If cooking isn’t your strong suit, where should you start? Gretchen Hackmann Adler invites us to gain confidence in the kitchen, as she shares her own cooking journey. She is the founder of the health and lifestyle group: Gretchy.
Today, she shares her successes and flops and reminds us that cooking is a journey. She talks about what matters most when just getting going, how to cultivate your children’s craving for real food, the importance of a growing awareness of how processed foods make you feel, the role of cookware in the kitchen, and more. Her practical, down-to-earth advice (“the more you do it, the easier it’ll get”) is designed to empower and encourage each of us along the way.
Listen to the episode here:
Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda
Working from home for many of us has sparked an interest in spending time in the kitchen, creating and cooking healthy meals. For others, it’s meant calling for more takeout. No judgment here. My culinary skills were once limited to opening up a pack of frozen fish sticks, pressing 350 degrees, and tossing them in on a baking sheet into the oven. Where to start if cooking isn’t your strong suit either? This is episode 312 and our guest is Gretchen Hackmann. She is the Founder of women’s health and lifestyle brand, Gretchy.
Gretchen is passionate about food as medicine, emphasizing traditional foods, and preparation methods like how to make sourdough bread, lacto-fermented vegetables, and how to make your family’s meals more nutrient-dense like putting liver into meatballs. She shares her own cooking successes and flops, which reminds us that it is a journey. She talks about what matters most when getting going, how to cultivate your children’s craving for real food, awareness of how processed foods can make you feel, the role of cookware in the kitchen and more. Her practical down-to-earth advice can help all of us gain a little bit more confidence in the kitchen. Gretchen talks about how you can purge your kitchen of pseudo foods.
Welcome to Wise Traditions, Gretchen.
Hilda, thank you for having me.
Tell us about the time you had a total disaster in your kitchen. What was the meal that you made and why did it go south?
One that stands out in my memory is during a time that I was vegan and this was a few years ago. I was in the kitchen and I wanted to make a nice meal for my husband. We were newlywed. I started putting together a variety of different vegetables in the healthiest and cleanest way that I knew how to do. In this meal, I had plain big leaves of steamed kale. I left the stock thing because I didn’t realize that you have to remove the stocks to make them edible and tasty. I didn’t use salt at the time. No flavorings except for coconut aminos, which is vegan-friendly like a soy sauce type of thing, to be healthy.
I had sweet potatoes, quinoa and seaweed in there. It was a conglomeration of vegetables, seaweed and coconut amino flavors. You can imagine what that looks like. I put it in a bowl and I was proud of myself. I gave it to my husband and the look on his face was like, “It looks great.” He tried it and imagine the face that you would get from eating something like that. I was so angry. I’m like, “What? You don’t like it?” He was like, “It’s just hard to eat.” I was mad and depressed. It gave me a feeling like, “This whole cooking thing isn’t working for me.”
You were trying so hard, right?
I wanted him to be healthy. I wanted to be healthy and I tried my best.
What happened? How did you switch from that kind of cooking to eating and living more the Wise Traditions way?
It’s been such an evolution. It’s been such a journey. I’m 1 of 4. My mom was always health-conscious. She had four home births and I was raised being health-conscious for whatever that means. I remember when I was younger, my siblings and I were seen as being the weird ones because when we had friends come over to our house, we didn’t have pizza. At overnights, we didn’t have Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Chex Mix, and any of these fun type processed foods that are normal in most households. We didn’t have cookies from the grocery store or baked goods. We didn’t have normal bread. We were looked at as being weird. People weren’t excited to eat at our house.
When we would go over to our friend’s houses, we would raid their pantries. Our friends would look at us like, “What is wrong with these kids? Why are they going in our pantry and eating all of our foods and cereal?” I remember in middle school, we had a vending machine. I would go and get M&Ms secretly that I would never tell my mom about. We were health-conscious. We knew what it was, but there were a lot of issues going on with cravings and wanting the processed foods.
I remember vividly in tenth grade. That’s when my negative relationship with food started. My friend told me, “You need to be skinny and how you become skinny is by eating low calorie and not eating a lot of food.” That’s when I started realizing, “Food is the enemy. I shouldn’t eat a lot of food. I shouldn’t eat a lot of calories and fats.” For the next decade or probably more, I had this complete yo-yo diet roller coaster with food where I would search for low calorie, low fat, high fiber, gluten-free or whatever was the diet trend or fad at the time. You can imagine a lot of these foods are processed. It is based on branding and marketing, and it’s all found on the shelves. I would only look at the nutrition facts. I never even thought about looking at ingredients and the things that they make these products with, if it was low fat, low calorie, high protein, high fiber, low sugar and low carb. I was all about it. I had a lot of negativity. I didn’t eat any real food. It was all a bunch of processed foods.
