove skin, add to a pot, and cover with water. Bring to boil and cook till tender (about 20 minutes)
Drain water but reserve 2 cups. Add one cup of water at a time while blending. Check the consistency and add water as needed to get the consistency you want.
Add cooked white beans (either from a can or homemade)
Add butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.
The squash seeds should be crispy and dry when they are done. They take about 30 minutes on low. You can eat them separately or add them to the soup.