Natalie Coughlin is into food.
I don't mean she's a big fan of eating food or cooking it, though those are both true. She's literally into food. Recently, after a meet in Bolzano, Italy, the 11-time Olympic Medalist swimmer took a mustard bath.
It's exactly what it sounds like.
"It's supposed to be detoxifying. It's part of ayurveda," Coughlin says, referring to the traditional medicine of India. "It's a great way to relax on the road."
(Wikipedia defines a mustard bath as "Around half a cup of ground up mustard seeds are placed in a very hot bath and the patient relaxes in this for about ten minutes." So please don't envision the lovely Natalie backstroking in yellow goop.)
Athletes are prone to superstitions and peculiar routines, but the proud Cal alum says nothing else has made the trip from her pantry to her tub.
"I haven't tried to bathe in ketchup or soy sauce or anything," she says with a laugh.
Whatever it is, it's working. Coughlin has won a medal in every single Olympic event that she has ever entered and is the most decorated female athlete of both the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Games. She is one of the best swimmers -- male or female -- of all time.
Quirky post-competition habits aside, she's an accomplished cook and has been honing her kitchen craft ever since she escaped the college dorms. She appeared in a cooking segment on The Today Show in 2002 and has racked up dozens of spots since. That means plenty of time in green rooms -- those talent-holding pens of the television business.
"I've been in many where they don't give you anything or a couple stale bagels," Coughlin says.
But the Rachel Ray show was different. Outside of being Coughlin's favorite cooking demo with a celebrity chef so far, she says the food before the show was amazing. The lineup included sliders and an
assortment of crostini. The only problem was that Coughlin had just eaten before she arrived.
"I was so upset because the spread was incredible," she says. "It was by far the best green room ever."
Recently, Coughlin served as a judge on a special episode of Iron Chef America and faced a similar conundrum -- so much good food, not enough room. She watched as Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse took on Bobby Flay and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford in a battle that included a cameo by the First Lady herself.
"There was so much going on. The quality of food and the amount they are able to put out in less than an hour is mind-boggling," Coughlin says. "I wanted to eat it all, but I couldn't."
Coughlin admits there is a time and place to indulge, but portion control is one of her most important tenets. She refers to the seconds and thirds at the holidays that get most people in trouble.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, Coughlin shared what will be on her menu:
The traditional turkey and stuffing will share the table with a Filipino classic, celebrating the culture on her mother's side of the family.
"My grandmother makes the best lumpia in the world," she says. "That's a fact."
But Coughlin has adapted that recipe for the mini spring rolls, and will bake them instead of frying for a healthier version. Not that she won't indulge from time to time. She doesn't have "cheat days." It's all about eating the right amount of high quality foods.
This Thanksgiving, that won't include the dessert table, but not for the reason you think.
"I like pumpkie pie, but I'm more of a savory person," Coughlin says. "I'd rather have another serving of stuffing."
The rest of us non-Olympians will be having both.
Get Natalie Coughlin's recipes at CaliforniaDriedPlums.org
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