Monday, December 24, 2012

Peace, Love and Joy


Just a quick note to wish all of you and your loved ones happy holidays!
 
As we reflect on the season may our hearts be filled with love and compassion. I will return after the New Year, with recipes in hand! 
I wish you all good health and happiness in 2013.

Love,
Susan
Love Park, Phildelphia, PA
Photo credit ronsaari.com

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Thanks!


What does the word “thanksgiving” really mean? Try reversing the order of the words to get “giving thanks,” which implies something that goes beyond just saying “thank you.” Giving thanks means demonstrating appreciation. While the words “thank you” are mannerly and polite, appreciation goes deeper than words as it implies action.

Some acts are small, and others are larger. Macrobiotic Philosophy teaches us that the small shows the large, or the part shows the whole. What can we do to demonstrate our appreciation?

Thanksgiving is also a time when families come together. Who is our family? In a sense, our family is larger than just our blood relatives and close friends. What about the food that we eat? The food that we eat creates the quality of our blood, establishing a connection between people who eat similar foods. Food also carries a vibrational quality, which means that food creates our spiritual quality and influences our dreams and goals.

What do I mean by all of this? Well, we are all in this world together. While we may have our separate differences we also share the commonality of the food that we eat. We need to unite and work together to make the world a better place. This is the only way to get what we want, a healthy society, good quality organic foods, and a healthy environment. Together we have a voice and a bright future.
And remember, everyone feels good when they are appreciated.

To show you my appreciation, here is a haiku that I wrote 20 years ago, when I first started practicing macrobiotics:

Brothers and Sisters
all from One Infinity

Love One another


I would also like to share a holiday recipe for Walnut Rice. This grain dish is so simple to make and loved by all. The combination of the walnuts together with the brown rice provide a rich, satisfying, and nourishing quality.

Please follow my recipe for cooking brown rice from my previous post.


Preparation:
Place 1 cup of walnuts in a bowl and rinse with filtered water.
To begin toasting, place the walnuts in a skillet.
Turn on the flame to a lower setting and begin toasting.
*Note: When toasting nuts or seeds it is helpful to be patient and take your time. 
Use a wooden spatula to move and turn the walnuts to prevent them from burning.
The walnuts are done when they are lightly toasted. Place the nuts in a bowl and allow them to cool. When the nuts are cool, they are ready to be chopped. My preference is to chop them by hand.
To serve, place a layer of rice in a bowl and a layer of  walnuts on top of the rice. Continue to layer, with the final layer being walnuts.



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trick or Treat?



It is that time of year when ghosts, ghouls and goblins rule; witches on broomsticks,
haunted houses and horror movies...While all of these things can be scary, they are only
make-believe. Now, let’s talk about things that are super scary and very real. The quality 
of our food is one of the most terrifying realities that we face today.

We are living in a time where our food supply is under siege from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and chemicals. Couple this with the deceptions in food advertising and labeling, and we have the makings of a national and potentially global disaster on our hands. Despite the intense focus on health and wellness in our culture, Americans are not getting any healthier. In fact, our national health is deteriorating. More and more people are developing diseases, food allergies, weight problems, and other ghastly health issues at younger and younger ages. It is not just the kind of food that we eat, but also the quality of our food that plays an enormous role in our overall ability to attain and maintain quality health. Unfortunately, this message is not always clear in government-sponsored health campaigns.

As a health educator and macrobiotic chef at The Strengthening Health Institute, I have been an advocate of organic, GMO-free foods for years. I have always read labels carefully, and have taught my students to do the same. However, food corporations are getting sneakier and hiding the the truth of the ingredients used in their products.

The solution appears to be plain and simple: labels should clearly state whether or not a food contains GMOs. As human beings we have the right to know what is in our food and what is in the packaging materials. Clear labeling allows us to make informed choices of what we want to buy, what foods we want to eat and what we want to feed our children. Yet the sad truth is that the state of California is engaged in a huge political fight about labeling GMOs in foods, and it is only just now that other states are beginning to address the issue of labeling GMOs.

Many countries around the world have passed laws to label GMOs. Many of these countries will not purchase GMO seeds. Isn’t it ironic that here in the United States of America, the land of the free, people have to fight for the right to know what is in their food? By clearly labeling GMO foods, we the people have the power to choose what kinds of foods we feed ourselves and our families. If America is truly the “home of the brave,” then we need to put a stop to the corporations and politicians who are trying to take away our freedom and poison our food. If you ask me, the struggle to know what is in our food is much more frightening than any ghost or ghoul on Halloween night. If you want to find out more about this subject, I highly recommend watching the film “Genetic Roulette” to learn more about GMO foods and their effects on our health and happiness.

BOO!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tips for Menu Planning and Making Your Macro Life Work



Many people struggle with the challenge of “what to eat.” Most people who are interested in plant-based nutrition want to eat in a healthful way, but figuring out what to eat to create a balanced, satisfying meal can be stressful. Menu planning is especially tricky for people who are new to plant-based diets. Add in a full-time job, family, and our hectic daily schedules, and menu planning can start to seem impossible! This is why I have learned to plan ahead when I am cooking and to make a little extra so that I consistently have good food at home. This is the most practical and low-stress solution to the problem of “what should I eat?!” While fresh homemade food may be the most desirable, there will definitely always be a special place in my refrigerator for left-overs!

Here are my best tips for figuring out “what to eat” and planning ahead:

As someone who practices macrobiotics, there is an orderly progression to my meal planning. In fact my description of the macrobiotic way of eating is that “macrobiotics is the most well thought out plant based diet”. All of my meals are centered around grains and grain products. When trying to decide “what to eat,” I always decide on the grain dish first. I also always include one or two separate vegetable side dishes with every meal. After deciding on my grain dish, I decide which vegetable dish I would like to have with my meal. I also try to include a serving of vegetable soup once each day, and one or two bean dishes or bean product dishes (such as tofu or tempeh).

When I make a grain dish, I am sure to make enough for at least 2 days, possibly 3 days. Cooked whole grains and some cracked grains will hold good energetic value for up to three days at a time (meaning they will provide you with good energy). They can also be turned into other dishes; for example, leftover rice can easily be turned into fried rice, soft rice breakfast porridge or a rice pudding dessert.

When you cook beans, be sure to make enough for a few days. You’ll find that the flavor of your bean dishes actually improves the second time around!

When you make a vegetable soup, make enough for several servings and simply re-heat what you need without boiling.

Vegetable dishes can be slightly tricky. Vegetable dishes that take longer than 10 minutes to cook will usually keep for 2 to 3 days. Lightly-cooked vegetable dishes, such as blanched, steamed, or sautéed vegetables, only have a 24 hour window before their energetic value declines, so be sure to eat them before they lose their zip! Obviously, raw salad needs to be consumed before the wilt sets in. For the most optimum balance try to include a light vegetable dish with every meal. These light veggies provide
your body with a refreshing quality that will help to keep you more hydrated and make you to feel less pressured.

I hope that these guidelines for eating leftovers will help make your life easier.

And if you feel like you could use an extra helping hand, I regularly create custom menu plans for my clients. My menu plans are created especially for each of my clients, taking into consideration the client’s health, lifestyle, and daily schedule. Please contact me for more information if you are interested in discussing a menu plan!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Abundance, and a Recipe for Creamy Sweet Squash Soup

Fall is an exciting time of year. Nature is full of color and transformation as we prepare for the arrival of the colder weather. It is at this time of year that you will start finding a mesmerizing array of winter squash at the markets. I have a personal preference for Kabocha or buttercup squashes. I find them to be drier in texture and sweeter to the taste, and are richly satisfying however they are prepared.

