As we zoom in on the week of cookbook arrival, I’ve gotten a few questions from people on why I chose to do this project, and how exactly it worked to do it in under a year’s time. So, I thought it would be fun to take you all through my process, and share a little except as to WHY I wrote this book in the first place:
Simply: I wrote this cookbook because I am a woman on a mission to teach people how to eat. In a healthy and simple way. That happily works in the context of real daily life, not against it.
Not life on a juice cleanse or diet program, with strict rules and “yes” foods and “no” foods. And not life where people completely give up caring about eating healthy, either. You know. The “screw it all, I’m just going to eat a cupcake” mentality.
Because, although real for a lot of people, those mentalities are the extremes; “health” in black and white.
When people are either being crazily health-conscious or totally NOT at all.
One or the other, or maybe back and forth between the two, depending on the week or the year. But, it doesn’t work. And it actually makes things a lot harder than they need to be.
Because one thing is for sure: real life happens in the gray zone.
And when it comes to being healthy, throwing away those extreme rules we have is radical, weird, and uncomfortable. As humans, we crave rules and structure.
We want “good” and “bad” foods. We want the easy, definitive answer. To follow the latest study or jump on the new bandwagon diet. We want a silver bullet and perfection. Or to not think about it at all.
Here’s the problem though—life is messy and imperfect. Beautifully messy. And when we live in real life (apart from a few successful days of suffering through a cayenne pepper-and-lemon juice cleanse or steamed chicken and broccoli only stint), the black and white rules about our food and health really don’t work. Especially long term. Aka, for the rest of your life.
So, I set out to welcome people to the beautiful gray zone. Because I happen to love it here.
A place where, instead of rigidly adhering to rules, and then madly and shamefully failing when real life events come up, you just learn how to eat better overall. Daily. Mindfully. And here’s the gorgeous part—without the need to be perfect.
So that eating mostly well becomes your default. And a happy thing that you want to to do daily because it happens to make you feel really, really good. It’s not something that you accomplish and check boxes and are done- it’s a lifestyle shift.
So, what’s for dinner then? And lunch? And everything in between. Specifically and food wise. How do you take the concept of eating more real, whole food and fit it into your daily life?
Big questions, my friends.
So, that’s reason number one why I wrote this cookbook. To share what I do, what I’ve taught my clients to do, and give you a real tangible way to start upgrading your lifestyle. All in one book.
But, secondly, there was another (maybe more important) reason.
And it comes with a confession.
I have so many cookbooks. So many. I bought a lot of them early on in my healthy eating journey. For inspiration, to learn techniques and different theories. Or, purely just to look at the pictures. But, whenever I went to actually cook from them, I started to notice something weird—I couldn’t get myself to.
I had “healthy” cookbooks: vegan or vegetarian maybe.
Or some older hippie ones I found at goodwill. Each recipe with the longest list of ingredients you ever did see or brimming with full of obscure, exotic ingredients that were hard to find or something I’d never use again. Or way too much soy or processed health foods used.
I’d look through them, but never actually make the recipes because I’m somewhat of a lazy cook, truth be told. I don’t enjoy spending an hour on a single dish, no matter that the occasion is, but especially for a normal, everyday dinner.
Then, there were my cookbooks that said they were for “fast” or “easy” meals. And were almost 85% pasta or bread based dishes. Which—hello—won’t make anyone feel great.
It was rare when I would find a recipe that was healthy (meaning real food based), simple (ingredient wise), and easy (meaning not time intensive). Which is why I started to write my own. Out of necessity I guess. And a little craftiness. Which is where Simply Real Health even got started—as a sweet little food blog.
And after a few years, I had so many recipes and people kept asking for more. Because, as it turned out, most people were like me—busy, want to eat healthy and feel great, but didn’t want to spend hours of their day doing so.
Rinse and repeat for 7 years, and I ended up with a lot of recipes. Over 400. And there were multiple rising stars. The dishes that everyone loved, and commented on, or told me that it had changed their opinion (or their kid’s or husband’s opinion) of healthy food and healthy eating, or revolutionized their dinner, breakfast, or lunch routine.
So, this cookbook is my collection of these very favorites. The game changers. The creative ways to get more vegetables in your life. And the easiest path to feeling better in a daily real-life perspective.
I wrote this cookbook because I believe you can have it all with healthy food—food that tastes great, makes you feel great, looks beautiful enough for any party, and is quick and easy. Using good quality and simple ingredients. So that you can live a healthy lifestyle without all the extra hassle. It’s a healthy life, made simple.
(an except from the Simply Real Health Cookbook, on sale now)
How did you even start?
I picked 150 of my most favorite, most loved recipes in all sections (cocktails, smoothies, breakfasts, main meals, make-ahead dishes, entree salads, sides and veggies, soups, and desserts) and started to make them all another time, re-confirming measurements and ingredients and writing out more specific steps (I never cook meticulously this way, so was one of the hardest parts for me).
