I really enjoy talking with people who love what I love. I discovered I have a lot in common with Linda Watson, author of the new book, Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet—all on $5 a Day or Less. She loves her beans like I do, organic whole foods and cooking up great things from scratch. She makes it orderly and easy to do for all to discover in her book.
Linda Watson is the cook and researcher who started Cook for Good in the summer of 2007. She’s a home cook with a well-developed sense of curiosity, but she’s not a nutritionist or chef. She may be the only person in the world who is a member of both the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the Project Management Institute. Her background in project management and procedures writing helps her write and test recipes and optimize the shopping lists and cooking plans.
Linda Watson: Thank you so much! I try to rock the apron demographic!
Caryn Hartglass: Ha ha! I really appreciate your background and all the things you’ve done. You said that you’ve worked with the top secret expert system for the Institute of Defense Analysis and worked with Tom Clancy and Douglas Adams on computer games, and you’ve been all over the place and is it true you’ve got an English degree …
Linda Watson: That’s true, my undergraduate degree is in English and then I went and studied Expert Systems and Computer Science in graduate.
Caryn Hartglass: I love it! One of the great things about this country I think is just the feeling that we can do anything and should, and just because you studied one thing doesn’t mean you’re stuck and you have to do anything else and I think that’s in America’s DNA and I love it when I see different people doing things like that. Myself, I have a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering. I worked in the semi-conductor industry. I’ve sung opera professionally, and now I am obsessed and passionate about healthy food.
Linda Watson: I love that, that’s fantastic!
Caryn Hartglass: What I really love is how you’ve brought your skill in Systems to really clearly putting information that people need into a book.
Linda Watson: Thank you. I think it’s so important that we think not just about what you’re doing in the kitchen. A good well-written efficient recipe is important but the whole thing, everything from planning what you’re going to buy, doing a good efficient job at the store, and then making sure that you don’t create a giant pile of dishes that just wears you out at the end of the meal.
Caryn Hartglass: Unfortunately, I don’t know if it’s something that was in our DNA over the centuries and then came out of our DNA but when you talk to most people about preparing food and going into the kitchen, you get these deer in headlight expressions.
Linda Watson: You do, and these are the same people often who will not cook but they’ll spend 3 hours watching the Food Network.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely! What is that!
Linda Watson: It’s fun! We’ve got our own little chemistry set in the kitchen and you could eat the result. Almost anything you cook from scratch is more delicious than almost anything you could get in a restaurant. It’s cheaper and it’s better for you.
Caryn Hartglass: I think we have a similar mission. I just want to help more people, to get them in the kitchen and prepare more meals because like you say in this book, and we’ll touch on some highlights in it momentarily… Think you can eat well? And it can be affordable and less expensive. If you eat not as good, out of your kitchen.
Linda Watson: Hallelujah, sister!
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s like you don’t have to be a rocket scientist… okay, maybe you do, I don’t know! But I really want to believe that you don’t have to and it just requires a little thought, a little planning, and it does get easier with time.
Linda Watson: Absolutely. And you know, I don’t want to scare people off by making them think that it is a lot of planning. If you’ll do just a couple of things… so here’s two of my favorites. If you eat what’s in season, you’ll get the best deal, the best nutrition, it’ll be best for the planet. And the way to do that, go to the farmer’s market and buy what’s there. You don’t have to plan. What’s in season is what they have. And then, if you’ll spend 5 minutes every night before you go to bed, and you think, ‘What am I going to have to eat tomorrow?’, and you make a little list, you set something out to thaw, maybe you soak some beans. Five minutes can be the difference between you having a great meal and you having takeout pizza.
Caryn Hartglass: I really appreciated it when I saw you write that in your book because I guess it’s something I’ve naturally done but never really thought about. I’m going to jump around here but there’s all kind of talk spiritually about how important it is to be in the moment and live in the moment and I believe in that but I also think planning to a certain point is good and no matter what it is, whether I’m planning a big dinner party or just the next meal, I’m rehearsing it in my head before I do it.
Linda Watson: Absolutely, its food foreplay and you should just enjoy it.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the whole thing! And when I do plan it out in my head, when I’m finally doing it, it’s easy because I’ve done it already. It’s already done, almost!
Linda Watson: Absolutely! And I think it is so refreshing to, on your way home from work, if you can think, ‘Oh that’s right, I’ve put some split peas in the crock pot with some carrots and a little bit of tahini. I’ve got dinner waiting for me!’. Instead of thinking, ‘oh no, oh no, oh no, what’s in the refrigerator, what do I do?’, and being in a big panic state. You can be calmer if you’ll plan just a little bit.
Caryn Hartglass: So, do you have any idea how we got into this deer in headlights state with so many people not knowing what to do in the kitchen?
Linda Watson: I think it comes back from what I think is a really good movement which was liberating women to do something else with their lives. First, we used to have an incredible work to raise the chickens and kill the chickens and pluck the chickens and incredible work to feed our families. It got easier and easier as more packaged foods and help came along. And then we said, you know, we can go off and have other careers. But often those other careers led us to the 50-60 hour week and of course, you work somewhere else 50 hours a week, it’s hard to imagine cooking at home.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I read an article recently about how many people thing the internet really changed our lives and made things easier; but the authors take on it was, it was really the laundry machine that saved us a lot of time and made more of an impact on our lives and I know that’s true especially with women who were washing their laundry in the rivers and streams and how the laundry machine really changed all of that, I can’t imagine!
