Friday, January 29, 2010

Real Food Rehab on Chicago Tonight

Here's our segment from Chicago Tonight that aired on the 28th. The fellow bloggers that appeared with me are Natalie Slater from Bake and Destroy and Angie Montroy from Angie's Pantry. I hope you can check out their fabulous blogs. We were treated like gold by the WTTW staff and I am so grateful for the opportunity.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Art of Living: Spider Saloff

I often speak about the importance of getting out of our heads and into our bodies. From experience, I know when I'm trying to make important decisions or move forward on something that's difficult for me, I make better progress when I focus on how I feel versus what I think. My mind can spin in crazy, vicious circles for eternity but my body speaks the immediate, visceral truth.

I thought it would be interesting to ask people whose life's work or creative pastimes require them to be very in tune with their bodies, to share their process and personal stories on this topic.

Spider Saloff is an internationally celebrated jazz singer and she also teaches at the Bloom School of Jazz which is where I took her brilliant Master Class in Vocal Phrasing and Improvisation. Spider actually facilitated one of the peak experiences in my life so far: I got to sing two jazz tunes accompanied by a great band at the famed Green Mill jazz club in Chicago. I saw her recently and knew she'd be the perfect person for this interview. In a beautifully candid way, she shares personal and practical wisdom we can all learn from.

Why is this practice of getting out of our heads and into our bodies so important?

It has to do with the “big picture” concept. Our entire way of living our lives has to do with a balance of body, mind and spirit. When one of these is out of balance, we are open to disorder, unrest and even illness.

What are some of the ways it helps you in your day to day life?

I have recently been through some extremely stressful situations in my life. The big one being the sudden death of my husband. Carrying on with my life and creativity has been incredibly powerful and important in recovering from the experience. A major help to me was the daily practice of being present. By this I mean a real understanding of knowing where I am right in the moment - not being in the past or in an artificial future that I am just making up. When I can get myself to be present it almost immediately removes fear in just about any situation. And from this comes the capacity to be in a balanced state.

What are some of the ways it helps you in your work or creative practice?

As a creative artist I need to be self motivated in order to carry on with my work. This of course can be difficult at times. You don’t always wake up and say, “Hey, I think I’ll write a song today!” Most of the time you just want to put stuff off. But this, too, comes from fear. And that comes from not being present. The part of you that is in the past is saying, “Oh, what if I just can’t do it? I couldn’t do it yesterday. How will I be able to do it now?” And the part of you that is making up the false future is saying, “Oh, what if I do it and it isn’t good? People will think I'm a failure. I'm better off just being safe and not doing anything.”

Yeah. You can see how well that works! So if you can get present you can be with, “What if I just write a couple of thoughts down. And if it isn’t good, it doesn’t matter. I am here and I am safe.

Has this practice affected other areas of your life that surprised you?

Yes. Even in mundane chores that seem overwhelming. Like cleaning out a closet that has not been touched since dinosaurs walked the earth. (They may even be living in there.) If I can just get myself to stop the conversation about how hard it is and take out one thing. All of sudden I can get into the actual joy of it and the release of throwing stuff out and making my life easier. Then when it's over I feel great and can’t believe all the fuss I was making over it. What a bunch of nonsense goes on in our heads!

What are the signs to look out for in your body to know when something moves you? How do you check in with your body when making decisions?

This, I suppose, is what one calls a gut reaction. When a situation calls for it, most of us will hear that little bell go off. It's getting used to knowing what the bell sounds and feels like that fine tunes the process.

Any other wisdom you'd like to share with us?

I think as an artist and a human being one of the most important things to remember is to never get caught up in comparing yourself or your success to ANYONE ELSE. We are all on our own path and we don’t have the energy to waste on such devouring thoughts. Always focus on what is working and what is making you feel good. That is the art of living.

Spider Saloff is a critically acclaimed singer and actress. Her syndicated radio series Words and Music has been heard world wide. She performs concerts with full orchestras as well as in intimate jazz venues. Her most well known work is her Gershwin concert in which Saloff worked directly with the Gershwin family. The show received rave reviews, toured nationally and was featured in St. Petersburg, Russia. Saloff has 7 CD’s to her credit and is the winner of 5 MAC Awards presented by The Manhattan Association of Cabarets. Her newest project is a one woman musical, Entertaining Guests which Saloff wrote the book as well as the music. The play is slated for a Chicago debut in 2010. Check out her website at

Sunday, January 17, 2010

And The Winner Is...Mac & Cheese

Here I sit at my friend Ryan and Brian's house watching The Golden Globes. I'm a little blown away by how oddly tan, shiny, and privileged everyone is. I feel an inferiority complex coming on. Thank God I chose tonight to make an extra large pan of Macaroni & Cheese.

