Feed Your Love
Interview with Dillon Tisdel
“It's around the table and in the preparation of food that we learn about ourselves and about the world.” Alice Waters
CORDELLA MAGAZINE: Your recipes are a beautiful synthesis of diverse nutritional philosophies, such as raw, macrobiotic, and ayurvedic, among others. What is your view on nutrition?
DILLON TISDEL: I think that basic nutrition is quite simple. Eat real food, fresh food, eat diversely. It’s not complicated, but it’s a tall order for most of us. First of all, deciphering what those things actually mean can feel daunting. There is a cloud of contradictory information surrounding nutrition, that can make deciding what to eat seem like it requires a postgraduate degree. If we manage to figure out what works for our bodies, it can still be challenging to implement. Eating well generally takes more time and thought. You can end up feeling like you are planning your life around food. I literally plan my life around food, as in, plan vacations around where I want to eat. It’s out of hand.
I think good nutrition can be as simple as eating unprocessed, unadulterated food and lots and lots of plants, most of the time. If you can do that you are winning at eating in a major way. If you can buy a portion of that food locally, even better. The nutritional value of vegetables start to decline once they have been harvested and so buying food locally can literally mean buying more nutrients. And if you are into the esoteric perspective, local food has way more life-force.
Finding a way to feed yourself that feels nourishing is incredibly valuable. Nourishment is dimensional. It spans beyond the mechanics of eating. I live in Taos, New Mexico and chile is a huge part of the food culture here. Chile refers to a sauce made from either fresh green, or dried red, New Mexican Hatch chiles. Chile is consumed via different mediums, and one of them is enchiladas. I remember a moment, sitting over a luscious plate of steaming cheese enchiladas and this intense wave of sadness came over me. It was the cheese. It was a super factory farm-y cheese situation and it was as if I could feel the suffering of the cows steaming up towards my face. It was really horrible. There was no way that these enchiladas were going to nourish me, because they made me sad. My point is not that your food has to be a perfect symphony of ethical, locally sourced plant foods for it to nourish you. It doesn’t. In fact, I have had deeply fulfilling run-ins with cheese enchiladas. My point is that our relationship to our food matters. How we feel about it matters. Nourishing food often starts with good ingredients, but it is much more than that. It is the love that it transfers from human to human.
If you are wondering about the nitty gritties of my personal nutritional philosophy I would say this: I eat a mostly plant-based diet. Macrobiotic food is deeply comforting to me. Raw desserts are a supreme love of mine and they are usually sweetened with dates which is a score. Ayurveda is the system through which I see health and healing on a deeper level and the lens I look through to balance and reset my system. I attempt to approach nutrition with a sense of levity and joy, remembering that love is the true healer and greatest source of nourishment.
CM: How did you come to appreciate food in this new way? How has your nutritional philosophy evolved over the years?
DT: I had digestive issues as a young girl and teenager that led to nightly cramping, fatigue and other unpleasantries. Allopathic medicine was unable to resolve my symptoms and so after suffering through it for some years, a very wise person suggested changing my diet. It turned out that wheat was aggravating my system in a major way, and eliminating it had a profound effect. The cramping disappeared completely and I had more energy. The effect was so life-altering that it got me wondering about the scope of food’s ability to make me feel vibrant and well.
My body became the testing ground for a decade of experimentation with food and how it effected my felt experience and my consciousness. I fell in love with cooking, went to a health supportive culinary school and dove into macrobiotics, raw food, veganism and Ayurveda, respectively. Each system has been a great teacher, which doesn’t mean they all worked for me. Eating raw food through a Rocky Mountain winter wasn’t the best choice I ever made.
All that is to say that my nutritional philosophy has definitely changed over the years. It is ever-evolving. These days things are a lot less strident.
CM: Your recipes draw on flavors & culinary traditions from across the globe. It can be challenging today to eat seasonally & locally, now that we have so many exotic foods from all corners of the world available at all times! How do you incorporate local/seasonal foods in your culturally diverse recipes and menus?
DT: It’s so true. You can get a papaya in North America in February, but is it really a papaya? I’ve had real deal, Hawaiian papayas and they make the winter grocery store variety taste merely symbolic. We are accustomed to an abundance of sub-par food choices, and we forget that more options doesn't always mean better options. A farmer’s market vegetable that is in peak season, cooked simply, or not at all, can deliver the most exquisite food experience. The first time I had an heirloom tomato from an organic farm in New Jersey, I felt like I was encountering the very essence of the tomato. It made every tomato I had eaten up until that point feel like a counterfeit.
In my experience, globally inspired cuisine and local food make a really lovely match. Our family dinners often fit that bill. We will have spiced spinach and pumpkin curry over rice or Ethiopian spiced lentils, caramelized cabbage and braised collards. You can travel the world with a stocked spice cabinet.
