Pressed Salad

Pressed salad is a dish common to macrobiotics. It is cooling, gentle, and light – a nice contradiction to a diet of dried out or heavy things (bread, crackers, meat, etc.). It is a delicious all-purpose salad that I absolutely love. It’s fun to eat with chopsticks and very, very easy to make. I learned to make pressed salad at The Natural Epicurean and I think it will become a favorite of yours, too.

There are endless combinations, but I start mine with radish, carrot, and cucumber – or whatever is on hand. I use my Benriner mandoline slicer to get thin consistent cuts. For one serving you only need about two radishes, half a carrot, and part of a cucumber. You don’t need a mandoline slicer but be sure to cut the vegetables thinly – this is a soft salad and you want to draw out some of the moisture from each thin slice.

Below: Veggies ready for salad!

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Below: Nice thin cuts! Thanks Benriner!

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Next, you massage about 1/4 teaspoon of unrefined Continue reading

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Warren Kramer – Part Two

I promised another post regarding the visit by internationally-recognized macrobiotic counselor Warren Kramer, so here it is. Overall, I’m just really glad to have gotten the chance to see someone who is such an authority in the healing art of macrobiotics. The appreciation for alternative approaches to health is one of the things that sets The Natural Epicurean apart from what other culinary schools offer, so I’m glad to be a part of the program.

There were a number of highlights from Warren Kramer’s visit that I figured I’d jot down in hopes that it would help me remember them!

  • A healthy person tries to keep empty, not full. Eating just enough to be strong is the goal, not feeling full all the time.
  • People tend to crave more of the foods that exacerbate their current condition. Continue reading

Warren Kramer, Macrobiotic Counselor (Part One)

The Natural Epicurean brought Warren Kramer in for several days to teach some macrobiotics classes to the professional program students and in a couple of public classes. Warren is an internationally recognized macrobiotic counselor based in the Boston, MA, area who also studied with Michio Kushi, one of the chief pioneers of macrobiotics in the world. (For more on macrobiotics, read below and check out my posts here and here.)

Group Consultation

I participated in a group consultation with a few other students one evening. Warren reviewed our brief health histories, evaluated our morphology very quickly, and made some high level recommendations. Each of us had 20 minutes, so it couldn’t be very in-depth, but it was a wonderful way to see how a top macrobiotic counselor works with clients. It was a really useful experience.

Below: Warren discusses umeboshi plums, which are a condiment used in Japanese cooking and macrobiotics. They are very salty, but good!

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Macrobiotic Cooking

This past week we continued our exploration of macrobiotic cooking. We made pressed salad, a nishime* (nuh SHE may) of cooked vegetables, grains, and several other items.

Nishime is Japanese cooking style that involves an easy simmer in a heavy pot with the lid on. The vegetables soften and their sweetness develops. We add some shoyu (like soy sauce) and it is fantastic. Warm, sweet, slightly salt-ish – it feels nourishing without being too heavy.

Below: Sliced cucumber for pressed salad.

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Continue reading

Macrobiotics Theory

Macrobiotics has a history that dates back a couple of hundred years, but it basically seems to boil down to eating a balanced diet and being mindful of several attributes in your life/diet: your lifestyle, the weather/climate, “yin” and “yang” balance of your food, acidizing and alkalizing qualities of your food, and more. Mastering the premises of macrobiotics seems to be a venture which could take years. After a few books and a week of classes, I’m a bit closer to competence in the theory but still a good way off.

Macrobiotic cooking has been seen by some as a path to healing their bodies and lives, and some have hailed it as cancer preventing and curing. With its emphasis on whole grains and vegetables, macrobiotics is intuitively a health-promoting diet. One thing I like about macrobiotics is that there is a sense in the theory of more than food – there is an appreciation for making one’s body, mind, and overall life better. There is also the idea that you can heal yourself – you can let your body heal itself by bringing it into attunement with your food, your environment, and the universe.

Below: Some popular books on macrobiotics.

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Addressing Skepticism and Assimilation

A lot of macrobiotic theory sounds questionable to Westerners (I would know, since I am one 🙂 ). Yin, yang, the five elements, energy in food — it’s unnatural to talk about such things for us. I believe there is a very strong bias in effect, however. What I mean is that every culture has unique worldviews that color the way they view their lives. In some cultures, even inanimate objects have gender. In other cultures, they also have a spirit. We cannot know if their beliefs are true, but I think sometimes cultures use these spiritual or nebulous concepts to capture an idea that is actually more true and/or accessible than the way Western science explains them.

An example of this is the idea in macrobiotics that different cooking styles imparts different energy to the food. You may not believe this or understand what it means, but you can certainly understand that food that’s steamed with no lid (upward energy) is noticeably different from food that is roasted (inward energy, I believe). And in ways that can be very distinct or subtle, your body handles those foods differently.

