Before he broke his foot several weeks ago falling from a stone wall to a stone floor in Mexico (but that is a different story, albeit an interesting sounding one), Kurt Oldenbrook, often cooked dinner for his wife, Karen Jensen at their home in Miller Beach, four or five nights a week. And cooking for Oldenbrook didn’t mean just throwing burgers on the grill.
Oldenbrook is committed to using organic whenever possible and wary of any food stuff which might contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), such as wheat, corn, other milled grains as well as fruit and vegetables, which have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering procedures.
That means when Oldenbrook is cooking one of his all time favorites – sautéed chicken livers – instead of using flour to dredge the livers in before frying, he uses spelt, an ancient grain that was long used before wheat hybrids and so is said to be healthier, with a higher nutrient content.
In a report presented by Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Cornell University at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer, their research indicated that whole grains like spelt, contain many valuable phytonutrients. Because it is related to wheat, spelt can be used as a substitute with the added benefit that it also doesn’t appear to cause sensitivities in many of those who have a wheat intolerance.
Oldenbrook became interested in cooking after leaving his Schnectady, New York home and moving to this area. Growing up in an Italian neighborhood, he missed the meals his friends’ mothers used to make and couldn’t find comparable substitutes at local restaurants. This need for good Italian metamorphosized into often creating and cooking, expanding his repertoire into Asian and Mexican foods as well.
As for the health aspect of cookery, both Oldenbrook and Jensen often step out of the mainstream when it comes to taking a different approach to healthful living. Jensen, a certified practitioner of The Feldenkrais Method and The Anat Baniel Method for improving function and pain-free movement for infants, children and adults, the couple recently bought a heavy duty juicer, one powerful enough the turn kale, a super healthy green, into juice.
While Oldenbrook looks to Whole Foods and co-ops to buy organic ingredients and grow their own, David Hamilla of Chesterton takes it one step further, often heading into the woods to search for ingredients for healthy eating. Hamilla, a certified geologist, is also self-trained as a botanist and has worked as a chef in gourmet restaurants. The combination of botany, sustainability and healthy led Hamilla to learn more and more about wildcrafting, the term used for finding edibles in woods and fields. He has rewritten a lengthy compendium of edible plants and compiled or created recipes using these ingredients.
Hamilla also dries and freezes his finds so that they can be used during winter months or, because he’s found so many ingredients, the following year.
“We’ve gotten away from eating so much that is good for us,” says Hamilla. “I don’t think people realize what’s out there and that what we gather is so much healthier than much of the produce available in the grocery store.”
For example, instead of nuking dandelions and chickweed – two plants commonly found in lawns and condemned to death by Round-Up – Hamilla lists why we should be eating them instead.
Dandelions, it turns out, help detoxify the liver and kidneys as do two other wild plants – milk thistle and burdock root – and require little preparation. Just steep the stems, flowers and leaves in hot water for tea.
Dining on foraged edibles doesn’t necessary mean eating unappetizing grass and leaves. Hamilla takes epicurean recipes and using these skills he learned as both a chef and botanist, he creates gourmet cuisine. He also presents classes on foraging and cooking.
“Once people realize how easy, convenient and good it is for you and how good it tastes,” he says, “they really enjoy it.”