Kabocha squash, onions, and cabbage, all ready to be long steamed!

Since not all squash are created equal, here are a few tips for picking a good one:
First, look for squash that have an orange spot; this is a sign that it ripened in the field, which gives it a sweeter taste. Feel the squash, make sure that it has some weight to it, which is a sign of vitality. Be sure to check the stem-- ideally you want to pick a squash that has a nice, dry stem. If you notice a little sap seeping through the skin of the squash, this is also a sign of sweetness.

No matter what you do with your squash, it is going to be delicious, especially if you follow my guidelines for picking a good one! Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare it:

Sweet and Delicious.
  • Long steaming- cut the squash into large chunks and steam until tender. 
  • Squash Butter- peel the squash, cut into 2” by 2” chunks, place in a pot with a small amount of water, cover, and slowly steam it over low heat for a few hours, adding water when necessary, until the squash is tender enough to mash with the back of a wooden spoon. Squash butter is delicious on a piece of steamed sourdough bread, or serve it as a vegetable side dish, or as a sweet snack. 
  • Sautéed and Simmered: prepare with other sweet vegetables such as carrots, onions, parsnips, leeks, etc 
  • Creamy Sweet Squash Soup, see recipe below 

Creamy Sweet Squash Soup
Ingredients:
2 cups onion, diced
1/2 medium-sized squash, such as Kabocha, peeled and cut into chunks
6 cups of water
Sea salt
Fresh herbs or sautéed leeks for garnish, optional.

Preparation:
Place diced onions in a pot with water enough to cover onions by an inch.
Add a tiny pinch of salt and bring to a boil over medium flame, continue to cook onions for several minutes or until they become translucent.
Add squash and additional water to cover the vegetables by approximately one inch.
Add an additional generous pinch of sea salt, cover, and bring to a boil on a medium to medium-high flame.
When water begins to boil, reduce the flame and simmer on medium-low for approximately 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.
Using a hand food mill, puree all the ingredients.
Return the pureed vegetables to the pot.
Garnish with finely chopped fresh herbs (rosemary or parsley are especially good) or sautéed leeks.

Note:
The consistency of this soup may be adjusted by the amount of vegetables and water. If soup becomes too thick, add additional water until desired consistency is reached.

For a richer flavor, try frying the herbs until they are just crispy before garnishing the soup.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monticello and the Case of the Missing Blueberry


One of our last hurrahs for the summer was a weekend trip to visit our family in Virginia.
As “foodies” and staunch advocates of organic gardening, we thought it would be fun to visit
Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.

We left Philadelphia early and arrived at Nathan and Marina’s home a little after lunchtime. Since we wanted to make the most of our time at Monticello, we grabbed some organic walnuts and blueberries to take along as snacks. 

Look they even have bees!
There is a lot to see at Monticello. We opted for the garden tour. 
All I can say is that Thomas Jefferson was a landscape genius. 
Every aspect of the garden was impeccably designed and well thought out to create an outdoor masterpiece. Thomas Jefferson 
was also into seed preservation and collected many varieties of heirloom seeds from his garden. It is interesting that what one of America’s founding fathers respected the the importance of good food and understood the role it plays in our future. Jefferson had 
the insight to preserve seed quality. Unfortunately, these days many people seem to want to do exactly the opposite of this, thanks to modern agricultural practices and politics.
Summer squash 
Food quality is important to me and I want to know what I am eating;
I want to keep my blueberries pure and free of genetically 
modified ingredients.

And now for the magic question, why the title of this post? Well, one thing about organic foods is that they are not all perfect which is exactly the way food is supposed to be. In a box of fruit you may get two or three inedible pieces as I did with my blueberries. In my effort to separate out my few funky berries, one escaped. We searched the car several times but the berry was never found. I guess it is just one of those unsolved mysteries.


Denny, Susan, Nathan and Marina overlooking the lower garden.




 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hi, I'm Back!


I feel as though the summer just flew by. How can it be September already?

I did not intend to have a summer vacation from blogging, but I found myself much busier than anticipated. We held five different seminars at the Strengthening Health Institute, where I am co-director and head chef. Denny and I also taught at the Kushi Institute Summer Conference. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching my cooking class and presenting a lecture on “Macro Nouveau” (our new approach). We are also in the process of making some changes at the Strengthening Health Institute. We will be revising some of our existing programs as well as adding numerous new classes. Doing so has been extremely time-consuming, but I think that these new changes will be more than worth our efforts.

Outside of work, I spent a good deal of time with my family and friends. Our family vacationed in the Thimble Islands, staying at the house of a dear friend. We also took a weekend trip to visit family in Virginia. In August, I celebrated a “notable” birthday. Denny even threw me a surprise party. 

The harbor at High Island,  a bit of paradise!


Now that it is September and the season is changing, I am going to get back into the writing groove and will do my very best to post more regularly. You can expect a new post about once each week.

Today I would like to share one my favorites for a “quick and easy meal,” steamed sourdough bread. It is quick, simple, and nourishing. I’ve also included a variety of topping ideas and a recipe for steamed tofu sandwich filling. With school beginning this is a great, easy, healthy lunch solution. 

Tony's outdoor shower overlooking the Long Island Sound

Steamed Sourdough Bread

This is so easy to do and is a life-saver when you are pinched for time and need something nourishing and quick. It is completely satisfying and works for any meal.

You will need a steamer basket and a pot with a cover. Simply put a little water in the pan. Place the basket in the pot. Put the bread in the steamer basket, cover the pot, and turn on the flame to low or medium-low (if your steamer basket is one of the collapsible kinds that fit inside the pot, use a low flame). Steam until you can smell the bread, then remove the bread from the basket. I like to place the slice on top of a bamboo mat to cool; the mat prevents the condensation from making the bread soggy (yuck). Allow the bread to cool a bit before adding your favorite topping.

Here are some of my serving suggestions:
Use a nice spread of nut or seed butter together with sauerkraut
The classic PBJ or substitute tahini or another seed or nut butter for the “P”
Serve with hummus or make a sandwich
If you’re feeling fancy, add some steamed tofu. It is thoroughly satisfying.

Steamed Tofu Sandwich Filling
Ingredients:
Take one block of tofu, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices and lightly press with a towel to get rid of excess moisture. 
Captain Isaiah

Oops these are bottoms not toppings!
Make a savory mix of the following ingredients:
4 parts shoyu
1 part mirin
1 part umeboshi vinegar (Optional ingredient)
4 parts water 

*Note: For younger children dilute the
  mixture with extra water to make it
 less salty.

Preparation:
Place all of the liquid ingredients in a saucepan. Add the tofu and simmer
lightly (about 1.5 to 2 minutes) on each side.
Remove the tofu from the pan and allow to cool and drain before assembling your sandwich.

My Favorite Toppings:
Tahini
Mustard and/or hot sauce
Lettuce
Sauerkraut or pickles
Grated carrot
Sliced cucumbers

*You can also make this sandwich in advance and wrap it up. Refrigerate it and it will
keep for 1 or possibly 2 days.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Grill Baby Grill



Its the Fourth of July and summer is in full swing.The warm weather elicits
outdoor activities and party invitations. For all of us who are eating a plant-based diet
we are faced with the magic question, “what does a vegan bring to the barbecue”?

Summertime parties and picnics are fun. Sun dresses and flip flops, tropical drinks, and of course, 
what would any summer party be without a little reggae in the mix. Just thinking about all this makes me feel happy and want to dance. 
 
Since the party would not be complete without the grill here are my top suggestions
for the vegan barbecue. I guarantee you will be happy too! 

Roasted corn on the cob with sweet and sour glaze
Home marinated tofu or tempeh burgers (Or purchased from the health food store)
Seitan -Veggie kabobs with Citrus ginger Soy sauce;
*For a gluten-free option replace the seitan with tofu and use wheat-free tamari
Steamed summer squash and zucchini boats with sweet miso-tahini sauce
Grilled hearts of romaine with olive oil, sea salt and and aged balsamic

Is your mouth watering yet? If not here is a recipe for the ”Sweet and Sour”
glaze, which is a hit with both vegans and omnivores.

Ingredients: This recipe is good for 4 to 6 cobs
Organic GMO free Sweet corn
3 - 4 Tablespoons of Organic Brown rice syrup
1/2 teaspoon of Umeboshi paste
My favorite summertime drink!
This is a thick and savory paste made from the Japanese umeboshi plum. It can be found in most health food grocery stores.
3 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive oil
1/8 teaspoon of Sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of Umeboshi vinegar

Preparation:
Pour the brown rice syrup in a prep bowl.
Add the umeboshi paste to the syrup and mix together using a small whisk or chopsticks.
Add the olive oil and mix again.
Add the sea salt and the umeboshi vinegar.
Mix all ingredients to thoroughly blend. The end result is a a slightly thicker sauce.

To cook, brush the sauce on raw or lightly steamed corn. Make sure to coat the cobs evenly.
Place the corn directly on the grill and cook to the desired texture. 
As the corn cooks you can add extra sauce.

*If the ingredients begin to separate just stir well before the next use.
Sweet and Sour Sauce will stay fresh in the refrigerator. For best results,
store in a sealed glass jar.




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Healthy Tips to Feed Your Family


Recently Denny Waxman, leading authority on macrobiotics and natural healing, wrote a blog on  "Achieving your ideal Weight”. His article really rings true in that more and more people are overweight and suffer from obesity. What scares me the most is the number of overweight children.

Weight gain is epidemic and childhood obesity is on the rise. More and more children suffer from
 illnesses that are directly related to their diet. I find is sad to see kids starting out their young lives with health problems that can be completely avoided by parents making better food choices.

As a macrobiotic teacher and counselor I offer menu planning. My clientele ranges from people with serious health concerns to those who simply want to make a transition to plant-based foods. Many of my clients are moms who want to eat better and make healthier food for their families. However, they 
often struggle implementing the transition, fearing their children will not like the new food choices.

Here are some of my suggestions for introducing plant-based foods to your children:
 
  1. Establish regular family mealtimes and try to eat one meal together each day. If this seems like a stretch begin with a few times a week. Mealtimes are great way to connect with your children and really find out what is going on in their lives. 
  2. Begin introducing healthier foods into their diets. Start with grains and grain products such as brown rice, millet, couscous, noodles, pastas, oatmeal and corn. Try unyeasted sourdough breads, pita, and tortillas instead of commercial white breads. Each meal should have a grain or grain product. The word ‘meal’ implies grain. Make grains the main part of the meal. Our brain functions on glucose, which is derived from the breakdown of complex carbohydrates. Grains, beans and vegetables are the main source of complex carbohydrates. 
  3. Serve fresh vegetables with every meal. Experiment with a variety of vegetables prepared in a variety of styles. Vegetables complete and balance our meals and help to provide us with freshness. 
  4. Take control of your cupboard. Read labels and simply don’t buy junk! After a certain age you cannot control what your child eats outside of your home, but you can control the quality of the foods you bring into your home. What is most important is that they are eating good food at home during mealtimes. 
  5. Have good snacks available, fresh seasonal fruits, toasted seeds and nuts, rice cakes. For those of you who enjoy cooking try making some snacks together with your child and introduce them to cooking at an early age. 
  6. Try to find your child’s taste and follow their appetite for good food and little by little introducing new foods. Keep reinforcing the health and the environmental benefits from eating plant based foods. 
  7. Finally, not exactly food related but equally as important, encourage your child to engage in outdoor and indoor physical “play” activity. Limit the time they spend with electronic devices and cultivate their participation in the arts and in nature. 

Home Popped Organic Popcorn 
This snack is a favorite of both kids and adults. It is great because popcorn is familiar
to and loved by just about everyone. I use specific good quality ingredients that are even healthier than anything you can buy in the health food store. By making your own snacks you can control the amount of sodium used and the quality of the oils. This snack takes less than 10 minutes to prepare and will stay fresh for several days. 

Ingredients:
1/4 cup of “high heat” Safflower oil or Sunflower oil (This is an oil of thicker consistency)
1 Tablespoon of organic Extra Virgin Olive oil
1/16 - 1/8 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 cup of organic non-GMO popcorn

Suggested cookware: A two quart stainless steel pot with a lid or stainless steel pressure cooker.
A large serving bowl and a wooden utensil.

Preparation:
Pour the oil in the pan and turn the flame on the lowest setting.
Add the popcorn kernels and sea salt.
When the oil begins to sizzle, place a lid on the pot.
As the corn begins to pop pick up the pot and give it a gentle shake to allow the
popcorn to cook evenly. You will repeat this step several times throughout the cooking.
When you hear little to no popping sound the popcorn is done.
Pour the hot popcorn into a serving bowl.

Option: If you like more of a rich flavor gently drizzle additional olive oil over the
hot popcorn. Add another tiny pinch of sea salt and gently mix with a wooden utensil
to blend all the seasonings.
For teenagers and adults add a little hot spice.
For a rich gourmet flavor top off the hot popcorn with truffle oil.

*Too ensure freshness, the popcorn needs to cool completely before storing it. 

*To order Susan Waxman's "Healthy Treats" kids snack booklet contact her office.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Joys of a Good-Quality Beer


For many people, a good beer is like nectar from the gods. I, too, enjoy high quality
malted beverages from time to time. Fortunately, I live in Philadelphia, where people drink more Belgian beer per capita than anywhere else (except Belgium), and is home to and neighboring city to many fantastic microbreweries. June marks the annually celebrated Philly Beer Week. Walk into almost any bar in Philadelphia, and you will have your pick of delicious and refreshing microbrews. Maybe this is why they call Philadelphia “the City of Brotherly Love.” Or is it “Brewerly Love”?

Good-quality beer has health benefits because it is both nourishing and refreshing. Microbrews are made in smaller batches with high quality ingredients: water, barley and other whole grains, yeast, and hops, as well as some creative additions from time to time. Some of the health benefits we get from good-quality beer are:

  • Improved digestion 
  • A natural source of good quality fermentation 
  • B vitamins 
  • Helpful for new mother’s milk 
  • Relaxing for the kidneys, which helps us to eliminate excess salt 

Here are some of my favorites Philadelphia-area microbreweries:
Victory
Philadelphia Brewing Company
Dogfish Head
Weyerbacher
Flying Fish
Sly Fox
Stoudt’s
Yard’s
Dock Street
Nodding Head

Our founding father Ben Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants
us to be happy”. Yea Ben, you’re a true American hero!

Check out Denny Waxman's blog on the benefits fermented beverages!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Welcome Back

Photo taken last year at Bahia Honda, one of our favorite beaches in the Keys

Hi Everyone! After a wonderful vacation in Key West, Florida we are back in
sunny Philadelphia, resuming our seminars (Health Intensive) and our Year Long
Certificate Course. You can become a health consultant or an accomplished cook.
Check out our courses and latest newsletter!

