cooks at home

DIABETES AVENGER

Community activist is passionate healthy living advocate.

WRITTEN BY SUSAN DITZ
PHOTO BY CANDICE NYANDO

CooksAtHome mylan2

Mylan Hawkins is a doer. She’s been getting lots of things done for the benefit of her community since moving to Reno in 1976.

In 1980, after marrying her husband, Ashton, a Type I diabetic, she was dismayed by the lack of resources to educate health care providers and support diabetics and their families. So her entrepreneur husband encouraged her to start an organization to fill this gap. In 1982, she followed his advice, launching the Diabetes Educational Center out of their company offices at Interface Computer Associates in Reno.

She retired three years ago after 33 years as executive director of the organization now known as the Nevada Diabetes Association.

One of the first things patients learn about the disease is the importance of balancing food intake and exercise to maintain critical blood sugar control. The biggest problem, she says, is that our country is “overnutritioned,” eating too much of everything, especially our fast food-heavy, high-carbohydrate diets that have led to an obesity epidemic.

“The American processed food industry shoved the whole blood sugar issue under the rug,” she says.

Food is love

Petite and fit, Hawkins comes from a family where, as she puts it, “food is love,” and her happiest memories as an only child are of sitting at the dinner table in Chicago with her mother, a registered nurse, and a dad who was famous for his jokes.

At age 8, she began learning to cook and enjoyed helping out her busy mom by preparing meals.

When she wanted to be a teen model for Chicago’s Marshall Fields department store, Hawkins made a nutrition discovery. She was told she needed to drop five pounds, and she learned an important lesson.

“Carbs (especially the white foods like bread and pasta) will sabotage, rather than support, anyone trying to maintain a healthy weight,” she says.

That knowledge became a foundation of her cooking.

“The Atkins and Paleo diets work so well because you burn fat for fuel if you aren’t eating carbs,” she says.

Political activist

Describing herself as “a political and news junkie,” Hawkins’ interest in activism evolved during childhood.

“You don’t grow up in Chicago without learning early on about ward politics,” she says.

She has been involved in numerous Nevada political campaigns, including fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, the Campaign for Choice, and the recent Reno Women’s March on Washington in January. Volunteerism is a priority as well, and she’s helped many local nonprofits, including Habitat for Humanity and, currently, the group revitalizing the Nevada Shakespeare Co.

When she’s not hard at work helping the community, the busy activist takes great pleasure in adapting recipes to make them as healthy as possible. She makes her own spice blends to pump up flavor and saves seeds from chiles to spice up vegetables. She says the key to healthy eating is a little imagination and ingenuity.

“Dust chicken with almond flour and bake it in the oven, instead of frying it,” she suggests. “And fresh ginger or a squeeze of lemon makes anything sparkle.”

After spending time with Hawkins, it’s clear a meal with her is a treat for the palate, body, and spirit.

Susan Ditz is a freelance writer from Minden who is a lifelong learner and always intrigued by the opportunity to expand her own culinary capabilities.

Resources

Nevada Diabetes Association
18 Stewart St., Reno • 775-856-3839 • Diabetesnv.org

Recipes

Miso-Marinated Black Cod

(courtesy of Mylan Hawkins. Serves 4)

¼ cup sake

¼ cup mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine, similar to sake)

4 tablespoons white miso paste

3 tablespoons maple syrup

4 black cod filets, about ½ pound each

Whisk miso paste, sake, and mirin together to make marinade, 2 to 3 days — or at least 2 hours — before (or shake together in a self-sealing plastic food storage bag). When miso has dissolved completely, add maple syrup. Pat black cod filets thoroughly dry with paper towels. Place fish in bag or bowl with marinade and let sit in refrigerator for at least two hours or up to three days.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat ovenproof skillet over high heat on stovetop. Lightly wipe off excess miso clinging to filets, but don’t rinse. Film pan with small amount of oil, then place fish skin side up in pan and cook until bottom of fish browns and blackens in spots, about 3 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until other side browns, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to oven and bake 5 to 10 minutes, until fish is opaque and flakes easily.

Hawkins suggests serving with black rice and lightly braised baby bok choy or steamed spinach with sesame dressing. Or, for low-carb meal, replace rice with cauliflower rice.

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