Joseph’s Very Famous Big Pot of Love

Soup is personal. Soup is of the heart. You grow up with your momma’s soup, which is different from your mamaw’s soup, which is different from your best friend’s mom’s soup. They are all stupendous, the stuff of some of your best memories, but every one is different. They seem to have a secret. My mom can turn just about anything into wonderful soup.

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A part of that secret is the experience that goes into them. This soup has gone through revision after revision. I’ve been making it regularly for over 35 years. It is one of my favorite things to eat, and I make it at least once per month. It might be a little bit different every time. It is based on my mamaw’s vegetable soup; an impossibly rich stew with a flavor I could never quite match, though I did discover the “secret” just a few years ago (Oh, sure, like I’m going to tell you!). I can still remember how her soup tasted, though I am certain I have not had it since at least 1982. It underwent a major revision in the 1990s when some friends served me what they called soup burgers, a vegetable soup made with finely diced veggies, ladled over burger rolls. I realized how much difference the size of pieces can make in the satisfaction you get from soups, and you should feel free to experiment with this. I like smaller pieces, around 1/4 to 1/2 inch in size. Maybe you prefer your soup to be a bit chunkier. It has also gone from having meat to vegetarian to vegan to whole-foods, plant-based with no oil.

I am still learning new things that make my cooking and my recipes—including this soup—better. I encourage you to make soups a regular part of your repertoire of recipes, and to develop your own ways of making them. IMG_1015

The instructions for this soup may seem a little complex. Really, they are simple, but thorough and detailed for people with little kitchen experience. I am going to explain things that may seem obvious to some if they have more cooking experience. I want whole-foods, plant-based, no-oil cooking to be accessible to everyone. Despite my explanations, some people may still struggle. Keep at it.

Making soup is a fantastic way to learn about cutting vegetables, combining flavors, seasoning, and cooking. Soup is forgiving; sometimes you can make what you might think would be a grand error, and come up with something you love.

This is a GIANT pot of soup. The pot I use holds 12 quarts, and most of the time, I fill it to the brim. Please feel free to halve or even quarter the size of this recipe in order to (a) fit it in your pot, and (b) make a more reasonable amount of soup, especially if you are still working on techniques and flavors. Adjust the herbs and spices as you wish.

 

 

Top left: Herbs and spices. Clockwise from top left: bay, thyme, and sweet basil; fresh minced garlic; freshly ground black pepper, coriander, and Aleppo pepper; paprika. Top right: Tomato paste and canned diced tomatoes. Bottom: Vegetables. Clockwise from top left: frozen peas and frozen corn, Yukon Gold potatoes, celeriac and turnips, yellow onions, celery and carrots, sweet potatoes, frozen green beans, cabbage.

Joseph’s Very Famous Big Pot of Love

Flavoring ingredients:

  • 8-10 cups water or low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup Bragg Liquid Aminos
  • 4-6 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
  • 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper flakes (or 1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1 jar (7 oz.) or two 5.5-oz. cans tomato paste (more or less to your taste, use as much as you like)
  • 4 cans (15 oz. each) no-salt-added diced tomatoes (or two 28-oz. cans)
  • 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup

Vegetables essential to the soup:

  • 2 softball-sized onions, diced (about 4 cups)
  • 4-6 celery spines, diced (about 3 cups)
  • 4 large carrots, diced (about 3 cups)
  • 4-6 cups diced yellow (like Yukon Gold) potatoes (any potatoes will work, these hold together well)
  • 3-4 cups diced sweet potato
  • 2-3 cups frozen sweet peas (about one 10-oz. bag)
  • 2-3 cups frozen corn kernels (about one 10-oz. bag)

Vegetables good in the soup (pick at least a few):

  • fresh or frozen cut green beans (used here and almost always)
  • chopped green cabbage (used here and almost always)
  • diced rutabagas
  • diced turnips (used here)
  • diced butternut or other winter squash
  • diced parsnips
  • diced celeriac (used here)
  • cut yellow wax beans
  • chopped cauliflower
  • diced sunchokes 
  • 4-6 cups cooked or canned hearty beans (a pound of Rancho Gordo Classic Cranberry beans used here, but almost any bean will do)
  • cooked whole grains, especially hulled barley (cooking grains in the soup tends to suck out the good flavors)
  • chopped fresh parsley sprinkled onto bowls of soup

I almost always use green beans, cabbage, and beans. I rarely add cooked grains directly to the soup, but will sometimes make them on the side and ladle the soup over them.

Vegetables terrible in the soup:

  • broccoli
  • kale
  • most larger greens (turnip, mustard, dandelion) except collards
  • Brussels sprouts
  • bell peppers or other larger peppers

Tip: Cruciferous vegetables tend to bring out a dry, burnt flavor to soups, but can be added in the bowl and be quite delicious. Some larger greens are strongly flavored and dominate if added to soup. Peppers also overpower most soups with their flavors.

Preparation instructions:

I suggest that you do all of your vegetable washing and cutting before you begin applying heat to anything. Doing this means that everything you need is ready to go, and you can concentrate on assembling and cooking the soup without having to rush to get something ready. 

