The movie “Sleepless in Seattle” made Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks America’s sweethearts, but it was the espresso brownies prepared by a Bastyr University student working on a master’s in Nutrition that stole the hearts of the film crew.
It was 1992 and movie producer Lynda Obst and her directorial team settled into a house in the Seattle neighborhood of Queen Anne. Each day, after filming wrapped, the group retreated to the rambling Victorian. They planned for the following day while dipping crusty breads in minestrone soup … sharing pans of lasagna layered with sliced eggplant, zucchini, freshly made cheese, and marinara … and enjoying savory stews packed with vegetables.
The comfort food was prepared by Rita Carey, now Rita Carey Rubin, MS, RD, CDE, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Yavapai Regional Medical Center’s (YRMC’s) Pendleton Center West in Prescott.
As an industrious student in Seattle, Rita had started a personal chef business and was juggling school commitments while preparing dinners for six families. She was discovered by the Obst team in pre-Internet style: a personal services ad that Rita placed in The Seattle Times.
In Front of the Camera
Today, Rita spends time behind the camera as host of Your Healthy Kitchen, YRMC’s online healthy cooking show. A community service of YRMC, the show is taped at AZTV7 Studio in Prescott. Occasionally, Rita and the crew tape episodes on location. She’s explored the local bounty at the Prescott Farmers Market; grilled fresh vegetables in her backyard and prepared tacos in the field at Mortimer Farms.
What was the most challenging part about Your Healthy Kitchen for Rita when it launched in 2015? It wasn’t lack of content or knowledge. During more than 25 years experience, Rita has trained as a professional chef, opened a restaurant, written extensively about health and nutrition, and guided people with diabetes and heart disease to healthier lifestyles.
“It was talking to the camera with no feedback from a class or audience,” she said. “I’m a complete introvert so it gave me a case of nerves in the beginning.”
In fact, Rita’s warmth and charm – coupled with her reassuring competence – has earned her many fans.
“When Rita introduces you to a vegetable you’re not familiar with, or a healthier way to prepare one of your favorite dishes, it feels like you’re hearing about it from a friend,” said Ken Boush, Director of Marketing and Communications at YRMC. “And Rita doesn’t just tell you the food she’s preparing is good for you, she explains the science behind it.”
For example, during a recent Your Healthy Kitchen episode on whole grains, Rita chatted about why whole grains are better for your health than products made with whole grain flours. She also answered the question on the minds of many amateur chefs: What are ancient grains, anyway? The information then came together in a Mediterranean barley salad that Rita created.
And Rita’s recipes don’t include exotic spices you’ll only use once. She prepares meals that feature in-season fruits and vegetables to ensure your food budget doesn’t suffer as your health improves. The most expensive dish on Your Healthy Kitchen is only about $2.50 a serving.
“With my patients,” said Rita, “I emphasize the benefits of a healthy diet: less medication, greater energy and vitality, and a better quality of life.”
Community members also benefit from Rita’s wisdom and encouragement through two separate YRMC support groups: one on Reversing Heart Disease and the other on Managing Diabetes. People from throughout the area gather monthly for the free sessions hosted by Rita and her YRMC colleagues. What’s on the agenda? Preparing healthy foods (Rita even brings samples), exercising for better health, and learning to relax through meditation, yoga and art appreciation.
All Things Local
Rita’s own diet is plant-based. She became a vegetarian when she left home for college at age 18.
“My family wasn’t vegetarian so I had to figure out how to cook on my own,” she said. “I ate lots of salad and pizza the first few years.”
Today, Rita’s go-to fall dish is a fresh pumpkin soup. She prepares it in the recently updated kitchen of her 100-year-old home. Supporters of local talent, Rita and her husband used local contractors to make maple countertops and construct cabinets for the kitchen. The farm-style sink is perfect for washing the heaps of vegetables Rita brings home from the Prescott Farmers Market each weekend.
What’s a must-have for Rita’s kitchen?
“Fresh herbs,” she said. “I grow them in the summer and dry them for the winter.”
It’s all part of Rita’s recipe to prevent illness and promote good health in Prescott and beyond.
Reach Out to Rita
YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen episodes, recipes and much more are available for download on YRMC HealthConnect.
Healthy cooking and wellness conversations happen on YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen Facebook community at facebook.com/YRMCyourhealthykitchen. For information about the Reversing Heart Disease or Managing Diabetes Support Groups contact (928) 771-5794.
From Rita’s Kitchen: Pumpkin Soup
with Red Curry
Makes 6 cups
1 medium to large pie pumpkin
2 medium or 1 large red bell pepper, fresh or roasted
1 14.5-ounce can of coconut milk
1 tablespoon of red Thai chili paste, more or less to taste
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish, optional
Plain yogurt, to garnish, optional
Rinse the pumpkin well. Remove stem and slice in half. Remove seeds and set aside to roast later, if you would like to.
Cut pumpkin into wedges. Place in a large pot and fill with about 1” of water. Cover and steam until tender, about 20 minutes.
While the pumpkin is cooking, cut bell peppers in half, remove stems and seeds, and roughly chop. Alternatively, use roasted peppers, remove seeds and most of skin, and set aside.
When pumpkin is tender, remove from the pot and let cool until cool enough to handle. Save water in case you need it to thin out your soup.
Peel pumpkin and place flesh in a blender or food processor. Add bell pepper, coconut milk, chili paste, and salt. Blend until smooth. Add pumpkin cooking water if you need to thin the soup out.
Place soup back in pot, and warm to serving temperature. Add salt, ground black pepper and chili paste, to taste.
Serve soup with lime wedges, top with cilantro and/or a dollop of plain yogurt, if using.
Nutrition information per 1 cup serving:
Total Fat 14 g
Saturated Fat 13 g
Carbohydrate 14 g
Fiber 2 g
Sodium 205 mg
Protein 3 g
Potassium 748 mg
Cost per 1 cup serving: $ .91