Linda Watson: Absolutely, and just good heating so you don’t have to scrub your entire house every year. So that actually goes back to the kitchen too. In my book, Wildly Affordable Organic, I do use some of the wonderful new appliances like the bread machine, the stand mixer. Those make it so much easier than our ancestors had it in the kitchen! On the other hand, my whisk bread, you can do with just a bowl and a big spoon. You don’t need the fancy equipment. That’s part of what you can get off the internet is ideas for how to use simple equipment in a better way.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, all good points, because when I’ve had to either be in a hotel or some very small environment near people that have very small kitchens and live in small apartments, you can do amazing things in one pot. You just need to have a few basic things. But on the other hand, if you have more space, and you can afford it, some of these appliances are really fun and useful!
Linda Watson: Absolutely. You know, I travel, Caryn, with my rice cooker. Because my husband is a photographer so we go off traveling sometimes to really pretty remote places where if there are even any restaurants, they’re not open before dawn and after dark when we get back from the field. So I just plug in my rice cooker. I found I can make rice, steam vegetables. In that case, I use canned beans. At home, I always use the dry beans, but you can use canned beans. You could even boil noodles in your rice cooker. I found that out last year, so I could have a little bit more variety. Heat up the tomato sauce on the top and even without a traditional kitchen, you can afford to eat like it matters.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. It just, like we said in the beginning, requires just a little thought and a little planning. And once you get into the routine of that or the habit of that then it becomes second nature. I once, a while back, did some touring and singing in Europe, and we were on a bus traveling to all these different towns and I never knew where we’d end up or what time. And I ended up buying a little hot plate and I had a pot and whenever we stopped at a grocery store or something, I would buy groceries and I didn’t worry about restaurants because I’m a vegan, I still am a vegan, and I wanted to make sure that I got food that was appropriate for me. And I would cook up these amazing things in one little pot in my hotel room!
Linda Watson: Kindred spirits! I love that story! That is so great!
Caryn Hartglass: But some people just don’t know how to do this and so it’s really important to spell it out, so you’ve come up with this great book and the book is a result of the work that you’ve done on your website.
Linda Watson: Absolutely. And my website is cookforgood.com and I have lots of free recipes up there and a free weekly newsletter where I’ll send you a recipe every week, so go ahead and dip your toe in the water that way. One of my favorite recipes is on the website and its Cuban black beans. The great thing about cooking from dry beans is that for about $1.89, you can get 10 servings of high quality protein that’s shelf stable, easy to cook, they’re light. You just rinse them off; cook them overnight or cook them for a couple of hours during the day and you’ll have 10 servings of beans. Eat some of those right away, freeze some. And then you’ll have your own fast food. I love making a good bean stew and freezing up enough so that when my life gets busy, I can just pop that out of the freezer and I’m good to go!
Caryn Hartglass: You’re right. I just can’t say enough about beans and I just keep talking about them!
Linda Watson: That’s good.
Caryn Hartglass: Beans, where do I want to begin? Number 1 – There are so many different ones, so you can get every color imaginable and varieties on each of those colors, right?
Linda Watson: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: So the black beans, there are little black beans, and big black beans, and your pink beans, and red beans, and yellow beans, and I keep discovering new ones. One of the things I like to do, and you mentioned something like this in your book where you go to different ethnic variety stores. Fortunately, I live in New York City and nearby is Flushing, Queens, where we have this huge Chinatown and Asian neighborhoods, great Indian food stores, and Chinese stores. And I find beans that I haven’t seen anywhere.
Linda Watson: It’s so exciting, and you really can’t go wrong with cooking them, and you get the different flavors. I live in an area with a lot of Mexican and Indian population so we have fabulous ethnic stores and I also order online from Rancho Gordo. Steve Sando there is fantastic. He’s worked with people in Europe but also largely in Mexico and Central America to rescue the bean varieties that will go extinct if we don’t have someone take care of them. So, to me it’s incredibly luxurious.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s that website?
Linda Watson: It’s Rancho Gordo, fat ranch! You could order, start with his Christmas Limas. They’re the most beautiful Lima beans that have a speckle across them so they’re white and a deep burgundy. They taste almost like chestnuts. Steve recommends making them in a blue cheese sauce which I don’t think you’d be interested in. I make them in a tahini sauce which is really, so delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: Anything with tahini is fabulous!
Linda Watson: It’s great. It’s a really great dish for $0.50 a serving.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m going to go there!
Linda Watson: Good.
Caryn Hartglass: Sometimes people complain about gas when they eat beans and I don’t know if you have any tips on that.
