By Vanessa Packer
Photography by Sasha Israel
“I WAS TAKING PHOTOS OF WHAT I WAS MAKING JUST SO I COULD REMEMBER IT FOR THE NEXT TIME I MADE IT,” quipped Lily Kunin when discussing the early stages of her celebrated blog Clean Food Dirty City. Her healthy recipes are displayed like a roll of Candy Dots, each scroll producing bowls of vibrant color. Her ‘super bowls,’ as they’ve lovingly been nicknamed, are lush with fresh fruits, vegetables and grains, some sweet, some salty and always gluten-free and dairy-free. “My goal is to create simple meals that people can create and enjoy in their own home or on the go,” Kunin explains. Indeed, her recipes make cooking healthfully approachable and fun. We caught up with Kunin at her home in Chelsea, comparing notes on nutrition as medicine over one of her quintessential flamingo pink-hued smoothie bowls and discussed everything from at home cleansing to why honey makes the best face wash.
How did Clean Food Dirty City come about?
I love to cook and I make up recipes as I go, and I was taking photos of what I was making so I could remember it for the next time. When I started my Instagram, my roommate Sophia and I came up with the name Clean Food Dirty City in two minutes. I had no idea what it would turn into, or that this entire world of instagrammers and bloggers existed. I found a few people that had inspiring food feeds to follow and they were using all these different hashtags so I started using them. When people starting asking for my recipes, I started a site and found a simple template on WordPress that worked really well. I’ve always been passionate about food and health and it’s just evolved from there.
How would you describe CFDC from where it started to where it is at now?
I initially started it for myself to organize a recipe book. Now I feel like my mission is more to inspire other people to cook in a similar way. My goal is to create simple meals that people can create and enjoy in their own home or on the go. I have a full time job too so my recipes have to be easy and quick to make.
Do you try to eat seasonally?
I try to but the good thing about bowls is that if you are eating seasonally for the environment your fruit could be frozen because you could have bought it when it was in season. I have a lot less smoothie bowls in the winter. I try to do them smaller and I’ll put seasonal stuff on top.
What principles do you follow when creating the recipes you put on Clean Food Dirty City?
I’m gluten-free and dairy-free and so are the recipes. I have to be gluten-free, I don’t have to be dairy-free, but it does make my skin better to stay off dairy. I don’t really eat meat, I will have eggs occasionally. I go through phases, right now I’m in a no meat phase. I’ve tried a lot of different diets and I was sick for a while with migraines. It was through that that I found what works for me. I’ve never done a full elimination diet. I’m going to do that. I do five day cleanses sometimes.
What does the five day cleanse consist of?
No caffeine, no gluten, no dairy, no animal products and no grains. I make everything myself. It’s my own cleanse. It’s based off of this cleanse from La Philosophie. The founder is a friend of mine, she makes superfood powder blends and this is based off the cleanse she does. I hate to call it a cleanse. It’s just eating really clean. You can eat as much as you want of it, just make sure you are keeping the diet simple and clean.
How do you feel when you are doing it?
I have more energy. It’s hard when it’s cold but it’s good to do. I notice the difference in how I feel, especially not drinking. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s worth taking a break from it.
What do you indulge in when you do drink?
I like margaritas or tequila and soda. I make my own margaritas so i’m not consuming the bad stuff that a lot of bars and restaurants put in their mixes.
What do you put in your margarita?
Classic skinny girl style. Ice, lime, tequila, some sweetener like raw honey or maple syrup.
Do you bring your smoothies to work?
I travel to work with an insulated cooler of food. I have a green smoothie in it and food for lunch. My coworkers know about my blog and dietary habits.
Where do you work?
I work in the charter school system. We support Uncommon Schools and we are a non-profit networks for public charter schools in low income communities. The home office provides all the wrap around services like marketing, fundraising, and finance for all our schools. I’ve worked in fundraising for a long time.
What are some ingredients you regularly use in your smoothies and bowls?
I usually have a few types of greens in my smoothie like spinach, baby kale, and cucumber. I don’t use store-bought almond milk anymore in my smoothies because of all the junk in it, so I will use water or coconut water if I don’t have time to make my own. I also love to add mango and I’m addicted to banana, which will never be seasonal. My acupuncturist tells be not to eat bananas because it causes dampness in the body but I can’t seem to give it up. And I love frozen dragon fruit because the color is amazing.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up and meditate for 20 minutes, I oil pull every morning too. I use coconut oil because I don’t love the way the sesame tastes. I dry brush and have a little lemon water with apple cider vinegar and cayenne, then a green smoothie or oatmeal for breakfast. I usually bring breakfast with me and have it when I get to work. When I’m working my 9 – 5 hours, I bring my lunch, which I prep the night before. I will usually make a big batch of something on Sunday, vegetables, quinoa, things like that. I like doing a lot of massaged salads like carrots and brussels sprouts so it’s still raw but it’s broken down by the acid in the dressing. I do a lot of soups too. I like keeping it simple during the day. I love flavor, and interesting textures, so I mix it up a lot. I always have lots of high protein snacks on me, and on a good day I’ll stop by a yoga class after work or run to a meeting for CFDC. During the week, I finish the day with something similar to lunch and always a big mug of herbal tea.
We love your recurring Superbowl Sunday. Do you really do a healthy bowl every Sunday?
Sometimes I post something I had the day before but they usually are what I’m actually eating. They aren’t always raw, sometimes they are hearty and have more flavor in them. Other times, like in the summer, I’d do a refreshing super clean and healthy one.
What’s your go-to meal when you are cooking for yourself? And when you are cooking for a group?
I really like having a roasted sweet potato, a salad, and one main thing like a stew or noodles or a bunch of roasted vegetables. For a group, I like making Superbowl Sunday type dishes so everyone can pick and choose what they want to add, and make it their own. Since everyone has different taste preferences, a one-pot dish is great and it’s easy.
What are somethings that are always found in your pantry?
Coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, lemons, a lot of superfoods like whole grains and some beans, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and brown rice pasta
What is your favorite healthy indulgent food?
Pizza. I haven’t figured out the perfect recipe yet. I’ve experimented with cauliflower, but I’m working on one with sweet potato and the constancy is really great. I’m obsessed with french fries and chips, I’m definitely a salt lover over sweet. I make sweet potato fries a lot. I found I recipe I’m dying to try. It’s queso made from butternut squash and it has lots of different savory notes in there.
Do you have a cheat sheet for keeping healthy?
Don’t overwhelm yourself. Don’t take on too much at once. You don’t need to eliminate everything from your diet and clean out your pantry in one go. Try replacing one thing. For example, if you make spaghetti and meatballs every night, try introducing brown rice pasta in or lentil meatballs instead of animal meal. Rather than go straight to zucchini noodles with lentil balls and vegan pesto, which is delicious, but is not necessarily a one to one replacement overnight. Every time I get rid of a product, I try to replace it with a good product. It’s a process for everyone.