Promises Behavioral Health partnered with Nashville Holistic Chef, Laura Lea Bryant, to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month with a live virtual cooking class! Both Promises Behavioral Health and Laura Lea share an incredible passion for bringing awareness to mental health wellness and understand the importance of self-love and care. The virtual cooking class was free with an optional donation towards Alice Hospice, a Nashville-based organization that provides compassionate care to people with life-threatening illnesses, support for their families, and service to the community in the spirit of enriching lives.
We had the chance to chat with Laura Lea before the virtual cooking class to get a better understanding of how she approaches her own mental health and what we can do to get started with a more holistic approach in the kitchen.
To Laura Lea, the kitchen is a space that can not only fuel you with healthy, wholesome foods but also a place to calm your mind. In her words, “…no one was really talking about the connection between food and your mental health – it was all physical. But to me, that was the most powerful part so when I realized how much food could impact your health, I knew that was what I wanted to do for a living.”
About Laura Lea Bryant
Laura Lea Bryant is a Nashville native who began her journey in holistic cooking while living in New York City after college. She graduated with the idea of becoming a lawyer in the ‘Big Apple’ but she found her new lifestyle to be more than she bargained for. Laura Lea remarked, “I realized as a paralegal at a law firm that that was not what I wanted to do with my life. So all a sudden, my world was turned on its head and I spent the next four and a half years in New York really struggling with anxiety, control, and disordered eating.”
It was this experience with heightened anxiety that eventually developed into a love for cooking. Through her cooking, she was able to find a balance between her mental and physical health. As Laura Lea put it, “I honestly don’t know why I decided to do this but I decided to make a big change in my life. I stopped going out as much as I had been going out and, instead, spending my weekends going to the farmer’s market, looking at the beautiful produce, taking pictures of recipes in cookbooks and cooking. And I kind of had this big lifestyle shift. I noticed after doing that for about 6 months, that it really impacted my anxiety and I was just so much happier and my anxiety was a lot better.”
While cooking has been a huge part of her personal mental wellness journey, Laura Lea emphasized the importance of having a support team, “If you are approaching it [cooking] from a mental health perspective, you 100% want to be working with some kind of a professional.” Cooking can be a joyful way to express self-love while finding new, interesting recipes to help you feel whole and happy. But if you are apprehensive about getting into the kitchen, approach your journey with small changes. As Laura Lea says, “Just really small things that you can master, I find, can be the best way to create sustainable change.”
Virtual Cooking with Laura Lea
No matter where you are in your personal journey, whether it be for mental or physical health, both Promises Behavioral Health and Laura Lea agree wholeheartedly on one very important idea. Laura Lea sums it up perfectly, “ I want to meet people where they are. I want to help them and I may not be the person for them…I feel that my job is that I am always going to be making recipes that hopefully make people’s lives easier and healthier. But really, I am also happy to be a resource and point someone in the right direction. If I am not the right person for them, even if I don’t make the kind of recipes that are right for them, I will find them somebody is or if they are struggling with mental health, I will point them to resources for professionals who can actually help them…”
This event was a great way to connect to our community, celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, and fuel our bodies with delicious, healthy food. Thank you to the 95+ participants who joined us via Zoom and Facebook Live! And a big congratulations to the winners of our event drawing! Three lucky participants won a signed copy of Laura Lea’s newest cookbook “Simply Laura Lea”. If you were unable to join us for our virtual cooking experience, don’t worry! See the recipe below!
Laura Lea’s Italian Marinated Shrimp & Fluffy Shallot Rice
This dish was inspired by an “Italian Dressing Chicken” my mama used to make and which I simply adored. Who would have thought salad dressing would make a lovely marinade for various proteins? Well, it does, and shrimp is my favorite centerpiece of choice. It’s also another way to use my homemade Italian Dressing. I pretty much always keep a batch around and use it in various ways. This recipe will also teach you how to make the perfect stovetop rice every time – soft, fluffy, and without a crunchy burned layer to clean off of your pot. Adding butter shallots just takes it over the top!
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp onion powder
2 tbs parmesan cheese (sub nutritional yeast)
2 tsp maple syrup or honey (sub liquid stevia, to taste)
1 pound raw shrimp, fresh or thawed from frozen, peeled and deveined
1 batch Italian Dressing
Fluffy Shallot Rice:
1 cup medium-grain white or arborio rice
2 cups water
2 tbs butter
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 medium shallot, minced (1/3 cup) – (sub 1/4 red onion, diced into 1/4-inch pieces)
Make the Italian Dressing
Place all dressing ingredients in a blender, and purée until smooth and creamy.
Drain excess liquid from shrimp if using thawed-from- frozen.
Place shrimp and ½ cup Italian Dressing in a sealable plastic bag or marinating container, shake gently to coat, and marinate for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Do not marinate any longer than 4 hours, as the acid in the dressing will start to break down the shrimp too much. (No one wants mushy shrimp.)
Make the Fluffy Shallot Rice
While shrimp is marinating, place rice in a fine-mesh sieve, and rinse with running cold water for 15 to 20 seconds until water runs clear.
Add 2 cups of water to a small saucepan, and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. While water is coming to a boil, place 1 tablespoon of butter in a separate medium saucepan over medium heat. When butter is melted and moves quickly around the pan, add rice and salt. Cook, stirring constantly until the rice has a toasted fragrance and is leaving some sticky residue on the bottom of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour boiling water over the rice, then bring to a simmer over low heat. Cover, and cook for 18 minutes. Resist temptation to look at the rice while cooking.
While rice is cooking, use the pan you used to boil water to cook the shallots. Place the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and moves quickly around the pan, add shallots. Cook, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until softened and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.
Once the rice has simmered for 18 minutes, remove from the heat, and allow to sit for another 10 minutes, covered. After 10 minutes, uncover and fluff with a fork, then stir in shallots. Set rice aside.
Cook the Shrimp
Heat a cast-iron or other non-stick skillet over medium heat. Place the shrimp and marinade in the skillet. We’re not trying to sear the shrimp, so it doesn’t matter if the pan is fully heated when you add them. Cook, stirring and flipping until shrimp is completely opaque throughout 4 to 6 minutes.
Serve immediately over Fluffy Shallot Rice with the remaining Italian Dressing and pan juices.
Learn More at Promises Behavioral Health
We were thrilled to partner with Laura Lea for a session of self-care virtual cooking. But as always, our goal is to create a safe space for hope and healing. If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction or a mental health disorder, we are here to help. Contact us today to speak with our admission representatives and find the path to healing that is right for you.