I get asked quite regularly what is a macrobiotic diet? I never know how to answer, I feel people want to hear what I do and don’t eat, but that is never accurate because macrobiotics isn’t all about what you eat. It is more of a philosophy than a diet, a way of life rather than a temporary fix, it is perhaps best described by Warren as an orderly approach to diet and lifestyle. I’ll often launch into a description about eating for energetics without mentioning yin and yang which makes peoples eyes glaze over pretty fast. I find though that whatever I say people still want to know what I do and don’t eat. So I’m starting a collection of the best descriptions and explanations about the macrobiotic diet here, so that I can get better at explaining it all in a few sentences.
I have made a playlist on youtube called mythbusting macrobiotics, which has the following video featuring Lawrence Kushi the son of Michio and Aveline Kushi. He is a professor of etiology at Columbia University and I enjoy his balanced description of how he found an avenue of science that met his criteria of ethical inquiry and also matched his personal interest in nutrition after being raised in a macrobiotic household. He describes how science is reaching similar conclusions to those of the macrobiotic community about the relationship between diet & lifestyle and disease occurrence across populations. It is interesting when he modestly states that many major natural food companies in the United States were founded by people who initially studied macrobiotics.
There isn’t a week goes by in the winter when I don’t use a whole kabocha squash. In the store, I’m often asked at the checkout, “How do you cook this?” I’m never ready with an answer because there isn’t one answer, there are so many ways to cook a squash. I usually reel off a list of possibilities like the scene in Forest Gump when his soldier friend is talking about the shrimp. You can bake ‘em, mash’m, fry them, you can steam ‘em you can boil ‘em, sauté ‘em.
I’m also often asked,what do you eat? Squash is my favorite winter food. It is getting close to the time to transition to spring, as the days get a little longer and there are glimpses of it in the air.
This is how I used the last squash I bought. First I slice it into four quarters, as shown above.
Remove the seeds from each quarter with a spoon or a fruit scoop and then chop into 1 inch pieces and slice off the skin on each piece.
Four Squash Recipes
I use a quarter of the squash in each of these recipes. These quantities will serve 1-2 people. If you want more, double the quantities and use another quarter of the squash.
1. Millet with squash (breakfast or lunch grain)
Wash half a cup of millet, place in a small saucepan, stir and roast until it smells nutty. Add two cups of water, the squash and a tiny pinch of sea salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve warm with a toasted sesame seed condiment, and some greens.
2. Sweet vegetable soup (lunch)
Put the pieces in a small saucepan add water to about an inch, with a tiny pinch of sea salt, boil for 15-20 mins until squash is soft enough to mash in the pan. Mash and add a drop or two of tamari or soy sauce. Enjoy.
(Leftovers can be mixed with apple sauce and used as a sweet topping for pancakes, add toasted sunflower seeds and you’ll be in heaven.)
3. Lentil & squash dahl with brown rice and broccoli sprouts (dinner)
Chop an onion, minch a garlic clove, and grate an inch of ginger. Add them to a heated pan to soften. When soft add the squash, and a tablespoon of curry powder. Mix thoroughly.
Add 2 cups of water, a bay leaf and 3/4 a cup of red lentils, a handful of organic frozen peas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. All the water should be absorbed by the red lentils.
Serve with brown rice and top with raw broccoli sprouts as a garnish. For a tasty crunch include some nuts with the rice.
4. Azuki bean squash (side dish)
You can find azuki (aka aduki/adzuki) beans at whole foods or you can buy them from the kushi store. Healing properties for the kidneys and especially useful for balancing blood sugar. These will keep you going for a long time. Here is a recipe from the Kind Diet website.
Soak the beans (about 1/2 a cup) overnight with kombu. After discarding the soaking water, add the beans and the kombu to a pan, cover with fresh spring water and boil uncovered for 10 minutes, then covered for 20 more minutes, add more water if necessary. Arrange the squash on top of the beans, cook for another 20 minutes checking to see if the beans are tender. Add tamari/shoyu to taste and cook for another 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro.
These recipes all do well the next day as leftovers. There is a rhythm to cooking that I am becoming more aware of as I work with my schedule. I don’t spend a huge amount of time cooking anymore. I might have a session on a Sunday where I will make a few dishes for during the week. Most meals flow into the next day, so each day I am not starting from scratch with nothing planned. I have a whole “rhythm of cooking” post coming together for a later date prompted mainly by another question I get about how much cooking I do.