Open Doors of Health - Extended Offer for June Programs

I have to admit it isn’t easy getting back into work mode, especially after spending time in Key West. Mid-May marks our annual trip and really is a perfect time to visit. Tourist season is waning and the weather is just a little warmer, so returning to Philly we do not experience severe temperature shock! Key West is a bit of paradise for us, I absolutely love it there and cannot think of a better place to unwind, relax and just do nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is the something you need to re-charge and stimulate your creativity.

Paradise
Please stay tuned for future posts and some of my island inspirations.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Wonders of Brown Rice and Cooking Tips



Pressure cooked Brown rice with Quinoa
Brown rice is the most unique grain of all the whole cereal grains. It is a very adaptable grain in that it grows on both dry land and in water. It combines beautifully with other grains (whole or cracked), beans and vegetables. Grains and beans which require a longer cooking time, when cooked with brown rice, adjust their cooking time to that of the rice.

I believe that we are what we eat. My theory is that you have the potential to become more flexible and adaptable- like the rice itself- from including brown rice as part of your regular diet.

Many of my students say they have difficulty in preparing brown rice well. I often hear the comment that they cannot get their rice to taste like mine. So, here are some of my tips for cooking brown rice- I hope you find them to be helpful and inspiring!

The most important factors in making a good pot of brown rice is to have respect, appreciation, and love for this powerful food. All these aspects will help with your approach in preparing the rice, and every step is done with care and intention from beginning to end.


Sorting and Soaking Brown Rice


The first step is to carefully measure out the desired amount of grain you wish to cook. Use a “dry” measuring cup. Place the rice in an earthenware bowl to wash the rice and remove any debris.

Note: If you are using freshly hulled rice you need to sort through the rice to remove any of the remaining hulls.

Fill the bowl with filtered water, enough to cover the rice by a couple of inches. I use my hand and slowly move the rice in the water. Next, I use my hand as a sieve and pour off the rinse water. I generally rinse two more times.

Carefully measure the amount of water. This may vary according to the environmental conditions. Brown rice is alive and sensitive to its environment, so we need to adjust the water proportionately to the consistency we desire. When pressure cooking I use a ratio of 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of water for every 1 cup of grain. When boiling the rice, the ratio is 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of grain.

Pour the water over the rice and cover the rice with a bamboo mat, allowing the rice to soak up to 23 hours, preferably overnight. Note, the longer the rice soaks the more nutrients are released. I have found the rice tastes sweeter when it soaks overnight. During the night the atmosphere is more yin. At night we also receive more of an active charge from the celestial world. This in turn affects the type of charge and ki we create in the rice we make. During this process it is important to think of happy, positive thoughts, which in turn create a more peaceful, harmonious type of nourishment.

Cooking Your Brown Rice

How do you know which cooking method to use? Each cooking method has its advantage. The difference is in the texture, consistency and overall energetic quality of the rice. Pressure cooked rice tends to be more glutenous and chewy, while boiled rice is more soft and moist. The glutenous texture of pressure cooked rice strengthens the digestive system by helping to restore the natural flexibility to the intestines. Additionally more chewing is required which is alkalizing to the blood and builds good immunity. Boiled rice creates a more soft and moist texture. This consistency is more relaxing to the digestive system and helpful if someone has hard and tight intestines.

Pressure-Cooked Brown Rice:

Place the soaked rice and the soaking water in the pressure cooker. If additional water is needed you may add it at this time. Add either a small pinch of sea salt or a postage size piece of kombu/kelp


Place the lid on the cooker and bring up to pressure on a medium flame. The pressure will make a hissing sound, which becomes louder and clearer as the cooker reaches full pressure. Most modern cookers have a button on the lid, which pops up. You can test the pressure by lightly pressing on the button, it should be firm. Next, place a flame deflector under the cooker and lower the flame. This is the part that can get a little tricky you want to maintain enough pressure so the consistency of the cooked rice is glutinous and somewhat sticky, but not too much that the texture becomes dense. As the rice cooks a wonderful sweet fragrance can be detected. If you smell different and your cooker keeps hissing at you, please adjust your flame! Remember, “Your nose never lies”! When the time is up remove the pot from the stove and allow the pressure to come down naturally. Carefully place the cooked rice in a wooden bowl or earthenware-serving dish and cover with a sushi mat.


Boiled brown rice

Boiled brown rice requires more water than pressure cooked rice. It has more relaxed energetic qualities and the consistency is more soft and moist. To prepare the rice follow the same initial steps of sorting, washing and soaking the grain. When you are ready to cook place the rice and the soaking water in a pot, then turn the flame on to a medium lower setting. Partially cover the pot and bring to a boil. When the water begins to boil add either a small pinch of sea salt or a small piece of kombu/kelp. Cover the rice completely, place a flame deflector under the pot and turn the flame to the lowest setting.

Simmer on low for 1 hour. When your rice is done, remove it from the pot, place in a serving dish and cover with a bamboo mat.

Helpful hint: Boiled rice turns out best when you use a heavier pot with a heavier lid.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Day of Resting in Mindfulness



Recently I had the opportunity to attend “A Day of Mindfulness,” a seminar given by meditation
teachers Anh-Huong and Thu Nguyen. The Day of Mindfulness is a very special event that is offered twice a year in Philadelphia.

Anh-Huong and Thu are dharma teachers in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. 
They have dedicated their lives to teaching others the practice of mindful living. 
Whether mindfulness is in the form of meditation, movement, eating or relaxation, 
this practice brings you back to a sense of awareness within, or as they say, returning home.

Being someone who leads a very active life, I found it very challenging to be still. As
I was lying there during the guided meditation, I realized that even though my body was
still, my mind was racing. I started to wonder if I would be able to make it through the seminar.

Most of us experience some form of stress in our lives. When pressure builds, it is
easy to become frustrated. Too often we become busy and focus on our work rather
than taking care of ourselves. We don’t take time to walk. We rush through our meals or,
even worse, skip them. As I continued to breathe mindfully, I realized that I needed to slow down and be more gentle with myself. At that moment when I let go of my thoughts, my mind became still, my body totally relaxed, and I was able to experience the deep rest.

There is no separation of body, mind and spirit. I believe that learning how calm your
mind is essential to your overall well being. When our mind is still we become clear and
more open to the endless possibilities in life. When we make time to take better
care of ourselves, we have the ability to become more effective, productive, healthier
and happier human beings. Be kind to yourself so that you can be kind to others.

I am grateful and appreciative for a day of relaxation, peace, renewal and
resting in mindfulness. Thank you Anh, Thu, and everyone who made this day possible.





Friday, April 20, 2012

Thoughts On Exercise

I think that most people are in agreement that exercise is an important part of healthy living. But how do we decide which exercises will give us the most physical and mental benefits, allowing us to develop good muscle tone and bone density, be flexible, and have strength and endurance? Is there really one particular exercise routine that will serve all of our needs?

Modern society is obsessed with achieving what is perceived as a "hot" body. Image is everything in our culture. People spend large amounts of time and money going to the gym: it is even considered fashionable to have one's own personal trainer. Some people will go so far as to have surgical procedures to attain their idea of the "perfect" body.

I have to ask, is this kind of thinking realistic? Is our obsession with physical perfection actually benefiting our overall health?

Do you really need the bulky equipment, the personal trainer, and the fancy gym to have a flexible, well-toned body? I suppose that it is a matter of preference, but personally I can’t think of anything more boring than spinning on a stationary bicycle or strolling on the tread mill, glued to the TV. We gain much more benefit from choosing an activity that brings us more in touch with our bodies and our natural environment. By this I mean choosing life-related physical activities and other forms of exercise that we enjoy and that allow us to maintain our health.

With that in mind, here are my suggestions for activities that will give you optimal health benefits, both physical and mental.

Walking along the river by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
1. Walking outside
2. Stretching
3. Finding an activity that you ENJOY!

Walking outside:
Taking a daily walk is the most important exercise for everyone.
Walking is a great way to achieve your ideal weight, and clear and calm your mind. While walking is great cardiovascular exercise, you also benefit from the rhythmic aspect of walking: when you walk, you balance the right side of your body with the left side of your body (chambers of the heart, kidneys, ovaries, testicles, lungs, intestines, etc). Walking outside also helps you become more aligned with your natural environment.
A morning stretch at SHI!
Stretching:
I think that stretching is one of the most over-looked aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Stretching is especially important as we mature. Children are always running around, playing, and engaging themselves. However, as we age, we tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles, whether we are sitting at our desk, driving our cars, or performing repetitive physical tasks. This means that we are not using portions of our body on a daily basis. As with anything that does not get used, the less-used portions of our bodies get tight. While proper diet can do a great deal to keep our minds and bodies relaxed, it is often not enough to keep our tendons, ligaments, and connective tissues loose. This is where regular stretching helps us. Regular stretching will keep the less-used portions of our bodies more flexible and will allow us to maintain good muscle tone, which in turn keeps us feeling and looking youthful! If you are looking for some good stretches, I recommend yin yoga, or other gentle forms of yoga.


Finding an activity that you ENJOY:

Picking organic veggies!
Finding an activity that you enjoy is very important. You want to find an activity that allows you to set your mind free and become playful. Some people prefer to find an activity that they do solo, whereas other prefer something that they do with others. Basically, finding something that makes you feel alive is important. How do you determine if an activity is good for you? Forget about calories burned per hour and exertion levels. Ask yourself these questions: do you feel more peaceful and calm after this activity? Do you feel more energetic? How does this activity affect your appetite for healthy food? How does it affect your appetite for life? If you have positive answers to these questions, then it sounds like you have found the right activity. If you feel depleted after your activity, or you find yourself so hungry that you immediately are reaching for junk food, then you should probably try to find something else.


Most of all, have fun and play!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Green Cocktails Anyone?

Every Spring I like to give my liver a break and begin my own form of “cleanse”.
Typically I like to eat breakfast, but when the weather gets warmer I enjoy starting
my day off with a nice green vegetable juice. This is not a huge pint glass, but rather
a small 1/2 cup serving size, because a little fresh greens juice goes a long way! 

In oriental medicine Spring is associated with tree or wood energy. The corresponding
organs which are most affected and active at this time are the liver and gall bladder,
whose main job is to aid in digestion and metabolize fat. In the colder months we
naturally consume heartier foods which include more savory seasonings and fat.
Additionally, a higher percentage of baked foods are consumed which make our
overall condition more dry. I find that juicing makes me feel more light, positive and
fresh, just in time for Spring.

In Spring, the taste du jour is mild sweet and sour. Combining these two tastes helps to relax
our liver and gall bladder, giving them a break after heavier Winter foods. These juices have a 
refreshing quality that allow us to detox the excess and help to boost our metabolism for a new
Spring cleaning!

Here are some of my favorite green cocktail combinations: 


Ah, so green and fresh!

Napa, green apple and cabbage juice
This combo offers a nice sweet and sour taste.

1/8 cup of napa cabbage juice
1/8 cup of green cabbage juice
1/4 cup of green apple

Napa, cucumber, green apple juice
This combo is mildly sweet and a little
more tart. The cucumber makes it bit of a natural diuretic. 

1/4 cup napa cabbage
1/8 cup green apple
1/8 cup cucumber

Green cabbage, bok choy, cucumber, parsley and lemon
This juice is very fresh, green, and alive with chlorophyll. It is also a diuretic.
1/8 cup green cabbage
1/8 cup cucumber
1/4 cup bok choy
A few sprigs of parsley
Cheers!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Fitness


With the warm weather arriving early this year now is the time to put in extra effort
to work on your health and fitness. It is time to pack away the winter woolies and
break out the cute stuff. You know, the styles that leave us a little more exposed. 

'Tis the season to get into shape, regardless of your sex or age. 
Many people have a tendency to gain weight over the winter. All though the extra pounds are not a comfortable feeling, the motivation to do  something about it is not quite the same in winter as the incentive the warm weather brings. Whether you call it vanity or egocentric, most people become a little self conscious when they gain weight. Today I am giving you my simple, delicious, and non-fussy strategies for losing any excess baggage. Try one or several of my suggestions. At the very minimum you will receive some positive health benefits and start feeling better.
 
There are three areas of practice to which you should devote your time and energy when trying to
achieve an optimum weight: eating habits, diet and exercise. Separately, each has its
own perks. When used together these lifestyle practices are most effective and provide the
foundation for healthy weight loss.

Lifestyle:                                               
Adopt a plant-based diet that includes whole and unrefined grains with every meal. 
Have 2 or 3 regular meals a day and do not skip a meal. 
Try to eat at earlier times, like; breakfast at 8:00, lunch before 1:00, and be finished with 
dinner by 8:00. 
Do not eat before bedtime. Give your body time to digest, which is about 3 hours. 
All these practices will help to keep your metabolism more active and help you to 
eliminate more excess.

Diet:
Eat plenty of vegetables, both light cooked and longer cooked
Have quick steamed greens with fresh squeezed lemon, often or daily.
Make soft cooked daikon radish, either long steamed or boiled. Have a nice large
serving several times a week.
Make miso soup with daikon radish, dried shitake mushroom and leafy greens often.
Stay away from refined and processed foods.
Eat less baked foods, salty foods, and dry foods.

And the most important exercise for weight loss:
Fresh vegetables, a key factor in healthy weight loss!
Walking outside
Try to walk outdoors as much as possible.
 If you have the time take a walk everyday. 
Be active and engage yourself in activity that you find enjoyable and fun.

In the very near future, I will discuss exercise in more detail. I feel it is important to find what
suits you and what will give you the most benefit over time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Vegetables: Sweet Like Candy


Last week we discussed the many different kinds of grain sweets. This week, let’s explore the natural sweet taste of vegetables. Many vegetables have a very sweet and satisfying taste. Root and round vegetables become very sweet when they are cooked. Squash, onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots all become sweeter when they are cooked. Eating these vegetables on a regular basis is delicious, satisfying, and will help keep your blood sugar levels more stable. Who doesn’t love that? 