In meeting with Jasmine, the amazing photographer and my partner in crime (see her behind the scenes story of the cookbook here), we knew we had 3 months to get this thing done. Meaning, 150 recipes in 12 weeks, all made, styled, photographed, edited and written. That meant 12 recipes per week, with little room for error.
And yes, I really do still write by hand. This is for real.
And since we had one big shooting day per week, this meant I would make 12 entire meals in one day (often starting around 3pm after my real day with clients).
Prepping, chopping, cooking, stewing, and sweating with the doors in windows wide open while the summer sun lit up the sky. I’d hear the packs of kids after school to the dinner date walkers and sunset go-ers. And then, the nighttime ice cream crowd.
So, I’d cook until 11 or midnight each night. Then, was up by 5 am the next day to continue and get ready for our big shooting day, that was another 10-15 hour day.
It was total madness. I’m not sure how, exactly we did it. June 1st- August 30th. Every single week.
I started taking selfies (my first time), because in the hours that I would remember to go to the bathroom on those prep days, I’d look up squintily in the mirror and start laughing.
My power/work bun became exclusively crazy lady hair. My sister would pop in sometimes and just die laughing. It became a thing. You’re all lucky my computer and iphone died this Fall, otherwise I’d be able to show you the selfie “collection”.
The first morning that Jasmine came over, looking straight out of a Madewell catalog. She asked if I had already gotten up to go work out. Work out, I asked her? Oh. No, this is just how I dress when I’m running in around the kitchen. Full nikes and sports bras. I told her she’d see why. She kind of giggled at me and went into the kitchen.
Until about 5 hours in that day, when she said her feet and back and body kind of hurt. I hear ya sister. See? You need the nikes. I wasn’t just being sporty.
We’re both tough girls, but it was true- cooking is a full contact, hard-on-your-body thing. Especially at the intensity we were going at it. I had to swap my workouts for only yoga sessions because my body just hurt the rest of the week.
So then. Then, I’d have all of this food. I was exhausted and so happy and tired and my feet hurt and was sweaty and hot-faced and needing to shower and not at all hungry. Jasmine would leave around 6pm and I would then have an hour to clean the entire kitchen (a complete disaster), put away all the food, quickly shower, and then get the house ready for what became known as the weekly cookbook dinners.
Which would always start with a cocktail. Always a cocktail.
Usually whatever I’d made to shoot that day. I’d pull out all the dishes- in their random dishes and containers and just plop it all on the table or counter, and make some fuzzy, delirious announcement about what they all were, and then would resign myself to the corner, drink in hand, and with my favorite people just hanging out.
It was actually the best.
(Jasmine in her sporty wear)
We’d fill our shooting days with stories and banter, back and forth all day. How to make meatloaf look good. What a purple onion was. Spirituality. Stories from college. The right and wrong way to curl your hair and make a great drink.
Because one thing was for sure. If I was going to write a cookbook, you better believe it’s going to have a picture (and a beautiful one at that) for every single recipe. Jasmine had no easy job (and a tired boss with a lot of opinions), but she handled it all with such grace. And her pictures! Ah. This girl was such a gift to me.
The weeks went by. Sometimes slowly and sometimes fast. My fridge was always packed with food, my floors always dirty. My coffee intake went up. Sleep went down.
But I had never felt better in my life.
(I love the dirty mess in this picture. This was after we had cleaned for an hour already)
Jasmine got to work on the images. I got to work with all of those recipes. Summer sweetly turned to Fall. Oh my god. I thought the hard part had already been done. But, now. Now, it was time for the work to really start. Hello, editing. You are the worst.
After I took this picture, I burst out into tears. Right in the middle of the coffee shop. I called my sister, my in house editor and the way better writer between us two and just cried that I couldn’t do it anymore. She drove home, wiped my tears and helped me move some stuff around.
Then, after 6-8 weeks and 6 different editors, all the goods went to Kristin, my design mastermind. She took all the pieces (word docs, photos, tidbits, fonts, etc) and worked her magic designing all the sections, pages, cover and layout. I still remember looking at it for the first time on my computer. Again, cue the tears. This woman turned my little tinkerings into such an amazing piece of art. To hold. To have. And for everyone to use.
Add another couple of months. A little fiasco on the coloring of the printed pictures at first. Then, the hard copy files delivered to me (see above). That’s 385 pages of real food love right there.
The advanced copies came 3 months later. I screamed. Hopped around the house. Started to show strangers passing by. Then placed it on my own cookbook shelf. You know, just to test it out.
She fit great. And now, the rest arrive next week.
Project cookbook, done.
Don’t you want one?
Thank you all for the crazy love and support, and for bearing with me the last few months with my incessant postings and excitement. This book would not be possible without you. Thank you, you sweet little soul for being a part of this journey.