Since macrobiotics was popularized by people who subscribed to Chinese medical philosophy and thousands of years of Eastern culture, their worldview is going to differ greatly from ours and I think it’s not useful to merely discard it. In the West we have a tendency to label things as either “true” or “untrue” and “good” or “bad” but I think reality is more complex. I prefer to us my own filter to interpret and accept what makes sense to me.

We have a tendency to assimilate new information. This means we hear it and we try to make it fit or not fit into what we already know – we try to make it similar to our current information. The limitation of this is that if something new comes along and it is so radical that it doesn’t fit into our worldview, then we simply cannot see it as being true and we discard it. An alternative is to expand our worldview and grow, but this is more difficult and requires patience. I am in this phase of my understanding of macrobiotics.

More Theory

At the core of macrobiotics is the idea that food has energy and we must keep this energy in balance within ourselves and being mindful of the energy around us. Energy can be

  • Upward
  • Outward
  • Inward
  • Downward
  • Horizontal

Many things affect the energy of food and give indications of what type of energy is in that food. A vegetable (e.g., green onions) that sprout up toward the sky would be an example of upward energy. A carrot that grows below ground would have downward energy. How you cook imparts energy to the food, as well. Steaming imparts upward energy, while pressure cooking imparts inward energy.

One aspect of macrobiotics which was new to me is the idea of the Five Transformations. It’s also still an idea that I’m working on adding to my worldview. The basic idea is that there are five elements in nature that provide a framework for looking and our diets (and probably everything, but I haven’t gotten to that). Each element is associated with a season, a type of energy, kinds of food, etc. For example, the tree/wood element is associated with springtime, green foods, new growth, and upward energy. Keeping these elements in balance is key.

Another key element of macrobiotic theory is yin-yang balance. This is another way of thinking about the energy of food. Yin foods tend to bring expansive and light energy to your body and yang foods tend to bring contractive, heavier energy. Tropical fruit is a typical yin food. Meat is a typical yang food. Imagine how a person who eats tropical fruit all the time would be compared to a person who eats meat all the time. Neither is really healthy, and each would likely be very different in their temperament. This is an example of how the energy of food affects our own energy.

Summary

Using macrobiotics to improve people’s health means knowing about yin-yang, the five elements, acid-alkaline balancing, and more. It means knowing how to bring people’s diets and lives into balance. I have a long way to go, but I think macrobiotics will be a good tool for me to use in my cooking and consultation work.

Below: A whiteboard showing the five elements and their associated attributes.

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Below: What does it all mean? Time will tell…

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Macrobiotic Knife Skills

This past week we started our study of macrobiotics. The Natural Epicurean started over 10 years ago as a primarily macrobiotic cooking school and although it has changed ownership since then, it retains the much of the spirit that it had back then, including the focus on healing diets. We have about three weeks of macrobiotics study – both theory and cooking styles.

What is macrobiotics? Well, you can read one of my prior blog posts on the topic, and/or you can wait a day or two where I will recap some of our macrobiotics lecture content from this week. How about doing both! 🙂

We started our study of macrobiotic cooking with knife skills practice, which also gave us more exposure to some of the cooking methods used in macrobiotic cooking, or “macro” as we use for shorthand.

Below: Set up for an afternoon of vegetable prep.

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Below: Some finely sliced cucumber I did. Note the scalloped knife below, which is not my usual knife. For some reason, this style of knife is the preferred one in macrobiotic cooking. I need to find out why…

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Below: A large pot being used for a nishime cooking preparation. We have spring onion, squash, burdock root, carrot, and one or two other things I can’t recall. In nishime, the vegetables cook slowly for about an hour with the pot about half full. The vegetables’ sweetness becomes intensified and they become more digestible. A bit of wheat-free tamari is added (similar to soy sauce) for flavor.

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Below: Some sliced burdock root.

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Below: My fellow students and I made a pressed salad during class. This involves making thin cuts of vegetables – in this case, cucumber, fennel, apple, and I want to say…radish? Anyway, you rub a bit of salt into the vegetables, which helps to draw out the water and enhancing flavor. You then put a plate or bowl on top of the vegetables to help press out the moisture. The result is a tender, yet crunchy, salad that is delicious and simple.

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Below: Our plate of macrobiotically prepared vegetables.

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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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What Do I Want? Absolutely Everything

I’ve decided that when someone asks what I plan to do when I finish cooking school my answer will be “everything.” I want to do it all. Catering, restaurants, cafes, personal chef, wellness coach – I want to do all of it. With so many cool people around me, it all feels possible.

