Cathe Olson has studied nutrition and cooking both formally and informally for 15 years. She is a vegetarian, macrobiotic, and whole foods chef. She has cooked at natural food restaurants and delis in the San Francisco Bay and Central Coast areas of California. She is the author of several cooking books including, "The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook", "Lick it! Creamy Dreamy Vegan Ice Creams Your Mouth Will Love", and "Simply Natural Baby Foods- Easy Recipes for Delicious Meals Your Infant and Toddler Will Love". She has a website, www.simplynaturalbooks.com and a personal blog: http://www.catheolson.blogspot.com. She has had articles published in several national magazines and also works as the Library Media Technician in an elementary school and directs the Central Coast Writers’ Conference for four years and serving on the boards of the Central Coast Book and Author Festival, Friends of the Nipomo Library, and SLO Night writers.
Empowered Mommies (EM): Cathe, you have such an interesting background having written several natural foods cookbooks and having had articles published in national magazines such as Mothering, Natural Awakenings, Vegetarian Voice, and VegFamily while also working as the Library Media Technician in charge of an elementary school library, directing the Central Coast Writers’ Conference for four years and serving on the boards of the Central Coast Book and Author Festival, Friends of the Nipomo Library, and SLO Night writers. And as if that weren’t enough, you are currently at work on a fictional chapter book series for children. How did you begin your career and interest in natural foods cooking?
Cathe Olson (CO): Boy, you make me sound busy . . . it didn't actually all start at once but I kind of got caught up little by little. Before I had kids, I became very interested in nutrition and eating healthfully. I experienced the difference in my weight and health as I started eating whole foods and eliminating refined sugars and junk food from my diet. I studied natural and vegetarian cooking and cooked at natural foods restaurants and delis, as a way of wanting to help others eat better. I also had the dream of becoming a writer. After I had my first child, I wanted to feed her whole foods and not food from boxes and jars, but the only baby food cookbooks I could find used lots of white sugar, white flour, and things like jello. So I started making up my own recipes. I published them in my local Mom's Club newsletter and people kept asking for more. So, I decided to combine my love of natural foods cooking and my dream of writing. It took a while, but Simply Natural Baby Food came out when my second daughter was about a year old. During the process, I started writing for magazines too which gave me practice as a writer and helped me promote my book when it came out. As a stay-at-home mom, writing cookbooks made day-to-day cooking more fun because I felt like I was able to use my creative energy creating recipes.
EM: Many of our readers are busy moms with small children. Do you have any advice on how to make cooking fun and healthy for the entire family?
CO: That's another reason I wrote my cookbooks. As a busy mom with small children, I didn't have time to make fancy, gourmet meals but I wanted our food to be tasty and appealing, as well as healthy. In my recipes, I try to use the least amount of steps, bowls, pots, and even ingredients. With kids, I've found usually simpler is better and with fresh, whole foods, the food really is the star. Bright colorful fruits and veggies appeal to kids without artificial colors and flavors. Whole grains like brown rice just need a little butter, olive oil, or a sprinkling of cheese to bring out the flavor.
As for making foods fun, the more your kids are involved, the better. Take them to the farmers' market or grocery store and let them help pick stuff out. Tell them what foods are good for them and why, e.g. carrots have vitamin A to help you see better, strawberries give you vitamin C to help you not get sick, beans have protein to help you grow big and strong, etc. Plant a garden if you can. And getting kids involved in cooking is key as well.
EM: One of the challenges many moms face is getting their children to eat vegetables. Can you offer some advice for making veggies more appealing to infants and toddlers?
CO: That is one of the questions I get asked most when I give talks to parents. I think one of the reasons kids don't like veggies is the texture. Veggies are often hard to chew. Also, many veggies like greens are bitter. One thing I found that worked well with my kids was to mince the veggies in a food processor and then add them to whatever I was cooking. I'm not talking about hiding them in brownies like some cookbooks recommend but just making them easier for kids. For example, mince up carrots, green beans, broccoli, kale--whatever you have on hand--and then put them with your brown rice and water and cook rice as normal.