You don’t need to portion out your herbs and spices as I have here. I only did that because it makes a great photo! But you can do that too if it helps you. It makes me feel like a real pro chef.

Tip: Your knife should be clean and sharp. I want to put a plug in here for investing in an excellent chef’s knife that you like and fits your hand well. I will be posting soon about knives and cutting boards, but there are plenty of other places to learn about them and how to use them. Holding a chef’s knife properly is easy to learn, but is not intuitive; you need to see how to do it. You really only need two knives; a good chef’s knife ($80-150), and a good paring knife ($40-80). Your cutting board should be made of hard wood or thick plastic, and be heavy. Glass, metal, and stone are not acceptable cutting boards and will destroy any knife. Your cutting board should be a minimum of one and a half times the length of your longest knife in each direction. Please spend some time learning how to hold food to protect your hands while cutting. Your fingers should be curled back away from your knife, and never extended toward the blade. Even the best chefs get a nick every now and again, but knowing how to cut safely can mean the difference between small cuts and larger, more dangerous ones. Go as slowly as you need to, to be mindful of where your hands and your blade are, and to cut safely.

Cut all vegetables to roughly the same size. You may combine onions, carrots, and celery in one bowl, the potatoes and other starchy vegetables in one bowl, and the other vegetables in one bowl. They will be added to the pot in that order.

You may also pre-measure and combine the spices together, and the herbs together (but separately from the spices). I never actually measure the amounts, and eventually you won’t, either. But it is helpful if you are new to using them.

Cooking instructions:

Heat your soup pot over medium low heat. 

Tip: It is best if your pot has a thick bottom. The pot in the photo above has a two-centimeter-thick sandwich of copper and stainless steel. I purchased and have been using it since 1992. If you have a thin-bottomed pot, you will need to stir and scrap the pot almost constantly to keep the soup from burning. Once any soup scorches, it will never taste good, so be attentive. Like an excellent knife, a good-quality, heavy soup pot is an every day workhorse. A cheap, thin pot is not worth much in the kitchen.

Let the pot come to temperature over low, not high, heat. The key here is patience. There are times when you want the pan hotter, to sear your vegetables quickly. This is not one of those times. The way you are going to add ingredients for this dish is standard practice for a lot of cooking. Mirepoix first; harder, longer-cooking vegetables next; and quicker-cooking vegetables last.

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Tip: Mirepoix [MEER-pwah] is a mix of vegetables that serve as the basis for many European- and American-style dishes. There are several different blends for mirepoix. The one for this recipe is the most basic French-style, roughly equal portions of onions, carrots, and celery heated together to create a flavor base for the soup. The vegetables are cooked on low heat, slowly, to develop sweet flavors, but not so long that they caramelize. Once you learn how to make a few different kinds of mirepoix you are well on your way to cooking a lot of different dishes. 

Tip: I like to use flat, paddle-shaped wooden spatulas for most of my cooking because it mixes things well and makes it easier to scrape the bottom of pans. I prefer wood even though I rarely use non-stick cookware, but if you are using stainless steel or iron pots and pans you can certainly use metal utensils.

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Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the warmed-up pot. Begin stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot. The vegetables will begin to release some water (sweat), and this should be enough to keep the vegetables from sticking and burning. Your goal is to warm and soften the vegetables, not to brown them. If you are having trouble with sticking, add a few tablespoons of water or broth and scrape the bottom of the pan (deglazing). If you are unsure about your skills starting off, then go ahead and add a little liquid when you add the mirepoix vegetables, and more as needed. As the vegetables soften, they will eventually stop releasing water, and this will be the time to get moving with adding ingredients (or add more liquid). Do not worry if you get a little browning on the vegetables, but do not burn them. 

Tip: Deglazing is releasing sticky, dark bits of food from the bottom of a metal (not a non-stick) pan with liquid. No matter what you are cooking, if you let the food brown, you will start getting bits that stick. It is important not to let what sticks burn. Putting in a little water or broth and scraping the bottom of the pan will almost magically release these bits and create a wonderful, flavor-rich broth. Deglazing is not dependent on using oil.

When the onions are translucent and softened, add the garlic and stir it into the mirepoix for about one minute. Add the spices (paprika, coriander, black pepper, and Aleppo or cayenne pepper, not the herbs) and mix, allowing the spices to warm for about 30 seconds more. Here, again, it is important not to allow the spices to burn, so use a little liquid as needed.

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Add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste, rinsing the cans or jars into the pot with a little water or broth. Add 4 cups of the broth and mix. Add the herbs, being careful not to crumble the bay leaves while they are dry. Bay leaves just float around in the soup while it is cooking, and should be removed when the soup is ready.

 Tip: Spices that are warmed and mixed into the mirepoix will release their best flavors into the natural oils of the vegetables and will be distributed easily throughout the soup. Herbs need to be mixed into a greater amount of liquid to keep them from burning, and are most commonly added toward the end of cooking—and you can do that here, if you prefer. Basil and thyme work wonders with tomato products, which is why I put them in at the same time. I want them to start releasing their flavors into the tomatoes. Others will say that herbs lose their flavor in cooking, but I have not found this to be the case. And you can always add more at the end if you like.

