We’re excited to introduce you to our July Cold-Proof chef, Alexandra Zissu.
A multitalented Jane-of-all trades, Alexandra is a food blogger, journalist, and a published author whose recent books include The Conscious Kitchen and The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat (check them out here). As you might expect from her book titles, Alexandra makes it her business to live and eat healthfully and mindfully. And that’s where her cooking philosophy—that of the “un-recipe”—comes in. Intrigued? So were we! We’ll leave it to Alexandra to explain the details, but we’ll say that the un-recipe revolves around serving up simple food with an emphasis on what’s fresh and in-season. We hope you enjoy her unique thoughts on living a conscious life in and out of the kitchen!
Q: How did you get into cooking and blogging?
A: I have always eaten organically. And I grew up cooking with my mom. Family meals were at the center of my childhood and today it’s really the core of my own household. My five-year-old loves to sit at the table and talk and talk and talk. Shopping for food and choosing the best local ingredients is what I do — both for work and just because. So cooking is crucial. And I have been a journalist since college. I’d say I don’t actually blog. Readers of my books started sending me questions and I started answering them. So that’s what’s mainly on my blog. Since then it has evolved some — how could it not? The blog has a lot of excerpts from my books, which I pull based on reader questions.
Q: What’s your favorite tip for staying healthy?
A: Sleep. But I don’t heed that tip as much as I should or would like to. So… stay conscious. Sounds odd but I mean try not to be distracted when shopping for food or any daily household product and you’ll eat well and stay healthy. Read labels, ask questions, be aware. Just because something is on a store shelf doesn’t mean a government agency has certified it safe. It’s important to be a conscious consumer.
Q: What’s one important way you try to care of yourself and those around you?
A: I try to make sure that we’re being mindful in all that we do and to check and double check that what we put on, in, and around our bodies is as safe as can be for us, for the farmers, for our neighbors and friends, and for the earth we all share. And I spread the word. If I know something unsafe or potentially harmful is lurking in a plastic container, a shampoo, a cleaning product, or even a desk chair, what good is it if I don’t also let everyone around me know? My changes do ripple out and touch the people in my community and beyond. But if all of us take good green steps and make small changes at home, that’s a much bigger impact than if I just do it alone myself.
Q: Can you share your favorite healthy/easy/deliciously comforting recipe?
A: I cook what’s in season at the farmers’ market or from my CSA (community supported agriculture) farm. And I’m very lucky that my city has a winter farmers’ market, too. I find many things comforting (including pasta with basil pesto, cucumbers with sea salt, apricots in season, pounds of shelling peas, pretty much everything my mom makes, pastured bacon) but the recipe changes based on what’s growing. I love this recipe from Joan Gussow that I printed in The Conscious Kitchen. It really explains my philosophy of “recipes” perfectly. I make un-recipes.
Joan Gussow’s Roasted What’s-In-The-Garden
This isn’t really a recipe–which makes it the perfect recipe. It’s seasonal and doesn’t call for anything that isn’t growing in the same region (Gussow’s yard!) at the same time. Plus it gives wonderful insight into the mind-set of a deeply green thinker. “I tend to make things that are related to what I have. I save recipes when they come along, but I don’t make as much use of cookbooks as I might. They have an assortment of things I might not have. If I were thinking about dinner during the day, I am thinking of the fridge: What’s in it should I use up? What’s in the garden I should use up? I’m aware of what I have at a given time. I had my first Burbank russets this year that were big. I love to dig potatoes. It’s a pleasure, like finding gold in the earth–a wonderful bucketful of potatoes comes out of the ground. I rolled them in oil and stuck them in the hot oven. Then I thought, I’m not going to waste that oven heat.” She remembered that a friend had done a potato-and-green-beans thing, and called her to find out how to proceed. She wound up roasting potatoes, green beans, and Jimmy Nardello peppers on separate sheets in the oven for about a half hour. “It wasn’t a meal,” she says. “It was potatoes and green beans and peppers on a plate. And it was delicious.”
Q: Do you have a zany cold remedy or unique stay-healthy routine?
A: It’s all pretty old-school and measured: eat well, work out, surround yourself with love and good people. Listen to your body and rest if/when you need to. Attempt to manage your stress (I know how hard it can be to keep it in check!). I do use a neti pot if I have to. Horrifying, but it works! I eat honey like it’s going out of business if I’m up coughing at night — by the spoonful. It coats the throat. I know plenty of people who eat lots of garlic. I have tried. The smell gets me down!
Tell us what you think of Alexandra’s un-recipe technique! Do you have any favorite combinations of foods—fresh fish, a delicious mesclun salad mix, corn on the cob—that are so delicious they don’t really require a step-by-step recipe? We want to know all about it!