This recipe expresses a lush mix of flavors and textures; you can use virtually any cheese that tickles your fancy. It's toothsome and crunchy, rich and satisfying. It would make a great dish to serve to a crowd or make for yourself on a weekend and eat throughout the week accompanied by a crunchy, raw salad tossed with a bright vinaigrette. Tonight we paired our Mac & Cheese with Goose Island's Pere Jacques - a fruity, malty, Belgian-style Ale.

Mac & Cheese
adapted from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries
feeds four main dishers, six side-dishers

3/4 pound Macaroni, Strozzapreti, Shells or other short, hollow dried pasta
5 cups organic whole milk, half and half or a mix of both
a small onion, peeled and halved
a bay leaf or two
5 tablespoons organic butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
10 white peppercorns
8-10 ounces cheese - I used cave aged Gruyere
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
8 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese

set oven to 400 degrees. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till tender. drain pasta and toss in a bit of olive oil to keep from sticking while you cook the rest.

warm the milk in a saucepan with the onion and bay leaves until it's just ready to boil then turn off heat. melt butter in another pan and add flour and whisk over moderate heat until you have a pale biscuit colored paste. Remove onion and bay leaf from milk. Gradually pour in milk to the flour and butter paste and whisk until there are no lumps, then leave to simmer over a very low heat until the sauce is the consistency of heavy cream, stirring regularly so the sauce does not stick.

the white peppercorns and season the sauce with both the white pepper, a few grinds of black pepper and a little salt. Cut the cheese into a large dice. Fold the drained pasta, the cheese, mustard and paprika into the sauce then taste for seasoning. Add more cheese if you like it cheesier.

tip the whole mixture into a buttered 9 x 12 Pyrex dish. Toss the bread crumbs with the grated Pecorino cheese and scatter liberally across the top. Bake for thirty-five or forty minutes until breadcrumbs are browned and the mixture is bubbling underneath. Serve.

I'd like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press, Meryl Streep and her heartfelt acceptance speech, and my friends Ryan and Brian for making this night so special.

photos by Ryan Robinson

Saturday, January 16, 2010

do not let your fire go out

"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours."

ayn rand

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ten Ideas To Make Your Life Better in 2010

Last week I was featured in a piece in the Chicago Sun-Times. Freelance writer, Sandy Thorn Clark asked me to contribute my top ten ways to make your life better in 2010. You can click HERE to see the whole article but I thought I'd post my ideas here along with the photo that ran in the paper. It was an honor to contribute these and I hope they make a difference for you. They truly represent what me and Real Food Rehab are all about.

Remember that quality always trumps quantity. This is true of shoes, friends, food - everything. Be selective. Keep your standards high, and always be true to yourself, your taste and your means.

Take back control of your health by listening to your body.
You know in your heart there’s a connection between what you eat and how you look and feel. There’s no doctor or pill that can do for you what you have the power to do for yourself.

Stock your fridge and pantry with fresh, high quality, chemical free foods. The food you buy should inspire, excite and energize you, not bore, repel or deplete you. If you have to question the integrity of anything you're bringing home or its effects on your well-being, then perhaps that's something to think about and change.

Embrace and elevate the foods you love the most. For example, say you love a grilled cheese sandwich every now and then. Excellent. Now, elevate it by using an artisan loaf of sourdough from a local bakery, real, organic butter and some handcrafted local cheddar like Brunkow or Otter Creek from Wisconsin.

Break out of a diet rut.
Explore farmers’ markets, ethnic markets and natural food stores to get your juices flowing. Find a cooking buddy to shop and cook with once a week. Sign up for a free subscription to to learn how to make fast, easy, step-by-step dinners for yourself and your family.

Create a living space that reflects who you really are. How? By only bringing things into your home that a) move you and bring you pleasure b) make your life better in a practical way or c) have personal meaning for you. Let go of everything else. This will change your life.

Stop thinking and start feeling. In my opinion, we spend way too much time as a culture thinking instead of feeling. I’m convinced when we over-think, we lose touch with what it is we truly want. Try approaching things with your senses and from your gut - not your head.

Get clear on what you really want from your life. Not what you think you should want or what your friends and family want – what you want. Make a list and keep editing it over time until it’s the deepest reflection of who you are. Then, hold that vision and go for it.