Add the potatoes and other diced, starchy vegetables and enough broth or water to just cover. Allow to come up to a simmer. Add the remaining vegetables except the beans. It is fine to add any frozen vegetables without thawing them first. If you are using cabbage—use cabbage; it is so yummy in soup!—add it last, on top. Add more broth and water, but not quite enough to come to the top; maybe about a half to one inch below (the vegetables will cook down some). It will probably be difficult to stir the pot at this point, which is fine. Keep the heat low, and scrape the bottom every once in a while. The vegetables will loosen up as they come up to temperature. Bring the soup up to a simmer. Reduce heat to the lowest setting, and cover tightly.

 

Continue to cook the soup for about one hour, opening the cover occasionally to scrape the bottom and mix the soup. Again, if you do not have a heavy-bottomed pot, you will have to do this more frequently to keep the soup from burning. Do not be tempted to increase the heat. Allow the soup to simmer until the vegetables are tender and the peas are wrinkly (that always seems to be an indicator of well-cooked soup, to me). Add the Bragg Liquid Aminos and maple syrup, and mix thoroughly. Remove the bay leaves. Finally, add the beans and mix. At this point, the soup is ready! I suggest allowing it to sit, covered, for 30-60 minutes. As it cools, the flavor will develop further.

 

Notes:

Yes, you can cook this soup in a slow-cooker, though you will need to size it down the volume you have. Use a pan on the stove to sauté the mirepoix. Transfer the mirepoix and other ingredients to your slow cooker. Heat on high for 1-2 hours until the soup comes to a simmer. Reduce to low and allow to cook for another hour until all vegetables are tender. If you want a long, slow cook, skip heating on high and cook for 4 to 6 hours on low.

You can also use a programmable pressure cooker (and if you’ve read this far, here is your reward: using a pressure cooker was my mamaw’s secret to amazing soup). Sauté the mirepoix, then add the other ingredients. Do not fill the pressure cooker more than 2/3 to 3/4 full. Seal the pressure cooker and set to cook on normal pressure for 10 minutes, with a slow release. Using a pressure cooker forces intermingling of flavors in the vegetables, giving a great result for a smaller volume of soup.

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Simply Fantastic Pinto Beans

This recipe is just like the name says: simple. But it sure doesn’t taste that way! If you have a programmable pressure cooker, these fat and tasty beans go from dry to delicious in an hour with no soaking. Adding the aromatic spices before cooking fills each bean with a remarkable depth of flavor. Serve these guys up alongside a cooked whole grain (keep pestering me for a Spanish rice recipe; I have one in the works) and some greens, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts and some sliced tomatoes for an incredibly satisfying but easy meal.

Ingredients:

    • 1 pound (about 3 cups) dry pinto beans, picked and rinsed
    • 5 cups water or vegetable broth
    • 1 baseball-sized onion, diced
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced (about 2-3 Tablespoons) or 3 teaspoons dry granulated garlic
    • 1/4 cup Bragg Liquid Aminos
    • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

Directions:

Place all ingredients into pressure cooker. Use beans and chili setting for 45 minutes, slow release. This is the perfect time for the beans we use, in our pressure cooker. If your beans are not tender when you open the pot, close it back up and set it for an additional 10 minutes.

Notes:

If you cannot find smoked paprika, use 1 tablespoon regular paprika plus 1/4 tablespoon liquid smoke.

If you have fresh jalapeño peppers on hand, you can replace the dried Aleppo or cayenne with a minced jalapeño (or habanero or ghost pepper or whatever your brave soul desires).

No programmable pressure cooker? Soak the beans overnight in a large pot, making sure to cover them with at least two inches of water. When you are ready to cook the beans, drain them, and add the other ingredients, but use 7 cups of liquid instead of 5 cups. Either place the pot, covered, in a 300ºF oven (if the pot is made for that), or bring to a boil on the stovetop. Reduce to a simmer and cover tightly. Cook beans for about 3 to 4 hours until tender, adding water or broth as needed to keep them covered with liquid and stirring occasionally. 

Creamy Minnesota Wild Rice Soup

We are in the depths of the winter here in Minnesota, and it is the best time of year for hearty, soul-enriching soups. Minnesota-style wild rice soup is like your grandma’s hugs in a bowl, essentially a big bowl of gravy so thick your spoon stands up in it. This version is likewise super-thick and super-satisfying, and seems like something you shouldn’t be eating as part of a Healthful Living Practice. This one, though, is whole-foods, plant-based, with no added oil, and is richly creamy and delicious. Eat all you like! The recipe makes a lot, about 6 quarts, so feel free to halve it if you like. But we polished this off in just a couple of days and can’t wait to make more. Uff da! 

