Series 03: For the Love of Food | Episode 02
The Healing Power of Food with Danielle Walker
Danielle Walker is the author and photographer of the New York Times Best Selling cookbook Against all Grain. Danielle battled an autoimmune disorder that baffled doctors. Convinced it had everything to do with what she was eating, Danielle started experimenting in the kitchen to to regain her health through the medicine of food. She is dedicated to helping others find wellness without sacrificing flavor or fun. Not only does she have amazing recipes for those of us who have committed to a paleo diet, but the pictures she takes will make you want to eat every last thing in her books. And yes, there are desserts! You’ll also learn all about the power of the cashew in creating creamy sauces that will fool even the most skeptical of your family.
Narrator: Welcome to the “For the Love Podcast” with bestselling author Jen Hatmaker. Come on in, and join us for a chat with Jen and friends about all the things we love. Now, here’s Jen.
Jen: Hey everybody, this is Jen. Welcome to the For the Love podcast. We are continuing a series that I love, love, love right now and it is “For the Love of Food.” Absolutely, positively one of my top three subjects in the entire universe. So I’m super excited to introduce our guest for today. A lot of you know her, but she’ll be new to some of you. So Danielle Walker has made a pretty impressive space within the foodie world, that you might be tempted to call trendy, except that she was here long before anybody else was, and different reasons. So I know that some of us, actually 50 million of us, like Danielle, had to get pretty serious about what we were putting in our bodies—not just because we were putting on pounds, but because we needed to know why we felt so tired, or had so much pain, or were lethargic, or even had dietary disorders or allergies. So Danielle has brought so much hope to so many people who needed to know that having to have a gluten free diet, or a grain free diet, or a dairy free diet, did not have to be the death of their food loving ways–they can be both healthy and eat well. So she’s a writer and a photographer and she battled her own pretty intense autoimmune disease—that you’re going to hear about in a minute here–for years. So she started experimenting in the kitchen to regain her health through essentially the medicine of food.
So she is the author of the Against All Grain series of cookbooks–all three New York Times bestsellers–and she has not just brought hope, but I promise you–I would never lie to you—delicious, delicious food back into people’s lives who maybe felt doomed. So listen, not only does she have amazing paleo recipes, but the pictures she takes makes you basically just want to go FaceTime her cookbook and eat every last recipe. Yes, there are desserts. Yes there are drinks, and even your kids can’t complain because she’s got this whole set of recipes that even they will like–I swear. I promise you. She is such a fun, fun foodie–such a great human being, actually. So I am so excited to talk to her today. So without further ado, please enjoy this amazing chat with Danielle Walker.
Okay, Danielle. Welcome to the show.
Danielle: Thank you.
Jen: You’re so fun. We have actually … we met in person just last year, right?
Danielle: I think it might have been two … it was a couple of years ago. Whenever my first time in Austin was, I don’t remember. It’s all a blur.
Jen: Oh that’s right.
Danielle: I think my little guy who is almost two was pretty brand new at that point, so yeah, I feel like it might have been almost two years ago.
Jen: That’s exactly right. And then we gathered as people do in Kim Paisley’s kitchen.
Danielle: Oh yes.
Jen: Just like a normal thing. And you cooked a feast.
Danielle: Yeah, just a normal thing. That’s right. That’s the time you are talking about. Yes, that was about a year ago. I was brand new pregnant with my daughter actually. So lots of pregnancies.
Jen: That’s right.
Danielle: Kind of my life lately.
Jen: That’s right. You did something revolutionary in that kitchen that I had never seen.
Danielle: I did?
Jen: Yes. And I took one bite of it and I was like–and it is that you roasted your sliced apple through the salad.
Danielle: Oh, yeah, I thought you were gonna say I roasted my own pumpkin, which is also a kind of a big difference than like a can. Yeah, the whole … all the fruit in that salad’s roasted. There’s grapes and figs and apples, everything. Yeah. I forgot about that.
Jen: Never, never, never had roasted fruit in a salad and I thought, “Well, why bother,” until I had a bite of it and I was like “How do you know this? Who put this knowledge into your head to know to do this?” Revolutionary. I’ve done it like a dozen times since.
Danielle: Oh good I’m glad to hear that!
Jen: Well listen. We’re going to hear your whole story on this podcast, I’m so glad you’re on it today. But before we do, just by way of setting a structure for everybody listening today. Will you talk real briefly about the kind of food lifestyle that you’ve written about? So it basically is paleo. So probably most of our listeners know enough here to know what we’re talking about, but just in case they’re new to it, can you explain exactly what paleo is and just why it’s such a thing right now?
Danielle: Yeah! Well, gosh. There’s a few reasons why it’s such a thing, I think. There’s a few different reasons why people come to it, but paleo in a nutshell would be grain-free, dairy-free, legume-free (so nuts, peanuts, beans) and refined sugar free. I personally hate to go off of the frees, because I think that just sounds so limiting, so in a sense what I can eat are: all proteins, pasture-raised organic beef, and chicken and fish, turkey, fruits and nuts and seeds and berries and vegetables and–I think that’s it! So I try to go off of that, as kind of everything that I actually can eat. So, pretty much nothing processed, kind of the food back to the way it was before we had modern agriculture and processing of things. I always say the way God created it, just back to the basics–that’s kind of what it is.
Jen: That’s a perfect description, and here’s where I want to jump in next. Because lest I have any listeners go “Oh, somebody’s on the bandwagon,” I really am excited for everybody to hear your story. because you’ve overcome debilitating health issues through food. So this is not about a fad. This is not about a trend, and of course you talk about this at large. In your space and in your site, so … Will you tell everybody what you were going through before you started toggling with your diet, how you basically came to know that this specific way of eating was instrumental in healing your body.