CM: Many of your recipes focus on prana, or life force. I know that you are also a self-taught yogi. Could you tell us a bit about how your yoga practice connects with your culinary work?
DT: I resonate deeply to the mystical aspects of yoga and to the yogis who have come to earth with messages of universal love and the idea that the divine is not outside, but within each and every one of us. The path of yoga is the journey through the self to realize that divinity. These concepts pervade every aspect of my life and the kitchen is no exception. For me, cooking is a spiritual path and a daily invitation to make my love manifest in the material world. I think that it is a huge honor to feed your love to people. Neem Karoli Baba, one of the great yogis of our time, had many profound teachings that he expounded upon. One of them was simply, “feed everyone."
I say, right on.
CM: Along with writing your beautiful blog, you work as a chef and holistic health coach. You’re also a mama to two little ones. How do you find balance in all of this work, how do you stay connected with yourself?
DT: Oh gosh, honestly? I have decided that balance during these baby-raising years is a myth. It is a cruel joke that the world pretends exists.
I stay connected to myself through laughter, community and beauty. I may not have “alone time," but those things make me feel human and full.
CM: You have a mystical, wandering heart- seeking the spirit through your “smallness” while remembering that there is also “a much bigger picture.” Can you tell us a bit about your travels, the different places you’ve called home, and how this desire to wander impacts the foods you create?
DT: When I first left home, I moved to the Big Island of Hawaii, where I lived and studied with a profound spiritual teacher and his partner. It was an immensely formative time in my life, and it was when I started cooking. Looking back, I am struck by the creative courage that I had, that I don’t see myself having generally. I made food passionately and maybe somewhat decently, despite not knowing how to cook. I made art. I wrote poetry. There was no caution and little self criticism. The Big Island has an active volcano on it and so it is a place where the earth is literally creating itself. My cooking was born in the land of eternal birth. That image still fits. My relationship to food and cooking is ever evolving. It’s not something that I can ever imagine “mastering”.
Each subsequent place that I have lived in—or traveled to—has left something with me. Landing in New Mexico and making it home has brought the idea of comfort into the center of my food. It has reminded me that food and land and home are all braided together. Food is medicine; food is prayer.
CM: America seems to have one of the unhealthiest relationships to food in the world. Factory farming, big box supermarkets, fast food, GMOs, and monoculture have all capitalized on America’s lack of any coherent food culture which would help us navigate the myriad of unhealthy choices. What is your advice for people who are looking to create their own food culture & traditions, but have no idea where to begin?
DT: I think we could all stand to feast more. Seasonal celebration around food is intrinsically human. If you are already a cook, try feasting in rhythm with the seasons. Do it with people you love. If you don’t see yourself as a cook, start simply. Go through the simple, but soulful process of making a stock from scratch. Use that stock to make soup! If you have an ancestral heritage whose food culture nourishes you, definitely start there. It’s already in your blood.
Golden Milk Chia Pudding with Chai Roasted Pears
We have an abundance of pears ripening on our tree right now. If you have never had a roasted pear, they are really delightful. Here they are chai spiced and sitting atop a bowl of golden milk chia pudding. Golden milk is a spiced turmeric milk. It is lovely in its own right, but here I use it as a base for a chia pudding. I often eat this for breakfast, but a bit more honey could easily transform it into a dessert.
For the pudding:
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 cups water
1/2 cup almonds, soaked overnight
1 date, pitted
pinch sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
a small grating of nutmeg
1 tablespoon honey or more to taste
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup chia seeds
For the pears:
2 firm ripe pears
a small knob of coconut oil
a heaping 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
small grating of nutmeg
1 teaspoon maple syrup
For the pudding: boil the water and pour it over the turmeric. Let cool until warm to the touch. Pop the almonds out of their peels and discard. Place them in the jar of a blender with the turmeric tea, date and pinch of salt. Blend on high until very smooth and then strain through a nut milk bag or some layered cheesecloth. Place the turmeric almond milk back in the blender along with the spices, honey, coconut oil and vanilla. Blend again until combined, adding more sweetener if desired. Place the chia seeds in a bowl and pour the golden milk over. Whisk frequently for the first 5 minutes and then let sit for another 15-20 minutes, until thickened.
For the pears: preheat the oven to 400°. Peel the pears, if you prefer, and cut them in half. Remove the seeds with a melon baller or teaspoon. Mix the spices together in a ramekin or small bowl and set aside. Place the pears in a small baking dish and coat with coconut oil and then spices, reserving the maple. Place in the oven, cut side down and roast for 20 minutes. Remove the baking dish and drizzle the maple over the pears, return to the oven for a few minutes until caramelized.
To serve, divide the chia porridge between bowls and top with a roasted pear half.