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There is a lot of wild rice in this soup, and I like it that way. You could cut the amount by half and it would still be wild rice soup. But unless you object to the wondrous texture and flavor of wild rice, use it all. To me, that’s the whole point of wild rice soup. Wild rice is native to Minnesota and is available here at a few different price points, from truly wild rice that is hand-harvested by Native families from Minnesota Lakes at the top ($12-$20 per pound) down to farmed rice from other places ($1.50 to $5 per pound). I think most places you will have to take what you can get locally. You will want to pick the grains over for debris and rinse them thoroughly before cooking.

We are bean snobs here in the Alexander household. We do use canned beans for some things (soup or chili sometimes, hummus most of the time, dog food all of the time). And they are FINE. No judgment about your preferences on beans. 

We purchase dried beans from a small operation in southern California called Rancho Gordo (ranchogordo.com) and I cannot strongly enough recommend their beans. Owner Steve Sando knows more about cooking beans than just about anyone on the planet, and he’s funny as the dickens. For this recipe, my preference is the bean variety Steve calls Ojo de Cabra, or Eye of the Goat. These beans get reddish when you cook them (see the photo of the soup) and are large with a thinner skin, but hold together really well in soups and stews. We rinse and cook them in a programmable pressure cooker for 50 minutes, 1 pound of beans to 5 cups of water. No soaking! Add a bay leaf or two if you like. These beans have a great flavor on their own.

If you don’t want to cook your own beans, hey, no problem! Use two or three cans of no-salt-added kidney beans, liquid and all, instead. You could use Cannellini beans, but because they have a thin skin they will break apart more easily than kidney beans.

Leftovers will keep in the fridge for several days. Unlike Nana’s recipe, there is no cream to break, so I think it would freeze and only need to be mixed after thawing. It was so good that we didn’t have any to put in the freezer to see what would happen.

Ingredients:

    • 1 baseball- or softball-sized onion, diced
    • 2 large carrots, diced (about 2 cups)
    • 4 cups Crimini (brown) mushrooms, diced (about 1 1/2 pounds)
    • 4 large cloves of garlic, minced (about 4-6 tablespoons)
    • 3 cups dry wild rice, prepared (instructions below if needed)
    • 4 cups unsweetened plant milk (I used homemade oat milk; instructions below)
    • Vegetable broth or water, up to 4 cups or more as needed
    • 2 tablespoons nooch (nutritional yeast) 
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons fresh)
    • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or 2 teaspoons fresh)
    • 1 teaspoon rubbed sage
    • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
    • 4 cups cooked, large, red beans
    • 1/4 cup Bragg Liquid Aminos
    • salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste (salt at the table rather than the pot if you are watching your sodium intake)

Directions:

Rinse, pick, and cook the wild rice. See notes section, below, for instructions if needed.

Heat a dry, heavy-bottomed soup pot on medium-low heat for several minutes. Put the onions and carrots into the hot pan and let them sit without stirring for about 2-3 minutes just to sear them (get a little brown on the bottom), but being careful not to burn them. Add the mushrooms, and mix the vegetables continuously until the mushrooms begin to lose their water. Tip: A tiny sprinkle of salt or Bragg Liquid Aminos will help the water come out of the mushrooms, but if you don’t want to do this, you may want to add a little water or broth to the pan to keep the vegetables from sticking. 

As the mushrooms begin to get wet and soften, mix in the garlic, wild rice, plant milk, and water or broth to not quite cover the solid ingredients. Let the soup come to a simmer (not to a full boil) over low heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally. 

While the soup is heating, place the rice flour, nooch, and herbs into a blender, small food processor, or clean coffee/spice mill and pulse until they are powdered. This step is important because commercial rice flour is typically not fine enough to serve the purpose of creating a thick gravy without any graininess. But if you powder it first, it is amazing for this purpose. Tip: If you have a Vitamix or Blend-Tec blender, you can use it to turn uncooked brown rice into flour. Other blenders, even those marked as high-powered, will not grind hard grains into flour.

As the soup comes to a simmer, sprinkle the flour and herb mixture into it, and then the beans, stirring constantly. Tip: This mixture will not clump up the way that corn-starch would, so you can mix the dry ingredients in to the wet directly. Continue to stir as the soup thickens.

Season the soup with Bragg Liquid Aminos and fresh-ground black pepper. If you want more salt, add it to individual servings rather than the batch. You will use much less salt that way.

The soup is ready! Serve it alongside a fresh, green salad or piles of steamed greens. I mixed mine right into a bowl packed with chopped curly green kale.

Notes:

Preparing wild rice – If you have a programmable pressure cooker, put the 3 cups of wild rice into the cooker with 5 cups water or vegetable broth. Use multigrain setting for 15 minutes and quick release. Otherwise, you can cook it on the stove top using 4 cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of wild rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, and cover. Cook for about 40 to 50 minutes, until the grains soften and split open. Dran away any excess liquid (you can use it in the soup, if you prefer).

