Foodie Movie: How to Cook Your Life

I watched the movie “How to Cook Your Life” on Netflix recently and really enjoyed the philosophy shared by the film’s subject, Edward Espe Brown. Brown is a Zen teacher and, according to Wikipedia, he is one of the founders of Greens restaurant, a critically acclaimed vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. Brown was once the cook at the Tassajara Zen Center in Northern California.

Edward Espe Brown

Edward Espe Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some of the quotes Brown shared in the film….

  • “When you are cooking you’re not just working on food, you are working on yourself.”
  • “Study food – study cooking, happiness and joy. Study what it is you want in your life.”
  • “We are cooking the food but in practice the food is cooking us.”
  • “Handle the ingredients, pots and tools as you would your own eyes.”
  • “When you wash the rice, wash the rice, when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots. A lot of time we have stuff on our minds. Take care of the activity.”
  • “Cooking brings your hands nourishment because your hands get to be hands instead of playing around with your iPod or computer. They get to do something instead of sitting around all day while you’re entertaining yourself with your iPod and your internet and all of the other things we do. Our hands don’t get to do much any more.”
  • “We will pay a lot of money not to cook. To avoid “(in a scared voice) Ack! A potato!” And we get upset because we can’t make the food taste like the fast food. Our taste buds have been changed.”
  • “It’s not just biscuits (that we try to replicate at home). We try to replicate (the lives and people) we see on TV or in magazines. We try to make ourselves into what we see as ideal.”

What Does It Mean?

It might be easy in our American black/white worldview to dismiss some of the things that Edward Espe Brown says as muddled or hokey or too “hippie.” Maybe they don’t align with the things you were told when you were small. But I think there is a lot of wisdom in his words if you open your mind.

As I was blanching greens today in class, I thought about caring for those delicate, cooked leaves as if they were my own eyes. Cooked collard green leaves are very delicate and soft. They can tear very easily. But I put aside distractions and focused on the food. We were “only” blanching greens, but by caring for the greens and putting our full attention to them, we made them into something beyond ordinary. Chef Shahnaz told us that she spent a lot of time cooking greens at the Kushi institute, because it takes a long time to master the seemingly simple ways of preparing them well.

Below: Blanched greens I cooked with some teammates in class on Thursday. At bottom is a delicious dressing made in the VitaMix and at the top is a braised cabbage we cooked with cumin. Simple and delicious.

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Cooking Par-Tay: India Style

Wednesday night a few fellow students and I rocked it, India-style, for a little extra-curricular cooking. Some of the ingredients we used that you may not have heard of: kokum, asafetida, mango powder, and Pakistani rose petal spread. Six dishes in four hours. All vegan and gluten free, and chock full of vegetables and traditional healing spices.

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Below: Spice-stuffed okra bombs. Delicious!

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Below: I love the color contrast of the blue Le Creuset pot against the purple cabbage and green broccoli.

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Below: This one is for Chef Alex (aka The Food Diva), food stylist extraordinaire and culinary instructor at The Natural Epicurean.

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Below: The sixth and final dish, orange slices with rose petal spread, which was sweet, thick like a jam preserve, and floral. Very unique.

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Veg on the Table

We got down and dirty with fungus and other bulb-y, root-y plants on Tuesday. I have developed a real appreciation for mushrooms in the past several months, so cooking them in school was a good thing for me.

Did You Know?

Mushrooms don’t use photosynthesis? They get their energy by basically eating away at the matter around them. They are considered parasites – but GOOD parasites because they are instrumental at breaking down and decaying matter, thereby contributing to the Circle of Life (cue the Lion King music :) ).

You get to participate in the circle of life by cooking them down until tender with some olive oil, adding some stock perhaps, and eating them, herbivore style.

Below: Beech mushrooms. So cute! They actually have little faces that smile at you and sing songs. Not really. Just being silly.

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Continue reading

Get Yer Veg On

Week Five started with a lecture and discussion on converting traditional recipes to healthier and/or vegetarian versions. We discussed definitions of health and how food intersects with health and healing. We talked about the trends in healthier eating and then planned a week-long menu of vegetarian lunches for a hypothetical children’s camp. Making a vegetarian menu for a school would be much harder because of nutritional requirements and it would have taken all day just to do the nutritional analysis. :)  It was fun planning a menu and seeing how the other people on my team think – working in a group can definitely produce better results than working alone.

