January 4, 2021
By Lisa Petrison
In addition to environmental mold avoidance, one of the things that I think has been most important in allowing me to recover from my longtime chronic illness has been eating food that is as low as possible in toxicity as well as minimally processed.
It therefore has been a very good thing I am competent in terms of my cooking ability, since restaurant food and other prepared food rarely comes anywhere close to meeting what have become my standards for the foods that I am willing to eat.
While some other mold avoiders – including mold avoidance pioneer Erik Johnson – also are quite good cooks, many others have minimal cooking knowledge and are in need of basic instructions on how to prepare food for themselves.
While I’ve spent some time seeking out information sources that seemed that they might be useful to these folks, most of the cooking blogs/books/programs that I have seen seem to me to be limited in terms of the help that they are likely to provide to this audience.
I therefore have decided to work on writing a food-centered book to provide some basic discussion and instructions with regard to the kind of cooking that I do on a daily basis, in the hope that others may find it useful to them.
The cooking style to be discussed in the book includes the following characteristics:
* Focus on using whatever fresh, non-toxic, highest-quality ingredients are available.
A problem that I have with most cookbooks and cooking blogs is that the recipes provide a list of ingredients, with the implication that the reader should go shopping and buy all of those ingredients in order to make the recipe.
That does not seem optimal to me since often many ingredients that meet my standards (that is, that are grown organically by conscientious small farmers) are not available to me at all.
For instance, I purposely live in a rural area that is far from any big cities and need to drive half an hour to get any fresh produce that I am willing to eat.
In addition, even when I travel to a big city to go shopping, I still primarily want to eat in season and am disinclined to buy produce that does not look good to me just to make a particular recipe.
Other foods such as particular meat cuts are not always available to me either, since I need to make a special effort to make contact with small local farmers in order to buy their products.
And even then, these farmers often are sold out of some cuts but have others that I never would have imagined buying based on cookbook suggestions.
Therefore, the goal that I almost always have when I am cooking is not “How can I get the ingredients to make this recipe?” but rather “How can I use the ingredients that I already have on hand (or that I randomly will pick up today at the farmers’ market because they look fresh) to make something delicious?”
It’s my experience that virtually no cookbooks or cooking blogs answer the latter question in an optimal way – meaning that they are virtually useless in terms of helping me with my own day-to-day cooking.
Fortunately, I know how to cook well enough that I do not need to consult recipes to use up the ingredients that I buy, but that is not the case for many people.
It therefore is my goal with this book to provide general instructions on how to cook a variety of basic dishes (such as stir fries or quiche), with discussions about how various vegetables, meats, seasonings and other ingredients can be used within the context of those dishes.
In addition, there will be sections on some basic techniques for cooking specific types of vegetables and other ingredients, so that the process of transforming purchased items into appetizing finished dishes will be as straightforward and efficient as possible.
* Focus on suggesting options to accommodate the needs of those with specific food sensitivities or preferences.
I had severe food sensitivities for many years and had to limit my diet substantially as a result.
I therefore had a lot of motivation to figure out how to make changes in my cooking style to eliminate the problem ingredients while still ending up with tasty food.
It’s my goal to write the cooking instructions with enough variations that as long as people can tolerate and have access to the core ingredients (e.g. it’s hard to make a good omelet without eggs!), they will be able to prepare the dish regardless of what food sensitivities or preferences they may have.
* Focus on discussing cooking concepts rather than providing specific recipes.
Although there are millions of recipes in the world, the number of cooking techniques that knowledgeable cooks end up using again and again is much more limited.
It’s my goal with this book to explain some of these basic techniques and to give the readers some ideas on how they can create variations on these concepts to create dishes that are specifically tailored to match their own needs and preferences as well as to use up what they already have on hand.
It’s my hope that almost immediately, those reading the book will be able to start cooking creatively without needing to refer to any recipes at all (or to use recipes as sources of inspiration rather than as rulebooks to be followed).
