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Natural Awakenings Space & Treasure Coast Florida

Diet for Living Well

Apr 09, 2011 03:09PM ● By Christina Pirello

I am of the belief that the quality of foods we choose on a daily basis influence the health and vitality of our bodies. While it may not be the sole determinant of whether or not we are healthy, it is one of the most important—and it is the one over which we exercise control. We decide what we eat.

In the fifth century, B.C., Hippocrates, the philosopher said to be the father of Western Medicine, coined the famous oath, “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” Not exactly in fashion in our modern culture, food and healing were very much entwined in more ancient times and have been relegated to the world of folklore and alternative lifestyles. From chicken soup for a cold, to garlic for lung congestion and purifying the blood, to ginger for circulation, foods have been used for their ability to balance and normalize our energy. An understanding of the power of food in our lives enables us to utilize food, in all its delicious glory, to create the life and health we want.

Whole, natural foods that are well prepared are both delicious and satisfying to the body and soul. I come from a passionate Italian family, where everybody cooked and everybody loved food. Richness runs in my blood. No matter what, I can’t subsist on a diet of steamed vegetables, boiled foods and no fat. And to avoid dessert would be like avoiding life itself. When I drastically changed my diet to cope with a health crisis, I went from a diet rich in simple sugars and fats to a diet that could only be described as austere. My health recovered, I went in search of ways to regain the sensuality of eating and maintain my health. I have learned to fuse the understanding I’ve gained about food and its effect on us, with my heritage— and have discovered that they differ very little after all.

My Italian mother told me that there are two important principles in cooking that would insure success in meal preparation, as well as health. She said that the importance of ingredients, what she called ‘materia prima,’ was essential to creating a delicious meal that would satisfy the body on all levels.

The second principle not to be ignored, she would tell me, as she gently stirred and sauteed, was simple presentation. She believed that showing food in its naturally beautiful state was all that was necessary to create appeal. Again, she was right. She never chose canned vegetables or processed foods for her meals. As a child, I never understood her obsession with freshness. It was more than inconvenient to travel with her from market to market, in search of the best broccoli. I was aware, however, of how delicious her food was to me. I’m so grateful to her for instilling that standard of excellence in me.

Food that is of excellent quality and in its whole, natural state, requires very little adornment to appeal to us. Simple foods that are well-prepared have an elegance that can not be improved upon...and require very little fuss, making them easy and quick to prepare.

If cooking and visual appeal aren’t enough incentive for you to make a change in your food choices, there are other—perhaps more tangible ones. You’ll find that you feel stronger and have more stamina. You’ll sleep more soundly and wake refreshed. You’ll think more clearly and find that you handle life’s daily crises more calmly. You’ll find that you have less aches and pains, more flexibility in your muscles and joints, better digestion and a more positive attitude. Your skin and hair condition will improve, your eyes will be clearer and you won’t tire as easily. You’ll feel like new.

What’s For Dinner?

A truly healthy diet is wide and varied, featuring a selection of grains, beans, seasonal vegetables and fruits, pickled foods, condiments, superior quality fats and sweets and, for those who choose it, fish. The proportions of any variety of foods you eat needs to be based on your own health condition, your goals and your dreams for your life. Whole grains are the centerpiece of a healthy diet, real powerhouses of energy. Whole grains are cereals that have yet to be stripped of their fiber, germ and bran, retaining the lion’s share of nutrients and include brown rice, millet, barley, quinoa, oats, wheat, corn and many others.

And then there are beans, providing us with protein, complex carbohydrates and other essential nutrients. More importantly, they provide us with a slowburning energy—like putting our energy on simmer, so that we have reserves of vitality to draw on to keep ourselves going through the day with even levels of stamina. From adzuki beans to chickpeas and lentils, tofu, tempeh and split peas, beans are incredible sources of richness and nutrition.

When it comes to vegetables, nature has provided us with such an array of abundance that I am in awe. Each time I stand in a market with bins overflowing with the season’s harvest I’m inspired with a renewed passion for cooking. There is so much for us to choose from, I sometimes feel like there aren’t enough meals to prepare them all. So wander the produce section, drink in the life and go on a culinary adventure.Cook some vegetables.A diet rich in whole, natural foods will sustain us, fueling us for life’s little challenges, especially around the holidays and all the activity. A diet rich in animal protein, saturated fats, sugars, and chemical additives will rob us of our vitality, leaving us looking as drained as we are feeling. You decide.