Create! Find ways to passionately express your true self in the world. It can be anything from the way you dress day to day, to writing a journal; making bread, singing at an open mike, making art from found materials, decorating your home; it all matters and the world needs your self-expression now more than ever.

Realize that change is a process. Take comfort in the fact that your process will not look or feel like anyone else’s and that nothing that matters was ever built in a day. Always be kind, tender and loving with yourself because it takes great courage to change. Small steps are definitely worth celebrating.

photo by Ryan Robinson

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beautiful Food Rituals: Maria Callas & Coffee

"Your daily life is your temple and your religion." Rumi

You'd never think the little girl that got kicked out of Hebrew school would grow up to be the same woman who loves ritual. But I am and I do. I love ritual of all kinds as long as there's no oppressive dogma attached to it. I create rituals out of my need for comfort and connection and beauty. One of my favorite rituals is preparing and enjoying my morning coffee. I love getting up early when the world is quiet and I can wake slowly from my dreams, journal and putter about for a good hour before I have to do anything or be anywhere. I don't like to speak in that hour. But I do love music and one of my great joys and new passions is listening to opera in the morning.

It started with Pandora. Do you know it? It's a free internet radio station that allows you to create playlists with your favorite music. So early one morning, with the sun pouring through my windows and a steaming bowl of espresso and steamed milk in front of me, I innocently plugged in the name Maria Callas into the Pandora search function.

The song that came on first was Callas' version of Puccini's O Mio Babbino Caro. It completely stopped me in my tracks with surprise. Her voice alternately soared and delicately reverberated in the most gorgeous ways in my dining room and it was like my own personal church; so sacred in its way. It got me out of my head and into the moment. I love this ritual simply because it's a gift of time and space I give to myself. For you, it might be Lady Gaga and Genmaicha or Radiohead and Rooibos or Roy Orbison and Oolong. It's just a thought, but I recommend it highly.

Recommended Listening

The One and Only Maria Callas

Maria Callas was one of the world's most legendary divas known for her dramatic vocal range and style. She was a high profile member of the international artistic and social circles of her day and was also known for her temperamental behavior and scandalous love affairs, including one with Aristotle Onassis.

Coffee Preparation Notes

My coffee preparation of choice is a big warm bowl of stove top espresso with organic steamed milk and agave nectar or demerara sugar to sweeten it just a touch. My espresso is made with an inexpensive Bialetti Moka Express Espresso Maker 06799 and I use a Stove Top Milk Frotherto froth my milk. And trust me, it is gooood.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Chicago French Market: A European Shopping Experience

When I lived in Italy, one of the things I enjoyed most about my daily life was food shopping - if you've been there, you know that shopping for groceries is pure pleasure. At my local market in Florence, there were multiple vendors who sold cheeses, meats, seafood, flowers, produce, pastries, olives all under one glorious roof. Each vendor was a specialist and could tell you endless details about where their products came from and how they were made. You developed a relationship with your vendor and you went back again and again. I loved the ritual of only buying enough food for a few days at a time instead of having to fill your cart for a whole week when you don't really know what you might feel like eating only days later. The food I ate was fresher, healthier and more flavorful; and there wasn't aisle after aisle of food products that bore no resemblance to actual food. I also loved that I could walk there and only take home what I could comfortably carry.

Well, I'm happy to report that The Chicago French Market has opened and I was so surprised to find that it isn't simply a food court in the Metra station - which was my fear going in - it's a legitimate market place inspired by traditional European markets. There's produce vendors selling organic, local and commercial produce (with some prices I saw beating the larger grocery store chains), there's two amazing cheese counters, a collection of small-batch cured and smoked meats to die for, a meat counter selling pasture-raised beef, artisan baked breads and pastries, wine, a juice bar, and they have vendors selling prepared meals that aren't from chains or franchises but instead offering freshly made preparations often from family recipes. There's Indian food, Mexican food, a raw food vendor (delish!!), a crepe stand, Vietnamese Banh mi sandwiches, and an espresso bar where you can stand and have your coffee just like Italy. This makes my heart happy.

The only problem is that I don't live anywhere near this market, so instead of making this a habit, I'm going to have to make it a destination. But for people living in the West Loop or Fulton Market neighborhoods or those who commute every weekday through the Ogilvie Metra Station, I'm jealous! Because you can walk there to pick up fresh ingredients to make a meal at home or purchase prepared food that's been freshly made with care by the person you bought it from. Where else can you do that 6 days a week? I mean really. Get there!

