Today I'm sharing an interview with Kristina Todini, sustainable diet expert, registered dietitian and the mastermind behind the Fork in the Road food blog. If you don't already know her, Kristina is pretty much a cooking and food styling badass who serves up "simple, seasonal and globally-inspired healthyish recipes without sacrificing flavor". Read on to learn more about when and why she started her blog, her approach to eating while traveling and her favorite tips for spicing things up in the kitchen. Don't miss the link to her mouthwatering and perfect-for-fall recipe at the end (Butternut Squash, Cranberry & Kale Salad with Creamy Avocado-Pear Dressing). Dare I say this has Thanksgiving written all over it?
L: Can you talk about when and why you started writing your blog and how you came up with the name Fork in the Road?
K: I have had a personal blog in one way or another back to the early 2000’s (I’m dating myself here) with platforms like LiveJournal and then Tumbler, but didn’t decide to start to start a blog that featured food and nutrition specifically until the summer of 2015.
I had just finished my degree in nutrition and was set to start my dietetic internship and knew that blogging and advancing my profile online was something I wanted to do professionally. I’m a bit of a gypsy in that I love to travel and live a bit of a nomadic life, so I began by posting travel posts (that of course featured mostly food) so “Fork in the Road” was a natural play on being on the road and eating my way around the world.
L: We all go through cooking ruts. Where do you find inspiration when this strikes?
K: I’m the queen of ruts because I truly did not learn to cook until around the age of 22 and previous to that I was a very picky eater. Now that I’ve learned to enjoy all foods and flavors I’m continually inspired by fresh, seasonal ingredients and trying new spices and flavors. I love eating cuisines that are a bit off the radar (some of my favorites include Ethiopian and Loatian foods) and love cooking with new fruits and vegetables that I’ve never tried before.
L: I’m always encouraging readers to try new flavors and get creative in the kitchen to show that eating well doesn’t have to be boring or bland. What are your favorite ways to take the flavor of a dish to another level?
K: My motto is that a bit of lemon or lime juice and sprinkle of salt can fix just about anything! Seriously though, I’m a big fan of fresh herbs and a bit of garlic, and I love making homemade sauces. A simple plate of fresh vegetables can be kicked up with spicy harissa sauce or a fresh chimichurri. I’ve also noticed that as I’ve cut out many pre-made and heavily processed foods and focused on consuming fresh, whole foods whenever possible, my taste buds changed dramatically. I am now much more sensitive to salty foods and gained a love of fresh, earthy flavors. I used to find many vegetables bland without cheese or butter smothered on top but now enjoy their complex flavors with just a bit of seasoning, allowing their natural tastes to come through.
L: Since travel is a major part of your life and writing, what’s the best dish you’ve ever had internationally?
K: Oh goodness, I’ve had so many amazing meals that there will never be just one answer. Grilled seafood on the beach in Thailand, eating kangaroo and emu in the Australian outback, and all the kimchi I could handle in Korea. But if I had to choose my favorite meal memories it would be homemade pasta in Italy with my husband’s family. The best meals are usually about the people and the food is secondary.
L: What’s your favorite food city in the U.S.?
K: Hands down my favorite food city in the U.S. is New Orleans. There’s something about that city that speaks to me, there’s nowhere else like it in the country. The spicy cajun and creole food is good for the soul.
L: What is your approach to eating while traveling?
K: I’m the queen of snacks in my purse and being prepared for the afternoon lull with a piece of fruit or crackers, but when I’m traveling for fun to experience and explore I don’t worry about whether something is “healthy.” I naturally gravitate towards fresh vegetables and healthier items because I think they taste better, so eating intuitively to me means I eat what I want and don’t worry about the rest. It’s vacation, it’s a time to try new things and not a time to be worried about the fat or carbohydrate content of each meal.
L: I remember you being a cookbook person like me. Which one do you most often recommend to others and why?
K: I love cookbooks but in the past I was known to collect and look at them, but never cook from them because I had too many. Now I buy 1-2 a year and end up recreating most of the recipes in my own way. My favorite cookbooks are Plenty and Plenty More by Ottolenghi. I love his creative take on fresh vegetables and enjoy trying out the Mediterranean flavors and techniques.
L: Seasonal cooking is woven throughout the messaging of your recipe posts. What are the benefits of cooking with fruits and vegetables that are in season?
K: I did not grow up on local and seasonal food; in fact, most of my childhood meals came from a box with minimal cooking required. As I got older and found a passion for health through food, I saw a huge disconnect between the average American and where their food comes from...myself included. I set out to learn as much as I could about not only nutrition, but also about food systems and the integral role the state of our agriculture plays on health.
Eating seasonally for me means being an active player in my food community by supporting a more sustainable food system. Each time we spend money on food, we are choosing what type of food system we want to engage in and which system will thrive. For me, I choose a system that includes sustainable and regenerative farming and that means eating as locally and seasonally as I can. I frequent farmer’s markets when possible and research farms in my local area to support, and generally avoid buying foods that I know are out of season and shipped from across the world.
L: What is your definition of eating sustainably and why is that important to you?
K: Let’s face it, the standard American diet is not only unhealthy for humans, it is also unhealthy for the environment. Our current food system extracts as much from the land as possible while producing the most amount of food possible, to sell as much food for profit as possible...with no regard for the environment and its ecosystems.
Eating a plant-forward diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and a small amount of animal foods (if you choose to eat them) sourced from farmers who are committed to growing food in a sustainable way is key to healthy future food systems. And, not surprisingly, this way of eating is also healthy for humans as well. It’s a win-win for health and the environment, and it’s my mission to share the benefits of sustainable diets on Fork in the Road.
L: What one tip would you give to readers who are interested in eating more sustainably but don’t know where to start?
K: One tip I would give someone who wants to live a more sustainable lifestyle is to start paying attention. Pay attention to where your fruit and vegetables are grown (there are always signs in the stores to show where they originated), ask questions about where your food is sourced in restaurants and look into farmer’s markets and local farms in your area. Living a more sustainable lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight - it’s a gradual process that includes a mindset shift and an awareness, an “awakening.” There is no perfect “sustainable” diet or way of living, but it’s the small decisions you make every day to think beyond yourself and to the world around you. That’s what sustainable living means to me.
Thanks to Kristina for her wonderful insight! And if you've been drooling over the photos in this post like me, click the following link to find the recipe (along with several other delicious plant-forward creations) on Fork in the Road. Kristina does an amazing job of coming up with unique and flavorful ways to use seasonal ingredients that I just love. Let us know if you give this a try!
photo credit: all photos in this post were taken by Kristina Todini