Food for the Body

Thoughts about eating well to feed your body and spirit.

Yum — Fresh Sprouts

Unable to wait another 3-4 weeks before the first baby greens can be picked, I’ve been sprouting indoors.  In 2-4 days, with just a little attention, you can have the taste of spring in the smallest and darkest of spaces.  I had a good on-line experience getting spout supplies from the Sprout People.

Tonight I made sprout slaw.  I chopped some red cabbage, minced some onion, added an equal volume of  “French Garden” sprouts (clover, arugula, cress, radish, fenugreek, and dill).  Dressed the slaw with sherry vinegar, dijon mustard, unsweetened soy milk (if you drink it, you could substitute milk or yoghurt — I just like to cut the amount of mayonnaise), vegan mayonnaise (you can make your own if you like–sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t), and sea salt.  Went fabulously well with rice and beans (yes, my diet is still under the influence of the trip to Tucson).

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Pressure Cooking

I admit it.  A couple of years ago, when a friend was waxing poetic about the virtues of pressure cooking, I was skeptical.  Shortly after the second or third conversation on the topic in a short space of time, I came across Lorna Sass’s “Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure” at the Lantern (used bookshop).  Seeing it as a sign, I bought the book and a pressure cooker (an Aeternum — pricey, but sturdy and easy to use).

What I like best about the pressure cooker is that it cuts the cooking time of beans or soup from 1-3 hours to 20-35 minutes.  Kitcheree (indian rice and lentils) cooks in 15 minutes.  I’d estimate that in the two and half years I’ve had my cooker, I have saved over 200 hours of cooking with gas time.  Not sure how much cooking gas I’ll have to save before I’ve made up for the energy to manufacture and ship the pot to me, but I should cross that at some point in the life of the pot.  Even better is that I can come home after a full day at work and cook dishes with dried beans or slow to cook grains without staying up all night.

Once you put the cooking ingredients in the pot, get it up to pressure, turn down the flame, and set the timer, there is no need to watch the pot.  So today, for lunch, with only about five or ten minutes of prep time, I have rice (with saffron and amaranth made in the rice cooker) and pot beans (coco rubico from the Dupont Farm market, seasoned with celery, onion, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, dried chiles brought back from Tucson, and dried bay leaf, epazote, and mexican oregano from my own garden).  Start to finish about a half hour (I did presoak the beans).  Able to continue working except for the minor prep time.  Wonderfully content to have nourishing, delicious food to warm and inspire my day.  I do better work (I do work better) when I eat well.

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Jala or Ap (the water element)

For the past week, I have been meditating on, practicing with, and teaching the water element in classes.  Our health and the health of the planet depend on the water element being balanced.  When our water element is in balance, we are fluid, open, well-nourished, malleable, and life-supporting.  Too much or too little water is immediately a problem.  Dehydration and drought wither life; flooding overwhelms.

Yesterday, I developed the symptoms of a rather watery head cold that is going around.  Did it come from invoking the water element?  Doubtful; probably just a virus.  I treat the watery symptoms of not merely with more water (as in plenty of liquids), but more truly with fire:  hot soup, hot tea, steam to clear the head, a hot water bottle under the covers.  The heat balances the excess of water and the missing fire that comes from a cold in winter.

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January Cold

Here’s a picture of the chard I harvested last Wednesday.  I don’t usually harvest that much at a time just to feed myself, but it was harvest Wednesday or let it die back.  I have most of my chard plants in a large rectangular container on my very sunny back deck (not really a deck, but a platform to which the patio stairs are attached).  There’s room for my bay tree to go outside in the warm months and to have a few containers, maybe a chair.  Barely that really.  All it takes, though, is a few containers and a little mindfulness to be eating some fresh greens 10-12 months of the year in our hardiness zone.  It looks like the plants survived the bitter cold last week and will go into leaf again when the temperatures are back in the mid-40s, but I’m not certain of it.  I’ll be patient and observe what happens so in future years I’ll have a more refined gauge of what works and what doesn’t work for different shifts in the weather patterns.  The weather will do what it will; but I can act to adapt in a way that tries not to fight what is.  Dan — how is that chard patch of your in New Bedford?

This morning my harvest was from my refrigerator and cupboard by way of the TPPS, Yes Organic, Farmer’s Market, Whole Foods, and Giant by way of all sorts of places — and this is supposed to be the good, healthy eating.  I took the basic proportions from the back of a box to make muffins that had spelt flour, multi-grain flakes, wheat germ, hemp seeds, currents, flax seed meal, walnuts, chopped fresh apple (it all started with needing to cook the apple), ginger, vegetable oil, baking powder, salt, dehydrated cane (unprocessed sugar), and spices.  No eggs, no dairy even on the back of the box of currents.  By the times I was done transforming them, though I would have enjoyed the original, I’d ended up with the kind of muffin the Vermont-granola-style restaurants name “power” muffins, or “energy” muffins, or maybe “everything” muffins because it is too hard to be descriptive of this many ingredients.  I think they will be good food to carry in pockets when out in the cold for extended periods of time.

