Cook for a Crowd...With Ease

As someone who has dedicated a lot of my time over the last 11 years to cooking for large groups (mostly retreats), I’ve come to learn a thing or two about what it takes to nail a meal for a crowd. For many people, Thanksgiving is the one time of year when they attempt this type of cooking, so I am happy to share some of the best advice based on my accumulated experiences in the kitchen:

1) Read all your recipes through ahead of time. I’ve heard stories from students at my cooking classes and retreats over the years about kitchen fails that resulted after they failed to read recipes ahead of time – e.g., learning an hour before a meal that there was a step that required overnight soaking or chilling. So, don’t just make a shopping list ahead of time, read through the instructions and take note of any time requirements or special equipment you may need. 


2) Make a detailed plan. I attribute some of my success (and my ability to stay very, very calm in the kitchen) less to time I spent in formal culinary training, and more to my former career doing project management for a consulting firm. Cooking is just one big project…and having a plan makes all the difference. I learned the value of a plan early on, when as a child I would watch my mother prepare for Thanksgiving by making a step-by-step, to the minute list of the day’s kitchen action: “Make cranberry sauce: 2:15 p.m. Put turkey in oven: 3:00 p.m. Make gravy: 6:00 p.m.”

If you’re newer to cooking for a crowd, I’d recommend something like the approach above. For those with greater confidence, a general workflow is a good idea. I usually divide the day into three sections, and outline what I want to accomplish during each.

3) Be mindful of your oven. One thing to keep in mind especially on Thanksgiving is competition for your oven space. Different dishes may require different cooking temperatures, so you’ll need to plan to stagger things in some instance, or the issue may be too many pans for the space available, so again, you’ll need a plan to get everything baked in time. Identify in advance things that can be baked early on and reheated (or kept in a warming drawer). For me on Thanksgiving, this is usually stuffing and bread pudding. I’ll make both in the morning and give them a gentle reheat before serving.

4) Ask for help. Identify things that could be really helpful and ask others to assist, even if it’s something small like picking up ice for cocktails or an ingredient you forgot to grab at the market. Invite family members or friends to assist you in the kitchen, and be sure to have tasks identified for them in advance so you can seamlessly work others in your kitchen flow (you might include these in the detailed plan you make for step #2 above.)

Release the need to control everything, and ask guests to bring dishes to complement your menu. It’s okay to be specific in what you request others to bring.

5) Clean up camp style. At many of the retreats I cook at, we wash dishes camp style: I set up three large tubs, one of soapy water with a sponge, and two with hot water for rinsing. Guests then wash their dishes and utensils and either leave them to dry on an empty drying rack, or towel them dry and stack them up. Over the years of doing this, many repeat retreat guests have shared how employing this system at their family gatherings has been life-changing. You’ll still need to clean up serving and prep dishes, but you’ll prevent someone from getting stuck loading the dishwasher or washing by hand and missing out on all the fun.

Camp-style dishwashing system. Photo credit:

Camp-style dishwashing system. Photo credit:

6) Have fun. This advice should probably be #1, as it really is the most important. Thanksgiving isn’t about serving diner at the precise moment you had envisioned, or creating only perfectly plated, Instagram-worthy creations. In fact, it’s the small (or epic) blunders that your family and friends are most likely to remember and to share stories of at future holiday gatherings. Have fun while you cook, and don’t only focus on the outcome of your cooking. Let yourself infuse a lot of love, not anxiety, into your food and your guests will taste it and appreciate it.

Do you have any other tips you would add? Share in the comments below :)

Easy Can Change Everything

“Easy never changed anyone.”

This was what came out of my workout instructor’s mouth at the beginning of a class recently, and while I usually tend to not give much attention to the motivational aphorisms that she offers, I took notice of these four words. I immediately began to think how it is precisely our belief that this is true that leads to so much difficulty and unease in our lives. And, upon further reflection, I realized that my practice of late has really been about leaning into ease and embracing it as a way of life, something that certainly doesn’t come naturally for a person with the drive and fire I’ve always possessed.

From as early as I can remember, there was a certain shame that hung over choosing anything that was easy, or perhaps more accurately: if I wasn’t pushing myself well beyond my capability, I was being a slacker. In elementary school gym class, I would always be sure to grab the heaviest medicine balls, making light-hearted exercises that might have otherwise been fun into a grueling show of grit and strength. I remember being mortified when I got placed into a class that was known for being notoriously easy in middle school and marching straight to my guidance counselor’s office to see how I could get transferred into a more academically rigorous class asap. And this probably explains why I was so driven to apply to (and eventually attend) a college that was so academically intense that it was referred to both as “the place where fun comes to die” and “the level of hell that Dante forgot.”

My whole life, I’d been fed the belief that if I was capable, I should not only exercise that capacity but constantly push myself far beyond it, and I let this be a primary motivating force in pretty much everything I did. I don’t say this entirely with regret, as my achievement mindset has led to some amazing opportunities that have shaped who I am and allowed me to share with my gifts with others. But the truth is, this way of life was completely exhausting, so much so that at a couple points in my 20s, my body started shutting down in ways that made me feel utterly weak and incapable, despite all the outward achievement I was projecting to the world.