Preparing oat milk – I made my own oat milk for this recipe, and it worked well. Use thick-rolled or old-fashioned oats, not quick oats. Soak one cup of oats in 4 cups of water for about 15 minutes. Pour the oats into a sieve, discarding the soaking water. Rinse the oats thoroughly under running water, mixing them up with a spoon or your fingers. Place the oats into a blender with about 3 cups of clean water. Blend for about two minutes; not enough for the mixture to warm up. Drain the liquid through a sieve, cheesecloth, or clean tea towel into a container. Clean your filter, and run the liquid through it again. Do this at least three times, and four if you have time. Bring the remaining liquid (you should have about three cups) up to 4 cups by mixing in water. Your oat milk is now ready to use in your soup (or for whatever you want).

Simple Stuffed Manicotti

I don’t go for pretty in meal presentation for the most part, and I want as many of the recipes published on Become Greater to be easy for most people to make in a reasonable amount of time from real ingredients they can obtain easily. If you can make it easily, and you like how it tastes, then you are more likely to make it a part of your Healthful Living Practice. This is one dish that could be made much more fancily, mostly by taking more care to create a good marinara. And I do sometimes go to some trouble to make a fancier marinara. But most of the time I make it as easily as possible, and that is what I did here, by starting with a basic, canned tomato sauce and readily available spices. I use a sauce like this on pasta, pizzas, polenta, potatoes, and anything else that wants a flavorful tomato sauce. You could take a slightly more impressive road by using a fresh minced onion and fresh garlic instead of the dried varieties that I used here, and by scattering some fresh, chopped basil on top after the dish comes out of the oven. And to make it even easier, you could use a whole-foods, plant-based marinara that meets the requirements of your food plan.

I think that once you have made this dish–which seems complicated but really isn’t–it will become a favorite and you’ll see how easily it can be used for guests and pot-lucks with just a little dressing up. You can add fresh basil, chopped mushrooms, broccoli, cubbed butternut squash, or any other ideas you have.

Tomato-flavor pro-tip: Cooked or canned tomato products burst with tomato-y goodness when they are given a small amount of sweetener. A teaspoon of pure maple syrup, whether from Vermont, Minnesota, Canada, or even Wisconsin, per 15-oz. can of tomato sauce will take the acidic edge off and brighten up the tomato flavor. It doesn’t take much; what you are doing is accenting the inherent sweetness of the tomatoes.

For the pasta and filling:

1 box 100% whole-grain manicotti pasta (large tubular shells), about 16 shells

2 15-ounce cans light-colored beans (I used 1 can of cannellini and 1 can of navy), drained but not rinsed

1 tablespoon Bragg Liquid Aminos (BLA)

2 teaspoons granulated garlic OR 3 large cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons granulated toasted onion, or any granulated onion

1 to 2 tablespoons Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset herb blend, or 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

a few grinds of black pepper

For the sauce (or use a 28-ounce jar of WFPB, no-oil pasta sauce):

2 15-ounce cans no-salt-added tomato sauce

1 teaspoon granulated garlic OR 1 large cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons granulated toasted onion, or any granulated onion

1 to 2 teaspoons Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset herb blend, or 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup (optional)

 

Start the oven preheating to 325ºF/165ºC. Set a large pot of water, at least 3 quarts/liters in a 5-quart/liter pot, to boil. While you are waiting for the water to come to a boil, set a colander or large strainer in the sink and prepare the filling.

You can prepare the filling in a food processor (fastest and easiest) or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, a potato masher, or a machacadora. The goal is to make a paste with the consistency of hummus, which can be piped into the manicotti pasta shells. Put all of the filling ingredients in the processor or bowl, and pulse or mash until it is smooth and homogeneous. Taste the filling and adjust seasonings as desired. Transfer the filling into a gallon-sized sealable bag (Ziplock-style), eliminating as much air as possible. You could also use a cake-decorating bag and tip or a small spoon and your fingers to fill the shells. Set the filling aside.

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When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, while you are standing upright and back from the pot, as the shape of this pasta lends to rapid boil ups through the tubes. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain into colander and rinse thoroughly with water as cold as will come from the tap.

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Prepare the tomato sauce. Note: you can mix all of the ingredients in a bowl or pitcher, or you can mix in the maple syrup only, then sprinkle the spices and herbs evenly across the sauce at each step of the process as you layer the ingedients in the pan. One way is as effective as the other. There is no need to heat the sauce up.

Prepare a roughly 9 x 12-inch pan by coating the bottom with about a half-cup of the sauce. The sauce should be about 1/4-inch deep. Note about the baking pan: a covered pan is ideal, but if not, you need to be able to cover it pretty tightly with foil. Covering the pan is one of two things you need to do to make sure that the partially cooked pasta is fully cooked when the dish is done. The other thing you need to do is a little further along.

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Using foil pro-tip: Tomato products are acidic enough to eat through foil, especially when being heated, and then the residue ends up in your food. When covering dishes that are tomato-based, tent the foil so that no part of it is touching the tomato sauce.

Fill the pasta shells with the filling. Snip a small corner off the bag and fill each shell by holding it in one hand with a finger lightly across the opposite opening (you may not even need to cover the hole at all. Fill to the end, then turn the shell around and top off the other end. Lay the filled shell in the pan. Continue filling all of the pasta shells and arranging them in the pan. They should have a little space between them to reduce sticking. If you are unable to fit all the shells in one layer, drizzle a little sauce over the shells and stack the extras in a second layer, as far as they go. Once all the shells are filled and arranged in the pan, cover the pasta with the remaining sauce, ensuring that all of the pasta has sauce over it.

