With so many mixed signals about food saturating the Internet (does anyone know the final verdict on juice cleanses?!), Dillon Tisdel’s easy, simple approach to food is truly a breath of fresh air. After leaving the restaurant business following the birth of her son, Dillon felt called to combine her interests in food, writing and health to create a new food blog called Oh, Holy Basil.
While plant-based diets tend to get a bad rap as unsatisfying and lacking in flavor, Dillon’s philosophy flips this notion on its head. Instead of minimizing certain (well-loved) food groups, she chooses to focus on nutrient-dense meals that taste delicious and make her feel superhuman, too. Going vegan never seemed so heavenly! Read on to find out about Dillon’s journey into blogging, motherhood and enjoying a plant-based diet.
We’re big fans of your blog Oh, Holy Basil! What made you decide to take the leap and start the site?
Sometimes life comes along and says, “Hey, do this!” That is how Oh, Holy Basil was born. Blogging wasn’t really on my mind. I read food blogs and loved them, but I wasn’t a food photographer and I had it somewhere deep in my brain that being a professional photographer was a prerequisite for food blogging. After my son was born, I knew the restaurant chapter of my life was closed and I didn’t know what was next. Then people started asking me if I had ever considered food blogging. Friends, acquaintances, random strangers on Instagram, all started asking about it. It got weird. But, as I started to really think about it, the idea gave me energy. It felt right. I was able to combine things that I loved—writing, food, health—and so I went for it.
Can you tell us a little about your approach to a plant-based diet?
I have heard a lot of vegetarians and vegans say that they never really liked eating meat. I am definitely not that person. While I always loved vegetables, I could also get down on a 12-ounce steak like nobody’s business. I have a fast metabolism and I used to feel like I needed a lot of protein to feel grounded. I went vegetarian as a teenager, which worked for a time, but at a certain point, I hit a wall and felt nutritionally depleted.
The approach to food that has ultimately worked for me has a lot less to do with what I avoid and more to do with what I emphasize. I have found that despite my obscene appetite, I feel vibrant eating just plants. Had you told that to my steak-mongering self, you would have been met with incredulity. Vegetarianism always made sense to me, but no cheese? Just plants? Maybe for rabbits, but not for me. That belief system crumbled when I tried a raw food diet.
While eating raw, something interesting happened. Despite consuming nothing but vegetables, fruit, sprouts, nuts, seeds and high-quality oils, I felt fantastic. I needed less food. The food I was eating was less calorically dense than, let’s say, fried chicken and mashers, but the nutrient density far surpassed anything that my body had ever experienced. I felt almost superhuman. A raw diet didn’t work for me in the long term, but it did show me a different way to think about food.
Instead of relegating vegetables to the “side dish” category, they now make up the majority of my plate. Seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains play a significant role in my diet, but at the end of the day, vegetables are the main event.
Tell us about the Ayurvedic philosophy.
Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine that comes from ancient India. In Ayurveda, there are three elemental principles, called doshas, that make up our individual constitutions. These doshas—Vata, Pitta and Kapha—work in the mind and body, governing what will bring us into balance and what will imbalance us. The doshas are elemental in nature: Vata is governed by air and ether, Pitta by fire and water and Kapha by earth and water.
Ayurveda can seem theoretical at first, but it’s really quite intuitive once you get a basic grasp of it. Take the seasons: Ayurveda recommends that we eat to balance our specific constitution, but also that we eat with the qualities of a given season in mind. Autumn is governed by Vata, the weather starts to cool, the winds pick up, leaves and earth start to dry. Ayurveda offsets the cool, dry qualities of Vata season by favoring warm drinks, warming spices, grounding root vegetables and refraining from raw food.
Late winter marks the beginning of Kapha season. Imagine the light, fresh snow of early winter becoming the heavy, burdened, wet snow of late winter. This is an image of Kapha season. A runny nose is a tell-tale sign of excess Kapha in the body (Kapha governs mucus). We offset the qualities of Kapha season with the cleansing offerings of early spring. Lighter food like greens and sprouts are favored, and oils and fats, which were balancing during Vata season, are reduced to assist the movement of Kapha. Warm weather heralds in Pitta season. Pitta is pacified by cooling foods. More raw food can be eaten, fruit and cooling vegetables are favored and spicy foods are avoided.
The wisdom of Ayurveda is in its alignment with the natural order of things. There is something incredibly instinctive about it. Eat warm things when it’s cold; eat cool things when it’s warm. Ayurveda has trained me to listen to my body with more genuine curiosity and love.
Are you a “live in the past” or “live in the moment” gal?
Live in the moment. Sometimes I think that I was born without the gene for sentimentality. It’s a little disconcerting.
What are your top three whole food menu-planning tips?
- Create a menu that you are excited about. I think that it is important to enjoy your food. If you are in a rut, get out of it! Sit down and think about what you would like to eat in a given week. If you are craving food that isn’t so health-supportive, find a whole-food adaptation and try it out. Visit blogs or cookbooks for inspiration and find things that you will be delighted to make and eat.
