Nourish body and mind

Bo Tree
Bo Tree

 

Last night was the third training sessions in my new Tai Chi (Yang, short form) class. It’s been over 5 years since I was last in a Tai Chi class and it feels great to be back in training. Even with only half an hour of actual exercise — and that was with very gentle movements — I can still feel those little-used muscles at the front of my thighs starting to burn. It always amazes me, too, how such gentle-seeming movements can really warm up your insides. It feels like your sweat comes from the center of your being.

The instructor, JC, puts great emphasis on strengthening muscles to provide balance. Most of the exercises we have learned naturally strengthen the legs, especially the thighs. To build upper-body and back strength, he’s asked each of us to prepare a weight-training tool called a Roll-Up. It’s devised from simple implements: a 12” dowel, a wood screw, 7ft. length of nylon cord, and hand weights (1 lb. to start). He told us that one could purchase similar pre-made devices at a few of the national franchise gyms, but you get the feeling that making one for yourself is part of the discipline of the training. Two of his long-term students were on-hand to do demonstrations, and I had a chance to look at their Roll-Ups. After 2-3 years of daily practice, each had been burnished a dark brown from its original sandy color. I hope the Roll-Up I’ve made will one day testify to my adherence to such faithful practice. For now, doing 10 Roll-Ups brings a intense burn in my upper arms and I’m trying to push past that to 15.

I’ve been good about doing the warm-up exercises, called 8 Brocades, every morning. Each “brocade” is a set of movements with lyrical names like “Push the Sky,” “Circle Wind,” and “Cow Turns Face to the Moon.” The challenge is not only in learning the sequence, but also in timing movements, and coordinating movement with breathing. JC tells us to also pay attention to the body’s position (feet and hand placements, whether a movement starts from the waist or the thighs, etc.) and how it responds to a given movement — feel the stretch, knee twisting, can you keep your balance on your toes? It’s a wonderful morning routine because it has such gentle flowing movements, but it really does get your blood moving and your mind focused.

After completing the Brocade set eight times (takes 20-25 minutes), I often go directly into a Reiki session while still in the standing Wuji position (feet shoulder width apart, knees soft). I decided to try this once as a way to maintain the Wuji stance and develop leg strength, and was surprised how relaxing it was to do Reiki self-healing this way. The session ends with long-distance healing for friends and family who have requested it.

The best part of this routine is that the day starts with healing and gratitude. Healing for my mind and body with these gentle exercises and meditation, then in gratitude sending healing out to people (and animals) I love, and for whom I am grateful to have in my life.
So if we’re training our muscles, mind and spirit this way, seems a shame to spoil it all with a breakfast of fried eggs, sausage/bacon and biscuits/bread/rice. (Don’t get me wrong, I love portuguese sausage and fried rice, and Belgian waffles as much as the next person — but these are “treats” not routine meals.) We have oatmeal almost every weekday morning, and this feels like a natural complement to follow the exercise-Reiki set — warm, filling, nutritious, and oh-so-tasty.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve had home-cooked oatmeal, then you owe yourself the favor of rediscovering this old gem. Forget the instant stuff, they’re packed with all kinds of preservatives and who-knows-what. And they’re expensive to boot. A tub of old-fashioned oatmeal (cooks in 5 minutes or so) and water are the basics, but oh-yo-can-have-so-much-fun with the flavorings! Have a different flavor every day. We add fresh, dried and frozen fruits (apples, pears, plums, peaches, mangoes, bananas, cantaloupe, blueberries) while the oatmeal is still cooking. Want chocolate oatmeal? — add your favorite chocolate drink mix (recommend the less-sweet European Ovaltine) to the cooked oatmeal. How about apple pie? We add fresh apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pat of butter to the pot, and sprinkle brown sugar on the cooked cereal. (Yes, this one is a bit decadent with that pat of butter, but you’d be amazed how much it does taste like pie.) Another favorite is double blueberry: frozen and dried (sweeter) blueberries cooked in, and maple syrup poured before eating (T is from Maine so the blueberry-maple syrup connection was a natural for him). For applesauce oatmeal, sweeten the cooked oatmeal, then stir in home-made or natural applesauce. When we lived in Germany, our hands-down favorite was Pflaumenmuss oatmeal. Pflaumenmuss is thick homemade cooked plum sauce — kind of like apple butter, but not as highly spiced. The point is, put in the flavors you like. There are so many possibilities: nut butters, fruit preserves, fruits, spices, sweeteners (brown sugar, condensed milk, honey, maple syrup, flavored “coffee syrups”).

I like cereal or muesli and milk (or yogurt), too. I often have that as a snack or lazy-persons lunch. But there’s something comforting and soul-satisfying about starting your day with a warm bowl of cereal. It sets the tone for the day in a different way than cold cereals do. Maybe taking the time to cook something for yourself in the midst of a hectic morning intuitively says to yourself, I’m worth this effort. Maybe it’s the deep glow you feel as the warm cereal makes its way down the gullet. Maybe it’s just the fun of feeling like you’re eating apple pie or chocolate when you’re really eating oatmeal. Reclaim breakfast! Don’t just feed yourself. Nourish your body and your soul.

Oatmeal
Oatmeal

Tandm Oatmeal
(2 servings)

3 ¼ c. water (up to a ¼ cup more if you’re using only dried fruit)
1 ½ cup”old-fashioned” oatmeal (label usually says “cooks in 5 minutes” — “quick”= “cooks in 1 minute”)
½ tsp. sea salt (you can omit if medically necessary, but sea salt has less
sodium than table salt; and salt will really round out the flavor of your oatmeal)
2 Tbl. wolfberries (aka goji berries)

Bring water and wolfberries to a hard boil, add salt and oatmeal and anything from the following list or as your imagination calls forth, and cook for 6 minutes on medium high heat without a cover. Turn off heat, cover and let rest for at least 2 minutes. Serve. This will make 2 servings of the “heart-helathy” amount recommended to reduce cholesterol — at first, a single serving may look quite daunting, but you’ll soon adjust.

To this you can add any thing your heart desires. Some suggestions:

  • 1 c. frozen and ½ c. dried blueberries (this combo gives you the juciness and rich color of the frozen berries, and the intense flavor and swetness of the dried)
    • 1 diced apple, or half diced apple and ½ c. cranberries, AND ½ tsp. cinnamon OR pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 diced pear and ¼ c. candied ginger
    • ½ c. or more your favorite mixed diced fruit, raisins, cranberries, mangos, etc.
    • 1 overripe banana and peanut butter or chocolate

If fruits are cooked in, often additional sweetening is not necessary. If you want a touch of sweetness, try:

  • Ovaltine (less sweet European blend is available in Oriental markets), Milo or Horlicks chocolate powders
    • Peanut or other nut butters
    • Maple syrup
    • Honey
    • Malt or brown rice syrups
    • Agave syrup
    • Brown sugar
    • Fruit preserves and butters
    • Nutella (Hazelnut-chocolate spread)
    • Flavored syrups (Often sold as coffee or soda sweeteners — just be wary of ones with high-fructose corn syrup HFCS)
    • Condensed milk or dulce de leche (check for the HFCS)

oatmeal_blue_ckg

Instead of milk, try

  • soy milk
  • rice milk
  • almond milk
  • going bare — no milk at all!

Anyone CAN cook!

“Anyone can cook!” is the light-hearted and joyous message echoing through movie theaters across the country in the new animated movie, “Ratatouille (rat-a-too-ee)” — about a rat who loves to cook, in spite of himself.

If a rat can do it, you can too, right? Granted, Remy is a no odinary rodent — his gourmet’s palate can pair a found morel mushroom with a bit of discarded gruyere cheese, and when he is serendipitously struck by lightning — voila! a gougere aux forestiere. And Remy can read cookbooks, too!

“Anyone CAN cook” is the philosophy behind the Way of Cooking too. Bringing the Tao’s flexibility to the kitchen usually means adapting ingredients and methods, as the Way of Cooking encourages us to do. Other times it may be a matter of changing our perspective on a perceived “problem.”

I remember one summer when T and I were with his parents at their lakeside camp in north Maine and my mother-in-law (G) was preparing spaghetti bolognese for dinner. As we sat down, G mentioned that she had made a serious mistake while cooking, and that we might not be able to eat what she had prepared. She had mistaken the cinnamon bottle for another spice, and had added it to the sauce before she caught herself. If we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat it, she said, she would understand and take no offense. When we tasted the sauce, however, we could detect only a hint of cinnamon in the perfectly seasoned sauce. I told G that the Greeks make a pasta with a cinnamon-laced meat sauce called pastitsio. She hadn’t made a mistake, she had just made a different dish! (OK, it didn’t have a bechamel topping, but let’s call that a technicality).

So be easy on yourself and be open to new things — and you may surprise even you! But most importantly, cook for and nourish yourself, and for and with the ones you love. Even in spite of yourself. In the climax of “Ratatouille,” one of the characters takes a bite of the eponymous eggplant-and-zucchini dish and is transported back to a long-forgotten time when he felt loved and secure and cared-for. Food is so often connected to memories. Not only grand holiday and special occasion meals, but also baking pies with mom when your older brother and sister are at school, or watching dad make his secret spaghetti sauce. Cook often. Cook with and for the people you love. Just cook. Anyone can cook.

After watching Remy’s movie twice this summer, I couldn’t help but search out my favorite ratatouiile recipe and take advantage of Oahu’s locally grown zucchini, eggplant, onions and tomatoes to make a more traditionally rustic version of this Provencal classic. This is a terrific meal for people who think they don’t like vegetables. It is toothsome and filling, and easy to mistake the sauteed eggplant for meat. Best of all, the cold leftovers make a great sandwich on a toasted baguette or rolled up in a flour tortilla with a little shredded Mozarella.

There are as many versions of this vegetable entree as there are cooks, but I think the key is to saute the eggplant and zucchini separately and allow each vegetable to caramelize lightly. It brings an added depth of flavor that’s missed when all the vegetables are added at the same time and simply simmered in sauce. But if you’re pressed for time, better to forego the added step of frying the vegetables separately than to talk yourself out of trying this wonderful dish.

RATATOUILLE
Ratatouille

RATATOUILLE

(adapted from a recipe from my alma mater, Leith’s School of Food and Wine, London)

Serves 2

olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. long Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 1/2 lbs. small or medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. white pepper
1 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil
2 Tbl. minced fresh Italian parsley
sea salt to tate

Preheat large saute pan on medium heat. Add enough oil to coat bottom of pan, and add eggplant to cover pan (may have to do in batches). Lightly brown both sides and remove from heat. Add more oil and repeat with rest of eggplant. Repeat process with zucchini.

Lower heat and in the same pan cook onion until translucent (this may take 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and bell pepper after first 5 minutes. When onions are translucent, add coriander and white pepper and cook another 1 minute.

Raise heat to medium-high and add tomatoes, basil and parsley, and cook uncovered 10 minutes. Taste sauce and season with salt.

Add back eggplant and zucchini, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender, but not falling apart.

A crispy, light baguette (on Oahu, St. Germain’s demi-baguettes are the closest to the real thing we’ve found) and a nice pinot noir or syrah (depending on your tolerance for tannin) will round out your meal.

While we would absolutely love to pair this with a wine from France’s Bourgogne or Rhone regions, we try to drink as close to home as possible. Since Hawaii doesn’t (yet) have a robust home-grown viticulture, we look to West Coast and Australian wines to fill the bill for now.

Island Bounty

Papayas & Apple bananas — Lychee(top) & Dragonfruit —Taro, Russetts, Okinawan sweets & Red-skin Sweets — Long beans, Squash blossoms & Red shallots
Papayas & Apple bananas — Lychee(top) & Dragonfruit —Taro, Russetts, Okinawan sweets & Red-skin Sweets — Long beans, Squash blossoms & Red shallots

As a fairly new resident in Hawaii, I’ve really enjoyed combing through local farmers’ markets, ethnic groceries, even supermarket produce aisles to find what’s local and fresh here. Of course one expects to find tropical fruits (papayas, mangoes, dragonfruit, bananas, pineapples) and Asian vegetables a-plenty, and there’s certainly no shortage of these. What took my breath away is the abundance of unexpected delectables that are also grown locally: mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, strawberries, apples, oranges, and corn (corn?!). (And one of the local papers reports that coming soon…. blueberries from cool volcano slopes!)
Another striking thing about the local produce is the variety that one will find in each category.