Partially cooked pasta pro-tip: When using partially cooked pasta and finishing it off in the oven, you should make sure of two things: first, that the pasta is completely covered (not drowning in, just covered) with sauce, and second, that the pan is tightly covered to keep in most of the steam. In fact, if you do this, you could probably prepare this dish without pre-cooking the pasta at all. If you try this, add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan before sealing it. This will work with shells and with lasagna. As an alternative to adding water, you could add sliced or chopped raw mushrooms or courgettes, which will give off enough water to cook the pasta.

Cover the pan and pop it into the oven for an hour. Take advantage of having the oven on and roast some other veggies to eat alongside. Serve it up!

The Corinne Nijjer Podcast

Just in case there are some who are not already following The Corinne Nijjer Podcast, you should have a listen. Corinne released an interview with me on her show this morning, and I think it turned out pretty darn well. You can listen on iTunes, on Spotify, or directly from her website. I hope you like it! I feel famous!

Healthful Living Practice

What do I mean when I talk about Healthful Living Practice?

Healthful Living Practice is a set of ways that a person strengthens and optimizes their individual health and wellness, physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. When you have a Healthful Living Practice, you create a positive influence on the health and wellness of your family, your community, your nation, and your planet.

Healthful Living Practice is different from changing one behavior. Through it, we influence our health and wellness holistically. Holistic means all of the parts, of looking at health comprehensively. Healthful Living Practice means to think about the totality of your personal wellness, so that the choices you make from moment to moment, with consistency, benefit your overall being. Healthful Living Practice supports the more focused changes you might want to make, in order to work on a particular health challenge, such as obesity, being sedentary, smoking, or anything else. Healthful Living Practice comes directly from the Healthful Living Model of Health and Wellness, my paradigm for how I, you, and the rest of the world function with regard to health. It is the result of more than a decade of studying health behavior models and theories. The most important parts of this model, for our purposes, are that our health and wellness have four dimensions, or areas:

  • physical health and wellness
  • mental health and wellness
  • social health and wellness
  • spiritual health and wellness

and that these dimensions are intertwined with each other. That means that what we do in one of these dimensions affects how we are doing in of the others. An easy example of this is how being ill affects our ability to socialize, and not being able to socialize might make us feel lonely or sad, and keep us from being able to, say, meditate. This one thing we have going on—a bad cold or the flu—might affect our health and wellness in all four dimensions.

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What this means for us—the beans of it—is that when we want to change or modify our health behaviors, or the things that we do to benefit our health and wellness, it is easier and more effective to use strategies that are tied to more than one of these dimensions. We can either use one strategy that has influence in more than one dimension, or we can use more than one strategy to influence more than one dimension.

When I say strategy, I am talking about the concrete things that we do, in order to live more healthfully. Adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet is a strategy. Adding broccoli to three meals per week is a strategy. Meditation is a strategy. Staying away from tobacco products is a strategy. Walking one mile each day is a strategy. Some strategies may benefit more than one dimension of health and wellness, such as getting a group of friends together for a hike or having a plant-based community dinner in your home.

I think that when I mention physical health and wellness, mental health and wellness, and social health and wellness, these ideas are going to be pretty clear to most people. I feel that I should go into a little more depth about spiritual health and wellness, just so you understand what it is I am talking about. Although people who follow a particular faith and are religious could indeed have strong awareness of spiritual health and wellness, being religious is not what I am talking about. The faithful may engage in activities that create a state of spiritual wellness, but not necessarily. Atheists may do things for their spiritual wellness, and be fully, spiritually healthful. In this sense, in the Healthful Living Model, spiritual health and wellness refer to a sense of connectedness to people, to the environment, and to the universe around you; and to having a sense of purpose for yourself and meaning in your life. For a great many people, much of these come from their religious practices. But you do not need a religious practice or a set of beliefs about deity to have strong spiritual health and wellness.

When I adopted a whole-foods, plant-based diet, I used a multi-strategy approach to help myself change my eating behaviors, and more importantly, to help me sustain my new behaviors. I changed my diet, fully intending to stick with it until something better came along. But I had been there before, many times! The results were always that the “something better” was chicken wings, burgers, and ice cream, and they came along within a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. I was not able to sustain my behavior change for very long.

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What did I do differently, this time around?

The answer is that I used a combination of strategies that have been effective for me in the past, along with some new ones to counteract old, problem behaviors that I have seen over, and over, and over. I believe that each of these strategies had some degree of positive influence to make the overall process of creating better health behaviors a little easier. Note that I am not saying “easy,” just “easier.” Some of the strategies I used were:

  • to spend time socializing with others who were making similar changes,
  • to seek help from others when I was struggling,
  • to give help to others when they were struggling,
  • to not invite contradictory arguments from others about the changes I was making,
  • to engage in self-analysis about my health behaviors history,
  • to include what I was doing in my meditation practice, and
  • to support causes related to the healthful behaviors I wanted to make into habits.

