Friday, October 26, 2012

Lovin Your Cooking


I have cooked a lot of macrobiotic meals, at least one a day for the past 30 years. I have cooked all over the place, in different countries, for my family, at large seminars and on 2 burners in a hotel room at the 4 Seasons. The thing I love about cooking is there is always something so refreshingly new and different in creating a meal. I have taught many people who are completely new to macrobiotics and many who haven’t cooked at all.  I notice how easy it is to become overwhelmed when bombarded with the theory. In reality the key is to actually get in the kitchen and start cooking. If you can find a way to see it as fun, a source of relaxation, a creative art or simply the preparation of great healthy food, then your meals will be filled with vitality and joy. The techniques can develop along the way.

This article is about some of my thoughts on cooking. Notice I said some because I cannot give you all my thoughts. My thoughts are not absolute; they are simply based upon my experience and are subject to change in any given moment.

In order for you to understand a little about my life, I need to give you a glimpse into my kitchen. It really isn’t anything special except for the wide plank cherry wood floor. The walls are decorated with my paintings and we have a small round wooden table, which seats about 4 people. We tend to eat our dinner around this table, which is a bit of a squash but we like it that way. There is a bench where a cat is often sleeping. Paddington, our big white dog likes to lie in the middle of the floor so we have to step over him in order to get from the stove to the fridge. The kitchen is rarely spotless but it is organic, and it is happy. I am blessed with 7 wonderful children and although only 1 lives at home, this hasn’t stopped the flow of kids of all ages coming through, hanging out and trying our food. My kitchen is rarely quiet but I have learned to create peace in the small space around my cutting board.

On that note I do think it is easier to begin cooking with a tidy kitchen. This is the same idea as starting with a clean slate. I am not saying you can’t cook in a messy kitchen but it is like to trying to play a professional game of soccer on a pitch that already has a bunch of lads kicking a ball around. A tidy kitchen makes everything flow more smoothly, cuts down the time spent and creates a sense of stability and order.

You really have to know a bit about yourself when you step into the kitchen. And if you don’t then you can learn a lot about yourself when you step into the kitchen. I am sure you have all been to a house where everything in it is perfect to such a degree that you feel like you are the only thing out of place. If that is your home then once in a while mess it up. Leave a magazine on the table or a coat on the back of a chair to sort of soften the edges and give the kitchen heart. If you tend to be very messy, make a conscious effort to put the magazine and coat away, and also yesterday’s leftovers. This might be hard at first but the benefits go way beyond the moment because the small things you do in your kitchen will help you with the bigger things in your life. For example, if you have a hard time finishing projects, pay extra attention to how your meal is presented and the finishing touches. Make sure to have garnishes for your soups or place you food in lovely bowls and dishes that set off the meal. Clear everything up before you sit down to eat. It is all a question of balance and cooking reflects the way in which we balance our lives.

The single most important aspect of cooking is to show up. You cannot learn to ride a bike from a book and likewise with cooking. The art of cooking is an excellent example of grounding your thoughts in reality and then returning them to vibration. You think about your menu, write it down, leap into the kitchen, create an array of dishes and relish the results. Your meal then becomes the energy that nourishes the mind, body and soul. Cooking is a beautiful way to get grounded, get out of your head and to be in the here and now.

You also need ingredients. Cooking organic, living, whole grains, beans, sea vegetables, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts is the most direct way you can love, respect and connect with yourself and also with nature. Add to that the vast array of seasonings, herbs, oils, teas and other exciting morsels and you have a huge selection to play with. Macrobiotic cooking often appears weighed down with specific rules and regulations. While they are extremely helpful in refining our skills, these principles can make us fearful or prevent us from really enjoying ourselves. If that is the case then forget them. In fact once learned, best forgotten. The key is to dive in and start by including whole grains and vegetables into your daily diet. To make sure you are getting enough nutrition vary the ingredients, the colors, the shapes and the taste and make use of nature’s bounty.  If you know that your food tends to come out mushy and overcooked make an extra effort to create some light and crispy dishes. If you seem to use a lot of sour taste as a seasoning, think about making your meals naturally sweet. If you have to have everything perfect, make a meal without any recipes. Go wild for a day and make anything that comes into your head just to feel free. If you lack discipline, write a menu down and pay attention to the details, how you cut your vegetables, the use of the flame, the different cooking styles and how efficiently you tidy up the kitchen.

When it comes to utensils, the key is to choose those of good quality that will last. I know we would all love to have a flashy array of pots and pans but that isn’t always possible. You can still make glorious creations with even one or two pots. I have some 28 year-old pans in my kitchen that have lost their handles, and have been well loved and used. I have had students ask me if I intentionally purchased them that way. Back in the early 80’s I took a macrobiotic teacher training test in Boston. There were a few of us taking the cooking section at the same time. I was the only one with a small baby and so I arrived at the last minute, having had to organize her comforts. There were no pots left for me and no one wanted to share. So the teachers who were giving the test rummaged around and found a couple of really old pots. One had a wonky bottom and the other was far too big for the amount of food I had to prepare. I still remember the dishes I made, how delicious they tasted, and how much those who got to sample them, enjoyed them. I have also cooked 5 course meals on two small burners with two small pans and they were some of my favorites. There is such a deep sense of accomplishment and fun when you realize how much you achieve with so little.

In cooking the image you create in your mind plays a big part. Before you begin to cook, you can imagine the meal and how it will feel and taste. How does one dish feel with another dish? How does black soybean stew feel next to brown rice or how does it feel next to a pressed salad. This sense can guide you towards making a complete and satisfying meal. If you don’t know how it would feel that is okay too. You can use your imagination to conjure up any image that will help you create what you are looking for in the meal. If you want it light and uplifting then you could imagine the spring sun in the early morning while you are cooking or if you are preparing for a party you could visualize a garden full of brightly colored flowers? Or you can simply imagine your family laughing together or your lover happy. Added to that you can think about what you feel like eating. Not what you should be eating but what would satisfy you in a healthy way. Your positive attitude along with your appetite is an important step in the creation of a beautiful meal.

Fruit Kebabs

Quick and Easy Cooking

Clean kitchen
Know where everything is
Write menu down before cooking
Don’t worry about doing it all right
Focus on having 1/2 daily intake veggies
Use a variety of ingredients
Use can of beans
Have a stock of easy foods – humus, miso ramen, mochi etc
Make extra rice – can turn it into different dishes
Keep roasted seeds and nuts for snacks and garnishes
Jazz up a simple meal with a dressing
What would help you to eat more healthy foods – using already cooked rice, cans of beans, pre-cut vegetables

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