We already know that I love a kit. And when it comes to cooking, I think I hold my own, but I don’t think of myself as a natural-born chef. So when I became aware of Chef Stacey Hawkins's Time Savor Solutions, I was beyond intrigued. I feel like people have been trying to package cooking “solutions” since the dawn of time because for many, cooking healthy meals regularly is indeed a problem to be solved.
As I said here last week, I’m extremely grateful to be enjoying cooking more and more lately, both as an eating disorder survivor and in consideration of those less fortunate. Cooking for myself has helped me focus on healthy choices, which is what Time Savor aims for. The kit that I’ve been lucky enough to try is called the 50/50 kit, which comes with Chef Stacey’s signature pre-blended spice products, a cookbook, instructional DVD, individual recipe cards, Roasted Garlic Oil, and Balsamic Molto Cotto. The welcome letter in the kit begins, “The 50/50 kit, combined with YOU and your talents (yes, you have them whether you believe it or not), give you everything you need …”
I chuckled at the parenthetical encouragement right out of the gate, but I had no idea how sincerely Chef Stacey means it until I spoke with her on the phone. After a compulsory mention of how cold it is here in New York, she asked:
“Have you had a chance to play with some of the goodies I sent?”
Me: “I haven’t made a full dish yet, but I’ve been sniffing all the spices.”
Stacey: “Oh, good. So that’s a start.”
We both laughed and I was grateful that she has a sense of humor. Chef Stacey told me that Time Savor began as a labor of love that she had never intended to become a business. 13 years ago, she had a busy career as a corporate executive with a business consulting company. Her first child was a toddler at the time, and she described herself as “a stressed-out new mom, about 100 pounds overweight.”
She continued, “And I walked away from it all, because I had to. I wanted to focus on my family, and I found myself in this situation where I wanted to start my kids off eating well, and to get myself and my own health back in focus. I just dove into healthy cooking, having failed on just about every diet that was out there, because I’d stay on [a diet] for about a week and then get tired of eating chicken or salad and I said ‘there’s got to be a better way.’ So I started putting these concoctions together, because I found out that you could put a lot of flavor into food without a lot of preservatives or calories or salt or bad stuff, if you knew how to put herbs and spices together, and how to cook it properly.”
Stacey told me how she dove into preparing healthy meals, and one day at a playgroup, one of the other mothers offered to pay her for an individual dish she had cooked and brought to share. That showed Chef Stacey that she might be able to do what she had been doing on a larger scale, and she started with a line of spices that she jarred herself and sold from home.
Stacey says, “I found that when I made small changes but was happy with what I was eating because it was flavorful, it was like magic. I started dropping significant weight, and people were saying to me ‘What are you doing’ so I started putting cooking classes together in people’s homes. Then the gym noticed, and I started getting more attention, and then cable came to me and offered me a local cooking show, and it was just one thing after another that led to … this business.
"I’m now a [Culinary Institute of America] trained chef, because I figured y’know if I’m gonna be on TV I’d better get some credentials behind me, so I went to the Culinary Institute and got that degree and I’ve been able to pull together my experience as a single mom now [following a divorce], a businesswoman, a stressed-out corporate professional, and now a chef, and take the best of all those worlds and combine them to meet my mission, which is to help harried women, and families in general, to put a healthy whole-foods-based meal on the table that’s quick, that’s easy, but they don’t feel guilty about serving or eating and that everyone enjoys. My goal is to change the way people look at food, to get back to the kitchen, and back to the family dinner table, and have some fun!”
I was feeling pretty inspired already, and we’d barely begun talking specifically about the kit and her recipes. I’m so impressed by anyone who creates and markets a product themselves; particularly when it involves a change in careers, like going from a corporate environment to following your passion.
Stacey insists that the reason she could do it and that it keeps growing “in spite of having two little kids and being a single mom and struggling,” as she puts it, is because it’s “a heart-centered business.” She says, “There are so many people out there like me, who found themselves in the same boat and they’re like, ‘Okay if you can do it, I can do it because you’re just like me.’ And that really is the truth, and the message that I have to share with everyone; that you can do this. I mean, I’m nobody special. I happen to have been given a great gift: I have good tastebuds, and so I put this together because I want to be able to empower other people to do the same thing.”