Linda Watson: I do. You know, it’s funny. That comes up at every class and I didn’t want to use to talk about it, but now it’s like, well, let’s just cover this issue.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, you know, when people talk about food, some of the best topics are gas, and excuse me, bowel movements, but…
Linda Watson: Oh, this will take care of both of them for you! So with beans, first of all, low and slow. So you want to make sure that your beans are completely cooked. A crispy dried bean is not your friend. You don’t need to soak them before you cook them. I like to because it cuts about 45 minutes off the cooking time, so as an environmentalist, I’m interested in saving that electricity. But you don’t have to. You’re so far ahead if you’re cooking dried beans, if you forgot to soak them, just cook them.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, don’t worry about it.
Linda Watson: Absolutely. Don’t worry about them. I cook them in the soaking water and that’s what Steve Sando recommends, that’s what Rick Bayless, the great Mexican cook, recommends. That’s where the extra flavor and nutrition is. Cook them in the soaking water. You can put the salt in when you soak them, actually the America’s best recipe people from the Test Kitchen, they’ve got TV shows and magazines. They recommend soaking beans in brine because it helps the salt get all the way into the bean and intensifies the flavor.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s interesting. I just want to make a comment because I’m not a salt person and I don’t salt my water but everyone could do it if they want to.
Linda Watson: Yeah, I’m a flexitarian. Absolutely, do what you want. But the final thing is, eat a lot of beans. So don’t go from white bread and Twinkies to beans every meal. Start maybe every other day, but just eat a lot of fiber, eat a lot of what your body will adjust. And it’s really not an issue.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s my understanding that when you eat them more and more and regularly, it won’t be an issue.
Linda Watson: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And while we’re doing the ode to beans here…
Linda Watson: Oh, do we ever have to stop…
Caryn Hartglass: No! Okay, so there’s great variety, but so many people are concerned about their weight. I hear it every day ad nauseum over and over because in America, in many places, we have access to inexpensive food. It may not be healthy but people are eating a lot of the empty calorie food and gaining weight. The great thing about beans is they’re inexpensive but satisfying.
Linda Watson: And they’re no fat, no fat at all. So you could eat a big plate of beans and it will not cause you to gain weight.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, don’t worry about it. Eat ‘em, eat ‘em up! Sometimes I just like to pop garbanzos in my mouth.
Linda Watson: Oh, absolutely! Caryn, did I tell you my belt story? I just, I lost about 15 pounds writing a cookbook. Let me say that again, I lost 15 pounds writing a cookbook. And I had a belt that I really liked and I couldn’t fit into it anymore and after I wrote the cookbook, I tried it on. That belt fit. And 2 weeks ago I tried on a belt that I had bought 12 years ago. It was a very expensive belt back I had from when I ran a dotcom and had more money than anything. So I always kept this belt even though I thought I’m never going to be that slim again. I’m wearing it this week.
Caryn Hartglass: Yay! That’s nice!
Linda Watson: I don’t watch… I eat what I want. The trick is, I cook from scratch. I eat dessert every day, but it’s dessert that I make. So no trans fats, no artificial anything. No fake sugars that trick your body into thinking that you’re satisfied but you’re not so then it will go back for more.
Caryn Hartglass: I just want to tell you what I made for dessert last night because I had so much fun with it and it was great. I’m a big fan of poached pears because they look elegant. I lived in France for 4 years and poached pears were always on fancy restaurant dessert menus. So you can poach pears easily or you can make it really complicated. I just take organic pears. I core them from the bottom. I leave the whole pear intact including the stem and then I put it in about an inch of water in a pan and I boil the water and I cover it and let them cook. Sometimes I move them around and they get soft. You could flavor the water with fruit juice or wine or whatever you want. Water does it for me. And then just last night I just whipped up really quickly, I’m getting into gluten-free baking and made these tiny little shortbreads and melted a little bit of dark chocolate, very little, but just drizzled it over everything, and it made it decadent and it was nothing. It was just a pear!
Linda Watson: That sounds amazing…
Caryn Hartglass: So good and fresh…
Linda Watson: I’ve got a recipe for something similar but different in my book Wildly Affordably Organic. It’s a poached pear with cinnamon yogurt sauce, and you could use a soy yogurt for that if you wanted to. So you just slice the pear in half. Take the core out a little bit and cook it in water with cinnamon and brown sugar in it and then whisk up the very simple yogurt sauce. I think this is a perfect company dish because you serve one or two of those pear halves with a drizzle of the yogurt sauce on it…
Caryn Hartglass: Beautiful.
Linda Watson: …at this time of the year, add a mint leaf on the top. It looks like gourmet magazine and it takes 20 minutes.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, and it’s delicious and it satisfies that sweet craving and it’s like no calories. It’s healthy.
Linda Watson: That’s one of my tricks. You know, the average American eats 142 pounds of sugar a year. That’s an old figure so I’m sure it’s more than that. If you followed all the menus and recipes in my book, you would be eating 28 pounds of sugar a year. So that’s for dessert every day. I just don’t put the sugar in tomato sauce, soft drinks, and in all the things that are meant to be savory.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. I’m over with beans now. I want to move on to…
Linda Watson: Yeah, we got to dessert somehow. I don’t have a good bean dessert dish.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s okay! Why do we need to organic?