There were others, but I think that you can see from this that what made this time around different for me was that I recognized that my physical state of (bad) health and (terrible) wellness was affecting me not just physically, but mentally, socially, and spiritually as well. Although I did not fully recognize it at the time, I made a choice to approach this problem by using strategies that addressed my physical, mental, social, and spiritual health and wellness.

All of these strategies worked together to help me through the toughest times. They helped me to be consistently mindful of what my priorities were and what I was trying to do. They gave me the edge that I needed to make real, significant change and progress. They saved my life.

I believe that you can do this, too. This is why I get so excited about Healthful Living Coaching, because as far as I know, this is the only program anywhere that helps people to work on their health and wellness goals from a truly holistic perspective. And whether you decide to be a Become Greater Healthful Living Coaching client or not, you can still think about and employ this method in your own Healthful Living Practice. When you live healthfully, consistently making better moment-to-moment decisions, you bring your health and wellness goals a little bit closer, every day.

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What does my Healthful Living Practice look like?

One aspect of Healthful Living Practice, that takes, well… practice… is being aware of the impact on your wellness of what you are doing right now, at this moment. This means that one person’s Healthful Living Practice can get complex and detailed. But there are some key strategies that I strive to employ consistently to ensure that at the end of the day, the balance sheet tallies in favor of better health and wellness for me. And when my health and wellness are better, so is the health and wellness of my family, my community, my nation, and my planet. As I said earlier, each of these strategies has a positive influence on all of my health and wellness dimensions. But I am going to list them by where they predominate. These are a part of what I strive for. It is not what you have to do, especially if you are taking on a big change already.

Physical Health and Wellness

  • Follow a whole-foods, plant-based diet with no added oil and minimal salt and sugar. Other than quitting tobacco or addictive chemicals, this is the best way to improve health and wellness across the board.
  • Physical training. I am training for specific, upcoming events, and so my physical activity reflects that. Most people do not need to do this, but can get by with daily exercise. My training includes running, cycling, swimming, yoga, strength training (weights), and flexibility (stretching). If I was going to strip it down to the basics, it would be running and yoga.
  • Rest and recover.

Mental Health and Wellness

  • Use effective organization and time-management strategies. I use The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with a touch of Bullet Journaling thrown in (these are not advertisements or promotions; just links to what I use). I use handwritten organization and time management rather than electronic apps because I believe that it is more effective for integrating my goals, my plans, my calendar and my wellness.
  • Spend my time on the things that are truly most important to me: my family, my friends, my education, my work, and my art.

Social Health and Wellness

  • Spend time with people who support me in my efforts, and who broaden my world.
  • Make a consistent effort to help others to feel good about themselves. Act and interact with compassion, love, kindness, and gentleness.
  • Participate in social activities. With other people. This is hard for me sometimes.
  • Apologize sincerely when it is called for.

Spiritual Health and Wellness

  • Zen meditation practice.
  • Volunteer for causes that support Healthful Living and my values.
  • Contribute to society, to culture, to my community, and to the world. Figure out what this means on a day-to-day basis. Help all beings.

I do not, in any way, want to give you the impression that I am perfect or that I am perfectly healthy and well. Healthful Living Practice is not about that! And I have so, so far to go. Healthful Living Practice is not about a final goal, or about attaining a state of perfect health. It is about the process, the day-to-day, moment-to-moment decisions you make that move you toward the person you wish to be.

A good Healthful Living Process is something I am reaching for. Wherever you are in your life and in your health and wellness, you can also reach for a Healthful Living Practice. I can’t do it perfectly, and I don’t expect you to, either. I expect that we will both make progress in our Healthful Living Practices, over time.

If you are taking on some sort of powerful change for your health, such as starting a new way of eating, beginning an exercise program, or quitting smoking, then your Healthful Living Practice is about creating strategies across the dimensions of health and wellness that support this change. If you have progressed to making your better health behaviors into habits, then you could be ready for more. It could be one thing, or many. What is important is that you think about your Healthful Living Practice as something that brings you peace and wellness. It should not stress you out. It should not make you feel like you are cramming things into your day. It should make you want to do well for yourself and for others. It is your way of being. It is how you live your life.

 

Setting Up Your Day

I was somewhat popular in China. As we traveled around that impressive country, I attracted attention at every turn. It felt like being a celebrity… unless I spent time thinking about the reason for it.

It wasn’t because I looked like a rock star.

It wasn’t because I was famous. Though I suspect that somewhere in a theater in Shanghai there is still a photo of me strapped to a giant deck of cards for people to gawk at.

It was because I weighed at least 438 pounds–see the photo above–and most of the people there had never seen anyone like me.

People weren’t shy about it. Over the weeks we were there, hundreds of people approached me to take photos with me. At a couple of points, they actually lined up to do it. No one was being mean-spirited, and at the time I presented a face of willingness and appreciation for their attention.

What choice did I have? If there was ever a better time in my life for self-evaluation and consideration of what I was doing to myself, I had found it. I definitely wasn’t into Healthful Living.