One of the main things I am trying to do in life is to build up strength so I can deal with the ups and downs of living with an unpredictable and invisible disease. Eating in accordance with the seasons is one way to help that process, because it builds a natural immunity. Going to cooking class this week gave me some great recipes that use seasonal ingredients. Warren also talked about what else you can do to build a strong immunity.
As the weather changes it’s best to focus on cooking to create more warmth. The class was held on an 80 degree day, but three days later there was a frost advisory in the area, so it shows how quickly fall arrives. I am sure you have been feeling it too. This change is represented by the Metal Element in the theory of the five transformations. The recipes in the class included elements of the energetics of metal. Not only ingredient choice can strengthen you, but cooking style also imparts an important warming energetic to food at this time of year too.
Ingredients that support internal warming and settling include white beans, more root and round fall vegetables, and include pungent greens for example horseradish, mustard greens, ginger, mustard. All open up the lungs, but don’t need a lot, you can add black pepper to soup to open lungs too.
To maintain warming the body move away from the raw salads of summer and start making pressed salads. The pressure and the effect of the salt ”cooks” the vegetables without using heat as energy. Simple citrus dressings can be used as well as toasted nut cream dressings.
Bring in baked vegetables once or twice a week. One inch cubes of parsnips and sweet potatoes mixed with herbs and olive oil make a delicious warming side dish.
The kinpira style of cooking (sautéing then simmering) can also be used to strengthen the lungs and the large intestines.
Start to pressure cook again
Start using short grain brown rice and sweet rice.
Our fall dinner looked like this, rice & millet patties, turnip, carrot and lotus root kinpira, pressed salad with mustard greens and baked sweet potatoes and parsnips. Delicious and warming!
Our last day! I took a walk this morning around the back of the main house to visit the rice and the vegetable gardens. The rice looks immature at the moment, the stalks are pointing straight upright and are not drooping with their harvest. I had to go to see them before I left, I have never seen rice growing before.
Survived another five hours of cooking sessions. Today it wan’t a chore to cook at all, it was a chore to sample the six or seven dishes we cooked. Along with the three meals a day we are provided with, it was definitely a macro gluttony day. OK the two Friday night desserts didn’t help, I know, but it is our last night here.
Todays dishes included:
Chop Suey Stir Fry with Dried tofu
Scramble tofu stir fry
Oil Sauteed Tempeh
Chickpea hummus (made by hand in a suribachi, a group event)
Azuki beans and squash
Rice with black soybeans
I am glad the day started with Qi-gong exercises and ended with a walk into Beckett after dinner. Exercising helps. I have a feeling I am going to have to do more when I get home though.
Leaving tomorrow morning with a list a mile long of improvements and changes I want to make to increase my health and energy. Plan to use future blog posts to go into those changes.This was the best place to experience the three priorities in healing, mind (awareness), body (activity) and nourishment. The health trifecta. So glad I came, and met everyone who went through this with me. THANKS.
Today we started cooking classes in the main house kitchen. The old stove is left in tact (above) but is not used. It forms one wall of the kitchen and serves as a reminder of all the meals that must have come out of this kitchen.
Our classes started with beginner mind. We learned the basic equipment you might need in a macrobiotic kitchen. Beginner mind is such a great way to start as we all came with different levels of fluency and knowledge. I learned a lot from this class even though I have been transitioning for 17 months and have been going to Warren ‘s classes regularly.
Other classes today were
Quality food selection
Menu planning and
Philosophy intro to yin and yang.
We were in classes from 7am until 8:30pm with breaks in between classes. A busy day.
A few takeaways:
When chopping Energy comes from your hara,. Energy from your center passes down your arm into the food.
Once a bean is cracked it loses it’s chi and will not germinate or will not grow. Same nutritional value but will not strengthen you.
Quinoa-not good for lung problems. Better to avoid quinoa. ME!!
Sad to hear that the price of quinoa has risen so much due to its popularity that the people who live where it grows can no longer afford to buy it.
Tekka will bring up your iron levels. I’m going to use this condiment while I am here and buy some when I get home.
Scallion juice for mosquito bites. These anecdotal snippets of information make cooking class so important. This healing information is only passed along through word of mouth. It seems like reconnecting with an old tradition.