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Hot Water Bottles and Wristwarmers

One of my father’s joke bits of wisdom is “everything in moderation, including moderation.”  When I first studied philosophy academically, I was very much taken with Aristotle’s concept of the “golden mean,” which (this is a gross oversimplification) advocates living in moderation as a way of right living.  Pantanjali in the niyamas in his Yoga Sutras invites the yogin to balance effort (tapas) and surrender  (ishvara pranadhana) in our practice.  The Bhagavad Gita suggests that extreme austerities are just as indulgent as wildly excessive consumption of food, sleep, and comforts.

What does that mean in our modern, middle class lives in a time when we are being confronted head-on with the impact on the earth and our fellow beings of the way we, as a society, have been consuming?

In part, I think it is mindfulness.  It is not denial, but balance — choosing ways to consume less, but still not feel deprived.  I am fortunate in that much of what we are learning now about both lifestyle and impact (the stuff under the “green living” umbrella) is not new to me.  My parents were children of the Depression and my father had a modest income. I went to Quaker youth camp in upstate New York in the 1970s, and I did volunteer work for the first Earth Day when I was in college.  We turned the lights off when we weren’t in the room, we turned off the faucets when we were brushing our teeth, or lathering our hair in the shower.  We creatively changed what we cooked out of Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, Virginia Lee, or Diana Kennedy or the New York Times Food Section with what we learned from Diet for a Small Planet.  We wore warmer clothing inside to be able to keep the heat down.  It is important for me to try to live mindfully, but I also very much like to be warm and comfortable, love the feel of beautiful fabrics, and one of my greatest pleasures is eating well.

I have a number of reasons I like to keep the heat down in the winter:  it feels better on my sinuses because the air is not as dry and I do not like to have to run a humidifier (yet another electrical appliance); it costs a lot of money to keep an old row house at even 65F in the cold months; and I am concerned about my carbon footprint.  I can get really cold when I am working at my desk or getting ready for bed.  I don’t like being cold, and it seems silly to insist on being miserably uncomfortable just so I can feel better from the perspective of some perceived moral ground.  So I try to create a balance.

Hot water bottles and wrist warmers are part of the balance.  Two hot water bottles taken to bed (and then I use the water on the plants the next morning) makes going to bed toasty and delightful, but not too hot in the middle of the night.  If I am working at home and it is midday, I can warm myself up with a two-minute handstand or a few sun salutes or some abs work or other arm balances. That’s not an option if I am on a conference call or at the office.  Nor does it make sense after dinner when it is time to get energetically quiet.  The wrist warmers, though, make an amazing difference (I also enjoy wearing them when I start practicing until I warm up as another layer that easily can come on or off.  I kind of like the way I look and enjoyed all the complements I got when I was meandering around New York over the holidays.  They are a great way to use scrap yarn (especially if you don’t have the time, yarn, or inclination for a larger project — see my post on “Sauca (and the blanket).”

If you want to make your own wrist warmers and you are a fantastic knitter, you can go for four double-pointed needles, multiple colors, and add a thumb section.  For those of you who are newer to knitting or who want wrist warmers very quickly, here’s all it takes to make the one’s shown above.

1.  Two needles of appropriate gauge and less than a skein of yarn.

2.  Measure loosely around your knuckles.  That’s the right width for your wrist warmer (notice that the girth of your knuckles and your forearm a couple of inches below the elbow are about the same).  Then knit about a two-inch square to make sure you know how many stitches you get per inch horizontally.  When you have your gauge correct, unravel your test square to use that yarn in your wrist warmers.  I recommend rechecking the gauge about an inch or two into your first wrist warmer to make sure you were right.  It is easier to start over at that stage than to try and fix it later or have to give them away to someone larger or smaller (unless you want to).

3.  Cast on the correct number of stitches for how many stitches per inch you get with your yarn and needles and the width you measured around your knuckles.  It is OK to round to the nearest half inch.  First two rows are simple rib — k1, p1.  Then do basic plain knitting (k first row, p return row) until the first wrist warmer is about 6-8 inches long and reaches almost the desired length up your lower arm.  Then do 6-8 rows of moss stitch (row 1 — k1, p1, row 2, p1, k1) [or you could just do more ribbing].  Cast off.  Measure second wrist warmer against the second.  Turned inside-out, using the knitting yarn, sew into a tube, leaving a whole for the thumb a the end with just the double row of ribbing.  The sewn part at the knuckle end should be about 2/3 to 3/4 inches, then there should be about a 1 1/2 to 2 inch whole (just hold it up on your hand to make sure it fits).

4.  They will stretch out as you wear them, but if they are a little too wide or tight, you can wet them and then make them either longer and thinner or shorter and wider by blocking.

4.  Bored with the colors you have at home?  It’s pretty easy to swap with a fellow knitter.

5.  Want to be just a little fancier?  Do stripes by alternating colors when you change rows.  Want to practice cables.  Do one center cable, just remember that it won’t be in the center if you want it to go on the top of your hand; it will start a quarter of the way in.

