We're taking you to the home of the lovely Nicole Bianchi of Food & Hearth to learn a little more about her career as a nutritionist, and with the help of her 2 adorable little girls, Addy & Kate, she's going to teach us how to make her amazing vegan Sweet Potato Soup in her sunny, bright filled San Francisco kitchen.
Tell us about your career and why you chose this path.
As a nutritionist, I feel like I do some of the most rewarding, joyful work. I have the privilege of working with clients and small-groups, to be involved in their self-care journeys and often times to work in tandem with other healthcare providers to help people feel better. As a nutrition educator, I get to teach and learn, and when I think of it that way, I could do this work endlessly and never tire of it. One advantage I have is my own long and complicated relationship with food. The bumpy ride I've had allows me to relate to many types of food-related struggles. I began to fully embrace cooking and nutrition as a way to take care of myself after my second daughter was born in 2010, and since then, I have grown more and more passionate about helping others nourish themselves and their families.
I am not focused on perfection, but rather I am most inspired by the small changes my clients make, which allow them to shine brighter, live fuller lives, cultivate better health and do their part in making choices that positively impact our environment.
What is the biggest mistake people make when trying to pursue a healthier diet?
When trying to pursue a healthier, more nourishing diet, I find that there are many misconceptions around what and how to eat to support health. One common misstep is avoiding healthy, plant-based fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds and coconut. For many years, a lot of us subscribed to the nonfat and low-fat diet craze, and we often did more harm than good by missing out on healthy fats, which are beneficial to us. I help clients reintroduce them into their diets slowly, in order to reacquaint the body to digesting this important category of nutrients. I also educate them on what are healthy, nature-made fats versus harmful ones.
Another misstep I encounter is the belief that you have to be a skilled cook in order to cook! I encourage even the most inexperienced-at-cooking clients to start with the basics in the kitchen. Like with anything else, sourcing ingredients, food prep and cooking become easier with practice, and with ease comes joy. One of the healthiest things a person can do is prepare more meals at home, so my hope for people is to let go of being a good cook and have some fun in the kitchen, and to trust that they will get better and faster in the kitchen with practice.
How do you come up with new recipes and can you tell us specifically how this yummy vegan sweet potato soup recipe was created?
I look for recipe inspiration everywhere. My clients are often times my greatest source of inspiration because they are looking for practical, yummy solutions to real challenges. I also look to the seasons and what produce is at its peak and develop recipes with those ingredients in mind. Lastly, I love perusing social media, where I see so many beautiful colors and food preparations that get my mind to swirling with ideas.
This vegan almond, ginger and sweet potato soup is inspired by a recipe I found back in 2011 when I was a featured blogger for Wholeliving's 28-Day Action Plan. With a newborn and a toddler in tow, and a very tired body, the challenge was particularly difficult for me, but cooking became a sort of therapy. This time period also marks the beginning of my love affair with soups and stews, because I discovered all the sensory benefits of making and eating them. I have since adapted many of the soup recipes from that challenge. In fact this recipe was originally made with different ingredients, including chicken and chicken broth, but a client of mine who keeps a vegan kitchen was looking for a nourishing, building and warming soup recipe, so this vegan version became a reality, and I have to say I am partial to it.
What do you love about living in San Francisco?
Oh, let me count the reasons why I love living in San Francisco. First, I love the energy I feel every time I step out my door. This is, in part, because San Francisco is a world-class city, but it is also because of the uniqueness of the Bay Area in general — its geography, beauty and attitudes. I will always appreciate the welcoming of self-expression, the ingenuity and the fostering of new ideas. I also love our proximity to the ocean, to vibrant, sustainable agriculture and to diversity in cultures, which all contribute to an exciting part of my work — trying new foods and exploring all sorts of nourishing traditions. If I had to name one thing I struggle with living in San Francisco, it would be the cool weather. While some people find the fog romantic, I feel much better in the sunshine, which is another reason soups and stews have become a vital part of my life — they keep me warm and cozy when I have to go long stretches without the sun.
Why did you choose the Riley bag, and can we take a peek inside and see what you carry around in it everyday?
I chose the Riley bag because of its aesthetic beauty, its functionality and its quality. I want to have fewer things but nicer things, and the Riley is a bag I will carry for a long time! The fact that it was made with love for the environment was also very important to me. The laptop pocket was essential for me, since I rely on my laptop to bring my work from home to the office and back again.
On any given day, you will find a few things in my Riley bag including my laptop, a couple of books (right now, I’m carrying my Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine and The Urban Monk by Pedram Shojai, OMD), a canvas pouch with pens, pencils and a highlighter, and my lip gloss.
At Filbert, we are trying to “make things better” by creating a luxe vegan handbag that is mindfully made in the USA. In your career as a nutritionist, what do you wish was “made better”?
As a mom and a nutritionist, I wish nutrient-dense food was more accessible to more people, especially to children. As we tackle the health crises of each new generation, I believe that organic, nutritious food will play a major role. We have a long way to go as a society to get nourishing foods into the hands of people and families, and I hope the waves of change bring us in the direction of more access to organically grown, whole foods, and that I can do my part in that positive shift.
Here's the link to Nicole's vegetable broth and here's her delicious vegan soup recipe for you to try at home.
Vegan Sweet Potato Soup
Extra virgin olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock (I like to make my own because it’s so easy and adds a lot of vibrant veggie love to all your recipes! My recipe for vegetable stock is here)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 minced garlic cloves
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced (2 cups)
1/2 cup smooth almond butter
1 cup baby spinach
2 tablespoons peeled and grated/minced fresh ginger
Real salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a stock pot over medium/high heat, until shimmering
Add onion and garlic and sauté until fragrant
Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
Add sweet potato and ginger
Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover
Let simmer for about 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the almond butter and 1/2 cup of the soup mixture into a thick paste.
Stir in the almond butter paste.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add the spinach simmer, covered, for 5 more minutes.
Ladle the soup into bowls, and top generously with cubed avocados in lime juice.
Thanks for sharing a little glimpse into your world, Nicole!
Photos by www.nickbrown.com