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Lab – Vegetables I

We’ve been through Grains, Beans, Stocks, and Sauces. Time to love our vegetables!

Below: My cutting board (left) has the orange zest, which I am learning to always capture in case its needed for garnish, and garlic. Chioggia beets are red and striated; you can see them on the cutting board to the right.

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Below: Grating himalayan pink sea salt into an orange ginger dressing for our chioggia beets.

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Below: A really good vegetable ceviche created by a classmate. This was another example of a dish that was created outside of our assigned recipes.

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Below: My team’s orange-ginger beet salad.

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Below: A carrot salad with parsley and mint.

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Below: A warm carrot chipotle saute with apricots and pistachios. Yum!

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Below: Braised butternut squash.

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Below: A beet salad with parsley, mint, and cilantro. I really liked this salad. Beets are really good – spread the word!

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A Bit About Beets

Beets are crazy good for you! And fresh beets cooked well taste really good. You can dress them with a sweet or herby dressing and make them even better.

Beets are loaded with fiber and vitamin C. Dr. Oz calls beets a super food because they are loaded with inflammation-stopping antioxidants, which are common in deeply-colored foods like orange potatoes and red beets. Like many root vegetables such as carrots, beets have natural sugars with are enhanced with cooking. It’s not like eating candy, but as Chef Alex told us, root vegetables are often called “dirt candy” because they do have that subtle sweet flavor, which can round out your meal. Once you get off soda, fake sweeteners, and processed sugars, you will be in a better position to enjoy their health-promoting sweetness!

Sources

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=49

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2348/2

http://www.drozfans.com/dr-ozs-advice/dr-oz-beets-the-super-antioxidant-dr-ozs-beet-recipe/

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/antioxidant-youre-not-eating

Cooking at Casa

I had a day off Friday from class, so I volunteered in the morning at Casa de Luz, Austin’s premiere (and possibly only) macrobiotic restaurant. Casa de Luz was how I heard about The Natural Epicurean culinary school, so in a large sense, it was very instrumental in my life! The food was so delicious and nourishing, and the space was so tranquil and enriching, that I had to know how I could learn those skills.

Volunteering at Casa means chopping veggies for three hours and at the end getting a free lunch (or dinner, if you volunteer in the afternoon). I figured it would be a good chance to practice higher volume chopping. I got what I bargained for there! And the meal was fabulous as usual.

Below: A pallet of fresh vegetables delivered to Casa that I noticed as I entered the restaurant.

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Below: Cauliflower that I chopped. I’m not sure where this ended up.

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The meal below is a great example of balance on a plate. To feel truly satisfied after a meal, one needs a balance of tastes and mouthfeel plus nutrients. Popcorn as a meal doesn’t work – it’s a simple flavor (buttery, salty) and one texture (crunchy/starchy) over and over again. Plus, it’s very light on nutritive elements. As a meal, it doesn’t work. Believe me, in desperation, I have tried.

This meal, however has warm and cool, crunchy and smooth, acid and neutral. It even has the slight sweetness of root vegetables and the saltiness to contrast against. In macrobiotics, overly sweet food is generally not suggested, but every plate has some element of sweetness to maintain balance. Japanese sweet potatoes are a great example of this that I’ve seen used at Casa de Luz. As for nutrients, this plate is loaded with carbs, protein, fiber, and an adequate amount of fat. If I had a choice between this plate and almost anything else, I would choose this. I might need a second helping, though.

Below: What a meal, and I helped make it! Blanched greens with a nut/seed sauce on top (just made a similar sauce in class called sun cheese, which is also used at Casa), short-grain brown rice, lentils with cilantro (amazing), pickled radish that I chopped, and steamed veggies.

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Below: I love the natural lighting at Casa de Luz. Maybe that’s where they got the name from!