The perfect holiday celebration for me is around the table with my beloved friends and family enjoying the true meaning of the season—all together. Here is my favorite, special occasion holiday menu. Lusciously moist and delicately sweet, these biscuits will quickly become a tradition on your holiday table.

GOLDEN SWEET POTATO BISCUITS

• 1¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
• 1/2 cup semolina flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• generous pinch sea salt
• generous pinch ground cinnamon
• 3-4 tablespoons light olive oil
• 1/3 cup unsweetened apple juice
• 1 cup, smoothly mashed, cooked sweet potato
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup
• 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a mixing bowl and whisk briskly. Cut in oil with a fork or pastry cutter to form the texture of wet sand. Add the apple juice, sweet potato and rice syrup, mixing to form a soft dough. Fold in pecans, working to incorporate them into the dough. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead in just enough flour so the dough loses its stickiness. With floured hands, press the dough into a 2/3-inch thick rectangle. Using a glass or cookie cutter, cut the dough into 16 biscuits, re-forming dough as needed to use it all. (Note: when cutting the biscuits, do not turn the cutter, simply press straight down into the dough. Turning will remove air from the biscuits, leaving them heavy.) Arrange cut biscuits on lined sheet about an inch apart. Bake 15-18 minutes or until the biscuits puff slightly and they spring back to the touch (or a toothpick inserted comes out clean). Transfer to a serving plate and serve hot. Makes about 16 biscuits.

Nothing accents the delicate sweetness of the biscuits, nor kicks off a great feast, quite like a creamy, rich, yummy soup. And this one is just amazing, biscuits or not, feast or not.

CREAMY MUSHROOM SOUP

• extra virgin olive oil
• 1-2 cloves fresh garlic, diced
• 1 yellow onion, diced
• sea salt
• 2-3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, diced
• 6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup water until tender, thinly sliced
• (soaking water reserved)
• 10-12 ounces button mushrooms, brushed free of dirt, thinly sliced
• 1/4 cup mirin or white wine
• 4 cups plain soymilk
• 3 teaspoons sweet white miso
• 2-3 sprigs fresh parsley, finely minced

Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a soup pot and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir in potatoes, a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes more. Stir in shiitake and button mushrooms, a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute more. Add shiitake soaking water, mirin and soymilk, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until mushrooms are quite tender, about 25 minutes. Remove a small amount of hot broth and dissolve miso. Stir back into soup and cook over very low heat, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes to activate the enzymes in the miso. Serve garnished with fresh parsley. Makes 4-5 servings.

 A more festive and elegant salad is not to be had. Light and fresh, but rich enough to be decadent, this is a symphony of flavors and textures that makes any occasion just a bit more special.

ARTICHOKE SALAD WITH GREENS AND FIGS

• extra virgin olive oil
• 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
• 1 red onion, thin half moon slices
• sea salt
• 8-10 marinated artichoke hearts, split in half lengthwise
• 1 red pepper, roasted over an open flame, peeled, seeded, sliced into thin ribbons
Dressing:
• juice of 2 limes
• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
• 2 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar
• 2 teaspoons maple syrup
• generous pinch black pepper
• 2 bunches watercress, stem tips trimmed, left whole
• 8-10 fresh figs, split lengthwise
• 2-3 fresh scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in artichoke hearts and red pepper ribbons and sauté just until heated through, about 2 minutes more. Prepare the dressing by whisking together lime juice, oil, ume vinegar and rice syrup, adjusting seasonings to taste. To plate the dressing, arrange watercress on a platter, with figs around the rim. Spoon sautéed artichoke heart mixture over the top and drizzle lightly with dressing, serving the balance of the dressing on the side for those who want to use more. Sprinkle with scallions and serve immediately after dressing. Makes 5-6 servings.

No sweet jelled sauces out of can for your loved ones—not when a fresh cranberry chutney is this easy to make. And since you can prepare it the day before, everyone wins.

