Category Archives: Misc

The Sweet Sound of Silence

"Ordinary life does not interest me." Anais Nin

“Ordinary life does not interest me.” Anais Nin

Silence has a beautiful sound. It’s a matter of allowing yourself the time and space to experience it.

A friend asked me recently, “why haven’t you blogged lately?” My response is that I don’t always have something to say. It takes me a while to take in experiences before I can form a point of view that is not influenced by someone else’s opinion but truly my own, therefore genuine.

Anais Nin once wrote, “my ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.” I’ve written my books on the road, in conversation, in the kitchen, in relationships, and any number of ways. I’ve written by simply living as deeply as I possibly can, ploughing through one experience at a time, taking in all the wonderful people I’ve met, foods I’ve enjoyed, places I’ve discovered.

My silence is for the love of sharing what I have seen, smelled, heard, tasted, and touched. But, pulling back the layers takes time and I am in no hurry. My discipline is not based on a deadline but on a lifestyle that is free-form, and I’ve never missed a crucial deadline as a result. We are all unique. We all work differently and recognizing one’s individual process and talent is important. It can make a world of difference to the way we react to things and how we relate to others, in writing or otherwise.

I owe my personal success, which can be measured in any number of ways, to learning how to hear the sweet sound of silence. Give me peace and I will pave a smoother more direct road than you might otherwise experience.

So in response to my friend. I write when I have something to say. Sometimes it’s a recipe. Sometimes it’s a thought. It’s always my truth.

Let the White Space on the Plate Be A Reminder to Breathe

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with Jet Tila (TV Food Network’s “Cut Throat Kitchen”); James Beard Award-winning Chef Virginia Willis; Rafi Tuherian (Yale University) at UMass Amherst 2016 Chef Culinary Conference, “Food is Medicine, Food is Love”

I never really know how an audience is going to react to what I share.  Over the years, I have become a vegetarian (and vegan for months at a time). I don’t necessarily advocate this lifestyle, but I do know that I feel better than ever. I breathe better. I have more energy than ever, and so I can only speak from my personal experience. I’ve been in the food business for decades, approaching it from various angles as a chef, consultant, cookbook author, editor, and holistic health and nutrition counselor.

Perhaps the most important way for me to approach the subject of food, life and love, today, is from a spiritual point of view.

I am here at UMASS Amherst as a presenter for the “Food is Medicine, Food is Love” 2016 Chef Culinary Conference. Alice Waters, Jet Tila, Diane Kochilas, Virginia Willis, Joanne Weir, Alexander Ong, Steve Petusevski, Suvir Saran, Arlin Wasserman, Mai Pham, and so many more food professionals are here to present on the subject. Words like “health,” “sustainability,” “love,” are being thrown about. This is unlike any food conference I’ve participated in, to date. There is a definite shift in focus in our industry, and a most important one, given the current state of our collective health.

There is an on-going epidemic in this country (and the world) relative to obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and life threatening illnesses in general. At this point we are all too aware, but what are we doing about it? Many just keep on doing what they’re accustomed to doing, which is nothing. We are still very far from practicing prevention because changing old habits is difficult… but not impossible.

As a food professional, I have a responsibility to showcase food that is both delicious and healthful. It’s a moral duty I have. I just about stopped eating meat and seafood because I couldn’t trust the sources in general. This is not to say that I trust our produce either, but on the whole, fruit and vegetables are safer and far more nutritious than any meat or seafood protein on the market. What I can get in meat and seafood, I can generally get in vegetable protein. Something that I have personally considered in the choices I have made over the years is that the more vegetables and fruit I eat, the better I look, and therefore feel inside and out. Today, I feel better in my forties than I did in my twenties. It’s been an amazing journey, going back to basics, because sometimes that’s just what we need to do to understand how we’ve gone wrong.

I see too many overloaded plates with piled on food that makes no sense. If it’s a mess on the plate, it’s a mess in the stomach (and the mind) and who the heck wants that? Not me. Nor should you. I find it abusive to the senses. It’s certainly not love. It’s food I don’t want to look at, let alone eat. We need room to breathe. That need to breathe translates as white space on the plate. When a plate is overloaded, we can’t see anything. Give it some white space and now you start to engage your senses, because you can actually see the ingredients. So leave some room to remind yourself that your stomach needs that space to work effectively in digesting your meal.

Going back 7000 years is the Indian Ayurvedic principle of 1/3 food, 1/3 water, 1/3 air. The Chinese also have a saying, “70% full,” which is much like the Japanese idea of “80% full.” All of these principles are the same. In other words, the number is not as important as the message it holds. AIR (space, or room) is needed for proper digestion. You should never eat until full, but until satisfied, which is very different. Once satisfied, walk away from the table with bounce in your feet, because that energy that you have will allow both solids and liquids to churn effortlessly. When we fill up, it makes it difficult for this natural process to happen. Not only that, but all sorts of health issues start or continue to develop until we hit rock bottom. Don’t go there!

Balance means having a plant-base diet, dotted occasionally by meat and seafood proteins, if desired. Indeed, in Asia, animal proteins are merely seasonings. The shear amount of animal protein we eat in this country is mind boggling. When did this happen? We eat excessively and we can’t seem to stop. We’re never satisfied and as a result we have lost our way in more ways than not.

Developing sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter notes in every dish you prepare, or at the very least every meal helps us to organize our plates. Our taste buds also require these flavor characteristics. We need all of these to feel fully satisfied. Sugar, salt and fat alone are our worst enemies, unless they are complemented with spicy, bitter, and sour foods.

We don’t need science and statistics, we need to practice common sense and be accountable in the kitchen and at the table. We need to stop eating convenience food, and eat nothing but fresh food instead. We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are satisfied and happy, but then not ignore the answers and address them instead. However difficult it may be at first, it becomes easier with time. We need to learn how to eat (and therefore live and love) all over again, appreciating and celebrating real food. It takes time, which we ALL most certainly have.

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates

The Balanced Meal

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A balanced meal: mushroom broth, jasmine rice (starch) w/ginger, sweet & sour pickled radishes, fermented tofu (protein), stir-fried chrysanthemum greens.

What constitutes a balanced meal? Believe it or not, I’ve been asked on many occasions. This question generally takes me back to my Asian upbringing, where balance is key to living a good life. Yin and yang—opposite forces that complement each other to form a whole—is what Asian cooks aspire to when creating meals, whether at home or in a restaurant setting. For us, it is a guiding principle from the time we are born and given our first solid meal. And because Yin and Yang is not just a principle practiced in the kitchen, but applied to everything in life, it is deeply ingrained in our psyche.

In Asia, breakfast, lunch and dinner hold the same importance and include the same components, a starch, a protein, vegetables, and often times broth for sipping and cleansing the palate between bites. At the end of the meal, fresh fruit and loose leaf tea are enjoyed to aid digestion. It’s a very simple concept. Eat a little of everything, whether vegetarian or not.

A balanced meal is not only about making sure all the food groups are present, but about developing flavors to satisfy our taste buds. Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter— tastes sensations in food— is a combination used as a measuring tool for balance and what we look for in our meals, whether aware or not. Umame is yet another one of these sensations uniquely present in monosodium glutamate, which is naturally occurring in many leafy greens. Though the taste is hard to describe, and somewhat different from yet similar to salt, it is present to gently tickle the senses and awaken your taste buds. In Asia all these taste sensations are present throughout the meal, so much so that dessert such as cake or ice cream is considered unnecessary and never part of the meal, our palates already satisfied by the sweet element we’ve been enjoying all along.

The pressing question still remains. How do we get all of these tastes in a single meal? It’s really quite simple. If making a marinade combining salty soy sauce with sweet sugar, bitter garlic, spicy chilies, and sour rice vinegar for any protein you might enjoy, you’re half way there. A bowl of rice provides a canvas upon which all these flavors can land. Complete the meal with stir-fried leafy greens with garlic, lightly drizzle with soy sauce, and a light broth to sip on the side, and you’ve achieved your goal. A broth could be as quickly to make as a 2-minute miso soup, so don’t let that stop you in achieving balance at every meal, which can be served in 20 minutes, the time it takes rice to cook.

How can we apply Yin and Yang in the western kitchen? It’s easy. Just look for the same taste sensations when developing a meal. A salad has a vinaigrette and in it sour vinegar, spicy mustard (perhaps a touch of the ever so popular Sriracha), salty salt, bitter onion or garlic, and a touch of sweet honey. The umame is in the lettuce! That’s one example. Pasta with freshly made tomato sauce can also have these elements, the tomato itself providing the sweet and tart element, and from there the grated salty Parmesan protein, and the spicy red pepper flakes, with the bitter note from sautéed broccoli rabe on the side.

Pick a cuisine and throw in some Yin and Yang. You’ll see how easy it is to accomplish, if you put your mind to it.

Creating balance in a meal is so much more than developing that sensory experience, however. It should be aesthetically pleasing as well. Taking the time to create a visually appealing meal whether you are cooking for one, two or more, should be just as important. I’ve always been fascinated with Japanese aesthetics, particularly in the kitchen. There a simple bowl of rice is always decorated with something, from chopped scallions, to pickled daikon, freshly julienned ginger, or perhaps a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Taking care to cook something beautiful requires patience and total focus and engagement. It is a meditative act that is well worth while. For one you eat visually, long before you sit down to actually taste the food. You’ll wind up needing very little food to satisfy both body and mind, allowing air (space) to do its work and aid digestion.

Last but not least, just as you need to breathe, so should you leave some white space on the plate!

