Monday, September 8, 2014

Celebrating Wonder Women Freedom with an End-of-Summer Whole Wheat Caprese Pasta Salad

Several months ago, I received an email from a woman named Sherri about a women’s group she was forming to support women in having a better relationship with food and our bodies.  We met for lunch, and I was immediately struck with her humility and grace and her earnest passion for helping women.

Sherri told me about her own struggle with food and body image, and how her relationships with other women had helped her heal.  She wanted to pay this forward by forming Wonder Women Freedom, a faith-based movement of women inspiring women to have a loving, mindful and peaceful relationship with food and our bodies.

I could relate to Sherri’s story, having wrestled since my early teens with my own obsession over food, weight and exercise.  During college, I existed on plain bagels, coffee with skim milk and artificial sweetener, ‘light’ yogurt and bananas, brown rice, and fat-free ice cream.  I exercised compulsively, hitting the gym both morning and night, often doing multiple step-aerobics or kickboxing classes back-to-back.  And I wondered why I never felt satisfied, why I still hated by body? Why my knuckles cracked and bled? 

It took years for me to develop a healthy relationship with food and my body, one that feels like a partnership.  It would take a long time to tell the whole story, but my healing began when I gave up ‘giving up.’  I stopped dieting, stopped avoiding certain categories of food (fat, carbohydrates, and so on) and instead embraced a real foods, moderate way of eating.  When I stopped obsessing, I finally felt at peace. 

I’m not perfect.  I still find those critical thoughts tapping me on the shoulder.  But, I know how to deal with them—a walk, yoga, talking with a friend, a supportive husband.

I immediately offered to help Sherri, wanting to join with her in helping other women find that same peace.  About a dozen women started meeting at my home once a month, first a cooking class and then a wonderful potluck where we practiced mindful eating.  (One of the women described the mindful eating experience as “like I just had a scalp massage!”)  Last week, we gathered for another potluck and to talk about debunking food myths.  We listed questions on the blackboard and then spent the next two hours talking.

I’m so honored to be supporting Sherri in her journey to help other women.  It’s why McKenzie and I started Nourish in the first place—to spread this message of eating real foods with the people you love.  And most of all, to be nice to yourself.

In the spirit of debunking food myths, I made this End-of-Summer Caprese Pasta Salad for our potluck.  Yes, you can eat pasta and cheese!  And do so with abundant thankfulness.

Whole Wheat Caprese Pasta Salad

This is a super-easy pasta salad that makes good use of the last of the summer produce.  It can be served cold or at room temperature.  It will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for 4 – 5 days, so it’s a great make-ahead meal.  

Serves 8

1 pound whole wheat pasta (like fusilli or penne)
Zest and juice of two lemons (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 pints cherry tomatoes, tomatoes halved
1 red bell pepper, sliced or diced
8 ounce container fresh mozzarella (small mozzarella balls*)
5 ounces of spinach or arugula
¼ cup fresh basil, sliced

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a good amount of sea salt or kosher salt.  Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, until just done. 

While the pasta is cooking, add the lemon zest, juice, olive oil, sea salt and red pepper flakes to a large bowl and whisk together.  To the lemon dressing, add the halved cherry tomatoes. (Cutting the tomatoes in half allows them to release some of their juice, which adds to the sauce of the pasta salad).  Add the sliced red bell pepper.

When the pasta is done, add the hot pasta to the lemon dressing, tomatoes and red bell pepper with about ¼ cup of the hot pasta water.  The hot pasta water will slightly soften the tomatoes and red peppers, and will release their flavors in the pasta.  Stir together and then let cool to room temperature.

Once the pasta has cooled, add the fresh mozzarella, spinach or arugula, and fresh basil and stir together until well-combined.  Taste and adjust any seasonings, if necessary. 

Enjoy, preferably with someone you love!

*If you can’t find small mozzarella balls, just buy large balls and cut them into cubes.

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