Danielle: Yeah, so I think that also answers your question kind of why it’s so big, and why it’s not a fad. I think it used to be called more and more of a fad, back when I first started, which was about seven years ago. I think I’m hearing that less and less, because it’s become a lifestyle, is what I call it. That’s kind of what a lot of people have taken it as, and there’s not really going back. I think the difference between a diet is that it’s kind of that yo-yo effect, you know where you do it and it’s maybe a five-day cleanse, or it’s one day this and then you get a cheat weekend, or something like that, or that’s kind of diet, or it’s not sustainable, it’s not something that you plan on doing for life. It’s like a quick fix to lose some weight or whatever it is.
This is not really about losing weight, although people do find naturally that they do, because they’re eating a whole bunch less junk. But for me it was kind of a “I’m not turning back and this is the rest of my life”. The reason for that is I had like you said, a debilitating autoimmune disease, I was in and out of hospitals gosh … many, many times during each year. Would spend sometimes up to 12-14 days in the hospital and then would spend months back at home recovering from that, and being bedridden and having to take medical leave from my job.
I have something called ulcerative colitis, which is similar to Crohn’s disease, which is kind of what more people are familiar with. But both diseases are in the intestine and the gut. They’re autoimmune disease which means that my immune system is attacking my body unnecessarily, essentially. It causes inflammation and it causes it to attack, for me, my colon. But there’s a slew of autoimmune diseases, hundreds that people suffer from. Anything from MS, to rheumatoid arthritis, to psoriasis. You’ve probably heard of an autoimmune disease in your life, whether you know someone that suffers from one, you just may not realize that’s how it’s categorized. But essentially those things all have the same thing in common, is that their bodies are attacking different parts of their own body, their different organs. It just kind of presents itself in different ways.
Jen: What were your symptoms like during that season?
Danielle: Oh boy. I always joke this is like the type of talk that 80 year-olds talk about, like your bowels. You know what, it’s just something that I’ve gotten comfortable with. I always tell people I’m not going to go too into detail, you can Google ulcerative colitis if you want, and you will find that it is one of the most embarrassing, not-pretty diseases that you can possibly imagine. Let’s just remember that I was 22 years old, I had just gotten married, I got diagnosed about two months after, and my husband was having to give me enemas. Which, if you’re not familiar… Yeah, so we’ll just stop it there and just say that in the sickness and health and really getting to know each other really up close and personal happened really fast. God bless him, he is with me still and he has loved me every step of the way. And I would not be here if it wasn’t for him.
I saw tons of different doctors and every specialist in the San Francisco area, and they were all just prescribing medications. Medications, medications. And most of those medications actually made me way worse than I was walking into their office. They cleared up some of the symptoms that I was dealing with, but then they added dozens of side effects on top of that. I kept asking them all, you know, what could I do dietary-wise? Mostly just because this was in my colon. If it was something else I may not have jumped to diet, but because this is the food that’s coming in and going straight out of me, I thought “There must be something. There’s gotta be something. “
I didn’t study nutrition, I wasn’t in med school, I had a marketing degree. But something just in my brain was like “Something that I’m eating, or maybe something that I’m not getting enough of, that I’m deficient in, could something help”? Every single doctor I saw said diet can’t cause it, diet can’t cure it, diet can’t help it. For awhile I just took that. And I was like “Alright, well I guess this is my life, I’m gonna be sick and I’m just gonna feel this way forever.” I eventually just kind of got tired of it. I was so sick all the time, I spent my first three years of marriage so, so sick.
So I started kind of doing some research on my own and I found some chat boards basically at that point – kind of medical chat boards, of people that were saying that changing their diet really helped to put them in remission. So that was kind of the start of my journey.
Jen: So you just sort of dipped your toe in at the beginning, or did you go Full Monty?
Danielle: No, no, I did not. I would like to say that I did because I think I would have wasted a lot less time being sick. So that’s always kind of my encouragement to other people now, like “I wasted enough of my time so that you don’t have to.” Because I figured what could help out. But you know, I didn’t. But it was just really tough, mentally. You know I’m a newlywed, I’m young, I’m 22, just graduated college, didn’t really even know how to cook that well, and I was Italian, and I loved pasta and I loved garlic bread and I loved cheese.
Danielle: I was also dealing with this lifelong diagnosis of something that was not curable. I’m sick, I’m not cured, and I have to get rid of all happiness with food? So it was a while for me. I would kind of dabble in it, and then my husband would be eating something that looked good, and I would take some bites and be like “Oh, I’ll be fine with just a few bites”. Or, “Oh, it’s my birthday, I should be able to have a piece of cake”. I learned kind of slowly, but quickly as well, that those things were not worth it. When I really did stick to it I would actually feel better. It took a while. It took a while.
Jen: Forward, just a hair, to the point when something clicked and you went “this is a lifestyle. This is for my health, this is for longevity.” Then you went 100% into this sort of food space. So I just want everybody to know… I’m going to send them to your site, obviously to see the before and after of your pictures, I don’t recognize you! It’s honestly stunning how much your body came back to life.
Danielle: I know.
Jen: And how healed and healthy and beautiful you are, compared to how sick you were! It really did it, didn’t it?
Danielle: Yeah, it did. It’s pretty crazy. It was a combination of supplements and making sure I was eating the right things and then obviously diet change. I did stay on a couple of the medications for a while, until my body had time to heal. It’s pretty amazing. I was emaciated, my hair had fallen out, you can see just no life in me. Part of my symptoms as well, because my body doesn’t absorb nutrients the way it should when I’m in a flare-up, which is what they say when you’re really experiencing the symptoms of that disease. I would lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks, which I always pause everybody, because women listening they’re like “Ooh, 20 pounds in two weeks, that sounds amazing!” But no, no. First of all, I was not overweight to begin with, but anybody, even if you’re overweight, underweight, normal weight, losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks is really drastic and your body kind of goes into shock. I ended up having arthritis, and like I said, my hair was falling out because it just didn’t know what to do with itself. It’s like “Wait a minute, what’s happening?”