Eat to live rather than live to eat. You’ll feel the difference.

Why, How and When to Cleanse


11693860_10206458571654686_234019032388480011_nWhy?
There are several reasons why cleansing the body of toxins is a good idea. However, the purpose of a cleanse is not to give up everything you love, nor is it to lose weight (though you will at first). Rather, it can be a life altering experience where you start making more conscious and healthy decisions as a result of having noticed the difference while on the cleanse.

Cleansing is a practice in mindfulness. For me it’s another type of meditation. As you slowly shift your diet to include more fibrous and “clean” foods and less fatty ones, you start noticing a difference in the way you look and feel. This is a result of gradually omitting foods your body is used to and introducing new ones in appropriate quantities. The body and mind are greatly affected by these changes. Eating less and real food in general also makes you light on your feet, giving you more energy, allowing you to think more clearly and be more focused. Basically, some foods weigh you down, while others lift your spirit. Cleansing is a great way to understand how food and mood are related.

Cleanses are all the fad, but they’re nothing new. Cleansing goes back thousands of years to ancient Greek and Roman times, the equivalent in Asia being herbal medicine and how meals are composed in general. It is a way of life. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food,” said the great Hippocrates. In these ancient cultures in general, meals were and are still created around this very principle. If you eat well, you will be well. That is not to say that you will never get sick, but that the chance for a long healthy happy life is greater.

The body is full of toxins. We breathe toxins, eat them, and subsequently ferment them, holding on to them within our intestinal walls in the form of plaque and mucous. The more you damage the body with poor eating habits, the more work ahead of you, if you want to shift gears. It is never too late to want to feel good.

How?

The 1st step to cleansing is to consider the way you eat and how long you’ve been eating in the same way, and how often you get sick.

Our digestive track is important and needs to be as clean as possible to allow for effective elimination. The more toxins in the body, the thicker the plaque, the smaller the waste passage, the more we hold on to toxins, creating what is essentially a Petri dish for whatever is brewing next, be it a common cold or worse.

The reason you may want to cleanse is to simply flush. While that’s great, you may also want to hold on to the way you feel after a cleanse, and continue developing the healthier you immediately following the cleanse. Why go back to old habits, when you’ve had a head start?

The 2nd step is to take a few days or a week to work up to a cleanse. After all, cutting back on food, especially addictive ones, is tough. Food addictions (sugar, salt and fat derived) are as tough to break as any other type of addiction. Take a few days to gradually cut back on food, eating less at each meal. Perhaps starting 3 days (or more) prior to your cleanse. Don’t starve yourself.

The 3rd step is to be sensible. Research and figure out which foods are colon cleansing foods that are generally high in fiber and provide good fat. The ones I love are apples, papaya, peaches, pineapple, grapes, avocado, leafy greens, flaxseed oil, and ground flaxseed and chia seeds (whole flaxseed and chia go right through the digestive track without leaving much good, if any, behind)

The 4th step is to include fermented food (probiotic). Kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage), kombucha and water kefir (beverages) are some of my favorites.

The 5th step is to reduce (and for a short while eliminate) animal-based protein. It’s only for a short period of time to give your digestive track (not to mention all your organs) a much needed break.

The 6th step is to chew your food well, not so it becomes unpleasant but enough to break it down for proper digestion and allow the body to absorb the good nutrients. Chewing also promotes patience and savoring is essential to developing good eating habits.

The 7th step is to drink lots of water, 6 to 8 glasses a day is just fine. I find that refreshing cucumber juice is also fantastic as an alternative to water and most definitely promotes a healthy colon.

The 8th step is to be aware that you’ll experience mood swings, especially in the first few days as your body adjusts. Again patience and staying calm is essential to getting through any cleanse. Mood swings happen for a number of reasons. You may feel hungry in the beginning. This feeling will go away. If not grab an apple, it won’t be the end of the world. Apples are some of the most powerful colon cleansing fruit on the market and they’re filling.

The 9th step is to continue to exercise daily, though I recommend gentle exercise. Yoga is always great for that, noticing the way you breathe and figuring out ways to deepen your breath to allow for more flexibility. Walking is also wonderful as is taking a leisurely ride on your bicycle.

The 10th step is to embrace socializing as much as you did before the cleanse. Just because you’re on a cleanse doesn’t mean that you have to lock yourself up. Instead, schedule your cleanse around your social schedule, so that you have enough time on your own to reflect, without cutting yourself off completely. Friendly and positive support during a cleanse is essential. Going to a restaurant while on a cleanse is a great test and can still be fun. The menu has many options. Look for them. For instance, a delicious leafy green salad and water allow you to stay on your cleanse while socializing.

The 11th step is to keep a journal. I find that writing allows me to face my moods more directly and to reflect and review what has or hasn’t worked. In general, I focus on the positive.