I know I’m certainly not alone in the way that I lived so much of my life to date. We live in a culture that constantly reinforces the notion that if we are not pushing our way through life, we are not doing enough. More, better, stronger, faster: these are the mantras we attach to. Just about every client I’ve coached is suffering from this need to overachieve, sacrificing health in the name of ticking an endless list of boxes that are somehow associated with a good life.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that we are lazy if we choose to do anything less than our potential (and sometimes, we’re even shamed if we’re not giving 110%). In truth, consciously choosing to do less is not a signal of weakness, but a sign of wisdom. This isn’t to say that there aren’t times and places to explore our upper limits, but living a lifestyle of constant pushing is neither healthy nor sustainable.

When I heard my instructor’s exhortation at the beginning of that class, I took it as an opportunity to do the most difficult thing I actually could do: invite in more ease to my workout. Despite the raging inner screams of my ego, I purposefully chose weights that were lighter than usual; I focused on stability and connection to my breath over maximizing reps. When I felt myself beginning to sweat, I backed off. I experienced a sort of kindness with myself that I rarely experienced when I exercise. In short, it felt great!

Since that workout, I’ve consciously been walking a path of ease, saying no to more work opportunities than ever before, having more lazy evenings, avoiding the need to fill my calendar with social activities, asking for help. Ironically, while these things may sound easy, none of this comes easily. Inviting the easy stuff in is hard, but this is precisely the medicine I need.

I visited a girlfriend who is a fellow fiery pitta-type recently at her new home, and was struck by the red “easy button” (just like the one you’ve seen it on a Staples commercial) on her desk. You press it and a silly voice tells you, “That was easy!” We should all have an easy button in our home, or at least in our hearts, to remind us that there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking the easy route. For those who have walked the path of difficulty, struggle and overwhelm for far too long, going easy is precisely what can change us.



What are YOU Bringing to the Table?

Changing your diet in 2018? Read on for why that may not be enough...

What are YOU bringing to the table??.jpg

I remember when the new year meant hanging a new wall calendar, or training myself to write a different digit on my checks when I paid my bills. Thinking back on these behaviors feels so 1999 to me. But some things don’t change at the start of the year, most notably that an overwhelming number of people (some studies say as many as 1 in 5) vow to change their diet in some way, whether to lose weight, improve their health, live a more ethical lifestyle or simply to feel better in this embodied experience.

We all know the statistics about keeping resolutions are pretty grim. By some accounts I’ve seen, less than 8% of resolution-setters actually spend more than a month working towards their goals, with many fewer actually seeing their intentions through to successful fruition.

In my experience, there are a host of factors contributing to these dismal statistics, including our approaches to discipline, and how we manage stress and accountability in our lives. There are plenty of tools, books and apps to help with being more dedicated to our intentions. But, where I find there is less focus is on the quality of the goals we set, especially in the space of diet-related resolutions. I believe the majority of resolutions fail not because of a lack of willpower, but because we target things that are not actually the root cause of the suffering we wish to overcome.

The majority of food-related resolutions are focused on what we eat. We make declarations that we will swear off sugar, animal-products, processed foods, midnight snacks, (fill in the blank), etc., etc. We promise ourselves we will put less food on our plates. We declare we will cook more of our own food, rather than leaving it to others. We believe that by eliminating, adding, shifting what we put on our plates, we will lose weight, have clearer skin or a less foggy mind, sleep better, be happier or achieve some other desirable state of being.

To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. I’ve seen people I know achieve radical health and wellness results by shifting their diet, and I wholeheartedly endorse a mindful approach to what we put into our bodies. But where I think so many people miss the mark is that they assume that food is responsible for whatever undesirable results they are seeking to transform. And the truth is, there is so much more that we bring to the table than simply our food.

We’ve all been eating since we were born, and what we have eaten has naturally shifted over time as we have grown older and more aware, and become more attuned to our inner world. For most of us, other than perhaps some basic training in the mechanics of a fork and spoon, no formal training was provided on how to eat. And yet, the people we grew up with­ – in our own homes, and in our society more generally – likely had a profound impact on how we look at and relate to food.

If we grew up in a home with a parent who loved to cook from scratch and had a healthy relationship to food, our relationship with food is quite different from that of someone who was raised in a home where food came out of takeout boxes and restrictive dieting was the norm. People raised in the US and many Western European nations are far more likely to have had exposure to disordered eating in their peer groups as a teen and young adult than people raised in developing countries, and this may strongly shape their beliefs around food, even if they did not fall prey directly to such habits.

I’m not saying we can’t overcome our food histories and write new narratives around food for ourselves, but it is time we start acknowledging them and realizing that we bring them to the table each time we eat. If we perceive food as an enemy, an obstacle, a challenge, that is what it will be for us. If instead, we can come to see food as a gift, our most vital nourishment, we create new stories that have the potential to impact us at the cellular level.

