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The Inspiration Issue

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Today I took a long walk in this lovely park by my house. It has a circular, gravel running path and I go there every other day or so to get some exercise. As I walked toward the middle of the park, I heard the most beautiful sound. There, on a bench, was a young man playing the cello. There was no hat or instrument case open - there was no pressure of donation, he was simply practicing in the open air. I made it around the bend of the path and started walking back in his direction and stopped for a long while to lean against a tree, close my eyes, take in the sun and his beautiful music. The unexpected combination of the cello and the crisp fall weather touched me deeply. It completely made my day, and I made sure to tell him so.

For me, these last two years have been hardcore, soul-searching times. Throw in the impact of the recession and now, the holidays and that's a whole lot of pressure. But if there's one thing I've learned in my attempts at self-preservation, is that in dark times, it's crucial to seek out inspiration. Every single day.

Inspiration keeps you moving forward, striving and focused on your path, even when you don't quite know what your path is. Inspiration keeps you in the creative mix. Inspiration makes you feel rich even when you're poor. Inspiration is a reminder that anything is possible. Inspiration is a life line.

A while ago, I started by making a list of things I love; things that bring me joy and pleasure and actively searched them out. Then, I took it a step further and started writing down memories of experiences when I cried because I was happy. Specific books, movies, shared experiences with friends, my African dance class, yoga, being in the mountains have all had that effect. It was a big, glaring 'note to self' that I needed more of those types of experiences in my life.

Another thing I've found very hopeful is returning to memories of childhood. The experiences, music, books, toys and television that I loved as a child are great inspiration. It shed light on who I am and what's important to me.

I'm always on the lookout for new things to inspire me. I especially love to read non-fiction about people who've triumphed in the face of adversity or who've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams by bravely being their truest selves in the world without apologies.

Being in nature is perhaps my greatest inspiration - it's my first layer of protection against all the fear, violence and mediocrity in our culture. It's my echinacea or vitamin D. I am a city girl, born and raised, who discovered a love of nature late in life and I'm constantly seeking out-of-the-way green space for walks and quiet reflection. I am someone who tells trees that I love them out loud. Hey, it's not like I have a choice.

I also seek out beauty and bold personal expression in the form of brilliant performances and art. It inspires me to be brave in sharing my own creative contributions to the world. It reminds me that a lot of people society regarded as strange or outcast have made some of the most important contributions to our culture.

Being inspired helps me keep the most important promise of all - the one I made to myself to never, ever give up.

Here are some ideas and resources that have inspired me. I want to know what inspires you - I encourage you to share your stories and resources with me in the comments section or on the Real Food Rehab Fan Page.

Search out and spend time with people who inspire you - who are authentic, healthy and whole; who don't judge and criticize, who encourage and support and aren't threatened when good things happen to you. I find the people that inspire me most are those who have traits I admire and would like more of myself. It's like having the most delicious carrot at the end of a stick.

Take out old photos from the best times in your life and reflect back how you felt in those moments and why. What was present that made you feel so good?

Sit down in a book store or library and flip through photo, art or interior design books. Notice what moves you.

Have a dance break in your living room with the lights out to your favorite music. I do this one all the time!

Choose to mix up one pattern in your life like changing your route to work or getting off the computer when you find yourself aimlessly adrift in Google-land. What else might show itself if you broke up your patterns?

Here are a few videos I find particularly inspiring:

Here, writer Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love muses brilliantly on creativity and genius.

This is a beautifully humanist audio-visual series of stories of New Yorkers from all walks of life called One in Eight Million. Some of my favorites are the blind wine taster and the animal rescuer.

If this doesn't make you feel good, nothing will: Madeline Kahn singing with Grover from Sesame Street circa 1975.

I am a huge fan of a very young Barbra Streisand. In these short performances, she's between 23 and 25 years old! Keep in mind, when she started her career, she was considered an oddball. She wore shabby, vintage clothes and was repeatedly discouraged by her mother who ignored her gifts. She would sneak out her bedroom window in Brooklyn to go perform at open mikes in Manhattan when she was under age! These are powerful performances, I hope you enjoy them. Click here for her classic duet with Judy Garland singing Happy Days Are Here Again which I find especially poignant during these hard times.

Lastly, I need to acknowledge my photo, which was taken from a brilliant slide show by Maira Kalman. It's about what would happen if we got away from industrial food production and got back to the land. It might inspire how you eat day to day...