Linda Watson: It’s so important! You had actually asked earlier about the role of cooks and why we’d changed our lifestyle. This goes back to some of that too. After WWII, the people who were making neurotoxins to kill off the enemy in WWII, didn’t know what to do with those neurotoxins so they brought them home and said, ‘You know, they kill off bugs too.’ So, at the same time that our lifestyles changed as the troops came home and women left the workforce and went back to work full time at home, we also started spraying deadly chemicals on our food. And indeed it kills off the bugs, but it gets into the food, it gets into the soil, and it can really hurt the way that especially children develop. Children’s brains are growing. They’re body parts are growing and it’s really important that they are not modified and changed so that they grow in a way that’s not natural.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, it’s really sad I find. I love technology and I love so many of the benefits that we have from them. But what I find over and over is really unfortunate is no one looks at the long term benefits or side effects…
Linda Watson: You’re absolutely right.
Caryn Hartglass: …or even think about them. And we’ve gotten a lot of clues from products even before they’ve been put out into the market about their potential dangers but people just think about the potential profit. And they’re out on the loose.
Linda Watson: You know, for not much more money, when you say, ‘Oh, I can’t afford that organic lettuce. It costs maybe 1/3rd more. So first of all, I want you to think – ‘For myself and my family, I am going to have cancer. I have a less chance of having cancer, birth defects, brain problems, dementia, all sorts of long term and terrible health results’. If that doesn’t get you, then think about – ‘Well, I won’t be spraying farm workers with all these toxic chemicals’. It’s a social justice issue Caryn and if you want to vote with your dollar, vote to give those people good working conditions, and finally, you’re helping the planet itself. The polar bears, the fish, the whole biosphere benefits when we treat it with respect and don’t poison it.
Caryn Hartglass: I know people feel very frustrated and very overwhelmed… the news… I don’t even like to listen to television news because it’s always focusing on all the things that are wrong, all the sensational items, rather than focusing on the positive things and the great things that people are doing and can do and inspire us to do better. And there are so many things that we can do. And this is exactly one. And so many people think that buying organic is too expensive and not worth it or not even… they can’t even trust that it’s of any good and all of those thoughts are really unfortunate because as you show in your book and we are going to get into it… it doesn’t have to be expensive and there are choices that you can make to go with some products all organic and others not and ways to buy organic that isn’t outrageous but it’s bigger than that, it’s more than that. It’s like you said… it’s a social justice issue because there are so many farmers, and the farmer’s children, and the farmer’s neighbors that are exposed to intense amounts of toxic chemicals, let alone us that are exposed to the residues.
Linda Watson: You are absolutely right. Just before I started this, I was working in politics and got some people that I really thought were fabulous into office and did what they could but no matter what side of the fence you’re on, I’m sure you feel the political people are not moving as quickly in your direction as you wish. This is a chance for all of us to vote with our forks three times a day. So even if you don’t do what’s in Wildly Affordable Organic every meal, every day, do it once a week. You can really make a huge difference. And it’s not that expensive. Let me just… I’d mentioned that you might spend 1/3rd more on organic lettuce, but here’s what my book tells you what to do – If you don’t throw away the 1/3rd of the head of lettuce you’re probably throwing away right now. It’s zero. There’s no change. I help you see how to use every bite that you bring into your house.
Caryn Hartglass: What do you mean throw away? Because we just leave it in the refrigerator and don’t eat it?
Linda Watson: Oh, you know there’s a whole variety. So let’s talk about that. First of all, so many of us are guilty of, ‘Oh, I didn’t finish that little bit of spaghetti sauce or my take home dinner or whatever. I’ll put it in a container and I’ll put it in the refrigerator and I’ll eat it tomorrow. Or the next day or the next day and then it rots. You’ve got a refrigerator full of stuff. I say, keep a stew soup container in your freezer and instead of putting that whatever your scrap is, half an onion, your little bit of carrot that’s left over, in a container and putting it in the refrigerator where you’ve got to eat it within 4 days probably, put it in the freezer, and over a period of time, a week, two weeks, depending on how much you cook, you can bring that out, thaw it, cook it, and you’ll have a free lunch. You’ll have the equivalent of minestrone. It’s so delicious and it’s all that good food that you’d been eating all week so you know it’s good food. It’s organic and you’re not throwing it away.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I love that. Linda, we need to take a quick break but can you stay with us because I have a lot more that I want to talk about with you.
Linda Watson: Pleasure, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay great, we’ll be right back.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food! And I am talking with Linda Watson, author of the book Wildly Affordable Organic – Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet All on $5 a Day or Less. Linda, I’m really having a good time talking with you!
Linda Watson: Oh my, it’s so much fun having to meet a fellow bean fan!
Caryn Hartglass: I’m looking forward to tonight. I’m kind of on a mission right now to make the best veggie burger I can and I’ve got some black beans waiting and I have got… it’s kind of like a chemistry project almost because I’ve got a bunch of different flours and powders and mixes that I want to try in different proportions to get different characteristics.
Linda Watson: I’ve worked really hard on my bean burger and they can be really challenging. I loved putting pesto in mine. That was the secret flavor that suddenly made that black bean burger pop for me, so give that a little try.
Caryn Hartglass: mmm… pesto, love it! And I have a little terrace outside of my New York City apartment and basil is definitely something that I grow and it’s just come back all on its own without having to replant it.
Linda Watson: Oh, that’s great!