6.  New to knitting?  Go into any yarn store, tell them that this is your project, and they’ll tell you a good yarn, what needles you need, and show you how to cast on, knit and pearl.  There are farmers at the Dupont Circle Fresh Farm Market on Sunday who have beautiful homespun, hand-dyed yarns.  They might not show you how to knit, but they include patterns for hats.

7.  Have fun.  Be creative.  Be part of a fashion wave.  Stay warm.

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Hard Freeze Forecast (Heyam Dukham Anagatam)

My favorite sutra in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s is, II.16, “heyam dukham anagatam.”  This translates roughly as “the pain that is yet to come can be avoided.”  What does this have to do with a forecast of a hard freeze?

My chard, beets, and turnip greens are still flourishing.  They can manage with a night or two in a row in the high 20sF, and that is all we have had so far.  The forecast for later in the week, though, is for the first true cold snap since 1994 (you may remember that as the year when lots of people’s pipes froze).  My winter garden (which does not have a cold frame due to lack of space — maybe I’ll get more creative next year, and I’ll try an experiement with plastic bags on Thursday night) cannot survive lows in the low teens highs in the twenties.

I could suffer today by bemoaning the coming cold, worrying about the garden, and remembering that I don’t like cold.  That would be present suffering in anticipation of potential future suffering.  I certainly can avoid that.  I can also do what I did yesterday, which was harvest lots of the chard and most of the beets, put the beets into cold storage (vegetable bin in the refrigerator) and make pasta with sauteed garlic and chard.  Between now and Wednesday night, I’ll harvest most of the remaining greens.  I’ll make a big vegetable soup with the beets and the chard, maybe make chard pie or calzones (truly delicious), and eat the rest over the following days.  I’ll feel grateful that in the bitter cold, I can be eating fresh garden greens.  I’ll be even more grateful that I can just shop at the grocery store or the farmers’ market and don’t need to rely on my garden feeding me year round.  I’ll also be happy for the hard frost.  Part of the reason the aphids and the mosquitoes have been so bad is the absence of a hard frost in winter.

Some bitter cold in winter in a temperate zone is inevitable, as are sickness and death.  We can avoid suffering by not just getting anxious and unhappy and suffering in the present, but not taking action to alleviate potential suffering.  With preparation and practice, we can avoid some suffering.  Just has preparing for winter in the garden can allow it to be productive for greater parts of the year, so too, with a steady practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation we can avoid some physical and emotional pain and suffering.  Most important, with steady preparation (preparing for the potential for difficulties in the future is not the same as being anxious about it), when the inevitable comes, we will likely suffer less, at least in our hearts, if not in our bodies.

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Blustery Walk

It was great to get outside for a walk on this blustery day.  Sometimes the sun was out and the wind settled and it felt almost balmy.  At other times, the wind howled and the sun hid behind a dense cloud, and it felt like we were about to get a blizzard.  In between, it was either cloudy and still or sunny and windy.  What a refreshing way to get ready for the new year.  Hot tea and soup were specially welcome when I returned home.

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Ice and garden greens

Went out into the backyard despite (or perhaps because of) the freezing rain.  The greens had a thin coating of ice, but were still bright.  Picked big handfuls of mixed asian greens, arugula, and chard.  The ice cracked off as I picked them.  Later in the morning, I will saute the greens with tofu for a nice brunch.  I have dough rising for pizza for the neighborhood solstice open house.  I think about making crackers.

Tomorrow, some of the greens growing will be frozen food.  I’ll make an italian bean and greens soup with those leaves.  When it gets back up to 50F, which it is supposed to do within the 15-day forecast, there will be new growth.  The chard just might make it all the way through the winter.  The arugula — it’s less likely.

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Cookies for Holiday Gatherings

I’ve been baking for holiday potlucks and gatherings.  I enjoy the surprise and sense of offering of gatherings where everyone brings something of their own to share.  These cookies are easy, attractive, and not as bad for you (if bad means refined flour and sugar, high cholesterol and fat, no nutritional value other than calories) as they could be.  I try to use all organic ingredients (except the baking soda and the spirits); the butter and eggs are available locally; I choose fair trade, as well as organic, cocoa.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsps baking soda

pinch of salt

3/4 cup butter (at about room temperature — no more than 65F; do not melt or microwave)

1 cup sucanat (evaporated cane juice)

splash of brandy or other spirits

1 egg (beaten)

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Cream butter in large bowl; beat in sucanat and then brandy; mix in egg until smooth.  Gradually mix dry ingredients into butter mixture.  Chill dough well.  When dough is chilled enough to shape without it sticking to your hands, roll dough into small balls.  Put on cookie sheet and press down slightly.  Bake at 325-350F for 8-10 minutes.  Makes 4-5 dozen small cookies.

Variations:  Replace butter with vegetable shortening and egg with egg replacer for vegan cookies.  Add a tablespoon or two of ground cinnamon to the dry mixture and replace the brandy with kahlua for the taste of Abuelita (Mexican hot chocolate).  Replace brandy with peppermint schnapps for cocoa-mint cookies.  Add a teaspoon or two of dried ginger for cocoa-ginger snaps.

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