07/01/2010 10:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Visit to My Kitchen: Maya Rodale

I have a very special guest in my kitchen today -- my daughter Maya! Well, she's usually in my kitchen quite a lot; she's got the inside scoop on the truth of what really goes on in the real Maria's Farm Country Kitchen. Fortunately, she doesn't divulge too many secrets about me. I am so proud of her because not only has she just published her third romance novel, A Groom of One's Own; finished her master's degree in humanities; and started a real job as communications director at the Rodale Institute (; she's also getting married in the fall. And she's learned to eat a much wider variety of foods.

Seriously, when she was little she would take sardines and cheerios in her school lunch but refuse to eat anything resembling a sandwich, and wouldn't eat bananas, peanut butter, jelly (or any cooked fruit), tomatoes, cheese, or condiments of any sort. You have no idea how many options that eliminates, and how challenging that was for a young single parent. Fortunately, we both survived and thrived, and I've become a much better cook as a result. These days, she will sometimes eat tomatoes and sometimes eat cheese, depending on how it's prepared, but she still won't eat the other stuff. The fact that she is a lovely, successful, highly organized, and healthy young woman with an awesome sense of humor (who also is turning out to be a great cook herself) warms her old Mom's heart. Buy her book!

1. Why is living organic important to you?

Besides the fact that I grew up with it, and would be in deep trouble if I didn't... I live an organic life because it feels good. When I eat organic food, or spend time in nature, or move around outside instead of sitting inside, I physically feel good. When I buy stuff-- food or makeup, home stuff or office supplies-- I always go for the ecofriendly version, which is becoming easier and cheaper to do. I suffer pangs of guilt if I don't. So, basically, I live an organic life for the pleasure of it.

2. What was your favorite food growing up?

I was a notoriously picky eater when I was growing up... until I grew up and met an even pickier eater (Dear Reader, I'm marrying him!). But when I was a kid, I loved something called "Peas, rice, and vegetables," which was exactly that (but I think there was chicken in it, too. Go figure.).

3. What's your go-to comfort food now?

My momma's cookin'! I especially love her chicken soup and mac 'n' cheese. She's an amazing, fantastic, fun, delicious cook. As for my own recipes, lately, I've been making my own version of a sweet potato recipe from the Obamas' chef that I read about in People magazine. It's delicious, and how I get my fiancé to eat dark, leafy vegetables. I lost the original, and I always make it up as I go, but below is a rough guideline.

Note: Um, I don't measure or time stuff (unless you count the smoke detector going off-- that's when I know it's done). Mostly things work out just fine. I reckon this one takes about 30 minutes, start to finish.

Sautéed Sweet Potato with Dark Greens

adapted and narrated by Maya Rodale

1. Cut up a sweet potato or two into smallish pieces as uniform as possible. (Two sweet potatoes feed my fiancé and me, with zero leftovers.)

2. Cook 'em in a skillet in olive oil on medium heat.

3. When they've started to soften up, add chopped garlic, ginger, and a li'l bit of spring onion. Of course, this can all be tailored to your preferences. Mix it all up.

4. After a bit, when the potatoes are almost done, add super-finely chopped chard or kale -- like, confetti-size pieces -- and mix that in. This is my trick for consuming LOTS of dark, leafy greens without it feeling like a chore. This is also how I get my fiancé -- and my dog -- to consume them, small pieces, mixed with stuff they like.

5. Add butter and serve. Voilà!

Sometimes I add chopped asparagus as well. It's all about the sweet and the bitter together. I think green beans or even lima beans might work, too. Then, add some more butter -- because everything is better with butter.

Sometimes I cover the skillet when I want the potatoes to cook faster without burning. Sometimes I don't.

For extra credit, mix honey and lemon and drizzle that over everything when it's done.

This goes great with grass-fed steak or organic pork chops.

4. What's the one thing in your kitchen you just couldn't live without?

Coffee. Or maybe my cast-iron skillet.

5. What magazine, website, book, album, or product are you most obsessed with right now?

There's a lovely historical romance novel out now, with dukes and love quandrangles and scandalous lady newspaper reporters. Oh, what's it called? Hmm... A Groom Of One's Own, by Maya Rodale, in stores now!

6. What's the most important news story today that you think we all need to pay more attention to?

How our food is grown. The more I think about it and read about it, the more I am convinced that almost every major problem we're facing can be fixed with a return to organic agriculture. Whether it's illnesses, obesity, the environment, or starving kids in Africa, or fuzzy puppies sick from bad dog food, I think ditching the chemicals and going organic will make a lot of creatures healthier and happier.

7. Where do you get your news?

For my job at Rodale Institute as communications director (not to be confused with my romance-writing gig), I read a ton of environmentally focused blogs, from Civil Eats to Agline News. The really interesting stuff comes from Monsanto's blog or Cargill's news updates. For all other news, my favorite sources are:, Huffington Post, New York Post (delivered to our door and devoured with breakfast), People magazine, and Us Weekly (I ALWAYS win the celebrity gossip round in pub quiz, single-handedly). And The Daily Show, because we're all lost without a sense of humor.

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