I admired Susan long before I met her. As food editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for almost 19 years, she was at the helm of the award-winning food section. I devoured that section every Thursday! Then one day, she had an idea for a new column, Fit to Eat, and she asked me to write it. I was thrilled to be on her team. I was excited but also anxious: I was a college professor who wrote for professional journals, not for newspapers! I relied on her guidance to help me to find a voice that would resonate with consumers. For 5 years she edited my weekly column and we’ve been friends ever since.
Storytelling through Food
Today, Susan is still passionate about food. She has authored many cookbooks that preserve the history of a regional or ethnic cuisine with interesting stories behind the food. She works with chefs to translate their stories into best-selling cookbooks. Her latest, Turnip Greens and Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices up the Southern Kitchen, features chef Eddie Hernandez and translates his delicious restaurant foods into meals that anyone can make at home. (A recipe from Turnip Greens and Tortillas is included at the end of this post.) Before Turnip Greens and Tortillas, she authored Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South .When I pick up her books, I come for the food, but stay for the stories.
Susan grew up in Mississippi and was a rookie reporter writing general features for her hometown newspaper. But, she was drawn to writing about old foodways and her stories resonated with her readers and her editor. Eventually the stories were compiled into her first book, A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi. Having grown up a self-professed “picky eater,” her repertoire of vegetables consisted of “iceberg lettuce, carrot sticks, and overcooked broccoli.” But, one day she was served “perfectly cooked broccoli that was bright and crunchy,” and a lightbulb moment took hold. She hungered to learn more, so she took what was the first of many nutrition classes to complement in her interest in food. A second bachelor’s degree at Iowa State led to her second book, A Cook’s Tour of Iowa. Her path of her marrying journalism background with post-graduate studies in nutrition led her to Atlanta and editing the AJC food section.
Transferring love of food into a personal journey
While she was writing about food and learning about nutrition, she had another “aha” moment. She thought, “I need to apply this to my life to get healthier.” She took up running and “one thing led to another.” She found herself surrounded by other runners and being around healthier people helped her improve her health.
Now, in her early 60s, Susan and her husband participate in the 10-K Peachtree Road Race every July 4th, with more walking than running these days, “but walking is not only fine, it’s good!” She stays active with reminders from her Fit Bit. “I just love the accountability and the awareness that the fitness tracker gives me.” While most of us aim for 10,000 steps a day (equal to about 5 miles of walking), she aims for 20,000 steps at least one day a week to bump up her activity. She also likes yoga for flexibility and to decrease the stiffness that often accompanies aging.
Susan’s tips for aging well reflect the themes highlighted in Food & Fitness After 50; eating well, moving well, and being well. The one word that best describes Susan’s journey for aging well is balance. “We need balance in all aspects of our life. That includes physical activity and food choices, but in our social life, too. My husband and I seek balance in our friendships and have many friends of all ages. We found that when we just socialize with our older friends, the talk quickly turns to ailments! It’s fine to talk about health, but when the entire conversation is about deteriorating health, it makes you feel old!”
As you can image in her work she eats everything and eats out a lot. “I tune into my body and have never fallen for popular or fad diets, but I am conscious of what I eat.” In this age of craft cocktails, she also is conscious of alcohol intake. “I pay attention to the amount of alcohol I drink as it is easy to overdo it, especially when eating out. I enjoy a cocktail, but I’m really enjoying the clever mocktails that bartenders are developing. I’ve also gotten into Kombucha. It tastes like sour beer, and I like sour beer!”
She suggests we surround ourselves with friends who have a positive outlook as positivity is contagious. Like many of the people featured in this blog, she says “don’t let yourself be sedentary!” Get up and out and do something because physical activity is good for your body, but also good for your mood and mental health!”
Learn more about what Susan is doing by checking out her website and blog.
SLOPPY JOSE TACOS Excerpted from TURNIP GREENS & TORTILLAS, (c) 2018 by Eddie Hernandez & Susan Puckett. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin Books. All rights reserved.
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 Tablespoon granulated onion
1 Tablespoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground chile de arbol or cayenne pepper
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup water
1 cup roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped green New Mexican chilies (or roasted mild canned green chilies)
24 (6-inch) flour tortillas
Garnished: Crushed Fritos, grated sharp cheddar cheese, and sliced fresh jalapenos
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the beef and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and cooked through. Stir in the paprika, sugar, granulated onion, granulated garlic, black pepper, salt, and chile de arbol. Add the tomato paste, water, and roasted chilies and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the mixture gets too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Set a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tortilla and heat on both sides for a minute or two, until a few dark spots appear. Remove to a plate and place 3 to 4 tablespoons of beef mixture in the center of the tortilla; garnish with Fritos, cheese, and jalapenos; fold. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
(Note from a dietitian: I used ground sirloin to reduce the saturated fat from ground chuck.)
To learn more about writing your own story to good health, check out Food & Fitness After 50.