Cooking with Izzy

Digital art by Andrew Faulkner

My friend Andrew Faulkner, a painter, digital artist, and printmaker, works down the road from me, but I met him on an island in the middle of the Pacific at a painting retreat! While on retreat, he expressed a desire to eat in a healthier manner. Not surprisingly. People often share such aspirations with me, perhaps even make them up on the spot when they hear what I do. But Andrew seemed in earnest. 

He shared how he’s tried, but that the taste of “healthy food” was… off-putting. As luck would have it, the retreat chef and I had heard of each other. I went back into the kitchen to introduce myself and chat with her, after which I KNEW we were in for a week of tremendously yummy food. The flavors were electric and bright! That sealed the deal for Andrew. He said, I feel great! And I think I can DO this healthy eating. 

He was very smart about it and enlisted his daughter, Izzy, to help him. Izzy works on a farm in Sonoma, is bright, talented, and devours information.  Andrew inquired if I would be willing to have a talk with her about nutrition? Well, YES! Any 19 year old who’s interested in nutrition, I’m ready to talk. We shared experiences and connections with food. I started pulling books off the shelf… and it just seemed destined that we were going to cook together. 

We decided to do, what’s often referred to as, “weekend warrior,” cooking, where meals are prepped out, or batch cooked in advance to be eaten during the week.  Before she came over, we planned the menu to suit her family’s taste preferences.  My strategy: introduce Izzy to dollops of yum — delicious, easy sauces that make ALL the difference — and then build everything around the dollops, so she would have ammunition for a whole week of truly delicious food with not that much effort. 

Next, I wanted to teach her how to taste and flavor correct, for that all-important yum factor. My favorite learning vehicle for teaching taste correcting is quinoa, which all by its lonesome tastes a little like cardboard. It needs some dolling up! I think of it as a blank canvas. 

Cooking perfect quinoa — using all your senses!

However, there is a trick to cooking perfect quinoa, which I will now share! 

Use one cup quinoa to 1 ½ cups of water. First heat the pot, then add 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Toast the quinoa in the hot oil. Listen to the pop of the quinoa. Smell the nutty smell that emanates from the pot. When you hear and smell those two things, THEN add water or stock, and a generous ¼ teaspoon of salt. Check at 10 minutes. If you see the little circular air holes forming, turn off the heat and just let it steam. The texture of the quinoa turns out nice and fluffy — not overcooked, not undercooked. Perfection!

Many recipes call for rinsing quinoa vigorously before cooking to remove a natural bitter coating called saponin… But, do you need to? The did an experiment.

Meanwhile, back at the stove, Izzy and I tasted the quinoa. This is good! she said. I’m like yeah, well, it’s ok... But it’s not good enough for your father! We’re going to have to doll it up. Quinoa loves acid, so we’ll add a little orange juice. Also it needs fat, so we’ll drizzle some olive oil… another pinch of salt. Let’s get our spices and bump up the flavor! Cumin, coriander… Now let’s bump up the texture. We’ll add pistachios and raisins… She tastes it. WOWOWOW! Now I totally get it! she said. It’s like the way my father paints!

She nailed it!  I’m ALL smiles, especially since I always love to say “I paint the way I cook and cook the way I paint.” :)

We spent the rest of the afternoon building the dollops and prepping the dishes for the week (see menu below), all recipes with fresh, herby, bright sensations that dazzle the taste buds.

Izzy experienced how simple this was. We just spent a few hours and transformed these bags of food into food for the week! I can do this for my parents every week!

I immediately became enormously popular with her parents. Izzy felt empowered. SHE brought such wonderful energy into my kitchen that I was inspired! And everyone will be eating like an artist. 

The Faulkner’s menu plan for the week:

Baked Chicken with Minted Chimichurri
Grilled Chicken with Za’atar
Wild Salmon Kabobs with Asian Pesto (in The Healthy Mind Cookbook)
Asian Cabbage Crunch
Bejeweled Forbidden Rice Salad
Orange Pistachio Quinoa
Strawberry, Fennel and Arugula Salad
Triple Triple Brittle (Andrew said, Oh my god! Is this legal? This is my answer for my 4 o’clock Snickers bar!!!)

See Andrew’s artwork at