A lot of us can relate to that story. A lot of us were concerned about our weight growing up in adolescence. At least I can speak for myself, I was on that track too, where I thought I had to eat little to keep the weight I wanted. We all come from that place. You went vegan and then what did you do?
When we’re younger, these processed foods might work for us for a short period of time. They might work well in terms of weight. We’ll lose a lot of weight and we’ll be like, “We’re supposed to be skinny, so these processed foods are working.” Years go by that our bodies start having issues and we start gaining weight. We have cravings and we can no longer sustain this lifestyle. Other problems are happening. I went vegan initially because I wanted to lose weight. It had been a decade of these types of foods and I was like, “I need something different.” I now have a tire around my waist. I wasn’t fat by any means but I had this dangerous fat around my stomach and I had skin issues. I thought, “I’m going to go vegan for the purpose of losing weight and clearing up my skin,” so I did that. I was vegan for a few years. I didn’t know what I was doing. I would microwave potatoes in the oven. I would steam kale, use coconut aminos for flavorings, a bunch of vegetables, and whatever was processed gluten-free items, things that were vegan.
I then became pregnant with my first child. That’s when I started thinking about the veganism thing more and I’m like, “I don’t want to be a test rabbit for veganism. I don’t know if it’s something that’s healthy. I don’t know if this is bad for my child while I’m pregnant. I don’t want to take any chances.” I became plant-based. Plant-based to me meant like I was vegan but at the same time, maybe a few times per week, I would have fish or a little bit of red meat or maybe an egg here and there. It was small amounts haphazardly to make sure that I wasn’t full-on vegan.
I had a healthy baby. When I became pregnant with my second child, I had come a long way in understanding food and nutrition and how real foods can benefit the body’s nutrient density. With that pregnancy, I was eating only real foods. I was getting into fermenting all of my grains and focusing on ingredients. In that pregnancy, I was so much healthier and I felt so much better. I had a home birth and she was 9 pounds and 3 ounces. She’s a healthy baby. I nursed both babies and with her, I feel like the nutrient density of my milk is on a completely different level, even with my first child because of the foods that I’m fueling myself with. She’s always been at the 99th or 100th percentile for weight and height. I test that to my breast milk and the nutrient density of the foods that I feed myself with. That’s where I’m at now.
Not only are you there for your family, but I understand you developed a course in helping people source real food and cook real foods. You’re making a difference for others as well.
This is my life mission. I’m extremely passionate about eating real foods and fueling your body correctly. That is why I created this course, How To Create a Nourishing Kitchen, so that everybody else can learn how to eat correctly and make for themselves the foods that will make them the healthiest.
Going back to that sourcing real food, that’s one of the early sections of your course. Don’t we get real food at the grocery store? What do you mean by real food?
You could get real foods at the grocery store, but I see the inner aisles as being the dangerous zones. Don’t shop the inner aisles, except your olive oil or your vinegar, maybe good ingredients like mustard. Everything else is processed. It’s loaded with preservatives, colorants, texturants, gums and a bunch of synthetic vitamins and junk. Every processed food that you’re going to find in the grocery store that is shelf-stable has ingredients that you don’t want to be eating. You find your real foods around the outside of the grocery store. When you’re in your produce section, you want to choose as much as possible the organic fruits and vegetables. You want to choose your grass-fed meats if you have access to that at your butcher. At the grocery is where it starts and stops for me. If you want to get into sourcing and eat nutrient-dense foods, you want to start at your farmer’s market.
Is it because that’s fresh and local? Why would you suggest that?
It all boils down to the nutrient density of the soil. I’m not going to bash organic farming by any means, but organic farming these days do it monoculturally. They’re going to grow a huge field of blueberries and these blueberries are being grown underneath tents. A lot of the time, the soil doesn’t have a lot of organisms going on. It’s dead. They have to put things into the soil to make these fruits and vegetables grow. Whereas if you are buying fruits and vegetables from your farmer’s market, the farmer is dealing with nutrient-dense soil. There are worms in the soil. Maybe they have cows on the property, so they’re fertilizing it with the manure from the cows. This gives the soil more nutrient density and the vegetable or fruits that grows is going to be more nutritious. The best way that you can do this is by starting at your market and talking to the farmer about how are they growing their fruits and vegetables. That’s the best you can do.
I hadn’t heard it put that way before that it’s not just conventional farming that gives us the monoculture. It is also organic farming, especially industrial organic. In other words, organic on a big scale. Thank you for pointing that out. I also noticed in your course that you talk about all meat not being created equal. What do you mean by that?
That boils down to the same thing too. Typically, the meat that we find in the grocery stores, let’s take red meat for an example, is coming from cattle that are confined and raised on feedlots and fed grain diets. The problem with that is the omega-3 to the omega-6 ratio. They are very high omega-6s and low in omega–3s. The ratio is probably about 1 to 14 to 1 to 20 for the omega-3 to omega-6. Whereas if you take a grass-fed cow, the ratio is more like 1 to 4. The reason why is because they’re not getting any grain. Grain is an unnatural diet for cows and cattle. Eating grass, which is the diet that they should be eating and that they’ve eaten for thousands of years gives them a high level of omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid. The nutrient density of that meat or the dairy coming from a cow that’s grass-fed is just a totally different product than meat from a confined feedlot.
What you’re saying is music to my ears because a lot of what you’re talking about is in tandem with the Wise Traditions principles. Our first principle is no refined or denatured foods, which was what you were referring to about the food we find in the middle of the grocery store. Another principle also is about the right balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. That’s the main thing. Did you stumble across the Weston A. Price Foundation? Is that how you started building more nutrient density into your own diet as well?
I did. When I was getting into fermenting my grains and understanding why I should be doing that, the Weston A. Price probably came up in my research. The work that Weston A. Price has done is incredible. It paves the way for everything that I do. It’s based on the research that he did with the indigenous people, the way that they ate, and the extreme health that they had versus the health that those people now have on modern foods.
It’s amazing that we can live this way based on that wisdom of the past. Let’s say that someone is reading and was like, “I want to nourish my family and myself with nutrient-dense foods that Gretchen is talking about, but my kitchen is a mess.” Talk to me about how we should go about purging our kitchen of pseudo foods. Where should we start?
That’s the most important thing to start with if you are wanting to have a nutrient-dense diet, eat real foods, whole foods, and prepare your own foods in your own kitchen. You have to remove the processed foods from your house. If you have these processed foods, you’ll always resort to them when you are in a kitchen and making food maybe isn’t the most exciting thing to do at that time. I don’t have any processed foods in my house. Not for a rainy day. I’ve thrown everything away. You’ll see in my pantry that I have a bunch of glass jars filled with a variety of different grains, legumes and nuts. I have some canned foods like wild sardines and wild salmon. That would be something that would be good in a pinch. You could throw together a wild salmon salad or you could mix some homemade mayo that you whip up with your sardines.
It’s getting used to the fact that you don’t have the option to grab for that bag of chips anymore or for that Hamburger Helper. I don’t even know the processed foods they sell. You can create meals quickly. I can cook an amazing meal with sauteed greens, a fresh green salad and wild scallops. I was done in ten minutes. The scallops take two minutes to cook. The greens take no time if they’re washed. You whip up your own homemade salad dressing, so you don’t buy store-bought salad dressing. The real benefit here, too, is you end up saving a ton of money and time in the grocery store. I do my shopping once a week at the farmer’s market, where I get all of my produce, meat, cheese, dairy or whatever it is. I stay out of the grocery stores and I don’t waste a bunch of money on processed foods, which are much more expensive than real foods. If you were to compare them with nutrient density and weight to price, you wouldn’t be able to survive on process foods.
I have a friend who said her husband used to eat cereal every night as a late-night snack. She’s like, “Cereal is so expensive.” The box is so skinny if you look at it. Not only is it not nutrient-dense but it’s also not doing your bank account any favors.
It doesn’t satisfy you either if you have a bowl of cereal. I’m sure you’ve noticed that. I remember this from the past. I wouldn’t just have one bowl of cereal. I want to have ten. There’s something about it that gets your cravings going like, “I want to have more.”
Speaking of cravings, do you ever have an impulse buy or a cheap food? Tell us what’s up with that?
I have impulse buys at the farmer’s market. Impulse buys for me would be raw honey or local bee pollen and they’re good impulse buys. I bought a beautiful handmade woven basket that was made from a tribe in Africa or a green juice or fancy nut milk. There are these types of products that I’ll buy on impulse, which is maybe more expensive than what I’m used to buying because they’ve got maybe $12 for nut milk, which is ridiculous considering I make my nut milk. I’ll grab for something like that. In terms of making an exception at the grocery store, I never do. One of the great things about eating like this is you don’t have cravings for junk foods anymore. You don’t want to poison your body with these types of foods. I say poison because you are poisoning yourself. If you look at the ingredients that are in these foods, it’s shocking. They’re not ingredients. They’re created in a lab specifically so that they can make you want to eat more of it. They’re causing chronic illness for many people. That’s why we’re sick these days. It’s from processed foods.