CRANBERRY CHUTNEY

• 12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed well
• 1-2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, diced
• grated zest of 1 orange
• juice of 1 orange
• ½ cup unsweetened, dried apricots
• 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• pinch sea salt
• 3-4 tablespoons barley malt

Place all ingredients, except barley malt, in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover and reduce heat to low, cooking until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 25 minutes. Remove cover and add barley malt to taste. Continue cooking over low heat, uncovered, until the barley malt thickens, about 10-12 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before transferring to a jar. Seal tightly and chill completely. Before serving, bring chutney to room temperature. Makes 6-8 servings.

Ah, finally, the centerpiece dish of the feast. It seems that tradition dictates that something be “stuffed,” so some very clever vegetarians came up with the idea of baking the stuffing in a hearty, sweet winter squash. Since then, many variations on the theme have emerged, each more delicious. Here’s one of mine.

KABOCHA SQUASH WITH WILD RICE STUFFING

• 2 medium kabocha squash, tops removed jack-o-lantern style, seeds removed
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons barley malt
• sea salt

Stuffing:
• ¾ cup wild rice, rinsed very well
• 1 ½ cups spring or filtered water
• sea salt
• extra virgin olive oil
• 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
• 1 red onion, finely diced
• 1-2 stalks celery, diced
• 8 ounces tempeh, coarsely crumbled
• ½ teaspoon dried basil
• ½ cup pine nuts
• ½ cup dry white wine
• 2-3 cups firmly packed, shredded whole grain, sourdough bread
• 1-2 cups fresh orange juice


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. After hollowing squash, whisk together oil, barley malt and a pinch of salt. Using your fingers, rub the mixture over the outsides and insides of the squash. Place them in a baking dish, replacing the caps. Add water to accumulate about one half-inch. Cover with foil and bake until the squash pierces easily with a fork, but is still firm, about 45 minutes. While the squash bakes, make the stuffing. Place wild rice and water in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, cover, reduce heat to low and cook until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 35 minutes. Set aside. Place a small amount of oil, garlic, and onion in a skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir in celery and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in tempeh and dried basil and sauté until tempeh begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add pine nuts, wine and season to taste with salt. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove cover and cook until all liquid has been absorbed. Place bread in a mixing bowl and add cooked rice, sautéed vegetables and tempeh. Slowly add orange juice, mixing well until a soft stuffing forms. Don’t make it too wet. Stuff each squash abundantly and replace in baking dish. Lay caps in baking dish next to squash, not on top. Cover with foil and bake until squash is quite tender, 35 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the squash. Remove from oven and allow squash to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to a serving platter. Makes 8-10 servings. Note: Extra stuffing can be pressed into an oiled baking dish and cooked, covered for 35-40 minutes. Remove cover and brown the top before serving.

It seems that Thanksgiving tradition calls for sweetly glazed vegetables and these will never disappoint.

MAPLE GLAZED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

• 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, tips trimmed, crosses cut into the bottoms of each
• 2 red onions, thick wedges
• 2-3 sweet potatoes, split lengthwise, ½-inch thick half moons
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• sea salt
• grated zest of 2 lemons
• ½ cup dry white wine
• 3 tablespoons maple syrup
• juice of ½ lemon
• 2-3 sprigs fresh parsley, finely minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place all the vegetables in a mixing bowl and add oil, a generous sprinkling of salt, lemon zest, wine and rice syrup. Mix well to coat. Arrange vegetables in a large baking dish, avoiding overlap. Cover with foil and bake until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove cover and continue baking until vegetables are browned and liquid has turned to a syrup, 10-15 minutes more. Remove from heat and squeeze lemon juice over top. Sprinkle with parsley and toss gently to coat. Serve hot. Makes 6-8 servings.

Christina Pirello is the Emmy Award winning host of the PBS television series, “Christina Cooks.” She and her husband publish a bi-monthly whole foods magazine, “Christina’s Living Healthy Journal,” as well as operate Christina Trips, a travel company that specializes in healthy vacations to exotic destinations. Christina is the author of the bestselling cookbooks, “Cooking the Whole Foods Way,” “Cook Your Way to the Life You Want,” “Glow: Your Prescription for Radiant Health and Beauty,” and her most recent book “Christina Cooks, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Whole Foods, But Were Afraid to Ask.” