Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 23, 2013

Rediscovering the kitchen — and healthy habits

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — When Becky Cain’s son Liam and a friend recently headed back to college in Oklahoma, they took a batch of her beloved oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with them.

Over the years, Cain’s cookies have become legendary among her four children’s friends and families.

“I’ve made them for my kids' friends, West Senior High musicals and road trips,” recalled the Traverse City resident who started baking the cookies to soothe her teenage daughter’s romantic ups and downs, then for their friends. Eventually, if her kids’ friends put their names on her calendar, she made them the cookies as a gift.

It’s a labor of love, explained Cain, but she has always loved baking.

“I love the science of putting yummy things together,” she said.

However, Cain realized a few years ago that her love of sugary goodies wasn't doing her body any favors. Deciding she needed to reboot her diet, and encouraged by her then 16-year-old daughter, Cain took a class in 2010 at her chiropractor’s office. Called "The Biggest Winner," the 10-week course pulled together healthy eating, thinking and exercise in a team atmosphere.

It changed the way she looked at her diet and lifestyle.

“I thought I knew all about healthy eating and I did Bikram yoga six to seven days a week, but I was at a plateau,” she said.

The next step was to remove processed foods from her diet.

“I wanted to do the best that I could,” she said, adding that there are levels of ways to eat healthier.

For example, she might use dried beans instead of canned. If a recipe called for a can of vegetables, she'd try using frozen, or better yet, fresh. Grown locally? Even better, said Cain.

As she tweaked her diet, she found recipes she liked and put her own spin on them.

“I’d find recipes and then I’d “healthify” them,” she explained.

Cain has assembled those recipes in a 70-page cookbook titled, "Humbly Healthy," which she sells and gives as gifts. The idea arose after she was invited to four weddings last summer and wanted to give a gift that was inexpensive, yet meaningful.

“It has a little of everything,” she said.

Cain hasn’t actively marketed the book, but has made it available for purchase to family and friends.

In addition, Cain often shares her latest recipes with Facebook friends. That would include a green soup that she makes once a week to have for lunch over several days.

Although Cain loves eating healthier, it’s not without it’s drawbacks, she said.

“I have to do most of my cooking on the weekends,” said Cain, who also works full-time. “It takes time to plan and execute these kinds of meals. I had to fall in love with my kitchen again.

“Ultimately, though I’m taking better care of myself and in the best possible way.”

Cain's cookbook is $18. To purchase a copy contact her at 620-2682 or or visit

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. (2 sticks) butter1 c. packed dark brown sugar1 c. sugar2 large eggs1 t. vanilla extract1 ½ c. flour1 t. baking soda½ t. salt3 c. uncooked oatmeal (Cain prefers old fashioned, but quick oats work just fine)12 oz. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, beat butter until light. Add sugars; beat until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add flour, baking soda and salt; mix well. Stir in oatmeal and chocolate chips until thoroughly combined. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet (Cain likes to line hers with parchment paper for easy clean up). Bake 10-12 minutes or until cookies are just set. Do not over bake. Makes about 5 dozen.

Marvelous Minestrone

2 T. extra virgin olive oil2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2" dice (about 1 cup)1 1 cup fennel6 c. low sodium chicken broth1 c. red onion, diced2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped2 bay leaves2 t. fresh thyme leaves, chopped1/4 t. fennel seeds, crushed1 1/2 c. cooked cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained2 c. fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced1/3 c. uncooked quinoaKosher salt and ground black pepper to taste1 c. fresh spinach, cut chiffonade1 T. basil, thinly sliced2 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated (about 1/2 c.), optional

In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add 6 c. low-sodium chicken broth, beans, tomatoes and quinoa. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to low and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Stir spinach and basil into soup just before serving in bowls. Garnish each with 1 T. cheese, if desired. (From "The Biggest Winner")

Green Soup

2 T. olive oil2 large yellow onions chopped1 t. salt divided2 T. plus 3 c. water1 yam (smallish) 1 bunch kaleApproximately 14 c. spinach4 c. vegetable brothBig pinch cayenne pepperLemon juice to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onions and 1/4 t. salt; cook, stirring frequently until onions start turning brown (about 5 minutes). Reduce heat and add 2 T. water. Cook, stirring occasionally (cover between stirs), until onions are reduced and have a deep caramel color — 25-30 minutes.Meanwhile, combine 3 c. water and ¾ t. salt in a soup pot; add the diced yam. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Trim the white ribs out of the kale; coarsely chop kale and spinach. When yam is soft, add the kale. Cook for 10 minutes. When the onions are caramelized, stir them into the soup pot with spinach, broth and cayenne. Return to simmer, cover and cook until spinach is tender but still bright green — about 5 minutes more.Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender until smooth or in a regular blender in batches (return to pot). Stir in 1 T. lemon juice. Taste and add more if desired. (Note: Cain likes to use rice or potatoes to thicken.) (Adapted from "The Soup for Life" by Anna Thomas.)