So I just was skeletal, and then because also because I have internal bleeding with that, in my colon, I became really severely anemic during those times. So I just looked ghostly pale. I had to have blood transfusions in the hospital to save my life, essentially. So you can kind of see it in my face and in my body that there’s literally barely any life pumping through me. It’s pretty incredible. I used to look at those photos… Well, in it, I didn’t see it. I’d look at photos and be like “oh, I don’t look great,” but now looking back I’m like “oh my goodness, I can’t believe I was even walking around like that. “
I would often look at them and kind of look and say; “will I ever look like I used to? Will I ever have that smile, or will my hair ever be shiny and full again, or will I ever not have the huge deep black circles under my eyes and the really pale face?” Now you look at them and there’s such a stark contrast.
Jen: It’s so true.
Danielle: It’s pretty incredible.
Jen: It’s so incredible. Your story is really moving, and really meaningful. And so I think about a lot of people listening right now, and so many of us are kind of like your old doctors, who were like “No, diet has nothing to do with the way you feel”.
Jen: It has nothing to do with your disease, or your body or your health. I know a lot of us probably do not look at how our diet may be affecting our mood, our energy level, our health. You had this very specific autoimmune disorder, and a lot of us don’t have anything quite that severe, but we could too be suffering from diet-related issues. How would you … can you talk for a minute about what’s the best way maybe even just to start? Looking at how food is making us feel, and to sort of start making that correlation.
Danielle: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because when I first started this, I thought it really was just for my disease and digestive disease. And then as I started blogging and writing my cookbooks, I was getting tons of emails from people, or people coming to my book signings, that were just experiencing less symptoms of various things. So it could be anything from joint pain, to not having a lot of energy after 3pm, to not sleeping very well, to restless legs or migraines, or headaches. It can really present in so many different ways. I think they say 1 in 5 people have a gluten intolerance and don’t know it, and it can present in over 400 different symptoms.
You really have to kind of watch your body, and I think people start to just become complacent with their symptoms. They’re like “oh, I have migraines, that’s just life.” Or, “Oh, I don’t really sleep well at night, that’s just the way it is.” I’m like no, that’s not the way God created our bodies. We should be living vibrant, healthy lives until later in our 70s or 80s. I shouldn’t be 22 and have arthritis and have my hair falling out like a 90-year old woman.
So I think the first thing is just to recognize that this is not normal. This is not a normal thing, I shouldn’t have to live with this, I should be able to keep up with my toddler at the age of 30. So I think you just have to watch… So I always say, and it’s a hard thing to do, it sounds a lot more simple than it is, but I had to start keeping a food journal. Which to me, I put it off for a long time. I dealt with some eating disorders through middle and high school, so a food journal to me just sounded like red flags of like “Oh, this is gonna just create obsessive behavior.” But it was really essential for me to just look and see.
Because I put so many things into my mouth during the day, just snacking or if there’s a taste test, or if my kids don’t finish their plate. I’m just constantly just eating little things here and there. I don’t always do it mindfully. I don’t always think about it.
So it was really hard for me to pinpoint at first, what those different things were that might be causing symptoms or to think, “well I had this today and yesterday and I’m sick today, but I didn’t have it last week and I felt okay last week.” So I had to look at it really carefully. I don’t necessarily know that that has to be for everybody, I think an elimination diet, kind of similar to like a Whole30 style thing, is also really helpful. Where you’re cutting out a lot of food groups, and then you feel well, and then you can add in just maybe one thing at a time and really watch.
For me, it was as strict as really writing down kind of every single meal and every single snack. Then, if I woke up the next morning feeling sick, I would flip back through the last few days and look at the last time that I felt sick. I would try to say, “Oh, I ate this Monday and Thursday, and I didn’t feel well this day and this day”. You know, for me it’s a little bit more immediate, because my disease is in my gut, but for some people it could be a few days. For some people it could just be eating it every single day just kind of builds up.
So I do say, like a 30-day kind of trial of it, is really helpful. I think that the re-intro phase is really helpful too, because a lot of times that’s kind of the issue with diets. It’s like you go off of all these things, and you’re really strict, but then all of a sudden come Saturday you’re eating M&Ms and pancakes and all sorts of different things. So you can’t tell what it was. You can’t tell if it was the syrup, or if it was the flour, or if it was the eggs in the pancakes. There’s lots of different nuances. So I think adding them back in a few days at a time and really watching is super helpful.
Jen: It’s so tricky, because this whole conversation, the whole narrative of food, that has been leveled at our generation since I have a memory, our entire life, it’s all weight-loss oriented.
Jen: It wasn’t until I was a grown adult that anyone really spoke cohesively and rationally about just health. Truly, I always just thought “What can I do to lose 20 pounds for that party in 2 months”? So it’s like a mental shift.
Danielle: Yeah, totally.
Jen: That we’re talking about, but anybody who follows you–and of course, you have this rabid following, for good reason–nobody can deny the relationship here between food and your health. I mean you are healthy today. And in remission, is that how you would say it?
Danielle: Yeah, yeah. So I always say I’m not cured, but I’m in remission. My symptoms are being managed by this. If I went back, and I have had little slip-ups; I’m not perfect and I’ve gotten sick here and there, and in also a whole other side of things hormonally, it can throw me off. So it’s keeping me in remission when I eat the way that I should. When I get arrogant and cocky and forget that I have a disease, and I go and I try to eat something that I shouldn’t, then after a little while I can get sick again. So I’m always cautious to say, it keeps me well. I haven’t been in the hospital for this disease since 2010.
Danielle: Yeah, so it’s pretty incredible.
Jen: You mentioned your cookbook a second ago, so let’s talk about that. Talk about your first book, and how you got–I mean like you said, you’re a marketing major, it’s not like you majored in nutrition, or you’re a chef, or you grew up in an adult capacity in a professional kitchen. I mean, this was… this is a whole new frontier for you, and now this is your career. It’s what you’re known for. You’re an amazing, absolutely stunning cook. So how did you get to the place where you thought, alright, I’ve got something here, I want to share it, this is important, if it helped me it can help others. How about I write a cookbook? I mean, that’s a huge leap! How did that go?