* Focus on cooking without measuring ingredients.
Prior to the late 1800’s, recipes all were just instructions and rarely included any measurements.
I personally never measure anything (unless I am cooking grains or baking), and from what I have seen, most other good cooks do not measure things very often either.
It therefore seems a bit odd to me that virtually all of the recipes that I see online or in books include specific measurements for all the ingredients.
I do understand that this is designed to try to help the inexperienced cook to make good decisions in the kitchen and to feel less nervous about the results.
However, what I more think happens is that it creates a situation where such individuals never learn to use their own best judgment when cooking and therefore believe that they cannot cook anything without a recipe in front of them.
In addition, my own goal in the kitchen is usually just to take some fresh ingredient and make it into a palatable dish – not to replicate some dish that some famous cookbook author says I should cook.
So if I have (say) a pound of broccoli, I usually just try to use it all up, rather than just using the amount that someone else says that I should use and then having some left over (or, God forbid, thinking I should go to the store to buy more because I don’t have “enough”).
And then I try to use reasonable amounts of other ingredients to complement the broccoli.
While this type of cooking conceivably may seem intimidating to some people, I think that they will find out very quickly that especially when using first-rate ingredients, the specific amounts used do not matter that much and that the dish likely will taste fine regardless.
And that as a result of cooking the food and tasting the results, they will learn what their own preferences are and then automatically make adjustments to accommodate those the next time they cook something similar.
I therefore do not intend for the most of the discussions in the book to include anything more than the most general guidelines in terms of quantities.
Obviously there will be a few exceptions, especially with regard to cooking grains and baking. (Those types of cooking are more of a science than an art, and careful measurements sometimes can be extremely important to get a good result.)
I also will be linking to conventional recipes from other authors that demonstrate the types of dishes that I am discussing, so that people can read or use them if they feel the need.
In general, though, I hope that people will find this book’s instructional style to be liberating (and also similar to how they likely would learn to cook if being tutored personally by a really good chef).
* Focus on incorporating large amounts of produce.
The large majority of my own current food consumption consists of fresh vegetables and I have some experience following some popular produce-heavy diets (including the Wahls Protocol and the Gerson Therapy) as well.
A problem that I have with most cookbooks and cooking blogs is that they do not include nearly enough vegetable-based recipes to be very useful to me.
My cooking book will be focused primarily on the use of fresh vegetables, with the use of moderate amounts of animal products as a secondary focus.
Preparation of other kinds of foods such as healthy grains will be discussed too, but to a much more limited extent.
* Focus on moderate amounts of good fats and limited amounts of natural sugars.
During the past decade or so, the liberal inclusion of certain types of clean fats (such as butter, coconut oil and even bacon grease) has become accepted by many people as a healthy part of a Paleo-type diet.
I am in general agreement with that philosophy (at least as long as it is not taken too far) and so am not making any kind of effort to encourage people to keep their fat consumption low.
On the other hand, I rarely eat any processed sugar and never ever consume any kind of modern sugar substitutes (such as stevia, xylitol, monkfruit or chemical sweeteners), because those things do not feel clean or healthful to me.
Standard desserts (including ones that are presented in most books or blogs that are supposedly focused on healthy cooking) are invariably much too sweet for me, and so I am very disinclined to make those myself.
On the other hand, I do occasionally enjoy homemade dessert-type foods (such as ice cream, puddings, pies, souffles, cookies, cupcakes, muffins or waffles) that contain fruit or that are just lightly sweetened with honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar.
These types of foods will be discussed to a limited extent in the book, with readers encouraged to adjust the amount of natural sweeteners to suit their own preferences.
* Focus on choosing high-quality ingredients and kitchenware.
Although I rarely use frozen or bottled vegetables, I do rely on a variety of other packaged foods.
A primary focus of mine over the past decade has been to identify packaged goods products that are reliably clean in terms of being free of substantial contamination with glyphosate, mycotoxins and other forms of toxicity.