We took a Field trip into the garden and found a wild burdock plant growing next to a wall.
Burdock is extremely strengthening, it’s a blood purifier and can easily be included in stir fries and an important macrobiotic dish called Kinpira. The length of the burdock root under this leaf is the size of the leaf, so it takes a lot of strength to dig it out.
Energywise I did ok with the long day. The food we have mealtimes fuels us. Some of my colleagues are having a hard time with discharging the food and drinks (coffee) that they are used to having. Hopefully they will start seeing the benefit of the clean meals by Thursday or Friday.
Reflections and thoughts from the leadership course at The Kushi Institute
The first night last night and grateful for…A fan! Warm night, punctuated by dreams and waking in unfamiliar surroundings.
Blue jays squawking. A rabbit on the way to exercise class.
We did some Do-In exercises from the book they recommended by The Do-In Way: Gentle Exercises to Liberate the Body, Mind, and Spirit ” by Michio Kushi. Some were familiar to me from yoga classes, but most were new. The instructor shared some anecdotal healing stories with us. One about how humming is effective at clearing nasal congestion. How a patient was saved from nasal surgery after drugs didn’t work, but just prior to going into surgery a doctor held a vibrator to her sinuses and the pain cleared up. We practiced humming while closing one nostril and my nose did feel clearer. We pulled on our toes and fingers and talked about how this impacts different organs in the body.
The session accentuated how experiential the learning is while we are here. You can read about this in the books and mentally know it. To physically know it and feel it is a different level of knowing. In German there are two words for this kennen and wissen.
One thing the instructor said which stuck with me was that Michio Kushi says the purpose of life is to play and we will do well if we approach our learning with this in mind.
Bread & fruit jam/compote
Greens with summer squash quarter moons
Discharge & transition
Even though I knew a lot of the symptoms of transition & discharge, we got some good information about how to healthily reduce the severity. One “did you know”…
A cabbage leaf can reduce the swelling or pain in any area of the body.
The Kushi is starting to feel like home already. The hearth photo is from the porch in the main house. I can imagine a cozy fire in here warming up autumnal nights on the porch, back in the day. All the participants in the course are bonding as we get to know each other and the staff and volunteers are beginning to recognize us, as we are recognizing them. The communal dining hall is small enough for us all to get to know each other.
Good energy all around.
Welcome to the mindbodynourish strengthening health series. These are the actions that work for me and make a huge difference on my energy and well being. Each post describes one small action you can take that day to support your new lifestyle of body and mind appreciation and nourishment. Each action may seem tiny and insignificant, but do not be fooled. This series is going to go deeper than counting calories, reading fat labels. These old ideas will fall away as you gain a wider appreciation of food and how nourishment of the spirit can bring eating habits into balance and how the body responds to reflect the mind.
Stop Eating 3 Hours Before Sleeping
Step one started our mindful eating regime by sitting down to eat and eliminating any external distractions like watching TV, reading or perhaps driving! The idea is that through taking time to sit and just eat you will become more mindful of your eating habits. This may be hard for some, but just notice the hard and keep at it today.
The activity today is still in the mindful eating realm. To strengthen health it helps to stop eating 3 hours before you go to bed. The body still works away while you are asleep. It cleanses your organs overnight removing toxins and this is done more efficiently on an empty stomach. Removing toxins from your body helps to maintain health and keeps illness at bay.
If you are used to consuming sugar and sugary drinks it will be hard at first to keep to this 3 hour limit as your blood sugar will dip. It is easier if you front load your food during the day. Make sure you have a satisfying lunch, a healthy snack mid-afternoon and then a dinner, finishing by about 7pm if you go to bed at 10pm. I wrote about my experience with this here. I sometimes still struggle with it, but allow myself the occasional night off, especially if I am going out to dinner with friends and family. I think that trumps staying in, as long as it is more of a treat than the norm.
So far in this series there has been no talk of what to eat and what not to eat. First we are going to concentrate on how to eat in order to strengthen health. Once good mindful habits around how to eat are established the “what to eat” will fall into place and will feature in the days ahead.
Try the stop eating 3 hours before sleeping, your body will thank you.
My New Years Resolution this year is an investment.
A mindbodynourish investment.
In the spirit of creating a new resolution that lasts, I figure investing time and money into learning how to make this healthful eating happen in the easiest, smoothest way possible, is not only smart, but it will also ensure that it is much more likely to happen consistently. I will be much more likely to stick to it.
