Please join me in welcoming my friend and fellow vegan, Marisa Ford to the blog for the first time. Marisa and I have crossed paths a couple of times in the foodie world, most recently at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California. While we don’t see each other often (she lives in Kansas), I have kept tabs on her via social media and became aware of her incredible cooking skills and food photography while she was staking classes at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York a couple years ago. You could say that Marisa has a way with food. While I have yet to sample one of her masterpieces, I can only imagine that her dishes must taste better than her photographs look.
I hope you enjoy Marisa’s insights on mindful eating as well as her recipe for Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Pistachio Mint Pesto. I hope you’ll consider checking out her newly launched website and following her delicious vegan food photos on her Instagram page.
Thanks for sharing your yummy insights Marisa!
Mindfulness can be defined as focusing your awareness on the present moment while acknowledging your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. This is best done with kindness and compassion. As an ethical vegan and chef, I am mindful of where I source my food, and try to purchase organic and local when possible.
Even though I give careful consideration to how I obtain and prepare my food, I am not always mindful when eating. Being mindful while eating can be difficult in today’s society because often we just want to sit down to eat while zoning out to the latest episode of this month’s Netflix hit. I have decided to take a simple and easy approach because I think we can all move into this practice slowly. I have begun implementing Mindful Eating Mondays into my routine. By starting small, I hope to someday add this intentional eating practice to more days of the week (or at least until Stranger Things 2 is released).
We often eat while doing other tasks, such as looking at our phones, reading, watching TV, or talking with someone. This can take away from the full enjoyment of food. Try simply eating and directing your attention to your meal at least once a week and see how this makes you feel. I believe that sharing a meal is a powerful form of bonding, however, it is just as important to bond with your food and the story behind it. The best way to do that is to be fully present with your meal without other distractions.
It takes about twenty minutes for your brain to register that you are full once you begin putting food or drink into your stomach. Eating too quickly causes the feeling of satiety to occur after you have already consumed too much. By savoring your food, you won’t overeat and feel sluggish later. It may be helpful to physically put your fork, spoon, or chopsticks down between each bite. This can be helpful for those people who race through their meal. When you chew your food more thoroughly it helps the stomach work more efficiently and breaks down the food faster, which in turn allows digestion to occur more easily. Slow down. Your digestive system will thank you for it.
To practice mindful eating, first, begin by looking at your meal and be grateful for everything that helped bring this food in front of you today. This will help you to gain a deeper relationship with your food. Say a few words of thanks to the earth for providing the soil and the rain, the farmer for growing the crops, the grocer for stocking your fare on the store shelf, and send love to the chef that prepared your meal (even if that chef is you). After expressing gratitude, move on to the following questions which utilize the five senses:
What food is on my plate? What colors and shapes do I see?
Take in the aroma of the food. What can I smell?
Take a bite. Is it dry or tender? How does it feel on my tongue?
While chewing, do I hear crunching or is the sound muted?
Do I taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or umami flavors?
Lastly, how is my food making me feel as I eat?
By being curious and exploring the act of eating, you will be able to make more conscious decisions. You will begin to notice how certain foods make you feel and will become more attracted to foods that give you energy rather than those that are draining. You will become more aware of the nutrition of your food and make conscious decisions about what you are going to eat based on how it makes you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. By using your senses you will see how much richer the experience of eating can be.
I hope this post will help you to awaken a healthy relationship with your food and connect with the story that encompasses all that you eat. Remember to take this one meal at a time, and most importantly, simply enjoy your food. Do not feel overwhelmed but try your best on moving towards Mindful Eating Mondays. It is important to not judge yourself if this doesn’t seem easy at first. Lasting change can take time. Enjoy your food as it fuels your body, and in time you will learn what your body needs to thrive as well as what it doesn’t. This is just one step toward respecting and enjoying the food that you eat every day.
A great recipe for practicing mindful eating is my purple sweet potato gnocchi with pistachio mint pesto. It has many shapes, aromas, textures, and flavors. It takes a bit of time to prepare the gnocchi from scratch but it is oh, so worth it! To save time, you can use store bought vegan pasta and pair it with this homemade pesto. The gnocchi can even be made a day in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.
Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Pistachio Mint Pesto
Yield: 6 servings
½ cup shelled pistachio nuts
¼ cup packed mint leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ¾ lb. purple sweet potatoes (about 2 large potatoes)
1 cup gluten-free flour, plus more for dusting
5 Tablespoons arrowroot starch/powder
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
thyme leaves for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Spread the pistachios on a parchment-lined baking sheet and toast until they begin to brown, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer the toasted nuts to a plate to cool. Once they are cool, chop them and transfer them to a small bowl. Stir in the mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Season the pesto with a pinch of sea salt then taste and add more if needed.
Prick flesh of potatoes several times with a fork. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in the 425 degree oven until they can easily be pierced with a tip of a knife, approximately 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of the potatoes. Once they are done, slice them down the middle and allow to cool. Once they are cool, scoop out the flesh into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Scrape the pureed sweet potatoes into a large bowl and stir in the flour, arrowroot powder, and 1 teaspoon sea salt.
On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into 8 pieces and roll each piece by gently pushing with fingers spread. The goal is to make an evenly distributed rope about 1/2-inch thick. Using a knife, cut the ropes into 1-inch pieces. To prevent them from sticking, toss them on a baking sheet with extra flour. You can leave the pieces like this or you can roll each piece against the tines of a fork to make ridges.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer. Carefully add gnocchi and cook until they rise to the surface, then cook for 1 minute longer. Drain well and transfer to a serving bowl. Toss with the remaining 2 T of olive oil, then top with the prepared pesto. Garnish with thyme leaves, salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Enjoy!
Adapted from Angèle Ferreux-Maeght’s Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Mint-Pine Nut Pesto
Marisa has been vegan since 2004. She graduated from Natural Gourmet Institute in 2015. She works with brands to create photos and recipes using their products, she works with restaurants to create vegan dishes for their menus, and she does private dinners and events. She also enjoys hosting pop-ups around the world to spread the vegan love. To find out more about her visit MarisaFord.com and follow her on Instagram to see her latest creations.