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Cold-Weather Comfort: Three Pros Share Their Favorite Winter Recipes

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It's that time of year when cold weather and busy performance schedules have you craving delicious comfort foods. To help make winter cooking less daunting, we're sharing three professional dancers' favorite recipes. For added confidence that these meals are great for fueling your dancing, we asked Marie Elena Scioscia, a registered dietitian and author of Eat Right Dance Right, to weigh in on what makes them healthy, and the small things you can do to make them even healthier.


Dan Dan Noodles: Alexandra McMaster, freelance ballet dancer, author of "A Dancer's Guide To Plant-Based Eating," creator of ballerinabites.org

McMaster

Courtesy Alexandra McMaster

"I like this meal because it's quite balanced, and also tastes great after a long week in the cold weather. It's also great to share with friends."

Ingredients

Spicy Tofu Mince:

  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 200 g firm tofu
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Chinese five spice
  • 1/4 tsp. chili flakes

Peanut Broth:

  • 1/3 cup crunchy 100 percent peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1/4 tsp. chili flakes
  • 500 ml vegetable stock

Noodles:

  • 200 g brown-rice noodles or noodles of choice
  • 2 clusters of baby bok choy, leaves detached

Garnish:

  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • small handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • black sesame seeds (regular sesame seeds work too)
  • lime wedges

Alexandra McMaster, Courtesy McMaster

Directions

In a frying pan, melt coconut oil over medium heat. Crumble tofu with your fingers into the pan.

Add maple syrup, tamari, curry powder, Chinese five spice, chili flakes and stir. Allow tofu to fry until golden, stirring throughout.

Meanwhile, add peanut broth ingredients to a small saucepan. Whisk broth and allow to simmer until hot, slightly thickened and fragrant.

Fill a large saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add noodles to boiling water and cook according to packet instructions. In the last minute of cooking time, add bok choy to lightly wilt.

Once cooked, drain liquid and divide noodles and bok choy between two to three bowls. Pour over peanut broth and top with the spicy tofu mince. Garnish with spring onion, cilantro, a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a wedge of lime.

What the expert says

"This has great protein from tofu and peanut butter, and carbs from noodles," says Scioscia. "You always want dancers to combine protein, carbs and fats for best digestion, absorption and energy. The only thing I would suggest changing is the coconut oil. I know it's very popular right now; however, it's actually a highly saturated fat which can cause inflammation. I would suggest a sesame seed oil or olive oil."

Apple Pie Protein Smoothie: Taryn Nowels, Alberta Ballet

Nowels

Lee Gumbs, Courtesy Nowels

"I like smoothies because they're quick, easy and packed full of nutrition," Nowels says. "I bring this apple pie smoothie into the theater during Nutcracker season, and it gives me the quick energy boost I need."

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup oat milk (or cow, soy or almond milk)
  • 1 red apple
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 6 almonds or 1 tbsp. almond butter
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 scoop collagen peptides powder (or your choice of protein powder)
  • 1 tbsp. maca powder

Apple pie protein smoothie drink

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Directions

Combine ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.

What the expert says

"This is a good combination of carbs from fruit, protein from yogurt and antioxidants from healthy spices," says Scioscia. "Whether or not collagen in powder form survives our digestive process is a bit of a crapshoot, so that ingredient may not be absolutely necessary. If you need a bit more substance, add protein powder, but keep in mind your body can only absorb about 30 grams of protein at any one time."

Lentil Curry: Lahna Vanderbush, Milwaukee Ballet

Vanderbush in Michael Pink's Mirror Mirror

Mark Frohna, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet

"This is super-easy to make in an instant pot or Crockpot," says Vanderbush. "The lentils have a lot of fiber and protein, so it's really filling and satisfying. When we're in the theater, I make a big pot at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge there."

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2–3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2–3 carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1–4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1-inch chunk of ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. curry powder
  • salt and pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups red lentils
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2–3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • basmati rice, cooked
  • cilantro, roughly chopped
Lentil curry in a plate close up - Vegan recipe consisting of lentils, celery, carrot, potatoes and spices

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Directions

Heat onion, celery, carrots, water, garlic, ginger and spices in one large pot. Once soft, add chopped sweet potatoes, red lentils, diced tomatoes and vegetable broth. (If sticking occurs, add more broth.)

Cook until lentils are broken down, sweet potatoes are soft, and the broth becomes creamy before adding coconut milk. Add salt and pepper to taste and cayenne pepper. Serve with rice and cilantro.

What the expert says

"This recipe has great spices for the immune system," Scioscia says. "The sweet potatoes are a good-quality carb, and lentils are an excellent protein source. The only thing I would recommend changing is to replace the coconut milk with almond milk (or any other kind of dairy) to avoid the highly saturated fat."

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From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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