Do you like beans? You’ll find Kentucky green, yard-long, flat romanos, wing, sugar snap, and snowpeas.

How about sweet potatoes? They come in three colors – Okinawan purple or white flesh, and the traditional red-skinned yellow flesh (none of these are the orange yams called “sweet potatoes” on the Mainland).

Squash fan? Try zucchini, tongan or upo; or the hard-skinned kabocha.

Kona Beans
Kona Beans

Then there are the papayas – sunrise (orange flesh) or rainbow (red-orange) , or the unripe green ones for cooking;

and the luscious mangoes — ripe greens, purples, reds, and deep orange Manilas.

And if you like cabbage, you’ve come to the right place – napa, Chinese mustard (also called gai choi, not US “mustard greens”), bok/pak choi (regular & baby sizes, white or green stem), choi sum, Chinese broccoli, green or white head cabbage.

Apple Bananas
Apple Bananas

Bananas that are locally grown include regular (Cavendish), apple, WIlliams, and saba (Philippine cooking bananas); but one can also find baby varieties, red eating and cooking varieties (separate types), as well as plantains in many shops.

But the crème de la crème for me is definitely the local mushroom bounty – fresh shiitake, shimeji, enoki and oyster mushrooms . . . . all year long. Mmmm.

The Hawaii Agriculture and Food Products Directory is compiled by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture compilation of Hawaii fruits and vegetables, showing peak availability, month-by-month. In addition to fruits of the tree and vine, there are also eggs, milk, pork and wonderful grass-fed beef — all locally produced.

Other local products to look for:

  • coffee, of course, both from the Kona coast and from the other islands;
  • fragrant honeys;
  • vanilla beans;
  • Hawaiian Heritage chocolate;
  • macadamia nuts and oils;
  • alae sea salt (a wonderful finishing and preserving salt mixed with red clay);
  • farm-raised sweet shrimp and white-flesh moi (fish);
  • and award-winning goat cheeses from Maui and the Big Island.

The Way of Cooking: Fried Rice

Welcome to the Way of Cooking: cooking with a Taoist perspective.

Verse 8 Tao Te Ching

Omu-rice (short for “omelet rice”) — a true Japanese classic. Strange that a dish that features hot dogs and ketchup would be a Japanese nursery favorite, but there you have it.

As odd as omu-rice may look or sound, I think it sums up what this site is about — namely, being open, flexible and creative with what you have. And making delicious food with it. In the post-War era, the Japanese took strange, but ubiquitous, ingredients (ketchup and hot dogs) introduced by the American military and combined them with the long-learned Chinese technique of chowing, or stir-frying, to create a uniquely Japanese dish.
Picture of Japanese omu-rice
The Tao Te Ching tells us to be like water, to flow around obstacles rather than to stop short before them; and to make the most of what we find, and leave something better in our wake.

The Way of Cooking is a way to cook with this Taoist perspective. Take what you know, adapt it, create something different. Other times it may be a matter of just changing our perspective on a “problem.”

I remember one time when T and I were with his parents at their lakeside camp in north Maine and my mother-in-law (G) was preparing spaghetti bolognese for that evening. As we sat down to table, she mentioned that she had made a serious mistake while cooking, and that we may not be able to eat what she had prepared. She had mistaken the cinnamon bottle for something else, and added it to the sauce before she caught her mistake. If we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat it, she said, she would understand and take no offense. When we tasted the sauce, however, we could detect only a hint of cinnamon in the perfectly seasoned sauce. I told G that the Greeks make a pasta with a cinnamon-laced meat sauce called pastitsio. She hadn’t made a mistake, she had just made a different dish! (OK, it didn’t have a bechamel topping, but let’s call that a technicality).

Since Omu-rice is used as the example of the Way of Cooking in action, I’ve taken the basics of it’s underlying method, frying rice, for the first Way of Cooking Basic Method.

The Way of Cooking considers these elements:

  1. Essence: what defines the dish, what method or combination of ingredients give the dish its character.
  2. Components: what are the basic ingredients
  3. Proportion: how much of each ingredient is needed

Essence

The Essence of Fried Rice is, of course, rice, oil, aromatics and seasonings quickly cooked in a hot wok; fillings are optional, but often included.

