Does your interest in nutrition go back to your food roots and how you were raised? I grew up out East and was raised with my grandparents and great-grandparents. When I was 14, my mother went back to work, so that’s when I really got into the kitchen and gained a lot of confidence in preparing foods.
I learned a lot from my grandmothers about the old ways of preparing dishes from scratch. This philosophy of being aware of what we eat and how it is connected to our health works for Al and me.
What led you to become a master food volunteer with the extension? After I retired, I decided to really pursue my interest in food by taking the classes to become a volunteer. I know I can make a difference in my family and friends’ lives by the food I prepare. But if I can share that knowledge with even more people, and they pass it along, there is a ripple effect of eating and feeling better that can connect us all.
I help educate the public on health and food safety issues and have participated in some classes on food dehydration and preparing soups and stews. But, as it goes, I also learn so much from others.
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The extension has many classes that help families, the disadvantaged, the elderly and children. I think reaching out to children and teaching them the value of good wholesome food is how we start to cultivate a healthy attitude and establish that connection early on between what you eat and how you feel.
So the old adage “you are what you eat” may seem trite, but it’s really true. Both Al and I have gained insight into the importance of buying local and knowing the producers of our food. We receive our meat from a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm in Richmond, Mo., and buy raw milk from a dairy in Bonner Springs. We have a vegetable garden in our backyard but also purchase organic products from the grocery store and farmers markets.
We also love culturing our foods, as I make a fermented tea called kombucha, which aids in digestion. I also make my own kefir from the raw milk we receive from the dairy. We make our own butter and other homemade fermented foods, including sourdough bread and cultured vegetables. We live by the 80-20 philosophy: 80 percent of the food we eat feeds the body and 20 percent feeds the spirit. Every night, we enjoy wine and dark chocolate.
So why did you choose this recipe to share? This is a family favorite, as I will make a soup on average once a week. It doubles easily and freezes very well. A friend gave me the recipe, which she cut out of The Kansas City Star in the 1980s, but what I like to do is add pork that is still on the bone. A bone broth provides minerals, especially calcium, in an easily absorbable form.
Once, I read something that stuck with me: Food is the most important drug you can take. Every four hours, you have the decision to change your metabolism. Everyone wants to be healthy, but it’s not just about the food you eat. You have to have a good attitude, stay active, laugh and be grateful for what you have. And let me tell you, I have a good life.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Occupation: Master food volunteer with the K-State Research and Extension Service in Johnson County, retired in 2012 as a computer programmer.
Family: Married to Al for 13 years, with a blended family of two children.
Special cooking interest: Creating nutritious, delicious dishes.
Italian Pork Soup
Makes 4 servings
2 pounds bone-in pork shoulder steaks
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2 cup small pasta or rice
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional garnish
In a large soup pot, brown meat in oil, over medium-high heat on stovetop. Add onion and garlic to pot and sauté until soft. Pour off additional fat and discard.
Add tomatoes and water (or vegetable stock) to pot and deglaze bottom of pan, scraping up browned bits. Season with Italian seasoning, salt, basil, fennel and black pepper. Stir in green pepper, zucchini, and pasta or rice.
Turn heat to low and cover tightly with lid. Allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes more, until pasta or rice is cooked and vegetables are soft. Stir the pot occasionally to avoid contents sticking to the bottom, adding water or stock, as needed. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces and remove bones. Ladle into bowls and top with grated cheese, if desired.
Per serving: 544 calories (51 percent from fat), 30 grams total fat (10 grams saturated), 94 milligrams cholesterol, 27 grams carbohydrates, 39 grams protein, 380 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.