Caryn Hartglass: The magic of nature! So we were talking about wasting food or not wasting it. And that’s one of the sad things I find. I think you have some interesting numbers on that… how people throw away a lot of the foods that they buy in their refrigerator.
Linda Watson: They throw away about 1/3rd of the food that they buy and that 1/3rd figure comes from the work of poor graduate students. I want you to imagine the work of these people. Their job is to pick through people’s garbage and say – this is good food that was thrown away. So that 1/3rd figure does not include what went down the garbage disposal or what went in the compost heap or what was tossed out by junior at school.
Caryn Hartglass: I know. I have gone on a few ‘dumpster dives’ just to see what they were like with a few groups in Manhattan because there’s a lot of food that’s thrown away, not in dumpsters, it’s just the side of the street, that are packaged and perfectly good, that the stores just throw away or the restaurants just throw away. It’s just mind boggling how much food we throw away that’s good.
Linda Watson: You know Caryn, that’s one of the things that I noticed researching this book looking at existing recipes. So often, you’ll find directions for example, that would say, take your beautiful green leaf, kale, chard, one of the hardy greens, cut off the woody stem and throw it away. What are you thinking!? I don’t know how many of your listeners had ever cooked greens from scratch but what happens is, you’ll take a giant grocery bag full of greens and if you don’t save the stems, you’ll cook them down and you’ll get a couple of handfuls of greens. They really shrink when they cook. So what I say is, take that stem, cut off the little bottom quarter where it was touching the dirt and has been exposed to who knows what in the store. Cut that off and compost that. Then the rest of the stem, chop that up, cook that up with onions first. After about 5 minutes, add the greens. The stems are tender and they actually add a different vegetable texture and taste to the dish so you get more without spending any extra money.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I don’t know whoever came up with deciding those little bits and pieces and stalks and stems weren’t worth eating. I do a lot of juicing and if I’m not going to cook those things, they all go in the juice. That’s like my garbage disposal.
Linda Watson: Absolutely. And once you get that mindset, you’ll be cutting a lemon in half to get the juice out of that and think, well that lemon, it’s covered with lemon zest. So the zest comes off, I can freeze it in an ice cube tray, and when I need lemon zest, for example, when I make my blueberry pancakes, which has less salt because I use lemon zest for the flavor, I don’t have to zest a lemon in the morning, I don’t have to pay for another lemon. I already have that zest because I bought it for another purchase.
Caryn Hartglass: And that doesn’t take up really any space at all in the freezer. The freezer can be filled with all of these little taste treats.
Linda Watson: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Ginger and garlic and herbs and you talk about freezing basil in your book, how to prepare it and freeze it. It’s just so many things can go in the freezer.
Linda Watson: That’s right. Just get rid of that packaged food. And if you’re going to eat packaged food, eat it occasionally and go get it from the store, bring it home and cook it. But don’t pack up your freezer with someone else’s frozen pizza. Use that for… you know, right now I’m feeding my freezer with summer goodness. Yesterday, I froze some basil pesto which I’ll have in January and February when I really need it. I’m also going to put up green peppers and onions which I’ll just sauté and then when I need a bean dish in the winter, I can use those peppers and onions at 3 for a dollar instead of $3 each. And those are savings. Those are the best of bonus savings. When you look at my book, I talk to you about how to cook organically on $5 a day, without cooking ahead. That’s something you can do if you’ve got more money, but if you’re on a really tight budget, you might not be able to buy in advance.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, there are all kinds of old fashioned things too like jarring and canning. If you have a little bit of space, just a visit to a farm or farmers market, you can buy bushels of things that cost like nothing. Last summer, we got a 50-pound bag of potatoes for $9.
Linda Watson: Wow! I do that with peaches here. I can actually buy perfect peaches for about $15 for half a bushel. Then I make up a peach cobbler, and I love ice cream based so I’ll make the ice cream. I use milk, you might want to use soy milk, and I freeze the peach in the sugar because that helps it be preserved. Then I thaw it out in the winter and I can have peach ice cream in the winter. It’s so great!
Caryn Hartglass: It just takes a little thought, a little planning. Now you live in North Carolina, and that’s a really interesting place because there are a lot of dichotomies going on there. You have a lot of up and coming neighborhoods and hi-tech and technology and then you have a lot of poverty and food deserts in different areas. And then of course, there’s a lot of factory farms and slaughterhouses in North Carolina. It’s a really interesting place when you come to think about food.
Linda Watson: It is. I live in the Research Triangle area, with Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill and Bon Appétit called Durham the foodiest small town in America a couple of years ago. So, I’m in a hot bed of fabulous farmers markets, wonderful farm to fork restaurants, really great food. And just a little bit east of me, we have most of the nations hog containment centers and some real bad pockets of poverty. So I think it’s a really important point that I help people know how to cook the food that they have, how to get it, how to treat it well, how to get the most nutrition and value out of it. But in a real poverty situation, there are three things that are going on. You need money to get food, you need to know how to cook it, and you need a place to cook it. So if you’re living in a car or under a bridge, then you’ve got more problems than I can help you with a rice pop.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, yes, and that is an unfortunate scenario. But when you help other people who have a choice, it’s only going to make it easier for everyone else and some of the things that frustrate me is I know a lot of people with means, a lot of means, and they don’t realize the importance of buying organic. And they don’t believe that it’s of any value and they just think it’s more expensive and these are the people where the cost difference wouldn’t make any difference in their lifestyle. It’s really important for everyone who can to purchase organic because it will… it’s a supply and demand thing. It will make it more available. It will make it conventional. I hate the word conventional that is used for foods grown with herbicides and pesticides. How did that happen? When did that happen? When did traditional food become the special food?