You will end up with a beautiful rice pilaf but the flakes of veggies are too small to be picked out and don't need to be chewed and really you hardly taste them. No matter what weird eating phase my kids went through, they always loved rice so I knew that even if they weren't eating a serving of broccoli, they were getting their veggies. You can also add minced veggies to spaghetti sauce, pizza, burritos, soups, potato, pasta, egg, potato, or tuna salads, etc. Another thing that worked great was blended soups. Whatever kind of soup you like--vegetable, bean, chicken, etc.--just blend it up in a regular blender. My kids called them "smoothie soups" and drank them from a cup. (I discovered later that an immersion blender lets you blend up the soup right in the pot so no blender to clean!) Speaking of smoothies, I often add kale or other veggies to our smoothies. They don't change the taste but really boost the nutrition. For more ideas, check out this article on my website ( http://www.simplynaturalbooks.com/tips.html ).
EM: What is one of your favorite dishes?
CO: Here are a few of our favorites from Simply Natural Baby Food that we actually still eat regularly even though my girls are not babies anymore:
White Bean and Corn Chowder
This something so comforting and yummy about chowders. This one is dairy-free.
½ onion, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
2 medium red or white new potatoes, diced
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
Pinch granulated kelp (optional)
3¾ cup cooked or 2 (15-ounce) cans white beans
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Black pepper to taste
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
1 tablespoon light miso
In large soup pot, sauté onions in oil until soft. Stir in garlic, carrots, and potatoes. Sauté 5 minutes. Add water, bay leaf, and kelp. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender but not mushy. Add beans with liquid, corn, salt, and black pepper. Simmer 5 minutes, or until all ingredients are heated through. Remove from heat. Remove and discard bay leaf. Stir in parsley, nutritional yeast flakes, and miso.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Creamy Greens Smoothie
This is one of my favorite smoothies and I've made it for parents and kids at many workshops I've given and almost everybody loves it. This is a great way to get your greens and a great drink of you are breastfeeding as greens increase both the quantity and quality of your breastmilk.
1 cup cold Pineapple-Coconut Juice (or 1/2 cup Pineapple Juice and 1/2 cup Coconut Milk)
1 banana, sliced and frozen
few leaves of kale
Puree in blender until smooth.
Yield: 1 to 2 servings
These moist cookies contain no sweeteners, butter, eggs, or wheat.
2 cups rolled oats
⅔ cup almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1½ cups mashed banana (about 3 bananas)
¼ cup canola or safflower oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil baking sheet. Grind oats and almonds to a coarse powder in food pro-cessor or blender. Pour them into a large mixing bowl. Stir in baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
In separate bowl or in food processor, beat together bananas, oil, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Add banana mixture and raisins to oat mixture. Mix well.
Drop cookie dough by tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, or until bot-toms are golden brown.
Yield: 3 dozen
Variation: Replace the raisins with carob or chocolate chips if desired.
EM: Many of us who are aspiring cooks have had some major recipe flops. Can you think of a time when a recipe didn't turn out quite as you had expected?
CO: Oh gosh, it happens a lot. What's surprising is that I have flops more often when using a cookbook than when I'm making up my own recipes. In fact, usually when a dish flops I had a feeling that something was amiss but felt I had to follow what the recipe said. I've learned to follow my instincts when cooking--they are usually right. I actually don't follow recipes all that often--though I LOVE to read cookbooks. I'll take the ideas and then tailor them to what I have on hand or what I like. In my cookbooks, I try to test my recipes really well and have other test them for me so my readers will have success. I know how frustrating it is to waste all that time and the ingredients.
EM: Thank you for your time Cathe! You're a great role model for us moms striving to prepare healthy and wholesome meals for our kids.
CO: Thank you Ivanna!