I was thinking about that book called The Dorito Effect. They talk about how the chemists are in the lab trying to come up with that flavor that pings your dopamine in your brain and lights you up so you want to keep eating it. That’s your brain telling you to keep eating, but your body is not grateful in the end.
I can relate. Talking about impulse buys, my husband bought a bag of Sun Chips while we were walking around the park. I was so mad at him. I’m like, “Why would you buy that?” He’s like, “Do you want me to buy you one?” I’m like, “No. I don’t want any. Don’t give that to my child.” Anyways, he opens it up and they’re eating it. I’m like, “Let me have one of those.” I tried one and I was like, “That tastes so good.” One chip makes you want more. It’s like a drug effect. The chemists in the lab know what they’re doing. It’s meant to grab your taste buds and make you want more and buy more. It’s addictive.
We can replicate some of the foods that are attracted to us without the junky ingredients. Can’t we make chips or crackers from scratch?
You can make anything you want. In fact, what I pride myself on doing in my kitchen is making the most incredible feast dish-style meals and foods. By any means, I’m not on a diet. I make the best foods possible so that everyone that’s eating my foods loves it and doesn’t feel like they’re having to give up something to eat this way. I’ll make a hamburger with French fries and it’ll be the best hamburger with French fries you’ve ever had and you won’t have to feel guilty about eating it because I used only real ingredients. I didn’t deep fry my French fries in vegetable seed oil. I’ll bake them in the oven with coconut oil and unrefined sea salt. They taste incredible and they’re crispy on the outside like a French fry, but they don’t have all the junk. My hamburger is made with 100% grass-fed beef, so the meat tastes even better and it’s juicier. I come up with my own burger buns that I make. For instance, I’ve fermented some millet and I turned that into an English muffin style bun, and then I used it as my buns. It’s on my Instagram. It was good.
I’m a huge hamburger and French fry fan when they are made the right way. It’s amazing. Yours sound fantastic. Let’s say I’m inspired and I’m like, “I’m going to get cooking.” What cookware do you recommend? An important part of being in the kitchen as well is having good utensils and equipment to work with.
I’m all about working with what you have. By any means, I don’t think that you need to run out and buy equipment to get started in the kitchen. For thousands of years, we have used our hands to make the foods that we eat. I always try to think, “With someone hundreds or thousands of years ago, would they have been able to make this food? If they can’t, then I don’t make it.” Things do make your life easier. I love my Dutch oven. It is easy to cook a big roast of meat. You can either do that on top of your stove or you can start it on the top of the stove, and then you can finish it in the oven. That’s a great way to cook meat for several hours.
The Vitamix blender or a high-speed quality blender is amazing. I use that for making smoothies and pureeing my vegetable soups with bone broth. Sometimes, I’ll grind my grains to make flour in the Vitamix because I don’t have a grain mill. That is on my wish list. A high-speed blender would help you. Something that’s cool that’s inexpensive is a mandoline and that’s how you can shave thinly sliced radishes or fennel like they do at a restaurant when you get a super thin shave. That’s with a mandoline.
I have a mandoline, but it always reminds me of the musical instrument.
Not the musical instrument, but that’s a cool tool. Another cool one that reminds me of the mandoline is the Zoodler. Have you ever used a Zoodler?
I’ve got one. It’s so you can make vegetables into pasta-like form.
If you want a super low-carb pasta dish, pull out your Zoodler. You can get one for $22. You put your zucchini in there or your yellow squash and it brings out a nice spaghetti for you. It cooks in two minutes.
I’m glad you’re mentioning how quickly these things can happen because one thing that holds us back from cooking is we’re so busy. We’re going from work to pick up the kids from school to take them to their ballet and soccer practices to home. Suddenly, there’s a demand for food. We’ve got to bathe everybody, put them in bed, and get anything done that we need to get done in the home. Our days are so chock full. How can we carve out time for cooking?
It’s a mindset and it’s something that you have to want to do. We all do have time in our schedules. If for some reason, we don’t have time in our schedules, then something that you’re doing, you should do less of so that you can commit to making quality foods in the kitchen. For example, if you watch a one-hour Netflix TV show at night, maybe don’t watch that. Do your preps in the kitchen at night and wash your vegetables so that the next day, you can throw your salad together because everything’s already washed.