………………………

I have a tool that I use in my Healthful Living Practice that I think could benefit you, so I’m going to share it with you. It is just one of many, but this tool is a pretty important one. Whether your goals for Healthful Living are weight loss, becoming physically active and strong, living peacefully, or something else, a morning ritual or routine can support the way you choose to live. It can help you to Become Greater.

I am talking about a morning routine. A ritual. A way of starting your day, every day. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to set the stage for the rest of your day. Barring unforeseen circumstances–and I know those do happen–you know how your day is going to start when you get up. You don’t have to think hard about it. But setting it up and making it a habit can take a little effort. For people living with children, or even with other adults, your morning routine can be part of your personal, alone time, especially if your family comes to know that you are protecting that time for yourself.

Routine is a great comfort of life, especially if your world is otherwise a wild disarray of unpredictable activity.

Having a morning routine can sound a little idyllic, like one of those things wealthy, childless people who live in a giant, glass-fronted house on the ocean can work into their schedule. But the truth is that we all have things we do or must do each and every morning, and we are already taking the time to do those things. We can approach these things frenetically, or we can approach them in a reasonable, controlled, and healthful manner. And some of you already have a morning routine without even realizing it. Does it need to be adjusted?

Here is what my morning routine looks like. Yours will look like you want it to look.

  • Get up at the same time, every day (more about that in a separate post on sleep hygiene, which is coming soon, I promise). For now: it really does help to get up at the same time every day. Adjust the amount of sleep you get by adjusting your bedtime. I get up at 6:00.
  • Take our dog downstairs and let her out (2 minutes).
  • While the doggo is out, use the toilet, get the coffee going, make sure the dog has water, and put food out for her. Let her in (5 minutes).
  • While waiting for the coffee to finish, or with my first cup, do my morning metta practice (5 minutes). Metta is a practice of extending good will and compassion to yourself and to others; for freedom from suffering and enmity, and for good health and peace.
  • Morning Zen meditation practice (20 minutes). This is the end of my strictly regulated routine; the items below are more flexible but always included.
  • Move. For me, this can be a yoga workout, a long walk with the dog, a run or bike ride, or heading for the gym. Some of this depends on how much time I have available, which means that I need to plan ahead. This is important; you can’t just wing this. Make a plan. If I know I am going to the gym, I get my bag ready the night before. If I know I am going for a run, I get my running clothes ready (30 to 120 minutes or longer for a long run).
  • Shower and dress, including shoes. Even if you are not going anywhere, dressing fully will help you feel more ready for your day, more confident and more competent, and increase your productivity (20 minutes).
  • Prepare and eat breakfast (15 minutes). After a morning routine like that, how could I want to eat anything that was not in keeping with my Healthful Living Practice?
  • Open my planner and set up my task list for the day (10 minutes).

I want to encourage you to set up your own morning routine. I will warn you that it can take a while to figure it out. It is fine for you to try a routine and to realize it needs to change. It is fine for you to struggle for a time while you install it as a habit. It is fine for your morning routine to be a big mess while you sort it out. Your world is not going to hinge on this.

Exercise: Creating a Morning Routine

  1. Think of the things that are important or necessary to you, to include in your morning routine. Write them down, and be specific. You may include more things than you think you can reasonably do in the morning, and that is fine. This is a work in progress.
    • In my morning routine, I want to address all four domains of Healthful Living Practice: my physical health, my mental health, my social health, and my spiritual health.
    • At first, I was including far too many tasks to get done in a reasonable amount of time. If your morning routine takes until lunch, you may want to reevaluate. This is about starting your day.
    • Ideas that may help: personal hygiene, gratitude, nutrition, exercise, planning, reflection, stretching.
  2. Organize the list, in an order that makes sense to you. Do not forget that you have things you must do in the morning, and include those.
  3. Set times alongside your list, for how long each item takes. I am not talking about how long you want them to take, but about how long they actually take. Your morning routine should not have you watching the clock.
  4. Tally up the amount of time you are looking at to get that morning routine done.
  5. Make a note of the earliest time that you must be otherwise available on a weekly basis. What I mean is that if you have to be at your office or workplace by 7:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, this will control (a) your daily wake-up time, and (b) how much time you have for your morning routine.
  6. Go to work on that routine like you would on a budget.
    • Make it as simple as possible.
    • Be realistic about what must be included, what is reasonable to include, and how much time these things will take.
    • Be reasonable about your wake-up time. If you can’t possibly get to bed before 10:30 p.m. most nights, then accommodating a 2-hour morning routine by getting up at 3:00 a.m. is probably not reasonable.
  7. Try it. Spend a few days with your new morning routine. Adjust it. Move it around. Flexibility is a good thing. Perfection is unnecessary and burdensome. You are going to have lots and lots of days to get it right.
  8. Post in the comments here, or on the Become Greater Facebook page, about what you are trying in your morning routine, and how it is going for you. You can ask questions if you like, and your words can help others.

 

A morning routine is a strong support for Healthy Living Practice. It is one of the the things I suggest that my Healthful Living Coaching clients try in their own lives. It can help you to reach your goals and Become Greater.

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