Friday Lecture

Friday we heard from three instructors who scratched the surfaces of Macrobiotic, Raw, and Ayurvedic cooking and philosophies. Chef Rachel Zierzow, Chef Alicia Ojeda, and Ellen Stansell gave us just a taste of these food and health modalities and I found each talk equally stimulating.

Macrobiotics

Macrobiotics is amazing because, as I first wrote about in one of my earliest blog posts, it takes a broad view of life beyond food. As Chef Rachel put it, one goal of macrobiotics is to “make your dreams come true.” How about that? And one of the chief ways you accomplish this is through good food choices, because macrobiotics believes that your food really does influence your life and your way of thinking.

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Raw Food

Chef Alicia Ojeda, one of the key people behind the development of the menu at Beets Cafe and former head chef there, is a true leader in raw food and her energy in speaking was a great sales pitch for raw foodism. Raw food is food that’s never brought above 118 degrees, which means that it is living food. Food that sits on the shelf with an expiration date two years in the future is inert and dead. Raw food – fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc. – is alive and it provides clean nourishment to the body. And to make things even more interesting, Chef Alicia looks at least 10 years younger than her actual age. Hmmm.

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Ayurveda

Lastly, we heard from The Natural Epicurean’s curriculum director Ellen Stansell. Ellen has a PhD in Indian philosophy from UT Austin and she gave us a primer on Ayurvedic wellness theory. This theory is the one that was most unfamiliar to me upon entering the program. To sum up, Ayurveda calls upon each person to keep their body in balance by being mindful of the environment and food one eats. Your personal characteristics and environment will help dictate what food will lead to optimal health at any given moment.

My favorite part of Ellen’s talk was where she compared the Western worldview to the Ayurvedic worldview. In the West, matter is merely physical and life is simply a collection of molecules that behaves in a “lifelike” way. The Ayurvedic view is that the physical world, living and non-living objects, and food are all imbued with spirit; they are joyous and blessed. An especially cool moment was when it began to rain very heavily and many students stopped their assigned activity and went to the back to watch the downpour. Ellen actually encouraged us to watch, noting that it is inherently human to be fascinated by such weather (especially in typically arid Austin, TX). How cool is that?

 

William Spear Macrobiotics Class (Part 1)

Living in Austin, TX, has it’s benefits: Cool people like William Spear come to talk about very interesting topics. Mr. Spear is a Feng Shui expert (he wrote a very well known book on the topic, Feng Shui Made Easy) and a long-time practitioner and counselor of macrobiotics. He is staying in Austin temporarily to work on some writing, and he decided to give a series of talks on macrobiotics while he is in town. The talks will occur at Casa de Luz, a terrific macrobiotic “restaurant” in Austin. I noted a few interesting tidbits that struck me from the talk (below the photo).

Below: William Spear explains Macrobiotics whilst I snap a surreptitious photograph.

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  • Chew your food a lot. Chewing alkalizes food, which reduces the load on your digestive system. He cited an expression “drink your food and chew your drink” which is to say “chew so much that your food becomes liquid.”
  • The lungs are an important organ for elimination of waste – CO2. The lungs are very active discharging carbon dioxide from 3:00 am and 5:00 am, which is why many people awake during those hours.
  • Good desire for food is a key benefit of the health you can achieve through macrobiotics. Healthy food will make you feel nourished. You will have desires for all normal things at healthy levels.
  • Your body’s organs have natural daily rhythms. Western medicine I beginning to take these rhythms into account when treating organs (administering treatment at certain times of day to maximize impact). Our hearts’ natural rhythms are least active around midnight, and this is not just because we are commonly sleeping – taking it easy is just what your heart “wants” to do at that time.
  • People urinate more in fall due to cooling temperatures. This aligns with macrobiotic principles of contraction/expansion, (although I am not quite sure how!).
  • You should be able to fall asleep shortly after getting into bed.
  • Your body doesn’t need as much food on a macrobiotic diet because your body uses it more efficiently. At first your body may be hungry on a macrobiotic diet, but that is because it is not used to drawing nutrients from food so efficiently. Most of our bodies are accustomed to working very hard for the scarce nutrients in our French fries and hamburgers, so we demand a larger quantity of food.
  • Most degenerative diseases occur not because of deficiency but because of excess.
  • Americans eat 2-3 times more protein than necessary.
  • We know that calcium in a high protein environment (e.g., milk) is not well absorbed. Cultures with lowest consumption of dairy have least osteoporosis. The “fact” that dairy is beneficial to your bones is a big lie perpetrated by the dairy industry.
  • There is no forbidden food in macrobiotics. (There is more to this point, but I don’t think I can do it justice. Basically, you want to shoot for eating in a certain way, but macrobiotics would not specifically prohibit any food, especially if it might be useful for your body and your particular situation.)

What do you think? Do these points make sense? If you attended the talk, what did you hear that you liked a lot?