Danielle: Oh my gosh. I really can only say that the Lord gave me a gift. Honestly. So yeah, I am not trained at all. Like I said, I was 22 and I… the extent of my cooking was pulling out frozen hamburger patties and chopping them up and combining them with a jar of marinara sauce and some dried spaghetti noodles. I mean that’s like one of my… that’s like what we ate, during college.
So when I first found out, you know, that cutting out some of these foods would help, I tried a couple recipes that were out on the web. At that time, I mean blogs were just starting to become a thing. This was 2008-ish.
Danielle: So there wasn’t a lot out there, and the few things that I did try tasted like cardboard. I did love food enough, and I did grow up like I said in an Italian household, and you know, eating home cooked things as much as my mom and my grandma made them… and I was just was like, I cannot live this life for the rest of my life.
I always say, I had this real fear, like nightmare fears, that I would live the rest of my life eating grilled chicken and steamed broccoli, and that is the worst thing in the world. I was like I want to enjoy my life, I wanna … I loved to entertain, and I loved to cook for family, and I imagined having kids later and… being able to do a lot of the past times like chocolate chip cookies and gingerbread houses that I wanted to be able to enjoy. So I really just got into the kitchen kind of out of necessity and also in fear of my husband leaving me for serving him terrible food every night and just started experimenting and trying out new ingredients. I had a lot of flops at first. I served my husband a lot of meals and started out with “I’m so sorry, you’re eating this because we’re newlyweds and I can’t afford to throw it away because it’s expensive. I won’t serve it to you again and I promise that I will try to make it better”.
Jen: I remember, I sent you a picture of the first thing I ever tried to cook with coconut flour, and I was like admittedly a disaster, like I need some instruction here–and coconut–it’s expensive!
Danielle: It is expensive! It is all expensive when you first have to start to restock your pantry. I think it starts to even out, in all honesty, because that’s one of the criticisms that a paleo diet gets is the expensive. Which we can touch on later.
So I just started experimenting, and then I started a blog. I was frequently posting on my personal Facebook page about food, and I started to think “Gosh, my family and friends are going to start to hate me if that’s what I turn into”, they’re wanting to see pictures of me and my kids and it’s just constantly food. So I said, “well you know what, why don’t I just start this website, and if they want to come with it then that’s their choice, but I’m not forcing it on them.”
Just all of a sudden, it just started taking off. I just started people coming that were experiencing the same disease as I had or one of those other hundred autoimmune diseases, or just different symptoms. You know, people with kids that had autism and Asperger’s that were looking for grain-free, dairy-free to help manage their symptoms and people with diabetes that were looking to have something that would help them. It just started kind of snowballing, and I just started getting all these comments and all these emails from people who were sick. Which, I was naive and young and didn’t realize how many people in our country are sick, first of all.
50 million Americans have autoimmune disease, first and foremost. 80% of those are women, which is also something that I had no idea. The age of which are getting diagnosed is becoming younger and younger. It used to be like 60-year old males, and now it’s pretty common for people like me that are in their, or that was in their 20’s to be diagnosed, and females. So I started to realize, wow there’s this need for this and people really want to eat well and they want to feel well, but they also want to enjoy their food. So the blog is really where it started, and then I actually had a publisher approach me and ask if I would do the cookbook. I didn’t know, at that point, that bloggers could write cookbooks. I’ve heard you talk about the day you got your first book contract it was like, “I thought that cookbooks were reserved for Ina Garten and Rachael Ray.”
Jen: Of course!
Danielle: I did not know that you could write one without being a Food Network star. Or, a chef that owns five restaurants. So when they asked me, I actually was like, “Really? Are you sure?”. It’s kind of a cool story, the lady who worked for the publisher had a son, he was, I’m not sure what, but he was on the spectrum, and he went to a school where every Monday they had cereal day, where the kids got to bring in cereal and enjoy a bowl of cereal, and because he was grain-free he couldn’t ever partake. I have this granola recipe that uses nuts and seeds and it was on my blog at the time. She made it for him every week so that he could actually feel “normal” with kids, and enjoy a bowl of cereal. So he would have the granola with almond milk. She showed the publisher my blog and just said “hey, this has really changed our life, how about offering her a contract?” So that’s kind of how it started.
Jen: That’s amazing.
Danielle: Yeah, it was a really cool story for me, to get that kind of personal feedback and to just hear that my work was… had changed their life. They wanted me to do it. So that’s really where it started.
So I jumped in and I created… That book was 160 recipes, and I self titled it Against All Grain, because in my head I was like “This is my one chance, I’m never writing another cookbook again”. So I shoved everything in there that I possibly could. I put every recipe I could think of, I wanted it to be really comprehensive where somebody who was newly diagnosed with Celiac, which is an allergy essentially to gluten, or somebody who just found out that they were lactose intolerant, had to go off dairy, or somebody who had an autoimmune disease, that they could really open the book and feel like they could breathe a sign of relief.
I’m like, “okay, I can actually enjoy lemon meringue pie, I can have chocolate chip cookies”. I can make dinners for my family in the Crockpot that they can enjoy and not feel like I’m totally depriving them of all things happy.” So that’s kind of where that one came from.
Jen: Then they’re like “We wanna do more,” and you’re panicked because at the end of every book that I write; and I have said this every time without exception, I will tell anybody who will listen, everybody in my family, everybody who knows me, “Guys, that’s it. That’s my last book, and the reason is I don’t know anything else. I’ve said everything I know, and there can’t be any more in my brain. This was it, this is my swan song.” Sure enough, you live life a little bit longer. Your perspective broadens out a little bit more, people kind of come into your life, and a couple of years later, boom, you have another cookbook. So, you’ve written three, right?
Danielle: I have, and I’ve got another one one that’s due on September 4th. Let’s talking about deadlines. Let’s not talk about deadlines, actually. Because that will just give me anxiety. Yeah, so for me you know actually I have this list in my head and in my phone and on my computer and I’m terribly organized; of just recipes after recipes that I want to recreate. I haven’t created them all. So actually, after that first book, I still had a list of probably like 300 recipes that I would have put in there if I had all the space in the world and the book wasn’t going to cost like $80 for people to buy. So, it wasn’t a lack of content. I could’ve, actually, I say I could probably write 10 more with all the recipes that I want to create.
