PORTLAND, Ore — It's almost time for the NBA season to resume, and the Portland Trail Blazers will be one of the 22 teams playing in Orlando starting July 31.
But shooting guard CJ McCollum has been very busy in the unexpected off-season. In June, he announced his new wine label with Adelsheim Vineyard. And now, as if to create its perfect pairing, he's partnered with Moda Health to release a free cookbook.
It's called, Don't walk by, foods to try, and CJ's goal is to inspire families to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets.
McCollum admits he didn't write the cookbook, but he has been testing out a lot of the recipes.
"I'm really looking forward to exploring this cookbook and trying some new things," said McCollum. "I think for the first time in my life I made a sweet mustard dressing, I had never really tried to make dressing before in general."
The cookbook is full of vegetable-forward recipes, like eggplant bolognese (which CJ says would pair perfect with his McCollum Heritage 91 wine), sausage, kale and bean soup, crustless leek quiche and warm bacon swiss chard salad. All of which the 28-year-old is ready to try for himself.
But CJ hasn't always loved vegetables.
"I didn't [like them growing up], I'm not gonna lie to you. I loved fruits but I wasn't a big fan of vegetables. I used to try to, you know, chop them up and make them as small as possible and hide them on my plate ... Now I like vegetables a lot, I eat a great variety."
His favorites are asparagus, mustard greens, kale and mixed green salads, which he describes as "the cheat code - makes life much, much more easy."
CJ has been cooking a lot in quarantine with his fiancé, Elise, balancing healthy meals with the occasional treat of french fries, popcorn or ice cream.
"There's a lot of different stresses that we face in our day to day lives, and I think cooking is a therapeutic way to go about it," said CJ. "You get your alone time, you can listen to music, you can be with your significant other, your family, your dog, whatever the case may be - or your cat - and prepare something that makes you happy. And for me, food has been my choice of happiness, and I've eaten through a lot of stress and troubles, and I've eaten through a lot of success as well."
Speaking of dogs, CJ and his fiancé did get a new puppy early on in quarantine.
Her name is Fiona, and she's clearly loving her dad's new cooking skills - just watch this video to hear how many times she barked while CJ showed me his colorful blood orange fennel salad with sweet mustard dressing that he perfectly plated up.
"The dressing was made from scratch, as they say," CJ said, describing his masterpiece. "[The salad] basically has everything you like in one."
That includes fennel, a vegetable CJ had actually never knowingly eaten before making this recipe. And that's the whole point behind this cookbook - to get people to try new things that they've walked by in the store many times.
"I must admit," said CJ. "I was going through the directions, and I was like, 'what part of the fennel do I cut?' So I had to Google it."
He says to get into healthy eating, just start with what you're comfortable with, and go from there.
"I think early on in your childhood a lot of vegetables are forced on you," said McCollum. "But explore, don't be afraid to try new things, as the saying goes, don't walk past foods. Like a banana, don't be afraid to just grab a banana on your way to school, to practice, to work."
And as a professional athlete, CJ knows the importance of putting healthy food into his body.
"Health, overall wellness is crucial. We can do all the working out we want, we can do all the meditation we want, but if we don't put good things into our bodies, we're not going to always get good results. And in the long run I think health is super important to us."
CJ just landed in Orlando with the rest of his Blazers teammates, and will have Disney World chefs cooking for him until his basketball season ends. But he says when he gets back to Portland, he'll be making the sausage, kale and bean soup next.
See all the recipes in the full cookbook here