"Sweet Vegetable Tea is like a cup of sunshine"

Here are some good - quality vegetable sweets:
  • Pureed sweet vegetable soup 
  • Sweet vegetable jam, such as onion butter 
  • Carrot juice, or carrot combination juice (such as carrot-leafy greens juice, or carrot-apple-leafy greens) 
  • Sautéed or long-steamed sweet vegetables (steam them until they are tender and juicy-- bliss!) 
  • Sweet vegetable tea 

The top ten vegetables that make my sweet list:
Carrots
Onion
Cabbage
Winter Squash
Sweet Potatoes
Parsnip
Leeks
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Daikon

Cream of Cauliflower Soup
This is a sweet, relaxing, and absolutely delicious soup. Garnish with some finely chopped fresh parsley, or bring the elegance factor up a notch by sautéing some herbs until they are delectably crispy.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups of diced onion
1/2- 3/4 of a medium-sized head of cauliflower, cut into large florets. Cut the stem more finely.
6 - 7 cups of water
3/4 - 1 teaspoon of sea salt
Parsley, finely diced for garnish

Preparation:
Place diced onions in a pot with enough water to cover the onions by 1 inch.
Bring to a boil over medium flame, and add a tiny pinch of salt (1/16 of a teaspoon, to be exact!). Continue to cook the onions for several minutes or until they become translucent.
Add the cauliflower and the remaining amount of water.
Add the remaining amount of sea salt, cover partially, and bring to a boil on a medium to medium-high flame.
When water begins to boil, reduce the flame, cover completely, and simmer on medium-low for approximately 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Using a hand food mill or an immersion blender (aka the “Magic Wand”), purée all the ingredients.
Gently warm the soup before serving.
Garnish with finely chopped parsley or your favorite herb.

Note:
The consistency of this soup may be changed by adjusting the ratio of vegetables to water. If soup becomes too thick, add additional water until the desired consistency is reached.

Sweet vegetable tea quote is credited to my friend and Macro colleague, Michelle Nemer.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In Search of Sweetness and Thank You

Before I go into my post for this week, I would like to say “thank you” to T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of The China Study. Last night, my husband, Denny Waxman and I were invited to attend a lecture at The University of Pennsylvania given by Dr. Campbell on the topic of dietary intervention as a treatment for degenerative illness and how diet can also be used in preventative medicine. The lecture was  informative and engaging, and even better, offered the scientific research supporting plant-based nutrition as a way to obtain and maintain good health. I respect and appreciate Dr. Campbell's work, as it is in line with our mission and our work at The Strengthening Health Institute, where we offer educational seminars to teach people how to maintain or recover their health through a plant-based diet and lifestyle changes. I feel that education and awareness are the keys to preventative medicine and that plant-based diet advocates need to work together to win the race for the cure! So, bravo, well done, and thank you to everyone who made this lecture possible.

And now, back to sweets
Last week I discussed the arrival of early Spring, and gave some quick tips for changing your diet to align with the changing season. This week I am going to focus on finding and getting good-quality sweets. Getting good-quality sweets is important all year long, but they are especially important during the changing of the season, such as in the Spring and in the Fall.

So, what are good quality sweets and how do you get them? First of all, sweet is the most balanced and the most-craved of all the tastes. I define a “good quality” sweet as one that is unprocessed and derived from a natural, organic source. Good quality sweets should be included on a daily basis, because we all need some sweetness in our lives. They can be in the form of a grain dish, a vegetable dish, a soup, a beverage, or a dessert.
Susan's Caramel Rice Pudding, a delicious dessert made from grains!

Sweetness from Grains
The least refined type of sweet is the natural sweetness that comes from properly cooked whole grains and vegetables. When chewed thoroughly, most whole grains have a mild sweet taste. The sweetness you get from grain is very subtle in comparison to sugar or even maple syrup, but try chewing your grain more thoroughly and you will see what I mean. The first step in the digestive process of whole grains takes place in the mouth. As you chew grains, they begin to release juices that mix with your saliva, which allows them to be digested and absorbed more easily. When you chew whole grains, you can actually feel a lightness in your head, almost as though your eyes are opening more wide. Sometimes it is as though a pressure has lifted. If you chew long enough and well enough, you will realize that you are experiencing a natural high (!).

Here are some examples of good quality grain sweets:
  • Well-cooked and well-chewed grain 
  • Brown rice syrup 
  • Barley Malt 
  • Amasake (a thick, fermented rice beverage) 
  • Cooked chestnuts or a puree of chestnuts (not exactly a grain but a close cousin) 
  • Desserts made from grains and grain sweeteners 

Barley Malt Kuzu
This is a fantastic grain-quality sweet drink that is perfect for springtime, thanks to its liver- and gall bladder-relaxing qualities. It can also be used as a home remedy to relieve cramps, constipation, and keep blood sugar levels stable.

Ingredients:
1 rounded teaspoon of wild kuzu (you can find this at a health food store or Whole Foods, where the Eden Brand is readily available)
1 cup of water (either spring water or filtered water)
1-2 tablespoons of Barley Malt (again, readily available at Whole Foods or the health food store)
one wedge of fresh lemon, optional, for a nice sweet-and-sour effect
Sample Ingredients

Preparation:
Dissolve the kuzu in the cold water. You can use either a wooden utensil or your fingers to break up the lumps in the kuzu.
Place the liquid with the dissolved kuzu in a sauce pan, and turn on the flame.
Gently heat the mixture while stirring constantly to avoid clumping.
When the mixture begins to turn translucent, add the barley malt and mix well.
When the liquid begins to boil, lower the flame (keep on stirring!) and let simmer for another minute.
Turn off the flame, add a nice squeeze of fresh lemon, and stir well to blend the lemon. Pour into a mug and enjoy!

Stay tuned for next week when I talk about the sweetness of vegetables. Until then, be sweet!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spring Training


February 4 marked the first official day of Spring. Now, this date is significantly earlier than the widely-recognized first day of Spring, March 21st. February 4th is historically the first day of Spring according to the calendars of early societies. When you think about it, this makes sense. February is generally the month that you begin to get a twinge of spring fever. We yearn for sunshine and warmer weather. We start thinking about purchasing our new bright wardrobe. And for all you sports fans, pitchers and catchers reported for spring training camp this week. Go Phillies!

Clearly, these are all signs of Spring. But in all seriousness, Nature’s energy comes to life at this time of year. We observe trees beginning to form buds and tiny leaves. The flowers will begin to push their way to the surface. These visible changes do not happen overnight. All of these changes first begin beneath the surface, and then go through a transitional phase, which is exactly what is happening right now. This is why we all have spring fever, but are still forced to wear our warm winter coats; we feel the change in Nature’s energy, but the consistent warm weather has not arrived quite yet.

So, what can you do with your diet during this transition and in preparation for the warmer season? Here are a few quick and tips to ease you through this Spring so you are ready to bloom when the sunshine is here to stay. 


Light, refreshing, and colorful salads!

  • Increase your consumption light and fresh foods, such as blanched vegetable salad, quick steamed greens, pressed salads, fresh salads and quick sautés. The common point with all these dishes is that they are all light, bright, and crunchy in texture. 
  • Decrease the amount of salt you use, which includes the use of salty condiments. Too much salt makes our bodies more contracted and will not allow us to discharge the extra winter baggage (I think you get the picture)! 
  • Try to make your cooking less excessive. This means cutting back on heavy sauces or thick dressings and use only a light amount of oil. Perhaps you want to go oil free for a bit of time to give your liver and lymph system a break. 
  • Decrease your consumption of heavier, heartier dishes. Cut back on long cooking methods. Instead, use shorter cooking times and, even more important, fewer baked foods. 
  • Emphasize mild sweets and mild sour tastes. For example, try using a little fresh lemon on your steamed greens 2-3 times per week or use some grated green apple as a dressing for your salad. Beets dressed with lemon or vinegar are also a great sweet-and-sour option, or fresh vegetable/fruit juice combo.                      
 