Jen: So let me ask you this. First of all, let me say this right up front: your recipes… I have all your cookbooks. I have dipped into your world this year for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that I had my own little weirdo autoimmune situation and so I thought, I’ve got to try something because I’m only 43. What am I going to do?
Jen: Am I just going to shrivel up here? So I want everybody to know that everything I have ever made of yours is divine. I’m not messing around. I don’t mess around with flavor, I don’t mess around with food. I’m like you. If I can’t eat well, can I just die? I don’t … is there any other option?
Danielle: There’s no point.
Jen: Good, delicious food. Your stuff is.
Danielle: Girl, thank you.
Jen: Having said that… that is not a thank you. Just stating a fact. It’s delicious. Sometimes paleo gets this bad rap because admittedly, it often takes quite a bit of prep in cooking. Because it’s from scratch, we’re not talking about processed garbage food. So can you talk for a minute how is it possible to follow this sort of lifestyle of eating, if your life is just not conducive…if you travel a lot, or if you’re just not a cook, or you don’t have a lot of time, you work full time and get home at 6:30. In other words, can you give us some hacks? Or maybe just some of your best high level advice for making this work?
Danielle: Yeah. I mean, I think that if you do have that kind of a lifestyle, where you are busy or you’re traveling, then you have to kind of set your expectations. You’re not going to be able to sit down to a five-course meal, and you probably wouldn’t have done that even before eating a paleo diet. Yeah, so no, I think there’s ways to do it, I do think you probably have to just resign yourself to the fact that you’re just going to eat a little more simply.
Danielle: You’re not going to be making paleo cakes or anything like that, because those are the things that take more time, and those are also the things that are more expensive. So I say, if you’re trying to save money, you don’t want to be going and buying the coconut flour and the almond flour, and the honey, and things like that, because that’s really what adds up. You can eat protein and vegetables pretty easily.
I think a lot of people… you eat that way anyways, you’re really just taking off the bread or the rice or whatever and you’re just filling your plate up with some more vegetables. But I think there’s definitely some things that you can do. I think utilizing the slow cooker is huge, I think utilizing doubling up on recipes and freezing things, I mean, my biggest thing is if you’re going to be dirtying up the kitchen, and you’re going to be doing that much prep work, you may as well make two or three of those things and throw them in the freezer so that you have them.
So last week, I made a lasagna with a couple of my friends, and if you’re going to be messing up all of this stuff, it’s not difficult to just double up the ingredients. You’re still using the same amount of bowls and whisks and stuff, and you only have to clean that stuff up once but then you’ve got that stuff in the freezer. Or if you’re a single person, or you don’t have kids, then make a full size of something, don’t cut the recipe in half, make it and then just freeze it in portions and then you can just pull things out as you need them. There’s less waste that way plus you’re not cooking as often.
I do think a prep day, you know where you’re just doing a half a day of just kind of like prepping a bunch of stuff; so whether you’re roasting a bunch of sweet potatoes and keeping them in the fridge for the week, or you’re roasting a bunch of veggies or cooking like a chicken where you can just take some of the chicken off or put it on a salad, or throw it into a lettuce wrap or something like that throughout the week, those types of things really do save time. Then, if you can, there’s a definitely a cost that comes with it, but there’s a lot of convenience items these days that you can buy, you know, so you don’t have to be making your own mayonnaise and your own ketchup, like you can go get those things at the store, so that you’re not stuck in the kitchen for all hours of the day.
But yeah, it is definitely a little bit more cooking. It’s revering back to the way that our grandmothers cooked. We lost a lot of that with becoming so busy in life and running from this sport to this sport and school, and just being so, so busy that there’s no time to cook. You have to definitely make space for that again in your life, you have to plan, to say “Hey, we’re going to all sit down around the table together, and I’m going to have to take whatever it is, 30 minutes, an hour before that and make that.” Or you know, do something the night before, something like that.
Jen: I love that. You and I are really like minded on this, because we’ve been fed this idea that cooking and being in the kitchen, and just taking time for a period is a drag, it’s a burden. Or that it’s just beyond our skill set. “Oh, how could I possibly chop an onion?” We get that message in a thousand different ways. Everything targeted at us is quick and easy, straight to table, warm up fast, but really in my experience time in the kitchen, when I’m making something healthy for my family with my own two hands, I love it! It’s nourishing for my mind.
I make a whole thing out of it. The music is playing and I am just going to have this lovely moment in the kitchen. I think it is possible to change our mind on how we think about cooking. Not so much as a burden, but as something wonderful, this transition into the evening with our people. You just mentioned sort of the beauty of that, what it’s like to gather around the table again and sort of go back to that, what weirdly enough is now an old fashioned idea. It was like all of history until right now. You’ve recently done another book called Celebrations.
Jen: Celebrations; it’s helping create amazing food for holidays and events, and gatherings that fit sort of the paleo diet. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Danielle: Yeah! That kind of came from that whole place, that I sort of felt like I was missing out on. Like I felt like I couldn’t go to people’s houses, or I couldn’t go to holiday celebrations or I couldn’t host a holiday because people would come over feeling like “oh, I’m missing out on all these traditions that I normally eat because you can’t eat this way.” I wanted it to be something where I could have people into my home that didn’t have to necessarily eat a paleo diet 100% of the time, but that I could serve them a full meal.
Let’s take Thanksgiving for instance, where I could serve them stuffing and I could serve them a pumpkin pie and I could serve them turkey. They would leave not feeling like they missed out on their traditions or the things that they knew as comforting for that holiday, but they would leave feeling completely satisfied, but not sick and not tired; not getting like the turkey day nap afterwards, and feel like they really got to enjoy it, but that the food actually tasted really fresh and vibrant, and healthy. They could maybe take those recipes and have them in their own home even if they don’t have to do it 100% of the time, just so that they could say, “I really enjoyed this, but I also feel great afterwards”.