The topic of choosing clean ingredients (including recommendations of particular brands) will be discussed at length in the book.
I also have some suggestions in terms of cookware and other kitchen equipment that I will be sharing as well.
* Focus on nourishment rather than nutrition.
Just a few years ago, it would have been expected that a health-oriented cookbook would necessarily feature nutritional information, such as listing the amounts of fat, salt, calcium and calories present in the dish.
It’s become my increasing feeling, however, that for the most part “Science” actually has very little understanding of what makes foods healthy vs. unhealthy and that following those people’s advice is more likely to lead one astray than to be helpful.
Among the apparent reasons for this are the funding of nutritional studies and the lobbying with regard to food policy by industrial farming and packaged goods foods companies; the almost total lack of any long-term controlled studies looking at the human health impacts of different sorts of diets; and the basically total disinterest of the entire “scientific community” in anything related to toxicity.
However, few people will likely disagree that humans benefit from a diet consisting mostly of fresh vegetables and other non-processed foods, and so at least that is something.
(The situation is actually much worse for our dogs and cats, since pet food companies have convinced most veterinarians and pet owners that pets should only be allowed to eat highly processed and very toxic kibble and never be fed any fresh food at all. And then we wonder why the lifespan of the average dog or cat seems to be getting shorter by the minute!)
I suggest that those who are especially concerned about – say – salt or fat levels in their foods simply restrain themselves a bit in terms of using those types of ingredients as they are preparing the foods discussed in my book.
* Focus on fast and efficient preparation.
I learned to cook back in the 1980’s and 1990’s primarily by following the writings of Pierre Franey, a respected French chef who for many years wrote a food column in The New York Times called “The 60-Minute Gourmet.”
Although occasionally I will cook something like a pot roast that simmers on the stove or in the oven for an extended period of time, for the most part it’s still my cooking philosophy that dinner should take about an hour to get on the table from start to finish – and no more.
In addition, over the past decade I have cooked full meals from scratch daily despite living for five months in a tent, four years in a small RV, and the rest of the time in apartments with very small kitchens (and until very recently no dishwasher).
I thus have learned a bit about making do with limited amounts of kitchen equipment and about streamlining my cooking style to use a minimum number of pots and dishes.
This type of knowledge will be reflected in my book as well.
* Focus on taste and homey comfort rather than presentation style.
Almost all of my own cooking has been just for family eating rather than to impress anyone, and this is reflected in the dishes that I choose to cook and in the simple preparations used.
Although I certainly want food that I prepare to look appetizing, I do not tend to spend much time worrying about the best way to cut vegetables or to arrange the food on the plate to maximize its visual appeal.
Accordingly, the discussions in this book will focus more on how to cook the food in order to maximize its tastiness and less on how visually appealing it is.
* Focus on cooking for small households.
Although I occasionally hosted dinner parties (and also catered the buffet for my own wedding) before I became disabled with ME/CFS, most of my cooking throughout my adult life has been for 1-2 people.
Usually, though, I cook enough food to serve four people and then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers because that is no more trouble than cooking a smaller amount.
I therefore feel fairly confident that my cooking style is appropriate for serving families of four people or fewer.
Cooking for larger groups may sometimes require a cooking style that is slightly different, though I think that it will likely be the case that much of the discussion in my book will be relevant to serving larger families as well.
My current goal with the book is to write one section at a time and to release these materials as they are written in order to get comments on them.
I will be linking to the sections that have been tentatively completed on this page.
I highly encourage those who read the materials or who try following the instructions to share their thoughts with me, either in the comments section of this page or in the Mold Avoiders Facebook group.
Thanks much to all for your interest in this project!
Note: Lisa Petrison, Ph.D. is the founder of Paradigm Change and Mold Avoiders. Her previous books include A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance and Back From The Edge.
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Copyright 2021, Paradigm Change/Lisa Petrison