“She came out of the house today with her hands full of food,” Sean Bartlett, a spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said of an early morning car ride during which his boss attempted to ply her staff with bites of banana-packed this and cinnamon-spiked that.
Being armed with wholesome treats has quickly become the calling card of the Democratic National Committeee chairwoman’s latest persona. The “clean-cooking congresswoman” is a not-so-secret identity the Florida Democrat has been gradually cultivating.
Wasserman Schultz has been documenting her burgeoning passion for the culinary arts via social media for nearly a month now. And she’s not embarrassed to admit it’s all still very new to her.
“I’m really a total novice. I was someone who could barely boil water,” she said of the frightfully limited experience she had in the kitchen.
To wit, she noted that heating water once proved almost insurmountable.
According to Wasserman Schultz, the range in the family home was switched from an older electric model to a newer gas appliance. Roughly three months later, she said, she threw a pot of water on and then continued about her business. When she returned half an hour later, the water was still at room temperature — because the gas main had never been connected and Wasserman Schultz had just never noticed.
But that all changed after battling her way back from breast cancer.
Wasserman Schultz divulged the diagnosis in 2009, only after undergoing intensive treatment. But even then, she noted, she continued to subsist on convenience, stocking her shelves with preservative-filled cardboard boxes and hastily spooning dinners out of carry-out containers.
She said she reached a tipping point about two years ago — that’s when the post-cancer weight gain began eating away at her.
“I just wasn’t happy,” Wasserman Schultz shared. “But I couldn’t go on a weird fad diet where you only eat grapefruit or have to drink a shake for lunch every day.”
Her road to salvation began at a 2011 news conference at a South Florida branch of The Fresh Diet. Wasserman Schultz said she decided to give the custom meal delivery service a go.
She experimented with the delivery service and it ultimately took her seven months to shed the nagging 20-plus pounds that had been troubling her.
Of course, her pocketbook was a lot lighter, too.
“They were kind of expensive,” she said of the ready-made bundles.
Even worse: The quick fix faded fast.
“I was healthier. But I gained 10 pounds back,” Wasserman Schultz bemoaned.
Then, this past winter, TV changed her life.
While watching “Morning Joe,” she said she saw cheflebrity and cookbook author Rocco DiSpirito hawking his latest tome, “The Pound a Day Diet.” Although skeptical, she said she was intrigued by the idea of keeping all her favorite foodstuffs in play and possibly broadening her culinary repertoire.
“It’s not a deprivation thing. You just cook the things you would already eat in a lower calorie way,” Wasserman Schultz said of what she took away from DiSpirito’s gustatory game plan.
She adhered to that Mediterranean-style model for about six weeks.
That’s when she tumbled down the rabbit hole that is her current obsession: “clean” cooking.
Clean cooking and eating can entail wildly different themes for disparate constituencies. Some folks gravitate toward the extremes, completely eschewing gluten, sugar or dairy (or all of the above) in an attempt to foster salubrious effects. Others appear content to simply jettison junk food and reacquaint themselves with homemade comestibles.
According to Wasserman Schultz, the online community she’s become so attached to embraces all sides.
“I realized I had more motivation, and that I was learning from these things that other Instagrammers were posting,” she said.“I’ve transformed the way I eat.”
Under no pressure to conform to any one particular standard — “I’m not vegan. I’m not paleo,” she asserted — has allowed Wasserman Schultz to explore all kinds of exciting new avenues.
She used applesauce to lighten up her 15-year-old twins’ multilayered birthday cake (“I baked their cake for the first time ever!” the proud-as-can-be mom gushed), has begun folding quinoa into her pizza crust (“It was amazing.”) and is actively experimenting with a slew of alternative sweeteners.
“I cure my own salmon. I’ve done it twice,” Wasserman Schultz boasted, copping to a lox-making habit that has her rubbing fish with a mixture of salt, dill and onion.
“There’s no sacrifice on taste. And it’s much healthier,” she said of the pleasures of eating from-scratch meals.
And she’s not the only one enjoying the drastic change.
Her D.C. roommates, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., and Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., are privy to most everything Wasserman Schultz whips up during the workweek. She shared a dinner of shrimp- and black-bean-stuffed avocados with her housemates a few weeks back — a gesture that’s been warmly regarded.
“Coming home late to find Debbie in the kitchen has been a newfound source of fun and health in our home, and I’m happy to be her taste tester from time to time!” Maloney trumpeted via email.
Per Maloney, prior to Wasserman Schultz’s culinary conversion, eating was more of an every-congresswoman-for-herself scenario.
“The truth is that none of us really have the time to cook,” Maloney confessed. “Microwave popcorn has always been the house favorite.” These days, she’s happy to trade up to more nourishing nosh, such as the peanut butter-banana-date wraps Wasserman Schultz rolled out earlier this week.
And Maloney’s being more mindful of what she eats when away from the house.
“We’re all trying to eat a little healthier, so I’m usually opting for a salad,” she said. “But I make a great roast chicken, too.”
Should the full-time cooking thing catch on, Maloney can envision inviting a few friends over to break bread.
“We’ll have to start hosting potluck dinners and invite other members of Congress. Maybe we’ll have a cook off with the George Miller house,” she quipped, referring to the retiring California Democrat’s domicile he shares with Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.
It remains to be seen whether Wasserman Schultz’s deeply competitive nature will evolve into congressional feeding frenzies.
At least for now, she seems to be content to merely step away from the pressure cooker that is her career for a spell and focus on herself.
“It’s something I can do for my family . . . and to disconnect from politics for a minute,” Wasserman Schultz stated. “Really, I’m just enjoying the adventure.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.