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Seeds, Seitan and Nuts

Thursday we got to work with seitan, sunflower seeds, and walnuts, making vegan versions of several non-vegan dishes (1) fettuccine (2) mayonnaise (3) pesto and a handful of others.

Seitan

Seitan is a dense, chewy brown colored mass of wheat protein – otherwise known as gluten. Gluten has become a very well-known word in America, although people still don’t understand what it is. At The Natural Epicurean, we are going to be making our own seitan in a future session, but I can tell you it is made from wheat that is ground into a flour and then rinsed and wrought until the starches are washed away and the gluten only remains. What you’re left with is seitan – it’s thick, and it closely resembles meat because of it’s density and chewiness. However, since I am gluten sensitive, seitan was a no-no for me. I did cook with it, but I just didn’t eat any.

Below: Seitan fettuccine. 

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Below: Sun cheese, made from soaked sunflower seeds. Sun cheese tastes pretty dang good! And nice presentation! Lemon juice adds some of the tangy flavor that you usually get with cheese. A Vita Mix helps it get nice and creamy. All four teams made sun cheese so we got to compare final products and discuss.  

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Below: Cilantro/parsley pesto with pumpkin seeds instead of pinenuts. I plated this dish and I love the red clay bowl against the green pesto. The yellow lemon zest was a lovely addition, also.

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Below: Wild rice stir fry with walnuts.

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Below: Sun cheese and pesto.

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Below: Seitan saute. The sauce was delicious.

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Tour of The Natural Epicurean Kitchen

Howdy, folks!

It’s been 4 weeks since I began culinary school at The Natural Epicurean and I figured that I would show my family, friends, and blog readers what it looks like in the kitchen where I am spending my time!

A couple of other notes to address questions that have come in:

There are four stove tops in the kitchen. I have never had to wait to use a stove since there are plenty of burners. Occasionally, just as in a restaurant kitchen, we have to work with our colleagues to move a saucepan to another burner to make space for a new pan, but that is part of the cooking process – working with our colleagues to get the job done.

There are four stations in the kitchen for students, and two instructor stations. Each station is stocked with a food processor and all of the cookware and utensils you need to prepare a given dish. There are two Vita Mixes in the kitchen and I haven’t seen us need more than that.

Food dehydrators, as seen in the video, are “cooking” devices which operate at very low (100-118 degrees or so) temperatures and for long periods of time (up to several hours or more). The dehydrating process has minimal impact on the enzymatic composition of the food and its nutrient profile, while altering the texture slightly. Dehydrated eggplant slices, for example, are very crispy and make a nice sandwich filling. The dehydrators are Excalibur models and I don’t know much about them, but I look forward to finding out more very soon!

There are about 12 students in the lab kitchen at any given time – three in each sub group. The sub-groups (or teams) rotate each week. When in the lab kitchen, I work with two other students on preparing 2 to 4 recipes. At the end of the lab, we all taste the food and share comments on it. When the lab session is over, we move to the demo kitchen. The students who were in the demo kitchen switch to the lab kitchen.

I’ll be making more videos to explore the kitchen in more detail in the future, so stay tuned!

Soy Glad to Meet You

Yes, there has been a trend of corny blog post titles. Isn’t it fun?

Chef Shanaz was our instructor for soy lab today. She knows her soy!

Below: Group B prepping for lab kitchen.

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Below: One of the dishes we made was ginger tofu, which called for 1 tablespoon of ginger juice. I grated a good bit of ginger and squeezed out the juice.

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Below: One of the dishes my group made was tempeh “chicken” salad, with celery, pickles, parsley, and green onion. It was pretty dang good!

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Below: Tofu egg salad (top), pan-fried tempeh and ginger tofu (left), and tofu mayo (right). Tofu mayo is surprisingly good!

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Below: Pan-fried tempeh sticks – I really liked this presentation.

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Demo Kitchen

Chef Rachel is such a pleasure to be with. She brings a calmness and a high level of consciousness to not only her cooking but also attention to the mind and body of the cook her/himself. She showed us a few preparations of some delicious local (Johnson’s Backyard Garden) carrots.