Linda Watson: Let’s call that industrial food. That’s the nicest word I can summon for that. But you are so right. That is absolutely something that people of any sort of means should as often as possible choose the healthier path because they will make it more, maybe not conventional… let’s call it every day. That sounds a little friendlier, I think. So that other people can afford it. I’ve noticed over the last 10 years that the vegetarian options wherever I go have gone from being rare and strange and frankly horrible to maybe a third or more of a menu. It’s completely normal now to go to a conference and being asked if you want the vegetarian track. Or going on something besides the mashed potato plate which is what I used to be able to find when I went to business meetings.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Linda Watson: And that’s because vegetarians and people who care about healthy food speak up. So your listeners… when they go to the grocery store, if you don’t find the organic food you’re looking for, and as you’re checking out, they say, ‘Did you find everything?’ Say, ‘No, I didn’t.’ I wish I could have found organic flour, local melons, and healthy greens. Ask for that food. They want to sell that to you. They want to sell you what you want so ask for it.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, absolutely. Don’t be shy.
Linda Watson: Right, never be shy.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, just you mentioning those conferences and having the food available reminded me of some 20-30 years ago when I was that lone strange person going into the back kitchen of a conference hall talking to the people who were there, “Is there something that I can eat here?”
Linda Watson: I actually did just lose weight at the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which was shocking. They have a vegetarian track but it was all pork belly and bacon. I wish I’d brought my rice cooker to Austin!
Caryn Hartglass: Well, Austin has changed quite a bit from then. Whole Foods is from there and there’s a lot of hip stuff happening there.
Linda Watson: I went on a reservation to a very good vegan restaurant with one of my friends, so I did get a meal in Austin, but that was just funny for that particular conference.
Caryn Hartglass: What are some of the foods that people should absolutely buy organic?
Linda Watson: There is a hierarchy so you’re absolutely right. I always start with any of the animal foods that you’re going to eat. So if you eat milk or cheese or eggs, start there because it’s good for you, it’s good for the animals. The animals have to eat a lot of plant food in order to create the animal food, and the toxins will accumulate. So start with that. Your next choice would be oils. Again because toxins tend to reside in oils so get organic olive oil. Cheap organic olive oil, it could be the store brand, is perfectly delicious. So get a good organic inexpensive olive oil.
Caryn Hartglass: I just want to stop here because I want to reiterate that that’s a very important point because I think that a lot of people might stop when they’re in the store and think organic oil, and they see the price and they go – oh my gosh, it’s too expensive. But it is important because the toxins do concentrate in the oil and we don’t use a lot of oil. And certainly if you are using a lot of oil, you probably should be using less.
Linda Watson: That’s right. So you think serving size and then suddenly none of this is expensive. Then your next step is that the very easy rule for produce is – if you have to choose, if you can’t go all organic, then get organically the things that you can’t peel. Now some of those toxins will go right into the body of the food itself and with genetically modified things like corn, you know it’s in the genes. There’s nothing you can do about it. But still, bananas – you can peel the bananas. You can peel peaches. I have a very hard time down here finding organic peaches. The bugs love peaches as much as I do. So I always peel my peaches and then I don’t worry about my conventional peaches. But strawberries, you can’t peel the strawberries. I always buy organic strawberries and blueberries.
Caryn Hartglass: And strawberries are grown, or conventional ones and industrial ones are grown with horrible methyl bromide… really a terrible toxic chemical.
Linda Watson: Yes, that’s exactly right. The Environmental Working Group has a good list of The Dirty Dozen. They’ve ranked a hundred different types of produce and they tell you this is where you should spend your money. The peaches are on their Dirty Dozen but I contacted them and they said ‘Oh, we tested those peaches with the peels on.’ So that’s why I include peaches in my menu and you could still eat conventional peaches as long as you peel them.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, the thing is, buy as much organic as you can and certainly, in the urban areas, there is a lot of very reasonable organic produce to buy but the thing is… I always like to say this whenever I remember – no matter what you’re eating, enjoy it when you eat and don’t worry about it when you’re eating it, like ‘Oh my god, this isn’t organic! It’s toxic; it’s going to kill me.’ Your cells really respond to the environment that they’re given, the environment they perceive. If you eat something in happiness and joy, the cells are going to take the good stuff and leave the bad stuff behind.
Linda Watson: I love that attitude.
Caryn Hartglass: I believe it!
Linda Watson: You know, that goes along with the new My Plate program from the USDA. I love that the beginning of their statement is – Eat, enjoy your food, but don’t eat too much. That’s good advice.