Stay tuned next week for more information on good-quality sweets, as well as a sweet Spring recipe!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Introducing Your Friends and Family to Vegan, Plant-Based Foods

Holy Guacamole!
When you adopt a plant-based, vegan diet, you will probably experience some positive changes in your overall health and well-being. As with anything else, when you notice a benefit in your own health and life, you develop a desire to share your positive experience with others in your life. This is only natural. However, your friends and family might not feel so keen on sharing your enthusiasm and if you try to push your new ideas on them it may end up turning them off completely.

I have found that a soft, gentle approach is more inviting. By this I mean, “walk your talk” and lead by example. As you begin to look better and have a more calm and focused mind people are going to start asking you for your secret recipe. Now of course if you start talking about foods it can stir up a lot of emotion as food is very personal. Nobody wants to feel criticized or again, be told that their favorite foods are killing them quietly.I prefer to go stealth. I enter the scene and arouse interest by showing up to the party with an awesome dish that looks and smells great and everyone is excited to try. By the time they go back for seconds they don’t even miss the meat or dairy!

The best way to pique others’ interest in your new lifestyle is to share foods that are already somewhat familiar to them. For example, try serving a lentil or split pea soup with homemade croutons, or bring a bright, colorful platter of crudité and hummus to a party, or even some guacamole and chips. Go for plant-based foods that are familiar, easy-to-prepare, and delicious. If you want to take things a step further, try serving a three bean chili instead of a meat chili, or a fresh salad with sautéed wild mushrooms and vegetables. Whatever you do, keep it simple. It’s best not to go for recipes that rely on long lists of complicated ingredients or recipes that may just seem weird to the average omnivore (cashew cheese anyone?). If you go out of your way to make elaborate, vegan versions of animal foods, you are not going to convince anyone to include more plant-based foods in their own diet. While some of these recipes may appeal to the already plant-based converted, it is not going to sound appetizing those who are used to eating animal and dairy foods. In many cases these substitutes are not even healthy. Really, vegan dishes can be the most delicious or the most yucky. I guess this supports the macrobiotic theory that everything that has a front also has a back! If you focus on using simple, traditional foods with high-quality ingredients and seasonings, your friends will be more inclined to give it a try. They will be surprised at how great vegan, plant-based foods can taste. More importantly they will notice how great they feel after they eat food that is easier to digest and begin to gain an awareness of the positive effects that pant-based foods have on the body.

Here is my guacamole recipe. It is easy to make, healthful, and delicious. Bring this to a party or share as a snack or appetizer, along with organic, non-GMO corn chips.

Note: you can substitute raw diced onion for the umeboshi pickled onions if you are pressed for time, but the pickled onion is the secret ingredient that brings a unique healthful quality and special flavor to the recipe.

Susan’s Guacamole
Preparation time (20-30 minutes)
Key ingredients!
Serves 2 - 4
Ingredients:
Avocado
1/2 cup of finely diced onion (marinated in umeboshi vinegar)
Fresh sliced jalapeño pepper, center vein and seeds removed (optional)
1/4 cup of finely chopped Cilantro 
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 teaspoons of Umeboshi vinegar (savory vinegar, check out my previous post)
Fresh lime juice to taste

Preparation of the pickle:
Dice the onion and place in a pyrex bowl.
Add a 1/16 teaspoon of sea salt to the onion and use your hands to gently mix the salt with the onion.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of umeboshi vinegar to the onions.
Mix the ingredients together and allow the mixture to begin
to pickle while you continue to prepare the other ingredients. 
Avocado, chopped cilantro and pickled onion

Susan's Amazing Guacamole!

Putting it all together:
Cut the Avocado in half; remove the pit and the fruit.
Place the fruit in a bowl.
Add the cilantro and peppers.
Add the pickled onions and any liquid in the bowl.
Add 3/4 - 1 teaspoon of umeboshi vinegar.
Use a pestle or other wooden utensil to blend all the ingredients. If you like thicker style guacamole
If you like the chunkier style guacamole then do not mash up all the avocado.
Add fresh squeezed lime juice and fold the top into the bottom to blend all the flavors together.

This recipe will keep longer than most others because of using the savory vinegar. The onions start to pickle, bringing more of a balance for the rich vegetable fat of the avocado. Additionally by not using un-cooked salt my recipe does not have a bloating effect on the body. Keep the guacamole refrigerated in a glass dish together with the pit until
you are ready to eat it.

The pit helps to maintain the freshness. When you are ready to serve remove the pit and place in a bowl. Serve with good quality corn chips (again made with non-GMO, organic corn and sea salt), lightly blanched or raw carrots or celery sticks. Or top off a beautiful vegan rice and bean burrito.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Not All Plant-Based Diets Are Created Equal!

In the past few years, there has been increased awareness of the benefits of plant-based diets. Once considered strange and unhealthy, plant-based diets have been welcomed into the realm of popular culture, thanks to a growing cognizance of the environmental, economic, and personal benefits to be reaped from adapting a plant-based diet.

The common point between all plant-based diets is that the main source of nutrition is derived from, you guessed it, plants! Within these dietary practices there are many differences-- sometimes to the point where things can become a little confusing. To clarify, I will outline a variety of dietary approaches.

The vegetarian approach to eating can be the most confusing because it may or may not include dairy, eggs, fish and even poultry, while at the same time adding more vegetables.

A vegan diet has very clear guidelines in that all animal products are avoided. Raw vegan diets include lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and often rely on a variety of “un-cooking” methods, such as dehydrating. 

The macrobiotic approach to diet can be completely vegan or it can include some fish. That choice is up to the individual. A macrobiotic diet is similar to other plant-based diets in that the main source of nutrition comes from plants. Grains and grain products are the central part of the macrobiotic diet while vegetables, legumes and other protein sources are secondary. To be considered complete, each meal should include both grain and vegetable dishes. The concept of having both grains and vegetables with every meal is the biggest difference from other plant-based dietary approaches.

Additionally, whole and partially refined grains are emphasized over refined grain products or starches. A vegetarian or vegan diet may or may not include grains. Starches are often substituted for grains, but they do not provide the same nutrition and can cause weight gain. The approach of having both grains and vegetables offers more balanced nutrition and helps to keep the blood sugar more stable. Since blood sugar levels play an important role in keeping our mind clear and focussed and our mood calm, making grains our principal food has the ability to lead to greater satisfaction.

The great thing about people choosing to follow a plant based diet is that the physical benefits can be experienced pretty quickly. Another benefit is that it is a more sustainable way of eating, environmentally speaking.

The problem with plant-based diets is that most people do not have the understanding of how to put foods and seasonings together in a balanced way. I have seen many recipes that use vegetable- and grain-based dairy and meat substitutes in order to achieve the similar textures and consistencies in an effort to replicate their “favorite” foods from the past. You will often see raw nut butters used for richness or as a thickener, and tofu or soymilk are often used to make non-dairy desserts or creamy soups*.

While such substitutions might be convenient, they are not going to lead to good health. Too many times in my practice as a teacher and counselor I have seen people continue their old food patterns by using plant based foods as substitutes which do not lead to a balanced condition, but instead get people in trouble. As my husband, Denny Waxman (world-renowned macrobiotic health counselor and teacher) says, “just because we stop eating a food does not mean we discharge it from our body.” What this means is that even though we replace animal and dairy foods with plant foods, we can continue to create the same imbalances that caused our health problems in the first place, unless we change our habits.

For example, creamy dairy foods can cause the intestines to become weak thus creating a problem with efficient elimination of waste. By consuming too many creamy textures, we will continue to weaken our digestive system, even if we switch to a plant-based diet. The same can be said with overuse of salt and salty seasonings, baked foods and overconsumption of oily foods.

