As part of our series The Way We Heal, we met with writer, diviner, and model Kendra Austin during her January sabbatical in upstate New York. Growing up the byproduct of 1980’s diet culture and watching her foremothers suffer to make themselves smaller, Kendra has put in the work to unlearn this idea that wellness (and worth) are tied to outward presentations…
What does healing mean to you?
Healing is coming to terms with the nurturing you wish you had, the love you know you deserve, the comforting words never said, and giving them to yourself.
What’s the best advice you have received from an elder?
“Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.” —The late and great bell hooks
What foods, spices, herbs are especially healing to you?
A lot of my emotional work right now is about self-soothing, so foods that feel like a weighted blanket do it for me. I love using ingredients with naturally soothing reactions like rosemary and sage. I love adobo — it was my mom’s favorite and we used it on eggs, mashed potatoes, everything. Every time I use it, I think “wow, this has been with me longer than almost anything.” I love harissa and cumin, just because they are versatile and yummy, and that is healing. I’ve made this recipe using both ingredients in the past and it was bangin’.
How is your relationship to food different from your parents’ or grandparents’ relationship to food?
My family is led by matriarchs with big energy, and yet a lot of them spent time shrinking themselves and thinking about getting thin. They were all incredible cooks who made meals to warm someone through a harsh winter. While they fed others gorgeous roasts and cheesy pastas, they only ate whatever their diet allowed. I grew up watching my mom do this. Serve delicious food to others while restricting herself — there’s a strong metaphor about self-sacrifice there that I’m trying to unlearn along with unlearning restriction and disordered eating as a birthright. I don’t want to live my life fearing each meal when meals bring people together and bringing people together is my life’s purpose. I don’t want to eat a sad salad, making my insecurity just as present at the table as a person would be, while others share in communion over nourishment. Not for me.
Is there a misconception about your culture’s approach to wellness you’d like to dispel?
My parents both have very American roots, but there’s nothing more American than making you feel bad about yourself enough to reject the cultural significance of something as innocent as food. That is something pretty much any other culture understands and honors regularly — I’d like to create that ritual within my personal space.
What does the New Year symbolize for you personally?
The greatest energy I feel this year is acceptance and resilience. Acceptance of my place in making this world a kinder and more tender place. Resilience keeps telling me “get back on the horse, you’ve already been bucked off and you’re okay aren’t you?” I feel like this year is asking me to reaffirm my desires again and be more gentle with myself in pursuit of them: to let go of rejection, disappointment, and shame and just do what makes me feel free and open to connection.
What’s something you’ve had to unlearn about health?
Health is not connected to morality. Health is something to be grateful for, something to nurture to the best of your ability, but it is not something that makes one person better than the other. It is also so diverse and physical health is simply the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been perceived as being in the best health of my life, when I was once thinner and obsessed with thinness, and was emotionally, mentally, and physically suffering beyond recognition. Health is not anyone’s business or up for public debate for this reason.
Is there anything you want to incorporate into your cooking practice this year?
Yes! I want to incorporate baking into my routine. I never do it because it’s basically math and science and I am an artist for a reason but I don’t like to let things intimidate me for long!
Wellness is not…
A goal, product, or project. Wellness is gracious, in flux, and a non-linear journey. Don’t make it another impossible metric or standard that evades you. Wellness is happening to you right now.
Kendra’s Slow-Roasted Short Ribs
2 lbs. whole short ribs
6 tbsp. Kerrygold butter
Many garlic cloves, chopped
1 yellow onion, quartered
2 shallots, sliced
2 cups of beef broth
1 cup of red wine
1 lb. tricolored potatoes
1 lb. tricolored carrots
Fresh thyme, to taste
Fresh rosemary, to taste
Italian seasoning blend, adobo (or salt), and pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Using your Everyday Chef's Knife and Walnut Cutting Board, chop garlic, quarter yellow onion, and slice shallots. Halve your potatoes to ensure even cooking and leave carrots whole, or cut to match width of carrot if bigger.
- Rub the seasonings on each side of your short ribs. I prefer using any adobo mix available and Turn your Perfect Pot up to medium heat. (We won't be here for long, just long enough to get each side browned.)
- Melt the butter in the pot and wait for it to start bubbling.
- Place short ribs into the pan, browning each side for at least 2 minutes. Do not move them until you’re ready to flip to the next side!
- Add shallots, garlic, and herbs in the pot while the last side browns. Turn the heat down to low-medium.
- Add your onion, potatoes, and carrots. Add additional seasoning to taste to ensure the add-ons aren’t bland. I usually put Italian seasoning blend and some extra salt in this stage.
- Cover the meat and vegetables with bone broth and red wine. Let simmer on the stove top for a few minutes and then transfer to the heated oven.
- Cook slow and low for 2 to 2.5 hours. Read, dance, do a puzzle, clean your closet, whatever in between.
- Remove from the oven, plate your meal, light a candle, fork each ingredient for the perfect bite, and enjoy.