I told Stacey that I know there’s a clear need and benefit for families, especially single parents, to have easy and healthy meal solutions, but what about women like me? I’ve struggled with making healthy meals for just myself because, even as I’ve learned to value my health and actually want to feed my body in recent years, it’s still easy for me to discount myself when it comes to solo meal planning.
I know I should have more self-esteem, but you also know I don’t lie to you; most of the time, it has made more sense to me, or maybe I should say the impulse has been stronger, to go to the trouble to buy fresh ingredients and dirty the pots and pans if I’m setting two places at the table, or if I’m babysitting my nieces, or taking a dish to a potluck.
But as the Great War of Self-Esteem continues, major battles have been won in the kitchen for me lately. I’m dirtying the pots and pans more and more. Also, I haven’t weighed myself in months, which is a huge personal victory. What I cook and eat isn’t about a number on a scale anymore as much as it is about deliciousness and health.
I’m not mad at the money-saving element of cooking at home, either. It’s probably true everywhere, but especially tempting here in New York to just order food all the time. Everything is available 24/7, and will likely deliver, as long as you’d like to continue hemorrhaging money.
I told Stacey about my mini-evolution in the kitchen; how the joy of cooking really blossomed during a former relationship a few years back, and how I struggled afterward to value myself enough to put in the work. I said, “Y’know, they say not to be prideful, but I actually am kind of proud that I was able to carry that over, being a single person again. Cooking is satisfying, literally and figuratively, and I don’t even think about ordering food regularly anymore ….”
Chef Stacey pretty much went off on me at that point, albeit adorably so. (CAPS for my emphasis.)
Stacey: “You know what, you brought up something that I really want to emphasize; as far as feeling prideful — PLEASE, I NEVER WANT YOU TO SAY EVER AGAIN ‘FORGIVE ME FOR BEING PRIDEFUL ABOUT MY FOOD,’ you have every reason to be prideful about it because it’s a skill that you learned and that emotion, Pia, that is what I’m trying to give to people. I want them to have that warm fuzzy feeling like ‘DAMMIT, I DID THIS!’ and ‘Wow it was easy, and I can do it, and I’m feeling really good about what I’m serving.' ”
I was thoroughly hushed. She continued: “I want you to feel good about what you’re serving; not only because you did it, but because it’s good food, and love is coming through that food.”
We’re bombarded with TV commercials and sitcoms featuring put-upon moms trying to figure out what’s for dinner, but single adults deal with that too. Self-love is just as important to convey through a healthy meal as romantic or familial love, and of course none of them are mutually exclusive.
Time Savor Solutions includes delicious spice blends and garlic-infused oil and balsamic vinegar and these amazing recipe packets that come with the spices, a grocery list for the fresh ingredients, and detailed instructions.
Also included in the 50/50 Kit is an instructional DVD and the adorable motivational literature, because as Stacey says, “When you’re in a pinch and you’re staring at a chicken breast thinking, what the hell do I do with this, you can take that chicken breast and season it up 57 different ways with the kit, and cook it the way you’d normally cook it, but it tastes completely different each time because you’re using a different seasoning blend. But you also don’t have to think about okay which six jars did I open to get this flavor; it’s consistent every time.”
I told Stacey that the first Time Savor recipe I wanted to try was the Fresh Seafood Medley with Bowtie Pasta. I said, “I LOVE seafood, but I rarely cook it. Like, I’ve gotten a nice cut of salmon and was okay with that, but for some reason, I’ve felt like seafood was something other people do better, honestly ….? But I think I’m going to feel your encouragement and how easy you’ve made it ….”
Stacey actually cheered and said, “If you have any questions while you’re cooking, don’t hesitate to call me. I say that seriously. I’m here for ya.”
And I believe her.