The bigger problem is that many people, including professionals who advocate plant-based nutrition, do not understand the impact that regularly consumed food has on our body. While making the switch to a plant-based diet will yield short-term benefits, if not done with an understanding of balanced food preparation, there could potentially be negative longterm effects. It is not so easy to recognize the more subtle effects which may occur over time. Many symptoms go un-noticed before a problem manifests on a physical level. Most people are simply not aware of the fact that all food is energy and that by proper cooking and seasoning you can either make a food more balanced and enhance its energy or make it imbalanced.

My inspiration for this post came after I read a promotional article on vegan Super Bowl recipes. While I think is great that plant-based diets are becoming more mainstream, it does not help anyone’s health if recipes are not balanced. I hope that you will all consider this when preparing food for the game this Sunday or the next time you veganize a recipe. 

I’m planning continuing on this topic in the next few weeks, where I will be discussing how to transition to a plant-based diet and how to inspire, excite, and entice others around you into trying some new and delicious foods.

*Excerpted from my upcoming cookbook, Taste With Integrity

Friday, January 20, 2012

Words as Nourishment: The Importance of Saying "Thank You"

Food nourishes us on both a physical level and a spiritual level. Expressing our gratitude for the food we eat provides us with sustenance on many levels. It is a spiritual exercise to show our appreciation for the nourishment which we are about to receive. Showing appreciation is nourishment for ourselves and others. Giving thanks allows us to connect with the food on a spiritual level because it puts our intentions out into the world, strengthening our connection to both our own selves and to things on a larger level.

Saying thank you helps you to be mindful of who you are and what you have within the greater context of things. If you are a parent, I urge you to practice the expression of gratitude with your children so that they will develop a sense of appreciation for the blessings that life has offered them.

Expressing gratitude gives us a chance to slow down and calm our minds before a meal, preparing our bodies to receive nourishment. When you are calm, you will feel more satisfied after your meal and your digestion will be better.

Here’s a thank you to all the farmers, the distributors, the stores and the cook who prepares the meal. And a very special thank you to those who do the clean-up!

Isaiah gives thanks.
Isaiah is the son of Nora and Joseph Waxman. Isaiah was born and raised on grains and vegetables, no meat and no dairy! He is our first Grandson and has the face of an angel.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Finding The Magic and Recipe for Pasta Fagioli

As I sit with my computer I think, what should I write about? It’s cold and damp. I am not quite as active, and I do not feel as inspired with creativity. Well, maybe that’s the way it is supposed to be. Winter time is more quiet. It is the season to be still and reflective. Especially after all the holiday chaos, I welcome the quiet and gather my energy to break out in the Spring.

Here’s a nice warming variation on pasta fagioli to help you break that post-holiday daze. Even better, this thick and filling stew is a great way to make use of leftover pasta
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: When you read this recipe you will notice a range for the amount of beans and pasta. If you like a heartier dish, use the larger amount.

Ingredients:
2 cups of diced onions (feel free to add more onions for a sweeter taste)
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 - 3 cups of escarole, chopped into 1” by 1” pieces
1 1/2 - 2 cups of pre-cooked white beans (I used canned Eden brand cannellini beans)
1 1/2 - 2 cups of leftover pasta, cut into 1/2 inch pieces. I like to use fusilli. If you are using fresh pasta, it needs to be cooked really al dente. You would want to make 2 cups of dry pasta. For a more rich flavor you can use some of the cooking water from the pasta.
6 - 7 cups of water (total amount of liquid)
2-4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons of sea salt (This is the range for the recommended salt use)
Black pepper (optional)
Red pepper flakes (optional, but this really brings the flavor to life.
Pasta Fagioli, yummy!

For variation, try adding some fried sourdough bread crumbs for an even richer dish.

Preparation:
Gently heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot over low heat.
Add the onions and begin to sauté.
Add about 1 cup of water to the pot, then add the garlic and a pinch of sea salt.
Add a shake or two of red pepper flakes (be careful, these can be hot!).
Continue to sauté the onions until they become translucent.
Add additional water as needed to keep the onions from sticking.
Add the white beans and about 5  cups of water to the pot.
Next, add 1.5 - 2 teaspoons of sea salt.
Increase the flame and bring the mixture to a subtle boil. Once the mixture is bubbling, lower the flame and place a flame deflector under the pot.  Simmer on low for 7 minutes or so.
Add the chopped escarole and cook for another 5 minutes.
Finally, add the pasta, a drizzle of olive oil and a nice crack of black pepper. If you doing the bread crumb variation, add them at this point. Let cook for another minute or two.

I like to serve this hearty soup with lighter grain dishes, such as polenta or a couscous salad or brown rice. To complete the meal, don’t forget to include a light vegetable side dish!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

More About Susan

My interest in plant-based foods began in my early 20’s when I adopted a vegetarian diet. My reasons were both self-serving and ethical. I did not like the idea of animals having to suffer. On a personal level, there was a history of diabetes and high blood pressure in my family. On a superficial level, I wanted to keep a nice figure as I matured.  The new life was not too difficult for me because I really did not enjoy eating meat. The main hurdle to overcome was my love for cheese. 
In my late 20’s I was introduced to macrobiotics by my good friend and martial arts Sense. At the time I was at a crossroads, trying to decide “what I wanted to be”. He invited me to a lecture on the health benefits of macrobiotics that later proved to be a life-changing event. The content of this lecture made perfect sense to me- I was already eating whole foods, but it was the philosophy that captured my interest. I was so inspired by this lecture that a light went off in my head and I decided right then and there that I would become a macrobiotic teacher and counselor.
My Transition from a Vegetarian Diet to a Whole Foods, Macrobiotic Approach
The transition from a vegetarian diet to a macrobiotic diet was not difficult for me, as I was already eating grains and vegetables. I began studying on my own, reading lots of books and trying to implement the ideas gradually. After I read a chapter on digestion and the importance of chewing your food well I had another epiphany while munching on a slice of pizza. Since the first step of digestion takes place in the mouth, I decided to chew my pizza really well. George Ohsawa, the modern day founder of macrobiotics, said you can neutralize just about anything by chewing it thoroughly. As I sat there and diligently chewed, the bit of cheese in my mouth did not get any smaller, but in fact grew in size. I continued to chew and the cheese ball continued to grow, now reaching the size of a huge wad of bubble gum. At this point I gave up and simply spit it out. I thought, that if the cheese is clogging up my mouth what is doing to my digestive system? I was cured and today if I even think that a piece of cheese looks good I remember the hard ball in my mouth and am immediately turned off.
Susan and Denny Waxman at Ringing Rocks 
I began my formal studies at the Kushi Institute. Early on I was encouraged to begin teaching cooking classes. After graduating from the Kushi Institute, I continued my studies with Denny Waxman in Philadelphia. In 1997, Denny founded the Strengthening Health Institute, a school for macrobiotic teachers and counselors, where I was a member of the first graduating class. The following year I began teaching cooking and do-in at the SHI. 
I am now the co-director and executive chef at the Strengthening Health Institute, where I continue to teach. I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States and abroad, teaching at macrobiotic institutes, international conferences and really cool places like the Ritz Carlton Hotel. I have had the pleasure of cooking for the cast and crew of a Hollywood film as well as for Barbra Streisand and James Brolin.
I also offer private cooking classes, personal menu planning and health consultations.