- Batch cook. Make a big batch of quinoa that can be eaten multiple ways. Make a grain salad, mix it into a stir-fry or add it to a soup or homemade veggie burger. Make a big pot of beans and use it different ways: hummus, soup, salad, etc. Think beyond a single meal when you cook.
- Stock your pantry. I always have brown rice pasta, quinoa, lentils, garlic, canned tomatoes and coconut milk on hand for quick, last-minute meals. If I have broccoli or kale in the fridge, a super quick meal might be pasta with garlic oil, lots of broccoli and hemp seeds.
Tell us: Where are the best places to shop for produce in New Mexico?
Northern New Mexico has a great farmers’ market scene. Buying my food from the person that grew it is definitely my favorite way to shop.
How do you incorporate your plant-based diet into your child’s meals?
My son, Joah, has grown up eating this way, so he is pretty good at eating vegetables. One thing I will say is that he, like many kids, likes simple preparations. He is happier if his vegetables are cooked separately versus, let’s say, stir-fried.
I’m definitely not afraid to pull sneaky mom moves on my son. I put flax and hemp seeds in his oatmeal, almond butter and chia seeds in his chocolate chip cookies and spread avocado on his sandwiches like you would mayo.
He loves kale, but only if it’s steamed and tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and a good dose of salt. We had spinach the other day and he said, “Mama, this kale is yucky.”
What’s one item that we should all have in our pantries?
Just one? That’s hard, but I’m going to go with coconut oil.
The city or place you most want to visit?
What is your favorite thing to share on Instagram?
I like sharing the actual food that I eat—real meals. I don’t do it very often. I sometimes look at my Instagram feed and wonder if people think I’m the most ridiculous health supportive chef ever. They must say, “Wow, all she eats is dessert.”
What’s the best way to end your day?
With a warm, spiced almond milk beverage. In Ayurveda, it is traditional to drink a spiced milk before bed. I find it to be a super luscious ritual.
What is your go-to weekly meal to cook?
The most frequently made meal in my house looks something like this: a whole grain (like quinoa or brown rice), a steamed green (usually broccoli or kale), a roasted vegetable (like sweet potato, beet or cauliflower), potentially a legume, a fermented vegetable (usually kimchi), a handful of sprouts, a sauce (usually carrot miso ginger sauce) and a sprinkle of sesame or sunflower seeds. It’s a bento bowl of sorts and it makes me feel stellar.
For someone looking to start a food blog, what would be your top five beginner’s tips?
- Get clear. Why do you want to start a food blog? At this point, the food blogging world is super saturated. That doesn’t mean that you can’t start a successful blog—it just means that you need to set yourself apart. Definitely don’t start a food blog because you want to be someone else! What is your particular contribution to the conversation about food? What do you care about? Start there.
- Be patient. Food blogging takes a lot of tenacity, especially in the beginning. Know that it will take time to grow your tribe. Keep showing up and release the timing—it’s out of your control.
- Show up. I feel a little bit ridiculous giving this advice, because I have been a bit of an absentee blogger of late, but really show up. I mean that both physically (or virtually) and in the quality of your content. Keep posting, especially in the beginning. If you want your readers to take you seriously, take your commitment to them seriously. Don’t put out content that you feel is subpar, but also keep in mind that it’s a blog, not a book. Every component of a post doesn’t have to be perfect every time. Sometimes my photos or my writing is stronger than others, but overall, I make sure I feel good about my content.
- Find your voice. Blogging is an intimate platform by definition. That doesn’t mean you need to (or should) spill your guts, but it does mean that you will be served by realness.
- Invest in a good camera. Learn about light. I hate to say it, but decent photography is requisite to food blogging. My food photography is nowhere near where I want it to be, but it has grown significantly and that keeps me motivated to stay with it.
What’s an easy way to introduce a plant-based diet into your life?
Start small. Don’t try to change everything at once. Start by eating what you would normally eat, but add nutrient-dense, plant foods to your plate. Try a sweet potato instead of a white potato, quinoa instead of white rice, add some roasted carrots or Brussels sprouts to your plate. Then you can try cutting out dairy. Swap coconut oil for butter. Try making your own almond milk. It’s way more delicious than the boxed stuff and doesn’t have the weird stabilizers. Replace refined sugar with unrefined.
This can feel like a big change because most of us are used to baking with traditional ingredients, but it’s easy once you get familiarized with the substitutions.
Then try cutting out meat, continue to eat fish if that makes it easier. Keep it up—swapping conventional food for plant-based alternatives—and soon you will be eating like a crazy hippie!
Most importantly, get support. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of resources out there for people transitioning to a plant-based diet. It can be helpful to find a friend or coach who has already done it to help guide you through the process. Everyone I know who has made this transition has been shocked by how they feel. They often find themselves having more energy, greater clarity and better sleep. While it is a huge transition, I would say that it’s much easier than it seems.