The secret to fried rice, no matter the ingredients used, is this: you have to season and cook the fillings (aromatics, meats, vegetables) before you add the rice.

Components

Completely different styles of fried rice all have the same basic components:

Cold Rice,
Oil,
Basic Seasonings,
Additional Seasonings,
Meat and/or Vegetable Fillings

that are quickly cooked in a hot pan. Change the rice, the seasonings, the filllings, even the oil, and your finished rice is a wholly different product. Most people have had fried rice as a side dish with a Chinese meal, but there are also Indonesian nasi goreng, Korean kimchi bokkum bap, Japanese omu-rice, pineapple rice, and breakfast fried rice (SPAM, ham or sausage with vegetables).

Proportion

The Way allows for doubling, tripling — as much as needed. The amounts given are only to give you a sense of the Proportion of the ingredients, but the whole point is to put more or less according to your own taste and what you have on hand. I have only ever used a wok to make fried rice, and I think the wok’s sloping sides help the dish come together. It’s a worthy investment (not just for fried rice, of course).

(Side note: don’t buy a non-stick wok — it is an oxymoron of the highest order. More on this later.)

The Way of Cooking: FRIED RICE

(Meal for 2 persons, side dish for 4)

BASIC INGREDIENTS

4 cups (500g) cold Rice (refrigerator-cold works best – hot rice, especially medium or short grains, can come out clumped and sticky for novice cooks)
2-3 TBL (20-30 ml) Oil
½ cup (75g) Aromatics (One or all: onions, shallots, garlic)
1-2 tsp (5-10ml) Basic Seasoning
(Choose: salt AND/OR ketchup, soy sauce OR kecap manis)

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS

(Meats and Veg/Fruit should total about 1½ – 2 cups together):
½ -1 tsp (total) Additional Seasoning
(Choose one or mix: pepper, curry powder, turmeric, black or brown mustard seed, onion seed, cumin, coriander, etc.)
½-1 cup (125-250g) Meat (Chinese sausage, SPAM, hot dog, char siu pork,
beef, chicken, shrimp, etc.)
½-1 cup (125-250g) Vegetable/Fruit (mixed vegetables, peas, edamame, pineapple, bamboo, bean sprouts, raisins, beans, kimchee, etc.)

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS

egg (hard-boiled, fried, scrambled in)
green onions or chives, cilantro

Heat oil and cook any raw meat/sausage.
Add Aromatics and cook until softened and transparent.
Add cooked meats (if using), vegetables and HALF of Basic Seasonings and ALL of Additional Seasoning.
Cook together 3-5 minutes, until everything is seasoned and heated through.

Push ingredients up the sides of wok/pan, creating a space in the center of the wok.
Add a touch more oil if necessary, then other half of Basic Seasoning, then cold Rice.
Using a flat spatula, GENTLY press the rice in the center, and bring the filling ingredients over from the sides of the wok, onto the top of the rice.
Press through again, cut through and over the center of the pan, and again bring over the ingredients that have pushed up the sides of the wok.
Work all the way around the wok. The motion is similar to folding in egg whites to a cake batter.
Repeat until all ingredients are blended thoroughly and rice is heated through.

We have rice with our evening meals at least 3 times a week, and even with T taking left-overs for lunch, we often have cold rice in the fridge. With the exception of the glutinous rices, cold rice becomes fried rice for at least one other meal. We have made fried rice with short grain, medium grain, long grain, Basmati, jasmine, and brown rices. Lately we have been using our own blend of brown and white rices as our basic rice, and have found that it makes a great pineapple fried rice. The chewiness of the brown rice complements the sweet tartness of pineapple, while the white rice absorbs the flavors of the seasonings to carry them through the dish. If you’re not ready for fried rice for breakfast yet, pineapple fried rice is a delicious side dish with grilled or roasted meats.

Now to get you riffing on your own, the Fried Rice Chart has some variations to get you started. Remember the important things are to look at what you have in your well-stocked pantry, and taste as you go along.

If you didn’t grow up with a Japanese mother or have never been to Japan, Omu-Rice will sound pretty strange, but if you try it, I think you will find it quite addictive.