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Vital Nourishment: Delicata Squash with Kale and Cranberries

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Vital Nourishment: Delicata Squash with Kale and Cranberries

By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, Experience Life

Vitality is not a word that arises very often in our daily lives. We know when we feel tired, run-down, exhausted, overwhelmed, depressed or sick — but vital? It calls to mind the phrase “vital signs,” a topic normally associated with those in dangerously poor health. Rebecca Katz wishes the term got more play in the world of healthy people — and that we were all so attuned to what makes us feel vital that we would demand it from the foods we eat.

Katz is a cancer survivor and the coauthor of the colorful bestseller One Bite at a Time: Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends (Celestial Arts, 2004). She wrote the book for people dealing with cancer, be they caregivers or patients. But it’s not just for sick people; it’s for those who want foods that taste great and give the body all the things it needs to feel at its vital best.

I caught up with Katz by phone recently at a farmers’ market in northern California. “The problem is that there is just so much information out there today about nutrition, superfoods, phytochemicals, antioxidants, good fats, bad fats, and so on, that people lose the thread about why we eat food to begin with,” Katz told me. “I call it nutritional analysis leading to culinary paralysis. People have all this information, and then they have the old foods they’re emotionally connected to,” like casseroles made from processed food, “and they think healthy foods have to be hippie gruel, and then they just freeze. But healthy food is not yucky food!”

To remedy this confusion, Katz focused her book around one guiding principle: We naturally respond to nourishing foods because they taste great. “I know that we gravitate toward foods with the freshest taste, the best taste,” Katz said. “It’s a basic human instinct, to eat well. It’s in our DNA, and no amount of fast food can take that away from us. Maybe we get numb to it over time, but when we’re exposed to nutrient-rich foods with all the good things in them — minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals — we’re just: Wow! More of that. Give me more of that. That’s why, in my book, I chose to lead with taste. In order for food to be healthy and vital, it needs to be eaten. We don’t get any health benefits from vegetables in the crisper drawer going bad while we order a pizza! Food is only healthy if we eat it, which is why it has to be delicious, it has to be yum!”

For instance, Katz heard from lots of people last year who served her recipe for Delicata Squash With Dino Kale and Cranberries at their family’s Thanksgiving (reprinted on page 2). “I’d hear things like, ‘I told people what I’m bringing, and they responded ‘You’re not bringing the green bean casserole? You’re not coming!’” Katz recalled. “You know how emotional food is. But then, when the squash and dino kale were actually on the buffet table, people ate it. They loved it! The ‘yums’ were really happening. Kids especially loved it. The thing about that dish that works is, one, it’s beautiful to look at. It’s also got the combinations of flavor in there, a little bit of sweet, a little bit astringent — the taste buds are tickled by that. And then, once people are eating nourishing, whole foods, you just see light bulbs go on over their heads — they feel better, they feel energy, they feel excited, they feel healthy. I’ve seen it time and time again — you pull people in through their taste buds, and their body just responds.”

Cancer patients are acutely attuned to that response, especially when they’re dealing with treatments that leave them feeling thoroughly tapped out. In that situation, Katz says, a bowl of soup made from whole foods can mean the difference between feeling exhausted or energized. What people who don’t have cancer often fail to realize, however, is that you don’t have to be sick before you pay attention to your body’s vitality: The same things that maximize your defenses and resiliency when you’re dealing with cancer are the same things that make you feel nourished and strong when you’re perfectly healthy.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all checked in with our own “vital signs” at every meal? If we did, we might eat very differently — satisfying our hunger, and replenishing the source of our vitality in the process.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a Minneapolis-based food and wine critic. Nominated seven times for James Beard Awards — the Oscars of the food world — she received four awards for her restaurant and wine column in the Village Voice Media-owned newspaper City Pages. Her work has been included in the Best Food Writing anthologies of 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007.

Next: Delicata Squash With Dino Kale and Cranberries

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Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.


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4:53AM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Thank you.

11:00PM PDT on Jul 17, 2010


3:28PM PST on Mar 3, 2010

Wonderful. Thanks, Megan.

10:58AM PST on Feb 14, 2010

Lovely, thanks!

5:42PM PST on Jan 22, 2010

This soup is very delish.Thanks for the recipe.

4:38AM PST on Dec 15, 2009

Looks tasty! i just used some delicata squash too (in soup though!) - i love the zillions of varieties of winter squash and haven't yet found one I didn't like..

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6:01AM PST on Nov 16, 2009

Made the squash portion of the recipe for a vegetarian dinner party. It was delicious!!!

I had never eaten delicata squash before. It was so sweet, as if I had added honey or maple syrup, but I had not added anything other than the oil, salt, sage, and all spice.

Super easy (except peeling the squash).

Will make the kale part, today or tomorrow.

12:23PM PDT on Oct 21, 2009

Terri ~

I went grain free (except oats) and dairy free in February of 2008, and it has changed my life! I feel better than I have in 30 years, and I have energy again for the first time in ages.

When I first started my new life plan, all I could focus on was what i COULDN'T eat, but now that I've been on it for a while, I'm amazed by all the delicious things I CAN eat. This has opened up a whole new way of life for me.

7:07PM PDT on Oct 20, 2009

I was just put on a gluten free diet, so I will be exploring a lot of new food ideas. I used kale with chicken and lentils, and look forward to trying your kale and potato recipe.Thank you for sharing a tasty healthy option!

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