Click HERE for their website with a list of vendors and hours.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Live Your Values

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." - Joseph Campbell

I was so excited to begin 2010. On New Year's Eve day, I went downtown to get my hair done. I had a long walk from the train station to the salon and I found myself locking eyes with strangers on the street and saying, "Happy New Year," to them out loud. I never made a conscious decision to do it; it just came out of me like I was speaking in tongues. It was oddly exhilarating and my bursts were all met with smiles and the same response in kind. I'm so glad I didn't censor myself, which would have been a classic Dana Joy move of old. Nope, instead I chose to go with what felt good; I let the joy fly and just kept going.

Real Food Rehab isn't your typical food blog. As I have evolved and changed over time, it has evolved with me. Real Food Rehab is essentially documenting my process of attempting to live what I value most and sharing all the resources, discoveries, tips, recipes and ideas with you along the way.

These are the values of Real Food Rehab:

Health, Pleasure, Authenticity, Quality, Beauty, Integrity, Creativity/Personal Expression.

My goal for this new year is to be the most authentic version of myself that I can be. This is not some fluffy aspiration. I take it very seriously. And I believe what it takes to get there is living what I value everyday. What does that mean? Stay tuned, because we are going to explore this in depth, in all kinds of creative, fun ways.

I've asked someone I greatly admire to step in and give us her take on this topic. Her name is Alie McManus and she is my (favorite) yoga instructor. I love Alie because she makes me laugh out loud in yoga class (traditionally unheard of), and she's radiant all the freaking time and I'm reminded of that scene in the deli in When Harry Met Sally, after Meg Ryan has her "orgasm," and the woman at the table next to her says "I'll have what she's having." That's how I feel about Alie. If you are thinking about taking up a yoga practice, Alie teaches a great beginning yoga series at yogaview in Chicago. So, here she is to give us a much needed boost for the start of our New Year...

Alie McManus:

As we begin a brand new year bright with inspiration to be our best, the question I find myself asking is "what do you value?"

This is an excellent question.

I have freshly realized that what I value is what makes me feel good!

Okay, so this may be an obvious answer at first, but curious and profound as we begin to explore what it is we do value in our lives.

To start, things that make me feel good are life affirming, empowering, and fun. The idea is to get out of my habitual mindset and ditch thoughts like, "what should I do” in favor of going for the joie de vivre!

Being happy and feeling good are natural. But we often forget this.

It's the DOs and DON"Ts and SHOULDs we impose on ourselves that can make keeping our New Years goals feel like climbing Mount Everest.

What may serve us most effectively in discovering what makes us feel our best is the act of getting out of our habitual-thinking mind and sensing how we really feel. Immersing ourselves in our actual experience is the single most powerful act to affect positive change on a daily basis.

What can we do to get out of our habitual headset and into the moment? Here are some ideas to try:

Breathe. Allow your lungs to fill up, retain that energy for a moment or more, and then let it out slowly and smoothly—maybe even sounding a sigh of relief.

Get in your body. Let it be as simple as a seated side stretch or seated twist. When you stretch you are focused on the sensation happening within your body.

Savasana. This is a classical yoga posture for deep relaxation. Lie flat on your back with your knees supported by a pillow, or a rolled up blanket and notice the feeling of your entire body with your eyes softly closed. Notice the subtle expansion of your body as the breath flows in and the softening of your body as the breath flows out. Keep drawing your attention to your body as you breath even as you find your mind luring you in other directions.

Stay True. Be willing to say No. Be willing to say Yes. If you are not sure, be honest and say, “I don’t know, let me think about it.”

Take your time. Do less and enjoy yourself more.

Just do it. When you feel the energy or the excitement of inspiration, do it, whatever it is you want to do, do it! Or take the first baby step needed to reach your inspired goal. Look at Bob Wiley, from the film What about Bob. Bob outlived his fears by taking baby steps, as well as a “prescribed” vacation from his problems!

Pause. Pause frequently and often. Pause, breath and relax.

Meditate. As long as 5 min-30min. Try as many mediation techniques as possible, there are lots.

Have fun. Paint, play, run, walk, look, visit, watch, and be, without questioning or doubting your self.

Forget it! Forget whatever is not serving your best interest. If your energy level goes down, if you are not excited, it you do not want to do it, then don’t!!!! Get rid of whatever is not working and focus on what is working!

Alie McManus loves traveling around the world and currently lives and teaches yoga in Chicago. Join Alie for class at yogaview and Moksha. Find out more about Alie at