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Below: Sweet carrot, warm, moist, and salty (in the case of the nishime). None were overcooked – these were very well cooked carrots and they had me looking forward to the day when I can replicate them identically. Chef Rachel talked about using high quality ingredients, which was key in this dish, and not getting in their way. 

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Below: Why am I rubbing my foot with no shoe on? Chef Rachel showed us some self-shiatsu techniques which had us feeling quite nice.

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Home Study

I bought some Johnson’s Backyard Garden carrots and tried the nishime technique that Chef Rachel showed us earlier. Yum!

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Below: The nishime-style carrots look like little owls. This is also known as the jewel cut.

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Good News and Good Stuff

Great news! I have agreed to cater a weekend retreat for about 20 people in June. I am very excited thinking about menu options. I love the people involved and I love this idea – it’s the type of work I really want to do.

Another fun tidbit – I am volunteering at Casa de Luz this Friday and I’ll get a free meal at lunch. I’m very excited to get into their kitchen. I love their food and this local macrobiotic restaurant was instrumental in inspiring my career change and attendance at The Natural Epicurean.

I picked up a couple of goodies at my local food co-op, Wheatsville, since they have 10% off during owner appreciation days. I love being an owner of my local food co-op – it makes me feel more a part of the community and I love the idea of community ownership of business. Bonus points if you can identify the device in the photo below, which I was very excited to acquire.

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I also decided to try a new calcium supplement. I wanted one with magnesium since Radhia, our nutrition teacher, told us that you should include magnesium in your calcium supplements at a 1:1 ratio. The Rainbow Light brand fit the bill nicely.

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The Beans Cooketh Nicely

Today, we got more nutrition info in our morning lecture, and afternoon cooking lab had us working with the beans we cooked yesterday.

Nutrition Lecture with Radhia Gleis

Today was another lecture with Radhia Gleis, a local nutrition expert with 26 years of experience practicing clinical nutrition from a certified and highly educated, yet non-mainstream perspective. Radhia covered a ton of topics today – protein, fats, genetically modified food, antioxidants…  Some highlights that stuck with me:

  • Certain amino acids are linked to performance of specific body functions (neurotransmitters, blood sugar maintenance, immune responses, muscle development, etc.)
  • Radhia believes that saturated fat is not as bad as commonly thought. She says that saturated fat and cholesterol are not the primary causes of heart disease, but rather inflammation caused by consuming processed food.
  • The ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats can improve or harm health as it varies within your diet. Higher ratios of O3 to O6 (i.e., more flax oil, more omega-3 rich fish, more good oils) are associated with less body inflammation, a major cause of disease. (Read more on fat ratios.) What are good oils? Flax oil is the best. Canola, walnut, and olive oils are not great, but far better than corn oil, cottonseed oil, and safflower oil. Those oils are very high in omega 6 compared to omega 3, and consuming lots of those oils can wreak all kinds of inflammatory havoc in your body. Incidentally, the best oils are also the least stable – they require refrigeration, protection from light, and avoidance of oxygen exposure. This also makes the BEST oils the MOST expensive. So, they aren’t very useful for processed food applications, which must be shelf stable AND cheap. The lesson – minimize consumption of processed foods and good food costs more money.
  • Rancid oils contains lots of free radicals, which are very harmful to the body.

Lab Kitchen

Below: Moroccan chickpea stew – it was quite hearty, with warm cinnamon and creamy chickpeas. 

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Below: We do occasionally pan-fry in the kitchenyum yum!

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Below: Some pan-fried black bean patties I cooked.

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Below: Plating some hummus.

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Below: Chef Alex leads us through our cooking de-briefing discussion.

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Below: A lovely savory bean puree.

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Today’s Dietitian

I’ve been subscribing to Today’s Dietitian for several months and have found an occasional article useful. This month’s magazine, in addition to being delicious, had an article about how low levels of omega-3 fats can result in memory problems. How topical, considering today’s lecture. This month’s issue had a couple of decent-looking recipes, too.

On the back cover, Today’s Dietitian shows its true colors – a full-page color ad for no-calorie, processed dressings and sauces. Ugh!

Remember kids, real food is more than calories. It’s even more than carbs, fats, and protein.

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