“I am not overweight or unhealthy” is a common excuse cited by many of my nutrition students at the beginning of the semester, including Bradley Correia, who grew up in Rio Vista. By taking action and making simple choices, Brad began to reap benefits that he never anticipated. In his own words…
I was never concerned about being overweight or unhealthy. I always believed cooking homemade meals and avoiding eating out was the path to great nutrition. However, what I did not know was putting my health at risk. I was not aware that because of the food choices I was making, I was merely surviving instead of thriving. I enrolled in a college nutrition class to fulfill my graduation requirements. Little did I know, “The Nutrition Professor”, Timaree Hagenburger, was going to make such a profound impact and help me see that “I’m not overweight or unhealthy” was neither a free pass, nor a good excuse for me to continue eating the Standard American Diet.
I did the unexpected and flipped this excuse on its head, in honor of Lent! In previous years, I would give up an unhealthy food such as chocolate or soda, but this year, I gave up animal products, refined sugars and oils and turned the 21 Day Kickstart we learned about in class (www.21daykickstart.org) into a 40 day journey!
I used to rely on my morning coffee to wake me up, and I hardly ever ate breakfast, even though I “knew” that breakfast was important. I often ate such a heavy dinner that I would end up in food coma until bed and wake up feeling sluggish without an appetite. Within just a few days, I woke up ready get to get my body moving (running or walking the dog), and hungry for a satisfying breakfast. My skin health even improved within the first two weeks. By the time Easter rolled around, Lent was over and I had planned to eat the ham my dad was smoking, but decided against it because I was feeling so great. He had also prepared bell peppers, onion and broccoli in his pellet grill/smoker, which were amazing, so I was completely satisfied and had no interest in the ham.
Since I grew up cooking traditional meals with my dad, I was surprised by how much fun I was having experimenting with plant-based, whole foods! I also modified my favorite dishes by adding nutrient-rich ingredients and leaving out animal products, oil and refined sugars. My “go-to” stir-fry dinners were now better than ever, as I started adding mushrooms, red cabbage, bok choy, frozen corn, shelled edamame, Brussel sprouts, snow peas, and bean sprouts and I didn’t even miss the chicken or oil. I also made a version of breakfast tacos that we ate during a vacation in Mexico. The original dish included scrambled eggs with green chili peppers and onions. I used Prof. Hagenburger’s Scrambled Tacos as a base, which replaced the eggs with tofu, and added spicy green chili peppers! Now I get to enjoy my “Mexican Vacation Tacos” at home anytime!
As I began cooking with more plant based, whole foods, I was eager to make a new version of my great-grandmother’s Portuguese beans, and it was a huge success! In my avó’s honor, (avó = grandma, in Portuguese), my father and I used to make these beans for my birthday and they were also served at the annual “church barbecue” in Isleton. Two years ago, I began making the beans for holiday get-togethers with my father’s side, the Correias, who grew up on farms in the Sacramento Delta. The original recipe called for bacon, with bacon fat used to sauté the onions, garlic and spices. I omitted the bacon, and cooked the onions, garlic and spices in a hot, dry skillet, without any oil. The spices are what make them “Portuguese beans,” not the bacon or bacon fat. The beans turned out delicious, and now I can eat bowl after bowl, knowing the food I always loved is loving me back.
Avó Correia’s Portuguese Beans
I get to enjoy my new version of this dish as a weekly staple, for pennies a serving, instead of only for special occasions, as my family did in the past. I feel proud to carry on my great-grandmother’s legacy in a way that supports optimal health and be able to share it with you. This recipe makes a large amount, so you will have plenty of “planned-overs” to freeze!
2 lbs pinto beans, dry
1 bay leaf
2 cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves (~ 0.5 tsp ground)
8 allspice berries (~ 0.5 tsp ground)
For the “sauce”:
2 medium onions, diced
6 garlic cloves, diced
8 oz can tomato sauce
1.5 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt, to taste (optional)
- Sort and rinse the dry beans, then soak overnight in a large stockpot (water level ~2 inches above beans).
- Drain and rinse beans. Add beans back to the pot with fresh water to cover.
- Add bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice to the pot, and cook over medium heat while preparing the sauce (in a separate pan). If the beans reach a boil, reduce heat to a simmer.
- For the sauce, begin by cooking the onions without oil in a large, pre-heated sauté pan.
- When the onions are golden, stir in the fresh garlic, cumin, chili powder, black pepper, and smoked paprika and cook for 1-2 minutes to “bloom” the spices and wake up the flavors. Expect the mixture to be dry and stick to the pan, just keep stirring constantly to avoid burning!
- Add tomato sauce and 2 cups water.
- Stir well with a wooden spoon to incorporate all of the onion, garlic and spices from the bottom of the pan. Simmer sauce for 20 minutes, then add to the pot of beans.
- Continue cooking beans with sauce at a simmer until tender (~1-3 hours). Keep beans covered with liquid during the cooking process, adding water if needed.
- Traditionally, we ladle these beans with their flavorful sauce into bowls, and serve as a “soup”. However, they would also be delicious on a roasted sweet potato topped with your favorite greens, or in a DIY burrito bowl with brown rice or quinoa and veggies.
Everyone wants immediate results. When I switched to a whole food, plant-based diet, my energy level increased twofold, almost overnight. While I felt great physically, I also found a new confidence. I am more focused than ever to pursue my life goals, including my engineering degree. My close friends and family noticed the changes. Not only am I empowered by these personal benefits, but I am also inspiring those I care about to improve their quality of life through food choices. My mother has reduced her consumption of animal products, especially dairy. This motivates me to continue setting an example, and share what I have learned with others.
Enjoying food that nourishes my body and mind, in ways I was previously unaware of, has become my new habit and plant-based eating is my new normal. My move from “excuse-itarian” to “do-er” showed how seemingly “healthy” individuals, such as my former self, can tremendously improve their quality of life, one bite at a time. (This article was published in the Lodi News Sentinel.)
Timaree Hagenburger, a registered dietitian, certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, and is honored to work with students like Brad as a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College. Timaree also conducts local events, corporate wellness work, has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV and published her first cookbook – The Foodie Bar Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at www.FoodieBars.com – where you will also find details about Timaree’s upcoming events (cooking demos, book signings and talks about the incredible power you yield with your fork!).