Port Moody nutritionist & cook looks to balance your life with new cookbook

'This Kitchen is for Dancing' is Karlene Karst’s first book on cooking, ostensibly drawing on a kitchen philosophy where health and spare time matter more than recreating a foodie's perfect dish.

Of all the cookbooks and all the foodie websites out there, it’s easy to get caught in the latest diet or culinary craze. Everyone, it seems, has become an expert. 

Into that mire has stepped Port Moody’s Karlene Karst, a trained nutritionist and writer who has spent years honing what it takes to balance family, profession and those seemingly elusive moments where everyone can disconnect and sit down for a good meal. 

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Now she’s sharing it in her latest book, This Kitchen is for Dancing, a nearly 300-page hardcover brick of recipes and tips on living a healthy, well-balanced life.

Karst makes it seem effortless, but it wasn’t always that way, she told The Tri-City News.

Prairies with a pop

Growing up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan Karst says she spent her early years torn between the farm-to-plate reality of her mom’s home cooking and the latest packaged novelty.

“When I grew up on a farm, we didn't have money to buy packaged food. So as soon as I was out of my house, I wanted to eat out of a box,” she said, remembering the excitement of buying white, refined food, filled with sugar.

When Karst was 19-years-old, her father died. In that stressful time, she started feeling pain in her joints, and that same year she was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition known as mixed connective tissue disease. 

“Basically, the connective tissue and your body gets inflamed and almost turns into cement,” she said.

Her doctor put her on prescription drugs, which led to side effects, more drugs and “tons of Advil and Tylenol.” 

“It was a vicious cycle,” she said. “And at the same time, I wasn't feeding myself well. I was following a low-fat diet because that was really popular.”

Partly due to her and her father’s struggles with health, and partly out of sheer fascination, Karst started studying nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan. Over the five years she was there, the orthodoxy around what constituted a healthy diet evolved with her own diet.

“The Bible of nutrition was the Canada Food Guide. And we're talking 10 servings of carbohydrates a day, juice is considered a fruit and vegetable, you know? They talked about saturated fat like it was the evil,” she said. “There were so many misconceptions.”

Aging gracefully

A few years after graduating, Karst moved to B.C. and met her partner, a Vancouverite from a real eastside Italian family who taught her about enjoying food with family, she said.

By the time her three children started to arrive 12 years ago, she had completely transformed the way she ate.

Karst with her daughter
Karst with her daughter - Subnmitted

Gone were the sugary drinks and excessive servings of carbohydrates. With that change, Karst says she has been able to manage the symptoms of her autoimmune condition.

“I feel better now in my mid 40s than I did in my early 20s: I have way more energy, I don't go through periods of pain, I sleep better, I'm happier, I’m in better shape,” she said.

Eating well and in moderation is a lesson that needs more air, says Karst. If deprivation and overindulgence were on a bell curve, our society would be well over the hill, gnawing on reconstituted chicken tenders and Cinnabons.  

“Never before have we seen rates of disease like they are now. There's just so many inflammatory conditions and diabetes and obesity — people really need to make some changes,” said Karst. “You can't live your life on boxed [and] freezer food. It's just not going to work. And so the earlier you can instil some of these really true food values with your family and kids, the healthier they will be in the long term.” 

A book for balance

This Kitchen is for Dancing is Karlene Karst’s fifth book, and while it’s her first book on cooking — it contains over 100 recipes — it ostensibly draws on her writing as a nutritionist as much as her time in the kitchen.

Her recipes include many alternatives, everything from cashew dip for kids, to turkey, quinoa meatloaf, and butternut squash noodles and pesto. But they also offer easy twists on classics, like roasted heirloom tomato-basil soup and lamb shank curry, as well as handy snacks, like her Snickers energy balls. 

 

Do not expect a traditional Valencian take on paella; Karst’s version of shakshuka and chimichurri will not have you throwing out your grandmothers’ recipes. 

She comes from a kitchen philosophy where health and spare time matter more than recreating the perfect sour orange-achiote balance of cochinita pibil, that recipe still stuck on your tongue from the last trip to the Yucatan. 

Karst is not a professional chef, and she admits it. For anyone who cares — or aspires to care — about cooking, Karst pushes the reader to make the kitchen the centre of your home. And while she won’t be filling any niches in a foodies gastronomic experiments, she does offer a blueprint in practicality and healthy eating.

The first 30-odd pages of the book walk you through her story and the provide practical advice for living a healthy routine, such as occasionally disconnecting from wifi, planning meals, and savouring what’s in front of you.

On the surface, these pieces of advice might seem like platitudes, but I expect they’ll still ring true for many readers trying to bring semblance to their busy lives. 

One of the biggest strengths of Karst’s latest book lies in her emphasis on picking quality ingredients and carving out time in the kitchen with family.

“It's important for people to kind of get back to the basics of learning how to cook simple things like soups, and sauces, and salad dressings,” she said, “Just some basic things to have at your fingertips that can help you pull off a meal in 30 minutes when you're in between work and sports and all the other things that kind of go along with wanting to create a healthy family living environment.”

Port Moody nutritionist, writer and home cook Karlene Karst will be signing her latest book, This Kitchen is for Dancing, today, June 23, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Coquitlam Chapters-Indigo branch at 2991 Lougheed Highway. 

 

 

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