LYNNFIELD — Everything Maggie Battista does is thought out to the nth degree, but not in the way you might expect. The kitchen in her 1905 farmhouse is large and spare, but warm, with a big bouquet of blush-pink roses. There are few bells and whistles, except for a six-burner Thermidor stove. Cabinets and shelving come from Ikea, an island with a painted wood top is left from a pop-up event she ran, and counters that look like soapstone are actually antiqued, honed granite, which was less expensive.
Battista, 46, is just as thoughtful about herself and struggles she’s had over the years, most related to being overweight. In her newly published “A New Way to Food: 100 Recipes to Encourage a Healthy Relationship With Food, Nourish Your Beautiful Body, and Celebrate Real Wellness for Life,” stunningly photographed by Kristin Teig, Battista often refers to herself as a “fat girl,” and shares raw moments about her former self and her lack of self-worth, chronic pain, and loneliness.
“This cookbook is a bit like my diary,” she writes. “It shares my life-changing journey from fat girl to mostly well and happy-to-be-just-me lady. It’s full of a bunch of tiny victories, a few aha moments, and perhaps some all-too-raw thoughts that, played out in my own personal sequence, got me to my other side, the side where I finally see a me who is worthy of good food and good health.”
The book is in tune with current thinking that everyone is different and previous notions of how people should look — how traditional models and celebrities look — aren’t practical or realistic for most people. Happiness comes when you combine healthy eating with a healthy lifestyle and a healthy attitude about the body you’ve been given. “I’m far from a size 4,” writes Battista, who had to teach herself not to be self-denigrating and to change the way she thinks. “Instead of seeing a wobbly gross body that required all sorts of food restrictions in order to be healthy fast,” she writes, “I found my way to see a wobbly beautiful body that required all the best foods in order to be well for life.”
Her pantry and fridge are meticulously curated. She makes stock once a week from vegetable scraps and stores it in quart containers in a freezer so organized it would make Marie Kondo’s head spin. Same for her pantry, which holds labeled jars of rolled oats, farro and many other legumes, couscous, brown rice syrup, date nectar, and much more. Because she eats little meat, it’s farm-raised meat she brings back from Vermont, where she and her husband, Don Cosseboom, vacation; same for chicken. A local teacher whom Battista knows fishes for salmon in Alaska every year and she buys part of his catch. Every ingredient is carefully considered.
A side of that Alaskan salmon, which she had roasted earlier, is sitting on her stovetop. She’s making a dinner salad with it, whisking a dairy-free yogurt dressing in a jar with olive oil, lime juice, honey, and chives. She usually adds strawberries to the mix, but they didn’t look good that day, so she’s using pink grapefruit. Vegetables that form the bed for the fish, fresh fennel and Brussels sprouts (she typically uses Napa cabbage in place of the sprouts), have been finely shredded on a Benriner mandoline. Couscous has been toasted before cooking so the beads are golden. She assembles the dish in layers, first the greens, then the grain, then the fruit, then the fish, and finally a drizzle of dressing. It’s a beautiful, satisfying dish, similar to a lot of her flavorful, multi-textured food.
She hasn’t written a diet book, she says — she’s been on every imaginable regimen — so she doesn’t want readers to expect an eating and exercise plan. You’re getting the program that works for her. After losing a lot of weight, she now eats a mostly plant-based diet that is dairy-free but isn’t so restrictive that she can’t have a glass or two of wine on the weekend.
This is Battista’s second book; the first was “Food Gift Love” (2015), which grew out of Eat Boutique, an online food gift site that she started as a blog in 2007; it became a business two years later. Eat Boutique is about to become a brick-and-mortar shop (she hasn’t signed the final papers and won’t say where) to house a cafe, market, cooking school, and culinary events. She’s a creative business coach and cofounder of The Fresh Collective, a group of women in the food industry (see sidebar). As @mizmaggieb on Instagram, she is often deeply personal and revealing; in person she’s just as honest and frank, but upbeat and warm, and ready for a quick laugh.
Battista came from a tech background. When she was a journalism student at Boston University, she participated in a collaboration with Barnes & Noble to set up their initial website. She went on to work for various companies on the communications side, including Tripod (later acquired by Lycos), TripAdvisor, Haven in Paris, and Nokia. She is also a former general manager for Winston Flowers. She met her husband “through a friend’s website,” she says, which she admits means online. “In 2001, I wasn’t telling anyone where I met him. We talked for a year. I was very hesitant.” Cosseboom is director of product management at Pixability, a video advertising company headquartered in Boston.
Growing up in Montclair, N.J., the daughter of a “curvy but thin” Honduran mother who had been a model in her native country (“she persistently prepared for a photo shoot every moment of the day,” writes Battista), and an Italian-American father, she was always overweight and bullied. Sitting in a comfortable Queen Anne chair at her house on a sunny afternoon, she reflects on that time: “I feel like back then parents were winging it. There were no books on how to raise a fat kid.”
The moments of being left out of girlfriends’ shopping expeditions are over. Now she buys clothes on the website Universal Standard, which she says are “simple, urban, easily accessible.” The company, which has a shop in New York’s SoHo district, offers a Fit Liberty program so customers can send back clothes for another size if their size changes within a year.
To lose weight initially, Battista turned to a health coach, consulted her primary care physician, and began a hardcore elimination diet, which was difficult (no gluten, dairy, refined sugar, alcohol, eggs, animal products, caffeine, or processed foods), then she reintroduced foods one at a time. About a year in, she started psychotherapy.
Recipes in the book include hot oatmeal with black chia seeds, cashew milk, vanilla, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nuts, which reminds Battista of her mother’s breakfast specialty. She also makes vegetable fried rice, spring roll salad, blueberry buckwheat pancakes, roasted vegetable dip with homemade olive and oregano crackers, eggs in tomato sauce, and pistachio bark brownies.
Battista has been able to maintain her significant weight loss and has settled one of two phases: “active wellness mode,” when she’s trying to integrate a new practice or thing, and an “everyday wellness mode,” which she describes as “just living my life and trying to make my new practice into a habit.” She travels with ease, improvises menu items when she’s out, and takes three 90-minute yoga classes a week. On weekends, she and her husband might sip a cocktail and make dinner together, important rituals, she says.
‘This cookbook is a bit like my diary. It shares my life-changing journey from fat girl to mostly well and happy-to-be-just-me lady.’
After years of unhappiness and pain, endless efforts to tackle her weight, many humiliations, setbacks, and failures, she’s figured out a lot of things. “I learned to love me, at last,” she writes. “And if I can love me, at last, I know you can love you, too.”Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.