Spices for healthy living

Courage and Comfort

As I write this, the Twin Cities is in the midst of an Easter snowstorm and our world is enveloped in a pandemic the likes of which has not been visited upon the earth in over 100 years. The unknown evokes fear and it is human nature to seek some degree of control over our surroundings and ultimately our fates. That is why it is remarkable that so many individuals have chosen to perform courageous acts…….…….to provide for those who are sick, to provide for their families, and to provide for their communities……….by going to work daily. These heroes are nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers who work on the front lines…….and also grocery store staff; transit workers; the people who deliver mail and our packages; cleaning crews; police, fire, and emergency medical workers; food producers and factory workers whose work reassures us there will not be scarcity of food or goods; media who keep us informed; and clergy who provide comfort to all of us but especially to those who are most ill.

It is human nature to see the world through the lens of our previous experiences. So when I heard the news that the virus had reached the U.S., my first instinct was to think about how the potential pandemic could affect my life and the lives of those around me through the prism of my experience and training as a healthcare professional and neuroscientist.

Prior to becoming both a dentist, who treats orofacial pain, and a neuroscientist, who researched pain management, I worked as an ICU Nurse at the University of Minnesota Hospitals. In those days I often worked in an ICU that treated patients who were severely ill with systemic infections. Some of these patients were diagnosed with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a condition to which the current Covid-19 illness has been compared. These patients were on ventilators and we, the staff doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists, had to do our best to keep these patients’ airways open and oxygenated. It was hard work, being on your feet for much of an 8-12 hour shift and being constantly vigilant for changes in the condition of the patients for whom we were caring. But in those days, we had adequate personal protective equipment and there was minimal risk that we would become infected by our patients. That being said, I have tremendous respect for the nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers who are caring for patients with Covid-19, a disease for which there is currently no proven treatment. They are working under very difficult conditions and at times risking their lives. They are indeed heroes.

My time as a research scientist, in turn, gave me experience doing preclinical drug research as well as human research studies. I knew that experimental results are not often clear cut and to find out if a Covid-19 treatment is safe and effective will require many scientists performing well designed experiments that are reproducible. It will also require adequate funding to support that enormous effort. Regulatory red tape will have to be expedited. When the experts told us there was no known cure or vaccine for Covid-19 I knew that the timeline for developing treatments would be several months at best and possibly 1-2 years. My instincts told me that if we can correct the medical problem, the accompanying downstream issues will take care of themselves.

I was soon to find out, however, that my partner Mark was seeing the pandemic threat from a completely different perspective. Mark enjoyed a successful career as a management consultant, first in the U.S. and then in the Middle East after 9/11, leading large teams and managing very large budgets. His initial primary concern was the long-term impact that the widely implemented mitigation measures (i.e. Shelter in Place orders) will have on our local and national economies.

These differences in perspective have led to more than one kerfuffle over the past several weeks but over time these have gradually subsided as we learn more about how the virus is impacting our country and its citizens. Even though there is still much that is unknown about Covid-19, we as a country are starting to see glimmers of hope in what we are continuing to learn about the virus. Getting through this won’t be easy but that knowledge will lead us gradually to the other side of this crisis. Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. Secretary of State, gave us the benefit of her life’s experience in her hopeful April 12th New York Times Opinion piece. She wrote “The best response to disaster is resilience. These are hard times but we have seen worse.………It might do well for us to view these abnormal days as an opportunity to ask more of ourselves, to reflect on our relations with one another, and think critically about improving the social, economic and political structures that shape our lives.”

As we move forward over the coming weeks and months, we will need to be strong, yet gentle and kind with ourselves and others. We will need to comfort one another and ourselves. We will need to nourish our bodies to maintain our strength and nourish our spirits if we are to be resilient. One way to do this is to prepare simple, delicious, healthy, and comforting meals, including meals that are easy to prepare at home. We want to help you with that goal by providing fresh, flavorful ingredients as well as simple recipes that are easy to prepare after a hard day as an essential worker or as a parent at home with small children. Spice Your Life is here to help you.

Toward that goal, I would like to share with you one of our favorite easy sheet pan meals that appeals to both grown-ups and children alike:


Roasted Sheet Pan Gnocchi with Vegetables


YIELD: 4 serving       PREP TIME: 10 min     COOK TIME: 20 min        



  • 1 pound frozen potato or cauliflower gnocchi
  • 2 bell peppers cut into 1-inch chunks (can use frozen chopped bell peppers that are thawed)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small onion cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic smashed
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon Herbs de Provence Sea Salt (can use kosher salt)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves
  • grated Parmesan Cheese for serving



Place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 450°F. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.

Place gnocchi, peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper into a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and gently toss to mix. Spread the resulting mixture out evenly onto the baking sheet.

Roast, stirring halfway through, until the gnocchi are plump and the vegetables are tender and caramelized, 18-20 minutes.

Serve by spooning the gnocchi/vegetable mixture onto individual bowls and garnish with basil and grated cheese.




You can store leftovers in your refrigerator for up to 5 days.