TEXARKANA – Lots of people are concerned these days about cooking and eating more healthily. Denise Graves, a dietician with 25 years experience, helped with those concerns by holding a class at Wadley’s Senior Clinic in Texarkana where she is Clinic Dietician, to discuss ways of better meal preparation using ingredients that are easy to find (or grow) and that are great for making tasty meals. She chooses a different subject each month for classes on heart health.
Denise loves good food. She once wanted to become a chef but opted for a career as a dietician instead, earning a degree from North East Louisiana University in Monroe, now the University of Louisiana – Monroe. She really enjoys cooking good food but also knows that good meals mean fresh, healthy ingredients. She realized that many of the herbs and spices she depends on when bought in grocery stores can be less than fresh and quite expensive. Denise became interested in using fresh herbs years ago and learned how to blend certain herbal flavors with foods she and her family enjoy, herbs and spices that give zest and flavor to the meals she prepares.
In order to have a supply of those cooking herbs on hand, she has experimented with successfully growing a variety at her home in Nashville. She grows the common seasoning herbs such as sage, thyme, garlic and, of course, rosemary, her favorite in the herbal world.
“Years ago, I saw huge rosemary plants growing in these big pots in Charleston, South Carolina and fell in love with it,” Denise said. “It was such a beautiful plant so I decided to plant it at home.”
She also grows other herbs – basil, oregano, savory, sweet marjoram, both German and lemon thyme, parsley, St. John’s wort and fennel. Delighted with her success with the other herbs she had planted, Denise decided to branch out a little.
“I was looking through one of those catalogs you can order plants from and came across saffron,” she said. “It’s so expensive to buy in the store, maybe the most expensive, but I saw these bulbs and I decided to order a few, just to see if I could grow it,” she explained. “I planted the bulbs and that fall they bloomed. The bloom is so beautiful!”
The picture she had taken with her cell phone showed beautiful purple blooms with long yellow stamens from which the saffron comes.
“You have to pick the flowers in the morning when it first blooms,” Denise explained, “and then carefully pull out the stamens. I place the stamens on waxed paper on the kitchen counter to dry, then when they’re dry, I put them in small plastic bags until I’m ready to use them, or like I did this year, give most of them away,” she said with a smile. “I especially like to use them in saffron rice.”
Denise said that she cooks healthy meals for her family and that the herbs and spices, plus plenty of whole grains, add extra flavor to everyday dishes. She limits salt, white flour, fats and sugar in her cooking, preferring salt substitutes, whole grain flour, extra virgin olive oil, and honey or unsweetened apple sauce instead. She also incorporates lots of dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and other greens into her meals.
For one of her “heart-healthy” classes at the Wadley Senior Clinic, Denise brought a vase of various herbs she grows so that those attending might see what the individual stems look like and be able to touch and smell the leaves. As a door prize, she had arranged a basket of various heart-healthy cooking ingredients. The members of the class seemed to thoroughly enjoy their learning experience and said they were looking forward to attending more of her classes.
Denise is the wife of Mike Graves, CEO of Nashville News. The couple have two children, Rexanne, 25, and Andrew Michael, 20, both of Fayetteville.