Cooking Classes-one every month for the next year
This resolution has all the traditional resolutions rolled into it. I’ll stay close to my weight goals, eat better and feel better. I’m going to learn to cook up a storm-a health storm. I have been reluctant to cook in the past, so I need more confidence in the kitchen to easily create a wide variety of delicious plant based dishes that nourish my body, mind and spirit. Hopefully they will also be delicious enough to share with my family and friends. This is a continuation of the new year resolution I had last year, which was to get into the best shape of my life.
There are many benefits to such a resolution.
It’s ongoing, spread throughout the year-so it’s more likely to have a lasting impact.
I’ll meet like minded people every month and widen my network of health buddies. There is no such thing as too much support.
Each cooking class is just the beginning. The knowledge & health just deepens with every dish and every time I cook.
A wider repertoire of recipes to pull from each and every day will make the health benefits compound as time goes on.
There is so much more in my tea than kukicha twigs. As I drink it sitting in my garden taking in the late afternoon sun I notice the reflection of the surroundings trees on the surface. It reminds me that there is so much more beneath the surface. The universe is in my tea. It contains the earth, the air, the rain, the sunshine, the work of the farmers and all those involved in bringing the tea to me.
It make me wonder where in the earth these twigs grew?
Was the air hot there? Did the sun shine?
When did the rain soak the plant and nourish it in the process?
Who harvested these twigs and brought them in from the field?
Did they wonder about me in my garden enjoying the fruit of their labor on a sun-filled patio surrounded by huge deciduous trees about to blaze with fall color?
I haven’t been very successful at sticking to much. I start ideas, books, notes then quickly forget them, only to find them later and wonder what my original idea was all about.
In the Hipchicks Guide to Macrobiotics, Jessica Porter challenges readers to a 30 day whole grain challenge. Amazing, but today was the 8 month anniversary of me taking that challenge. She says in the book
Within thirty days, ……Your mind may feel clearer.
Well after 240 days, my mind is certainly clearer, my weight is the lowest it has been in 20 years and each day it is a culinary pleasure to be on this challenge. I have never cooked so much and weighed so little in my life. So how does a previous chocoholic/sugar junkie stick to such a regime, without falling of the wagon and calling it quits. It helps to laugh at the idea of being perfect and remembering that each day starts a new.
In addition, it has helped that I have spoiled myself with one highlight each month to springboard and incentivize me to continue on to the next month.
Stick To It Dates
March: Met with a macrobiotic counselor to get a good roadmap to follow, discovered a sweet vegetable drink that helped me curb my sweet cravings.
April: I spent a Saturday with about 10 others at a Getting Starting Cooking class lecture. It was here that I first drank kuchika tea, which helped me easily kick the daily coffee habit (the one that I NEVER imagined kicking).
May: Drove to the Kushi Institute Open House for a free cooking demonstration, massage demonstration and a visit to their store. I learned how to roll sushi! Snacktastic.
June: Follow up meeting with macrobiotic counselor to fine tune my personalized remedies, discovered a ume-sho-kuzu tea that helped to melt away the stiffness in my hips
July: Visited Maine for a summer cooking class with the Hipchick herself Jessica Porter, here I found out that watermelon soup really does make you happy.
August: Attended a family friendly dishes cooking class, and yes, they gave out a recipe for jam dot cookies that are vegan and sugar free and delighted my inner cookie monster.
September: Attended a late summer lecture about healing the lungs and found out I wasn’t crazy singing in the car, it is actually healthy for you.
Most of these monthly jaunts has included meeting other people who are on a similar journey. It certainly helps if you are not alone.
Interspersed between these monthly educational and networking classes other “stick to it” treats have included hunting down and exploring tiny whole food veggie centric restaurants. My favorite was while traveling to Europe, after landing in London the first place we ate at was a hidden away, only known to the locals veggie joint called “The Magic Cafe”.
Admittedly I have a huge incentive to stick to it, I want to stay healthy for myself and for my family so this really helps to keep me going. The main reason I stick to it though is that I feel so much better than I have in years. My mindset is that this is a lifestyle, not a diet.
I measure progress minute by minute, past transgressions are forgotten and left behind as I move on to the next meal, the next grain and the next chapter in a healthy life. Fun!