Real Food Rehab in Time Out Chicago

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

I have so much to be thankful for. For example, I'm very grateful to be included in an article in this weeks' Time Out Chicago Magazine. They asked three food bloggers to contribute recipes and our Thanksgiving stories to the mag. Definitely click on the link if you'd like to see my recipes for bacon bread sticks, cheese puffs, chicken liver crostini or my apple, pear and beet salad. The other two bloggers are Bake and Destroy and The Paupered Chef. We all have such different styles which makes it such a well-rounded piece. Be sure to check out the other bloggers!

I'm psyched to be spending the holiday with good friends and gorgeous food. We enlisted the help of local pie maker, Jane at Sugarkist Pies to make our desserts this year. We ordered a double crust apple and a cranberry-pear with a hazelnut crumble topping. She uses local ingredients and lots of made-from-scratch lovin'. We also ordered our turkeys from Tilth Farm through Provenance Food & Wine in Logan Square. I have never had their pasture-raised birds before and we're brining them so I'm excited to see how they turn out. We also bought our brioche bread for stuffing and cranberry conserve from another local genius, Sandra at Floriole Bakery. They specialize in French-style baked goods and have been regulars at Green City Market for years. They're also opening up a bakery in Lincoln Park very soon.

I am also grateful for all the local farmers, food artisans and shop-keeps who work so passionately to bring us such beautiful, traditional and authentic foods because it makes my life better. I don't care how schmaltzy that sounds because it's true. Besides, I like schmaltz.

I send love and wishes for a peaceful holiday.

Dana Joy

Everywhere A Squash Squash

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

These days, you can't turn a corner without running into a squash. Their maudlin little autumnal displays seem to be everywhere. Truth be told, they've just never turned me on. They seem to need a lot of foreplay before they give up some love with their impenetrable skins and hour plus roasting times.

I was presented with a reason to try, yet again, to embrace the squash because my friends from Harvest Moon Farms gave me a lovely care package with pasture raised meats, Italian greens, farm-fresh eggs and yes, a box of squash - Acorn and Delicata.

I had to come up with something new because the standard squash-apple soup recipe just leaves me cold. So I searched and tested a few new things to do with roasted squash.

First, Roast The Squash

You need a sharp knife and a good, sturdy cutting board to cut these suckers. Cut the squash in half, use a large spoon to scoop out the seeds and strings. Put in a roasting pan skin side down, throw some butter, chunky sea salt and fresh ground pepper in the little wells where the seeds used to be and cook at 375 for an hour or more until the flesh is soft and caramelized. Let cool and either scoop out large chunks with a spoon or peel away the skin and cut into square chunks. They don't need to look pretty to taste good.

So, these are my riffs on squash. Feel free to add, subtract and improvise to your taste.

Salad Ideas

Arugula, roasted squash, bacon, blue cheese, toasted walnuts, cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper

Arugula, prosciutto, roasted squash, pecorino shavings, good balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper

Rainbow or red chard (I love it as a salad green, cut out the stems and saute them with garlic until soft, let cool and add to the salad), roasted squash, fresh mozzarella, sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper

Grain Salads

Farro, squash, red onion, walnuts, goat cheese, walnut oil, salt and pepper

Couscous, squash, red onion, harissa, cinammon, sultanas (golden raisins plumped in hot water), toasted slivered almonds, walnut oil, salt and pepper


Griddle this - thinly slice the squash and toss with a touch of sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper; add to sturdy sandwich bread with a thick lick of goat cheese, arugula and bacon.

Squash, I hardly knew thee...

Rules For Living Well

Monday, 9 November 2009

I was flipping through an old journal today and found this. It's a list of "Rules For Living" I created for myself a couple years ago. How bold of me! At the time, I was working through questions in a book called Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, which is based on separating what the author, Martha Beck, calls your essential self from your social self. I highly recommend that book; if you're searching like I was, it really zeros in on all the right things.

I do believe in knowing what you value most and using that as a rudder to guide your life. So here they are, exactly as I wrote them two years ago. What are some of your rules?

Choose quality over quantity with everything - shoes, friends, food - everything.

Look into alternative forms of medicine.

Take the time to figure out who you really are, what you like and dislike, what you need and don't.

Live within your means and respect every dollar you make.