Caryn Hartglass: I have mixed feelings. I definitely believe enjoy your food. I really need to qualify the ‘don’t eat too much’ because on the diet that I’m on, I eat whatever I want and as much as I want. And when you’re eating the foods that are healthy for you and you’re not filling up on French fries and potato chips and empty calorie foods, and they don’t even seem like foods to me anymore! I eat as much as I want. If I want a 2nd, 3rd, 4th serving, when I’m hungry, I eat.
Linda Watson: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: And so, I know that most Americans need to hear don’t eat as much but…
Linda Watson: Not as much Caryn… don’t eat too much. And I’d say don’t eat too little either. I mean anorexia and other dietary disorders are very real. So you want to eat the right amount. And you are so correct. You can be full and satisfied and eat as much as you want as long as you’re eating that healthy pure food.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, because I don’t think the whole eating thing should be a thing of deprivation.
Linda Watson: No, not at all! Celebrate food!
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. It shouldn’t be a stressful thing, but it does take some re-education in terms of what things are food and what things aren’t food. I walk through most supermarkets and most of the rows I skip because there’s no food there.
Linda Watson: That’s right. But you know, one thing I do do, and this is part of the impetus for me to write that book Wildly Affordable Organic, was Michael Pollan saying ‘Whatever you do, whatever you do, whatever you do, avoid the center of the store! Stay on the outside where the food rots.’ And I was like, ‘No Michael, that’s where the dried beans are, the rice, the whole wheat flour, the good noodles. There’s a lot of really good nutritious food in those aisles. But I’m with you; I skip the soft drink aisle. I’m not down the beer aisle. There are a lot of aisles I just don’t have to go to. I don’t even buy any frozen food any more. My only frozen food is food that I’ve been putting up so I can use it later.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, if you have access to fresh food, if you grow it or go to a farmer’s market, that’s a great opportunity to do some of that.
Linda Watson: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you give some cooking classes from time to time?
Linda Watson: I do, actually. I have a series of four classes that if you’ll take all four classes, first of all, you’ll have a lot of fun and at the end, and you’ll get a certificate that says that Cook For Good, my website, acknowledges you completed these classes and you are a certified Wildly Good Cook and shall hereafter be known as such. It’s a really fun certificate so I had a good time with that. But I teach across the country. Last year I did the Cook For Good coast-to-coast tour from Wilmington, NC to Portland, OR, down to Sacramento, CA and back over to Hilton Head Island, SC. Six weeks in the car with my beloved husband and we’re still married.
Caryn Hartglass: Does he like to cook?
Linda Watson: He actually cooks the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. He’s an engineer and has been refining these in his meticulous way until they are absolutely perfect. I don’t think they can get any better. But mostly he’s my taster and my proof reader and he washes the dishes so I have married very well.
Caryn Hartglass: Ha ha, that’s pretty good! Now, when you give those cooking classes, are there are few particular tips that are mind-blowing or just eye-opening to some of the people that makes a difference for them?
Linda Watson: Yes. We’ll actually mention one of my best classes, Cook For Good in 20 Minutes a Day; I just made that available on disk. So you can buy that on my website Cook For Good. Yes, that’s just an hour long. What blows people’s minds there is you can cook 60% of your food from scratch in 20 minutes a day. So just seeing how that works is great. Another moment that I love in my classes is when I am boiling noodles with vegetables in them to make my spicy peanut noodles, which is a great dish. So I boil the hardy vegetables in with the noodles so I don’t have to use two pots, two amounts of water, and two sources of electricity. And I drain that broth into a jar and they see that that’s vegetable broth. Organic vegetable broth costs about $3.25 a container, $0.11 an ounce. You’re pouring it down the drain every night. So save that broth and use it to make your sponge foods like rice, quinoa, or oatmeal. And now you have more nutrition and more flavor for absolutely no more money.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s brilliant. Well, you know, a lot of restaurant chefs, they always keep a big stock… soup stock… I’m a little tongue-tied right now. They take a big pot and they put all of the stuff that they don’t use. All the ends and nips and things and boil up this incredible stock.
Linda Watson: Absolutely. And between my stoop container and my broth jar in my refrigerator, I waste almost no food. And what I don’t use, that goes out into the compost heap.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now one of the things that I like about this show is even though I think I know just about everything, there is always something that I learn. And there was one tip in your book that I really liked and that was weighing the food so that you don’t have to use measuring cups.
Linda Watson: Oh, I love this. I am a huge fan of the kitchen or food scale. Thank you for mentioning that. When you cook as we are taught in the United States of dip and sweep or whatever, you will get some amount of flour in that cup but who knows how much it is? In my cooking classes, in my baking class, I have people come in. First thing, I give them cups and say, ‘Think about how you measure at home. Use… I’ve got a sifter here, I’ve got a sweep, I’ve got everything. Measure it and we’re going to weigh it and see what you get. I think and the USDA thinks that a cup of flour weighs a 120 grams. In all my classes, I’ve had exactly one person get a 120 grams. Everyone else is over. So if you want to know why your baked goods are drier and why you’re going through your flour more rapidly than you think, paying more for worse product, that’s because you’re not using the scale. And another thing I love about the scale is, you don’t have to wash the measuring cups. You’re just dumping food into your bowl, and weighing it. You never get lost. So when you’re making something like bread, that might call for four and a half cups of flour, you might measure 4 cups and then half a cup. You just dump in that amount and if the doorbell rings, a kid interrupts you, you get smooched… you know, whatever, you get a hot flash… I don’t know. You lose track of where you are. Your scale will tell you where you are and you’ll have better quality food all around.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’m very excited about that because I always have lots of cups and things that end up meaning to be washed and reused and it gets kind of crazy and I never thought of doing that!
