ROCKLAND, Maine — When Malia Dell graduated from college, she got a dream job working in Boston and launched herself wholeheartedly into the young urban lifestyle — complete with eating out for nearly every meal.

That strategy was fun but also expensive, unhealthy and unsustainable in the long run, according to Dell, now 31 and a resident of Rockland.

“I didn’t look that great. I didn’t feel that great. I didn’t have a lot of energy. And why was I exhausted? I was only 24,” she recalled. “I was spending a ridiculous amount of money out each week on food and beverage.”

Dell decided she would start cooking at home to save enough money to fund a long backpacking trip to Spain and soon realized there would be some side benefits to her scheme.

“I immediately felt a shift in my health,” she said. “I started having more energy and sleeping better, and my skin was clear.”

Quickly, the young professional fell in love with cooking and nutrition and eventually dreamed of teaching others what she had learned. After years of writing, testing recipes and learning how to self-publish a cookbook, “ Food That Works: Real Meals to Survive the 9 to 5” came off the presses in mid-October. Ever since, Dell has been on a major push to get the word out about the project she affectionately calls her baby.

“I never set out to write a 160-page cookbook — I really didn’t,” she said. “I just followed the things I was passionate about. This is what I want to do.”

Dell is at the beginning of a four-month national book tour she funded with a successful campaign on Kickstarter, a website that lets writers, artists, musicians and others get resources and support for their creative projects. She spoke to the Bangor Daily News shortly after giving a presentation at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, office of Google and was still buzzing with the good reception she received there.

“People were really interested in it,” she said. “They really wanted help with the weekly habit of cooking.”

“Food That Works” is able to do that because of Dell’s focus on helping people get organized regarding food shopping and cooking. In the book, she explains her strategy of going grocery shopping Sundays and purchasing the week’s worth of whole foods and other high-quality ingredients. When she comes home from the store, she spends about an hour prepping the food so it is ready to be used during the workweek. She hard-boils eggs, chops vegetables and does other work to get ready for the week, then places all those ingredients in an organized way in the refrigerator. Dell provides her readers with shopping lists, menus and recipes and said her strategy is an efficient and delicious way to cut down on wasted food and squandered money.

“I think a lot of people in Maine understand that this is the cheapest way to eat well — to cook for yourself,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be complicated. None of us want to spend hours in the kitchen.”

Dell said that when she finally did go on that backpacking trip around the Mediterranean, she learned even more about how to cook with fresh ingredients from her host families. Then, when she returned to the United States, she went to Rockland to visit her parents and then decided to stay in midcoast Maine. She got a job at Melissa Kelly’s renowned Rockland restaurant, Primo, where she realized how crucial it is to be organized about food preparation.

“Watching those chefs prep food every night, I saw that is how you have an efficient kitchen,” Dell said. “I really thought about how to incorporate that in the cookbook.”

The book features recipes for healthful fare such as white bean chicken chili, sweet potato quesadillas and buffalo chicken salad and has been popular with readers so far. Dell said she has sold more than 1,000 copies, which she believes is pretty good for a self-published author. If she sells 5,000 copies on her own, she said she would go to a publishing house and see whether there might be interest in putting out a second cookbook. Or she might focus her energies on doing work-based wellness education.

But that’s all in the future. From now until the beginning of June, Dell will be giving talks and selling books in Massachusetts, Florida, Texas and California. The Kickstarter funds are helping her with travel costs but don’t allow her to stay at fancy hotels. Instead, she is staying with friends and family on couches and cots and getting extra practice at healthful, efficient cooking while on the road. Standbys include baked sweet potatoes, cooked quinoa, steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs.

“I call my purse the kitchen. No matter where I am, I can pull out food from my bag,” Dell said. “Being the author, publisher, agent, marketing person and personal relations, if I did not feed myself well, I would not have the stamina to keep up this schedule.”

For more information about “Food That Works,” visit the website The book can be found in Maine at stores including Hello Hello Books in Rockland, at Rooster Brother in Ellsworth, at the Owl & Turtle Bookshop in Camden and Sherman’s Books and Stationery in Portland, Freeport, Camden, Bar Harbor and Boothbay Harbor.


White Bean Chicken Chili

Total Time: 1 hour

Serves: 5-6

Try this lighter version of chili, and you will be converted. Normally we think of chili as dark red and tomato based. But this chili has a white creamy base that begins with making a roux. Then we seriously season the roux with tons of rich spices and smoky chipotle peppers, which make this chili unforgettable. Careful with those chipotle peppers; they are extremely hot! Go ahead and bring this chili to the next party if you want a lot of press.


2 cups brown rice (makes 4 cups cooked)


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onions

3 cloves garlic, chopped (1 generous tablespoon)

2 cups chopped red and green bell peppers


4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup flour

1 cup unsweetened almond milk or milk of your choice

2½ cups water (or chicken broth if you have it)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1 chipotle pepper in adobo, finely chopped (2 peppers if you like it really hot)

1 tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos

Additional Spices: cayenne pepper for more heat, smoked paprika for smoky flavor, or a little juice from the canned chipotle peppers


2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans or any white beans, rinsed well and drained

2 baked chicken breasts

Additional Toppings:

1 dollop plain full-fat Greek yogurt

Finely chopped red onions, for garnish

2 scallions, light green and white parts, thinly sliced

1 dash paprika, for color


Place rice in a medium pot with a lid.

Fill the pot with enough cold water to cover the rice. Scrub the rice well with your hands and pour off the water. Repeat 3 times or until water runs clear.

Add 4 cups cold water. Place over high heat; bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn heat down to medium-low, cover, and cook until tender, about 40 minutes; set timer.

Turn off the heat, and fluff with a fork. If there is excess water, pour it off. Return the rice to the warm burner and fluff with a fork until the rice dries out a bit. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.


Place a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, heat about 2 minutes.

Add the yellow onions, saute for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes more, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

Add the peppers, stir to combine and saute only 2 more minutes. You just want to lightly saute the veggies as they will cook more in the chili. Place the veggie mixture in a bowl; set aside.


Melt the butter in the same pan over medium heat. With a whisk, slowly add the flour to the butter. Keep breaking up the flour with the whisk, pressing up against and scraping the sides. Slowly add the almond milk. Turn the heat up to high, and whisk continually until the roux bubbles, thickens and turns white. Continuing to whisk, slowly add the water, cup by cup, until the mixture bubbles and thickens again. Once all the water is added and the mixture is thick, reduce the heat to medium.

Stir the salt, cumin, chili powder, oregano, chipotle pepper and Braggs into the roux. Taste and add additional spices until it tastes good to you — this is the sauce for your chili. Turn down the heat to medium-low; continue cooking.


Stir the rinsed beans and the vegetable mixture into the roux.

Place the cooked chicken breasts on a cutting board. Use a fork to pull meat toward you with a scraping motion, shredding chicken to the desired size. Add shredded chicken to the chili; gently stir. Taste and add a little bit of water if it’s too thick. Heat over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until ready to serve.

Place a serving of rice in each bowl, top with chili, then yogurt, red onions, scallions and paprika. Dig in!