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CookEd to LifE

Elli Sparks takes the next step in the locavore movement.


hen Elli Sparks took her family’s nutrition in hand, she stumbled upon a niche market for healthful cooking that appealed to many beyond her own kitchen. In what could simply be considered the step after “think globally, shop locally,” Sparks has learned how to prepare healthfully all those bags of sustainably produced goodies we lug home from the farmers’ markets. She teaches classes twice monthly at her Woodland Heights home, in a large kitchen renovated by her husband, cabinetmaker Rob Staropoli. Sparks offers classes in yogurt (with raw milk, if you’re so inclined), grass-fed beef, sprouted nuts and seeds, homemade pickles and fermented foods. See the list at her site,

photo by scott elmquist

the fridge and on the counter, before we cook it. Also, grass-fed beef requires a third less cooking time. One of the best things about grass-fed beef is the omega-3 fatty acids, the good kind of fat. Cows get omega-3 from grass, not from grains. When we eat grass-fed, we get the benefits of omega-3, which include healthy hearts and good mental health. One of my favorite grass-fed beef recipes is steak tartare.

Belle: Is there really that much interest in making your own yogurt? SparkS: Who knew? I scheduled one yogurt class last month. There was so much interest that my first class filled up and I added a second class. That one filled in one afternoon!

Is cooking grass-fed beef any different from cooking regular beef? Sure is. Grass-fed beef is lean. Think of how a hunter handles venison — a lean meat — curing it first before freezing it. The way most butchers prepare beef these days is tailored to feed-lot beef. They don’t build in enough time to cure grass-fed beef. So we’ve got to add some time for curing, in

Wait. Raw beef? Yup. Raw beef has enzymes in it that we need for digestion. It is actually easier to digest than cooked meat. But it’s really important to make sure you trust your farmer and the butcher. I would never eat feed-lot beef raw. I also like to teach people about organ meat. It gives everyone the heebie-jeebies. But when you look at primitive cultures, that’s what they eat first because that’s where nutrients are most concentrated. OK, sprouts. Are you talking about those jars of alfalfa sprouts everyone grew in the ’70s? Not really. I’m talking about soaking or sprouting nuts and grains. Wheat, for example. A lot of people have trouble digesting wheat. But for some, it’s not wheat itself that’s the problem, it’s the way we prepare it. Wheat has a natural enzyme inhibitor in it that is only released through soaking. We need enzymes to digest our food. So if we eat food that inhibits those enzymes, we have more digestive trouble and get less of the nutrition from our food. But if we soak the wheat first, it starts to sprout. That process turns off the enzyme inhibitor — we actually put more enzymes into our bodies that way, instead of inhibiting them. Is all of this effort really worth the trouble? Food is supposed to heal and build our bodies. And that’s what I want folks to know: how to make real food that truly heals us and builds healthy bodies and happy minds.

THE THINkER’S DRINk While archaeological evidence suggests that wine has been around for nearly 10,000 years, it’s a topic that never grows old. If you’re a frequent traveler through the world of wine, Women for WineSense wants to be your guide. The education and networking organization for wine professionals and enthusiasts has 10 chapters across the country. The chapter in richmond is 7 years old, open to both men and women and holds a wine tasting and a short business meeting every month in local restaurants and wine shops. an annual dinner is held in april, and the group visits a Virginia winery each October. This month the group visits Mise En Place cooking school in Shockoe Slip on March 28 at 6 p.m., to sample a selection of appetizers paired with wines. Next month an event at Sensi in Tobacco row is billed as a coming-of-age party — the national organization turns 21 — celebrating with three wines and three courses april 25 at 6 p.m. For information or to register for any of the group’s events, contact event coordinator Phyllis herriges at 358-5032 or e-mail


March 2011 | 9 |

Belle March 2011  

Style Weekly's magazine for Richmond women.

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