Linda Watson: You know, I really try to focus on cutting down on the dishwashing too even though my husband washes the dishes, or maybe even especially because my husband washes the dishes. Why shouldn’t I be good to him and have him wash what needs to be washed and nothing extra.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s great. Okay! So we just have 5 minutes left, and is there anything we need to know from you, something particularly exciting that you’re working on?
Linda Watson: Let’s see, I’m getting ready to do the Cook For Good challenge so I would love your listeners to join me on this. In my book, Wildly Affordable Organic, there’s a chapter with a starter plan. It’s the Cook For Good in 20 Minutes a day. So for the challenge, starting July 16th, people can cook 20 minutes a day the first week and the next week, we’re going to do the whole Wildly Affordable Organic plan where you’ll cook all your food from scratch. If you could afford to donate that extra money to one of four charities that I’m working with or choose your own charity. Give it to your local food bank, your local church, whatever. You’ll have lots of video support, online forums, on my website Cook For Good. It’s a really fun way at the peak of summer produce to see just how great it is to cook from scratch. You can afford to make a difference in the kitchen.
Caryn Hartglass: So that sounds like fun. So what do people do? They get your book; they go to your website. How do they do it?
Linda Watson: If you go to my website and you can sign up for the challenge. Go under the Do It tab there and it says Cook For Good challenge. There is a little signup sheet. I’m going to be sending out newsletters about that. And I also again on Cook For Good have a free weekly newsletter. So we’ll be talking about it there.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay!
Linda Watson: All of the recipes are in my book Wildly Affordable Organic so getting that book is a great idea too!
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what I like about this idea is sometimes it just takes a little kick in the butt. You know, people want to do something and they don’t know how to get started or even if they just have the book, it’s like ‘Okay, that book is there.’ But when you have an event, it’s just that little push to get… to jump in and be able to do it.
Linda Watson: And you’ll be able to ask questions and share your suggestions and triumphs with a people so it should be a lot of fun.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, great!
Linda Watson: Are you going to do it Caryn? Are you going to join me here?
Caryn Hartglass: I’m definitely going to check it out!
Linda Watson: Alrighty, thank you!
Caryn Hartglass: I’m going to check that other website for the heirloom beans that you were talking about and… absolutely, why not? Maybe I’ll film a few too and put them up and share them with you.
Linda Watson: Very good. I would love that.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so it’s about time to roll it up. The one thing that I didn’t ask you in the very beginning is how did you get started with cooking healthy food like this?
Linda Watson: Oh yeah, you know, I said that I was working in politics and I just got discouraged about what was going on with looking for a way to make a difference and I noticed that people were taking the food stamp challenge. That was eating on a dollar a meal per person which was at that time, the average amount that someone on food stamps got to eat. The amount hadn’t gone up in 9 years and a lot of anti-hunger activists had their own challenge and they said, ‘Let’s try it for a week and see how it is.’ Well, it turns out that it’s hard; it’s very hard if you don’t know what you’re doing, especially if you’re just doing it for a week because you can’t buy any quantities. And in my book Wildly Affordable Organic, I talk about mini bulk so just being able to buy for two people, a pound of butter is a great thing. You never do that for a week but you might do it for a month. So I got started with that and then Michael Pollan with his statements about staying out of the center of the store made me crazy so I asked my husband, what do you think about trying this? We’ll do it for 3 weeks. At the end of the first week we felt a huge difference. He said, ‘Let’s never go back.’ It’s been 4 years. The Wildly Affordable Organic life is the life for me. I love it!
Caryn Hartglass: I love it! That’s a good story, thank you so much for sharing that! So, I just encourage everyone, get the book Wildly Affordable Organic. Go to the website cookforgood.com and there’s so many great tips and wonderful things that you can do for you and for the planet and for your pocketbook. Linda, thank you so much. This has really been a great time. I enjoyed talking to you. I love that people are doing so much and making things easy and simple.
Linda Watson: You know, it really is easy and simple and I thank you for sharing all sorts of great information with people. It’s been a pleasure.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you! And I look forward to the… what are you calling it… next week?
Linda Watson: The challenge, the Wildly Affordable Organic challenge.
Caryn Hartglass: There we go, I’m looking forward to that!
Linda Watson: Take that challenge everybody!
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you Linda Watson, author of Wildly Affordable Organic. Wow, that was a yummy hour and it’s made me pretty hungry, how about you? There’ll be lots more information about preparing great recipes. You can certainly go to Linda Watson’s website and please go to my new website responsibleeatingandliving.com. We’ll continue this dialogue with lots of great healthy recipes for you. I’m Caryn Hartglass and this has been It’s All About Food. Thanks for joining me!
Transcribed by Jyothi Parimi, October 15, 2013