The 12th step is to take in the experience fully and notice how different you feel as oppose to when you first started. Make an effort to embrace the change and move forward with the tools you’ve just acquired and continue on this path to a healthier you.

When?

Spring cleaning is always great. In general the hotter it is, the less we tend to eat. It is just too hot, so late Spring or Summer is a great time to try your first cleanse of the year.

Fall review is a good habit. In general as soon as it gets colder we start eating more, not only that but we turn to rich and generally unhealthy foods. It’s also easier for us to eat more than we need. It’s a good idea to review what we’ve learned during our Spring cleanse and use these tools to get through Fall and Winter.

If you cleanse your colon twice a year, and keep up with healthy eating in between, you’ll notice daily how different and good (energized) you feel.

Can you eat French fries? Sure, just not during and not immediately before of after the cleanse. Give yourself a few weeks before indulging. I have French fries about twice a year and enjoy them thoroughly, the whole basketful, as long as they are made from real potatoes and cooked in clean oil. Know your source, and eat what you want, but do so mindfully.

Which cleanse? There are many but for me colon cleansing is essential to leading a healthy lifestyle. There are various ways of approaching this and it doesn’t have to be a drastic liquid fast right away, though giving your system a break is a good idea. Instead, work your way up slowly to a fast for maximum benefit, physically, mentally and emotionally.

You can choose to be vegetarian or vegan (vegetables and fruit, not carbs!), or go raw, or juice for a week or longer. You can choose to simply cut back on food. All of these options are easily attainable. Clean filtered water is a huge part of cleansing. It helps solids move along the digestive track and keeps you filling full, allowing you to cut back on solids rather easily. Sign up for my intro to detoxing weekend workshop in the beautiful Hudson River Valley to learn more.

The Pleasures of Eating: A Rant

FullSizeRenderEating engages our senses. It releases emotions. It is an art, which all too often we take for granted. We shovel and swallow, rather than savor our food. I am guilty. I too shoveled and swallowed food until I realized how much pleasure I derived in connecting with the very things that made me feel good.

In the last few years I’ve gone back to basics, wanting to undress every dish right down to its core, realizing how much I’d been relying on sauces to get that “perfect” flavor. I have unlearned everything I’ve learned, approaching my craft with a desire to connect intimately with each and every ingredient on my plate, celebrating the source, and the relationship between farmer and nature.

I’ve started using different words to describe what food means to me. I think seasonally when selecting my ingredients and cooking techniques, and it all comes down to this…

It’s not so much that the strawberry lacks flavor, but that it offers something other than what I imagine in the moment. The strawberry isn’t wrong. I am in expecting it to be something different and as a result being disappointed. The strawberry is perfect as is, just as I am. I accept it for what it is, enjoying its tart flavor, rather than the sweet one ingrained in my memory. I am surrendering to this beautiful red, heart-shaped fruit. I don’t want to change it, but celebrate it instead. My instinct in the past might have been to sprinkle it with sugar and let it macerate until it bled its natural juices, breaking down its crisp texture. Today I just want to drizzle it lightly with balsamic vinegar, or red wine, perhaps coaxing out its natural sugars with a light sprinkling of sea salt as I might for tomatoes. I want to taste its tart juice and as much sweetness as it wants to give me, enhancing rather than masking it so that I can inhale its very essence. And sometimes I just want to eat it off the plant, as is.

We are programmed to eat a certain way, to expect certain things, and we have a hard time breaking down these habits formed from memory. We want to “fix” and make “better,” but who are we to mess with nature? How arrogant are we to think that we can change what’s in front of us, rather than change our perception and appreciate what we have. Could it be that Spring strawberries were never meant to be as sweet as Summer strawberries, the sun penetrating each seasonal crop differently? That seems logical to me. Spring strawberries are tart and Summer into Fall strawberries are sweet; and in those two statements are variations on the theme depending on varietal, climate, region, and soil.

If we just looked at that cucumber and bit into it, would we enjoy its thirst quenching quality from its slightly bitter waxy skin right down to its sweet juicy flesh? Sure it’s delicious dipped in a creamy concoction or grated into yogurt with a touch of garlic. In fact I love it that way, but I also appreciate it and find it just as delicious sliced to flavor water on a hot day.

I find that tomatoes—green, red, orange, yellow, purple, brown—all have different textures and levels of sweetness and tanginess. It’s not that the sweet tomato is more delicious than that tart one, or that the tender one is more pleasing than the firm one. After all we love juicy firm, crisp sour apples in the Fall. Why couldn’t we enjoy a tomato that is firm and crisp, all the while juicy and perhaps more tart than sweet? Nature gifts us with variety of food in different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and flavors to experience and enjoy daily. Do you see where I’m going with this?

My journey through food continues to be one of acceptance, dedication, fascination, discovery, openness, surrender… and love of self and others.