Cultivate a passion.

Eat Real Food! Stay away from processed and buy local whenever you can.

Refuse to give in to texting.

As hard as it is, acknowledge and work on whatever keeps you from living the life of your dreams.

Refuse to play small or dim your light in order to make others comfortable.

Listen to your body.

Spend part of every day in silence, even if it's ten minutes.

Create a living space that reflects who you are.

Make visual beauty a priority.

Tell people you love them often.

Be true to yourself at all costs.

2 Simple Steps To Healthy & Delicious Meals

Thursday, 5 November 2009

As many of you know, in the last few months, I’ve been doing in-home food makeovers and basic cooking instruction for people who want to eat better and rely less on processed and packaged foods. During the initial consultations, what I hear each time is a slightly different version of the same story:

They go to the store, stand in the produce section and freeze; they have great intentions but get completely overwhelmed. They have no idea what to do with all those vegetables! They have little to no food in the house and need satisfaction in the moment, so they inevitably run back to: a) the freezer section for frozen dinners, b) the expensive prepared foods or deli section or c) the grocery aisle for boxed, add-water type meals. Or maybe, they’ll just have chips for dinner in front of the Telly. Perhaps this rings true for you, too.

This repeated scenario is not what people want but what many people settle for. I believe that everyone wants to look good, feel good, share great food experiences and have the energy to pursue the life they desire. To do that, we all need to eat more high quality food: food that’s grown and produced without chemicals, antibiotics and hormones. We also need to spend some time planning and preparing our food.

I realize these are simply facts, not solutions. So, I have two big tips to turn your barriers into breakthroughs.


Stock Your Pantry - it’s a well-known fact: if you stock your pantry with high-quality basics and foods you love, you won’t overspend on last minute grocery store runs. You’ll eat healthier and always be able to throw together a satisfying meal.

So, how do you know what to buy? How can you discern what’s delicious and healthy and what isn’t? This is where Real Food Rehab really saves the day.

Spend $9.95 and purchase The Pantry Essentials Guide.

The Guide is divided into four sections: Foundation Ingredients, Baking Basics, Perishable Staples and Ethnic Staples and is nine pages of detailed descriptions and uses for over one hundred ingredients. It includes easy recipes, kitchen tips, web resources and brand recommendations. It also includes checklists for each section that can be printed out and taken to the grocery store. And I should note, it's a guide to be experimented with over time; do not feel you have to run out and purchase all these things at once. You ease into it. It might help to start by stocking the Foundation Ingredients first, along with some of the Perishable Staples and work from there. Also, if you’re in a diet rut and tired of the things you eat on a daily basis, The Guide will turn you on to new, healthy and delicious things to eat.

OK, you’ve stocked your pantry – you have all your bases covered –now how do you use all this stuff?


Subscribe to NoTakeOut.com for free!
NoTakeOut is a life-enhancing site that I recommend to all my clients. You sign up for daily emails and each weekday they send you a complete menu, a short shopping list and a step-by-step game plan to prepare a delicious, seasonal meal in a short period of time. And if the menu of the day doesn’t move you, there are many others on the site to choose from.

Click here to see an example of one of their menus and instruction – Chicken Cacciatore & Polenta with a Big Green Salad – only 15 minutes prep time and 45 minutes total time to make a beautiful meal. I also love that their instructions usually include this step: “Open the wine and pour yourself a glass.” I can really get behind that.

The other thing you should know about NoTakeOut is that two working dads who are the primary cooks in their households created it. They wanted to help other busy people discover the simple pleasures of sharing a home-cooked meal.

So here’s the scenario:

You’re at home or at work. You get an email from NoTakeOut. You print out the shopping list and take it to the grocery store and pick up the few remaining ingredients to complete your recipe. You have a stocked pantry at home now so you can breeze through the express line. You get home, crack open that bottle of wine or beer if you desire and start cooking with an easy step-by-step game plan helping you along the way. Consider getting other members of the family to participate – make it a shared experience with your partner, your kids or your friends. Set the table and you’re eating.

Whether you begin to do this every other night or once a week, you’ve made an improvement to your health: You’ve eaten a healthy, delicious meal, you’ve sat around the table with those you love and you actually created more time for what’s important to you. These are major breakthroughs to a better life.

For more info on NoTakeOut.com, click HERE.

Photo courtesy of NoTakeOut.com

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