by Tom Sims
Tom Sims searches the Valley for tips on eating healthy, buying healthy food, growing healthy food, and eating out healthy in the Valley, for this Healthy Eating in the Valley column. Feel free to share your suggestions of places and things to check out! Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a PDF copy of Cook, Grow, Love.
There are some things that Chef Tara Hamilton would like for you to know.
If you are smart, you’d like to know them too.
It is a good thing that they are now included in a book that you can download and read with great pleasure, benefit, and interest.
Unlike many cookbooks, Cook, Grow, Love is not only a collection of recipes, but a lesson in living and in loving. It is woven together as a story with a common thread and a consistent narrative. It held this reader’s attention and I found myself getting inspired, encouraged, and motivated to make adjustments in my lifestyle as well as my thinking about food.
Tara is the food-thought-leader among “foodies” in Fresno who care about eating their way to health and well-being. In this book, she introduces another reason for eating well: love.
Love is the recurring theme of the book and of Tara’s thinking. Love is what is expressed in providing for and protecting ones family and friends. Love is what is expressed in a healthy, bountiful, hone-cooked meal.
Love is the glue that holds everything together.
The science is present in the book. The author’s grasp of nutritional principles, physiology, chemistry, and technique contribute to the credibility of what appears on the page. But it goes beyond science and technique.
Everything has a reason. The recipes are good for the body as well as the soul. There is no concession to popular myth or unhealthy practice. Nor is there an easy sell.
In fact, Hamilton, a restaurant owner, makes the totally non-self-serving and audacious case for people eating out less and preparing more meals at home.
She tells us how, not just to cook, but how to shop. This one-stop manual of culinary delights tells the reader what needs to be in the pantry so that the home cook can be ready for anything.
Then, there are hints, like soaking nuts and seeds to make absorption of nutrients more efficient, and storage suggestions.
Tara tells the story of her life, often with brutal honesty and raw courage. She tells what it is like to grow up in a loving Punjabi home and a sometimes hostile environment as an immigrant in the Americas. She discloses inner turmoil and her own road to peace and resolution on issues that ultimately effected what and how she cooks today for her family and for others.
Everyone is family when they show up at her restaurant, Organic Fresno. My experience is that she and her staff always make you feel at home, not only feed you, but educate you, and are always willing to make suggestions to accommodate your needs.
There are things in Cook, Grow, Love that one never expects to find in a cookbook. Issues of racism and sexuality are addressed alongside culture, religion, and medicine.
Tara integrates all aspects of her life from her Punjabi roots to her faith, from her understanding of modern medicine to her philosophy of everything. No stereotypes are honored for the sake of honoring stereotypes.
Preconceptions are shattered. Everything is centered in the basic calling of the book to love our families, our bodies, and our lives and to do it through the preparation, consumption, and enjoyment of food that we eat together in love.
I recently suggested to Tara that she needed to take this message on television and she reminded me that some of her lessons were already on YouTube and had been on television. Her priority, through the book, is to get the message out to as many people as possible and to be able to fund the projects that she is passionate about, including the family farm, her community outreach, and the book itself.
She encourages people with various incentives, to participate in an Indiegogo campaign. The book can be downloaded from the site via PDF and the paper publication is forthcoming.
As I read Cook, Grow, Love, I made many notes and observations. I realized that most were about my own personal application of what I was reading. I decided that I would systematically try many of the recipes in the book, but that there were some I would try right away like vegan mayo and sticky rice topped with mangoes. Many of the sweets, raw pasta noodles, Asian bowl/summer roles, and Mediterranean veggie burger.
It is not all vegetarian, but most recipes are. It is not all gluten free, but, again, most are, including the “Not Soy Sauce,” which sounds great.
There is a pad Thai sauce in the book and I love pad Thai!
I have had Tara’s “Portobello Baby Back Ribs,” and am so excited that she has let us in on how to make it. I have also, often remarked, that I could make a meal of her lentil soups and now I can cook them for myself! She writes of a philosophy of thinking of the other person because everything we do effects someone else. She addresses body-image, and feelings of self-worth.
On the practical side, she teaches in detail what she sought to teach me in an earlier interview: how to macerate our veggies for pasta with Himalayan salt. Not only does it release certain gasses, but it precludes the need for overcooking food and cooking out all of its nutritional benefits with high heat.
Kefir water, a probiotic that she gives away is fortified with what she calls “germs of endearment” for its probiotic benefits.
She calls our addiction to processed foods, “S.A.D.,” for “Standard American Diet.”
There is a beautiful blessing on page 55 which I shall embrace for myself and share with others. I also come away with some rather memorable quotes and phrases:
“Mom felt food should nourish you, and if it didn’t, there wasn’t any point in it.”
“We were taught never to waste a morsel of bread because it nourished our lives.”
“Food is love for many of us,” and rather than finding the dysfunction in that thinking, she embraces it as a way of moving toward healthy function.
“All life is valuable. Indians firmly believe that. We don’t judge a plant by its appearance.”
“Chefs should be the leaders in linking food and nutrition.”
“Most chefs abdicate this responsibility …”
I wish I could share them all with you, but you need to read them in the context of the book. There is one, I cannot resist, “May you let the artist in you celebrate with a living canvass of color, shapes, and tastes that you can marry in an endless variety of ways.”
That is powerful. To paraphrase one more quote, vegetarianism is not about what you refuse to eat, but about what you choose to eat.
Go to the website www.indiegogo.com/projects/cook-grow-love-you-can-save-a-family-farm and make a donation, download the PDF, read it, and help get out the printed version. The campaign started on Aug 29 and will close on October 28, 2014 (11:59 p.m. PT). There are multiple giving options and the rewards far exceed the cost of most.
Tara is on a mission to make a difference. As she says on the website, “October 25th is Make a Difference Day. Make a difference for us by buying our book which helps us make a difference for residents of Fresno and tourists. Our mission when we converted our farm to organic was to create a 20 acre diversified small farm model of permaculture growing techniques. We built a ‘park’ area with a recreation center for educational events. We farmed 4 acres of mixed veggies and fruit like watermelon. Things got sidetracked when our tractor was stolen and Mark was hit by an unlicensed teenager driving a truck while he was riding his bicycle. He was thrown 20 feet in the air and his shoulder and back pain have prevented him from farming by hand. I struggled to keep things going but the farm has suffered major neglect in the last year and a half since the accident. Our dream is to get back to our mission.”
I have one thing left to observe about Cook, Grow, Love. After reading it, I felt very, very loved and you will too.
Check out the video on the Campaign:
Don’t miss KRL’s article on Tara’s restaurant Organic Cafe!
To enter to win a PDF copy of Cook, Grow, Love, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Cook,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 27, 2014. U.S. residents only.