During the day, when you’re at home doing whatever, maybe you’re working from home or doing some housework or waiting to pick the kids up from school, you can throw roast meat or a roast chicken into the oven and let it cook for 2 or 3 hours. You can go get the kids at school, come back, pull it out and dinner is ready. It’s like finding little pieces of time here and there and wanting to commit to this. You have to want to do it. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get. At first, when you start doing this, you might be like, “This is hard. This is stressful, gathering the food, cooking and spending time doing this.” The more you do it, the easier it gets. I don’t even feel like I spent hardly any time in the kitchen, even though it looks like I spent all of my time in the kitchen because I’ve gotten so good at doing it.
It reminds me of a time when I was studying for the test for the American Council on Exercise to be certified as a fitness professional. I said, “For three months, so I can buckle down and study, I’m not going to watch TV.” Not that I’ve ever been a huge TV watcher. I suddenly found time in my schedule for a priority that I had. Maybe people can say, “I’m only going to watch half an hour of that Netflix series. I’m going to give this up for now and see how this goes.” Like you and me, maybe they’ll become more efficient, and then they’ll feel more confident and be able to manage watching the show and doing their meal prep in the kitchen.
You have to integrate it into your lifestyle. Like you have to do certain things every day, you have to make food everyday. If I don’t go to the farmer’s market on Saturday or Sunday, I don’t have food for the week, so I have to go. It’s something I have to do.
You make it a family event. I’ve seen lovely pictures of you and your kids there. That’s the whole shebang. Take them with you.
Every Saturday, kids know that we’re going to the farmer’s market. Husband knows. That’s what we do. Otherwise, we’re not eating for the week.
There’s been so much good information in our conversation. I want to ask you as we start to wrap up. If the reader could do one thing to improve their health or maybe to start cooking, what would you recommend that they do?
I would recommend becoming more mindful of what you’re eating. You don’t even have to get started today, but start thinking about everything that you’re eating. Where did it come from? How was it raised, whether it’s a plant or an animal? What was it fed? What type of soil did it grow in? Did it come from a lab or a factory or did it come from a farm? Start thinking about that and become mindful of what you’re eating. In today’s day and age, we have no idea where our food is coming from. We don’t even think about caring. All we think about is buying the product off of the shelves at the grocery store.
We’re completely lost. That’s not where our food comes from. It’s not coming from the grocery store shelf. It’s either coming from a lab, a factory or a farm. Where do you want your food to come from? I want mine personally to be grown in the earth and nutrient-dense soil, and I want to get mine from the farm. If you become mindful of where your food is coming from, that’ll get you to the next step. The next step is the desire to have a nourishing kitchen, eat whole real foods, and make your foods because we can’t eat these nutrient-dense foods if we aren’t making it ourselves. You can’t buy it.
Our health is the only thing we have. If we don’t have good health, we don’t have anything. For me, my number one goal is to have this optimal health, to be happy and have beauty. If I have all of those things, then I can do whatever I want in my life. I can pursue my passions and I can do optimally what I want for my family. The whole world is at your fingertips if you have good health. That’s how I think.
Gretchen, thank you for bringing your wonderful information to this episode and we wish you all the best. Thank you for this conversation.
Thank you. It’s been nice speaking with you.
Our guest was Gretchen Hackmann. Another note on Gretchen, she is a mom of three and manages her family’s regenerative farm where they’re growing a food forest. Check out her online video course on how to create a nourishing kitchen, to learn about lifestyle changes that you can implement, and how to source and prepare food in the most nourishing and traditional ways. My website is HolisticHilda.com. Thank you so much for tuning in. Stay well. Hasta pronto.
About Gretchen Hackmann Adler
Gretchen is the founder of women’s health and lifestyle brand, Gretchy (formerly known as Nubry). Gretchen is passionate about teaching others how to use food as medicine, something that has transformed her own life. She uses traditional methods of preparation that have been around for thousands of years in her daily kitchen including sourdough bread and baked goods, lacto-fermented vegetables, and pasture raised meat and egg dishes like meatballs stuffed with hidden liver.
Gretchen is a mom of two with a third on the way. She manages her family’s regenerative farm where they’re growing a food forest and raising pasture cattle and chickens, and she loves working on her home’s edible garden and gathering eggs from her backyard chickens. If you’re interested in a lifestyle change, be sure to check out Gretchen’s Nourishing Kitchen Master Class which teaches how to reclaim your health, increase energy, and look your best through the power of food and cooking!