When we shift the mindset we bring to the table, we create space for our goals to be realized. We no longer impede healthy digestion and assimilation with so many worries or stress. If we are carrying anxiety around our food, our weight or how well we’re doing in relation to a goal, we may be sabotaging ourselves, regardless of how healthy the food on our plate is.

Because we have accumulated so many stories and experiences around food over the years, it’s important that we begin to approach food more as a relationship than a thing external to who we are. And beyond that, we need to see this relationship as an intimate one­ – we are, after all, taking food into our bodies, assimilating it and living off its energy. It doesn’t really get much more intimate than that!

It’s not uncommon to seek help in relationships, especially when we feel we are struggling. A key part of relational work is uncovering what we each bring to a relationship and what we are seeking. We would benefit greatly by approaching our food relationships in the same way, uncovering our histories and getting truthful about when and why we eat.

Blaming food for our issues is like blaming the other person in a relationship. It’s not effective and we keep experiencing the same patterns of struggle and disappointment. When we shift who we are in relation to food, the real potential for transformation and healing happens.

Best of all, in my experience, the issues we bring to the table tend to permeate all areas of our lives. If we see ourselves as victims of food, we probably are writing victim narratives for ourselves in other relationships too. If we tend to be overly controlling with our food and the portions we put on our plate, we probably are wearing ourselves out trying to control so many other things in our lives (including a lot of things we cannot control). You get the picture. By getting honest about who we are as an eater and seeking to transform any unsupportive behaviors we are bringing to the table, we create space to transform all our relationships.

I’m personally excited to delve more into the relational aspects of eating this year, and look forward to sharing more in writing and in person. I’m also launching a new offering: Food Relationship Coaching sessions, in which we’ll uncover your inner food narratives and begin to rewrite new scripts that serve your fullest health. These sessions are for everyone, whether food feels like something you struggle with or not.


If you’d like to discover what you’re bringing to the table and find ways to perhaps shift some beliefs or habits that may be setting you back, contact me for a discounted introductory discovery session!

Why It’s Essential to Diversify Your Diet

So many people I work with are looking for quick wins when it comes to their health and eating habits. One of the biggest opportunities I see is for people to stop eating the same way 365 days a year. Quite simply, we are not wired to eat the same way all the time. Ancient healing sciences like Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine have taught this for thousands of years, but in the West, we have long forgotten this simple truth.

The seasonal food movement is too often seen as some kind of fringe alternative diet, but anyone who has studied even just the basics of the energetics of food knows that nature provides us foods in each season that specifically balance the predominant energies of that time of year. Melons and cucumbers are cooling and abundant in summer. The root vegetables and heavy squashes that make their way into markets in the fall are grounding and help us navigate fall’s airy tendencies. In the spring, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower reach their peak and counteract sluggishness that tends to accompany the onset of spring.

All of this is important not only because growing cycles fluctuate, but modern science is now catching up and finding that our healthy gut bacteria change throughout the course of the year. Our bodies are not designed nor equipped to digest the same foods optimally year-round.

A ground-breaking book published earlier this year, The Plant Paradox, also reveals a well-researched case for how foods eaten out of season contain high levels of lectins, which are naturally occurring compounds that are intended to protect plants from human predators. Excess lectin consumption is associated with destroying gut flora and increasing risk for a range of digestive issues, including leaky gut syndrome.

Finally, consider that the amount of food our ancient ancestors would find on their plates would wildly vary from season to season. Winter meals were often lighter in nature, while meals in the summer and fall harvest season would be more abundant in preparation for the scarcity ahead. In a time when food is hardly scarce for so many of us, we have a tendency to overeat all the time, or to not be mindful of the natural hunger patterns that arise within us.

Many of the clients I work with will find an eating routine that seems to work for them, and then are mystified when several months down the road, that diet no longer seems to serve them. This is evidence of how our digestion is not a static system, but rather an ever-changing complex microbiome. By the same token, the way we eat at age 30 will often look very different from how we ate at 20, and so on throughout our lives. The most important key to maintain healthy digestion for life is to pay attention and seek help and try new things when things seem to go off course.

Here are a few tips to start incorporating the principles of variety into your meals:

·      Shop at your local farmers market. Choose organic producers or farms that sell different things throughout the year, as they tend to be more in sync with what’s in season.

·      Get to know seasonal growing cycles. If you don’t have a year-round farmers market or prefer shopping at conventional markets, research what crops are in season during each part of the year. The L.A. Times has a fabulous online resource for Southern California here (it also loosely correlates to growing seasons nationally, with some crops coming into season later in colder locales). Choose fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. as much as possible, with Mexico as a secondary source. Avoid fruits shipped in from South America and New Zealand.

·      Vary the quantity of food you eat throughout the day. Tailor the size of your breakfast to your morning hunger levels. Lunch should be your largest meal of the day, as it is consumed at the time when your digestive fire is burning its brightest. Keep your dinners on the lighter side and don’t eat too late into the night, especially in the winter.


If you need support adding variety to your diet, I can help. I offer individual consultations, menu planning assistance and personal chef services that can help you diversify your diet. Use the contact button below to reach out.