So, it was kind of an answer to that, of just also hearing from people that they felt like they couldn’t partake in a lot of those things and moms who felt like they were missing out on traditions with their kids that they got to do with their moms, and they wanted to be able to pass those things down. So that’s really what the whole book is about. There’s 12 different holidays, one for each month pretty much, so it’s kind of everything from New Year’s, there’s a game day chapter, Valentine’s day, and then there’s bridal shower, baby shower. Those times during the year where if you do have a special diet, that you really feel like you’re kind of left out. Or where you’re putting people out because you’re trying to help yourself, but then also trying to make them feel welcome and getting to enjoy those things.
So yeah, that’s really what it is but also, I organized it in that way just so that if you are hosting, or if you’re going somewhere for one of those specific events, that you would just have it all planned out for you. There’s a whole menu there and you can just make all those things and not have to worry about it. Because those also are really times of stress.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from families whose kids have to eat this way because of various things, you know like I said autism or Asperger’s or Crohn’s, little kids that have Crohn’s disease, or diabetes or you know, things like that. And those poor kids for their birthdays, they want to have a cupcake or a piece of cake, or they want to have a birthday party and have food that their little friends can come and enjoy and not feel like oh gosh, this person’s weird that they have to eat this stuff. And it’s a big point of anxiety for people. They’re like “My son is having a birthday party next month and I don’t know what to do for their cake.” I don’t want anybody to have to feel that way, especially the child. They’re already dealing with the sickness or whatever it is, and you don’t want them to feel like they’re different or ostracized.
So that’s really what the whole book is about that. It’s just about giving people these recipes that they can still go on with their normal life, and just change a few of the ingredients. But they can still celebrate those times.
Jen: When I thumb through your cookbooks, if I didn’t know, if I didn’t read the intro, if I didn’t know your story, if I didn’t read sort of the education that you provide around the paleo diet upfront, and if I just thumbed through the recipes, looked at the pictures, read the ingredients, saw the finished product, literally it would never occur to me all that you were leaving out.
Jen: I wouldn’t even notice!
Danielle: That’s so good.
Jen: It’s so luscious and beautiful and rich, they’re sweet, it’s just all in there! Like every… It seems like you have found a way to adapt almost everything that we would eat outside of those boundaries. Pretty amazing. What would you say… what’s your best recipe? Like, this is your thing. This is your perfect recipe, people ask you for this, it’s a home run every single time.
Danielle: Probably… I would say my ”real deal” chocolate chip cookies were the thing. That was what I put on my blog, that after those went out, that’s when I started to notice it just take off. People love them. I don’t know what it is, but I think they feel the most… the traditional kind of food. That’s probably the one that I see made the most, I mean you can see when you’re tagged on social media, and those definitely show up. Which tells you a lot about our country, really. Our chocolate chip cookies, they’re just something that people can’t live without!
Jen: It’s kind of exciting to discover that you can really deeply care for your health, the way you’re eating, and still love your food.
Jen: Those have been set up as mutually exclusive. That’s the way have been taught to understand that. To realize you can have really scrumptious cookies, or just a really delicious Thanksgiving dinner—it’s exciting. For people whom food is so fun and wonderful, and such a part of my life, that is a wonderful surprise.
Jen: I’m not just going to be eating steamed broccoli the whole rest of my freaking life. Please, don’t make me!
Danielle: Don’t make me!
Jen: What would you say… what’s one of your paleo recipes that nobody would ever suspect is paleo? Like, it most mimics some really naughty, off the list food, but you have adapted it so much that nobody would ever guess.
I have a chicken and “rice”, even though it’s cauliflower, casserole in my second book, Meals Made Simple. So my mom was… she cooked a lot, but she definitely did the shortcuts that a lot of our moms did, so lots of cans of cream of mushroom soup, she used those French’s fried onions a lot, sour cream, and she did a lot of casseroles that had like a full tub of sour cream and two cans of cream of mushroom soup. Which, if you look at the ingredients in cream of mushroom soup… I had no idea, some of the stuff that was in there.
Jen: It’s like soup gel.
Danielle: Yeah, there’s wheat and there’s MSG and there’s all sorts of things that you’re like, why does this need to be in soup? But I guess because it’s canned, and because it tastes great, and that’s the things that make things taste great, apparently. But so when I re-created that kind of casserole effect with like the cream of mushroom soup, but without any diary, which you use cashews, that’s when I was like, this is amazing., It just opened up a whole world of options for me. I can make my mom’s poppy seed chicken, and I can make the chicken and rice casserole… or like I was texting you about King Ranch casserole, which I had never had before. There’s a lot of things from my childhood that are comfort to me, that had to do with cream of mushroom soup.
Jen: Listen, that cashew situation is a revelation. You’re the one who told me about this, and I was like, this is baloney. There’s just no way cashews are going to emulate creamy sauces that I have loved my entire life. Hand to the heavens, it’s the craziest thing ever. It does! I made “Alfredo sauce” with soaked cashews… I laughed out loud in my kitchen. I just thought, you know what, dang it, they’re right!
Danielle: They’re right!
Jen: I can’t believe it! It’s so good.
Danielle: Your commentary through all of that process was hysterical. It was amazing.
Jen: Well it’s crazy, there really are alternatives that give us the same delicious taste, the creamy texture. I would just not have missed an inch of the dairy that I left out of that Alfredo. I couldn’t believe it. My kids loved it too, everybody.
Danielle: It’s pretty amazing. It’s fun, getting to experiment with lots of things. And trying to recreate the things that you never thought you could recreate.
Jen: Let me ask you one more question, and then we’re going to wrap it up with three questions that we’re going to do for every guest in this series on food. So this is the last thing that I would just love you to talk about, real quick. So, beverages. Drinks. This is a bit of challenge for people on a paleo diet. I mean, I’m asking for a friend, obviously, but there’s like, no soda, no dairy, no sugar.
Jen: Can you talk just about some really great drinks we can have in lieu of all that? Also, I’m just asking-
Danielle: For a friend.
Jen: For a friend! Is alcohol something we’re allowed to have? Does wine fit in here anywhere?
Danielle: I think wine fits in perfectly. So, the standard would be no alcohol that’s made from grains, essentially. So you don’t want to be drinking beer because it has gluten in it. You know, some of the grain based alcohols like… sorry, I don’t do a whole lot of alcohol, but bourbon, things like that. I would stay away from it you’re particularly sensitive. Although some people do say that through the distillation process that some of that stuff is kind of gone, and it won’t affect you.
I’m a tequila girl, personally. I love a good margarita, I have a recipe for it on my blogthat uses honey instead of like a sugary simple syrup, and it is delicious! I will tell you. It’s my brother’s recipe, he’s kind of like our resident bartender. It’s just tequila and lime juice and a honey simple syrup, essentially. It is so good! You’ll love it and it’s refreshing.
In my first book he actually made some fun mocktails for me, that I put in there, and you can find there’s in there. So there’s a blueberry smash, that has some sparkling ginger beer type stuff in it. So there’s some fun things you can do. If you’re doing like a Whole30 type of thing, where you’re really trying to cut out like a lot of problem areas. Then yeah, there’s no alcohol during those 30 days. Part of that is more because people have dependency on it, I think that’s kind of a bigger thing, that’s why they’re having you cut it out. If you don’t have a problem, then I think occasionally it’s totally fine. I live in California, we go to Napa all the time, I definitely enjoy a glass of red wine here and there. During the hot summers here, a glass of rosé is wonderful.
Jen: The newest favorite guest on the For the Love podcast …
Danielle: Yeah, and then in terms of other beverages, coffee. Nut Pods, I think you’ve got to love those. It takes a little while to get used to not using your hydrogenated creamers, with all the sugars, but you can get there. Coconut milk, it just takes a little bit of adjusting.
Jen: You drink coffee?
Danielle: I haven’t, because I feel like I’ve been pregnant or having babies for so many years, or nursing, that I just kind of have been off of it. But I do decaf every once in a while; which I know most people are like, “what’s the point,” but it’s just kind of that warm thing in the morning. But yeah, I did Nut Pods in my coffee when I did, or almond milk. You can go now to Starbucks and Peet’s, and get an almond milk or coconut milk latte. Now I would say that you have to be wary of some of those, because some of those boxes have some ingredients in it that you kind of want to stay away from, but yeah. I feel like there’s so many more options than there used to be.
Jen: It’s possible.
Danielle: It is possible.
Jen: On to these last three questions, everyone’s gonna answer these. They’re kind of down and dirty, so you just like fire it back. So alright, here’s the first one. You’ve got one hour to get ready, you’ve got six friends coming over. So what is in your pantry in your fridge right now, like in one hour from now, you could cook and put a good meal on the table for your friends?
Danielle: I think an hour is actually kind of a lot of time. That’s not a bad time constraint. I would make my dairy-free, grain-free lasagna. I, more than most people, would probably have a few things in my fridge and my freezer that maybe you would have to prep in advance. But I have these grain-free wraps that we use kind of for all different sorts of things. I use them for enchiladas, I use them for lasagna, I use them for sandwich wraps. I keep them in my freezer… they’re pretty easy to make, they’re kind of like a crepe, essentially. I always keep them in my freezer so that –
Jen: Oh, they’re homemade?
Danielle: Yeah, I do, but you could buy. Like I said, there are some convenience items these days that you could totally buy that would still be grain free. But they’re really easy to make, it’s no harder than making pancakes, essentially, and I just make a couple dozen at a time. Then I always keep ground beef in the freezer, grass fed ground beef, and then I usually have… I used to make my spaghetti sauce from scratch, but I don’t have time for those things anymore. So I have jars in the pantry. Or sometimes I’ll have frozen sauce, if I did make it. So I would throw that together really fast. I think… that’s just a good one, that I’ve fed to many people that don’t have to eat that way and they still enjoy it. Actually, a mutual friend of ours, Angie Smith, was here last week and I served it to her. She does not need to eat that way, and she enjoyed it. And my grandmother, who is Italian, sat down at my table and didn’t question what was in it. So I love serving that to guests, that’s one of my favorites.
Jen: You passed the Italian grandmother test?
Danielle: Yes, exactly!
Jen: Okay, how about this? What was your biggest, most extravagant cooking victory to date? Like you felt like you were Julia Child, you nailed it. You put it on the table, everyone stood up to applaud, everything was amazing. That’s a tricky one.
Danielle: That is a tricky one! I’d have to go back to those cookies…
Yeah, but no because I’m working on these new recipes for this next book, I did a butter chicken, like an Indian butter chicken. That I was hoping to have leftovers the next day for my lunch, and there was none. When I’m testing recipes I usually will have my in-laws come over, and a couple friends to taste things, and it just was devoured and gone. Which I was like okay, that’s a winner. So I would say that new dish! Which is kind of exciting.
Jen: Oh my gosh, I cannot wait to see that. What about your worst fail?
Danielle: There was a question that you said before this, about some of the recreations, and on there was mac n’ cheese… that one, that’s probably my biggest fail. It’s kind of one of those ones where I’m like, I think I just need to give up on this. It is one of the most frequently requested for people, but when you’re cutting out pasta and dairy, it’s just a little difficult. Like if you could give me some brown rice noodles, I could totally create a dairy free sauce. But just without the noodles and without the dairy?
So there was this one point… I don’t know if you’ve tried in your cashew quests, to try adding nutritional yeast. Which is kind of a big thing that the vegan community does to add a “cheesy flavor.” It really does not taste like cheese, but it kind of gives it this salty, umami flavor. So, I had this brilliant idea, ooh, I’m going to take the stalks from cauliflower, and I’m just going to kind of blanch them so that they’re still kind of chewy, crispy, a little bit, and that’s going to be my pasta sub. And then I’m going to do a cashew sauce that I add in this nutritional yeast… I had never used nutritional yeast before, and you don’t really need much of it, you kind of use it sparingly. But I threw in like a whole cup of it. Then I made this cashew sauce, and I put it on top of this cauliflower stalk thing… it was just awful.
It’s not every often that I toss completely in the trash one of the recipes that I’m creating. We’ll still eat it and we’ll kind of power through it, and then I’ll make some modifications the next time and make it better. But this one was like… I took one bite and was like I can’t poison anybody with this, I have to throw it away. It was awful, and I think it’s been since that point that I just was like, when people request mac n’ cheese, I’m like “Ehh, not gonna happen, sorry.”
Jen: I’m like, some things we’re just gonna have to release.
Danielle: Yeah. Although, there are some brands now that have grain-free pasta that you could buy. And so maybe I’ll go back and try theirs at some point. I don’t know.
Jen: If it has to have that nutritional yeast.
Danielle: just do without it.
Jen: Go back to that butter chicken.
Okay, dessert island cooking, you get three things to cook with on a dessert island, and one kitchen tool. Like one. So three ingredients, one kitchen tool. Let’s just assume in our imagination that there is a heat source.
Danielle: I was gonna say, do I have fire? Can I make that as one of my ingredients? Okay, good. I have a four-burner stove. Oh gosh. Okay. I know most people would say their Instant Pot, but I’m not gonna. I’m not a full believer in the Instant Pot yet. I would say my blender, a good knife. So that I could at least chop up veggies. Where is my food coming from, am I like using seaweed and fish?
Jen: You get to bring it, that’s the three things you pick.
Danielle: Oh, oh, oh, gosh. Oh boy.
Jen: You get to bring three food things, and only one kitchen tool.
Danielle: Oh, okay. So my blender is my tool I guess. I could make smoothies, and I could make soup, and heat it up over… uh. This is a hard one.
Jen: It is a hard one.
Danielle: Then my food? Gosh. I would say eggs, because I feel like you can do tons of different things with eggs… this is pretty… this is making me verklempt.
I would probably do ground beef, just because I feel like it’s versatile and you could do lots of things with it. Eggs, and some sort of greens, just so that we weren’t going to die from calcium deficiency. I don’t know, I’m trying to think about my health at the same time here!
Jen: You’re back to the diet you didn’t want to be stuck with.
Danielle: That’s a terrible answer, I feel like.
Jen: No, I feel good about that. You’re gonna live.
Danielle: What am I, gonna puree ground beef and greens in my blender? And an egg? Ugh.
Jen: That’s true, I’m not sure what that would produce, but we’re gonna say that is a complete answer. My kids would have been like, full sugar, Oreos, and they would pick like…
Danielle: Right, you pick a packaged product, and that has like 50 ingredients. So that’s not fair! I’m just picking an ingredient.
Jen: That’s true, that’s not fair. Okay so, you’re amazing, I love you, I love your story, I love how accessible that you have made really delicious and healthy food to the rest of us.
Danielle: Aw, thanks.
Jen: You really have. Anybody who has not been through your cookbook, you really have. Like you give us tips on here’s how you make this one thing stretch over three meals. Here’s how you plan. Here’s a whole week of meals. I mean, I’m telling you, you’ve made it so simple for the average person. It’s awesome. Tell us really quickly, how can people find you, what are you working on right now, all that.
Danielle: Okay, so you can find me at Against All Grain on all platforms. Except for I’ve kind of recently broken up with Twitter, so don’t go there to find me. Because it’s just not really me. I’m on Instagram and Facebook, and my blog is againstallgrain.com, and then like you said I’ve got three cookbooks. So if you are at a lack of recipes, you can find over 400 and something between those three. Then, my next book won’t be out ’til next fall. So I mean… don’t look forward to that any time soon. But I’m working on that right now.
I have a ton of YouTube videos, and I also do Facebook live cooking segment every Tuesday. So I’m there every Tuesday at 3:30 Pacific time, cooking or just answering questions. So if you’re kind of new and you just want to see it done, because a lot of us are visual learners, and you just need to see “oh, this doesn’t look that difficult. It looks a lot less difficult than it sounds.” Then come over to my Facebook and hang out with us and ask questions, and see that it’s doable and it’s not super daunting and intimidating.
Jen: And also no big deal, but you literally have a brand newborn baby. So, you’re just managing all this. Girl, you are doing it all.
Danielle: I went to school drop-off with my shirt inside out today, so… I realized when I got home that the tags were on the outside, but you know I’m getting it done, as best as I can.
Jen: You know what, you got that kid to school!
Danielle: I did! And he was on time. He was on time.
Jen: Impressive. Hey sister, thanks for being on today.
Danielle: Thank you for having me.
Isn’t she great, you guys? I love Danielle. I really do. I love her story. I love this series. I love food people. I love food. I hope you’re enjoying this too because we have so many other amazing guests lined up for the “For the Love of Food” series. You’re just going to love it and we’re kind of all over the map too, so we’ve got all these interesting food perspectives, and all these amazing people who are bringing them to us, so tune back in because you’re really going to enjoy the other guests in the series just as much as Danielle.
Anything that we mention today; Danielle’s books, her web site any recipes that we mentioned–even a couple of photos of the two of us in Kim Paisley’s kitchen, as before mentioned–it’ll all be up on my website at JenHatmaker.com, you can find all those links. We’ll make sure you’ve got everything at your fingertips. I hope you loved her. For any of you who are suffering from health issues, or autoimmune issues, or anything that she mentioned, I will be so thrilled to know that maybe something you heard today will set your feet on a path that might bring back health, and wholeness, and happiness, to you or to your family–or to your kiddo. So glad to have her today. So glad to have you. It’s such a joy to do this podcast with you–I can’t even tell you how much I’m loving it. Thanks for tuning in week after week and can’t wait to bring you some more amazing guests and amazing topics. All right. See you next week, guys.
Narrator: Thanks for joining us today on the For the Love Podcast. Tune in next week, when we sit down again with Jen and friends to chat about all the things we love.
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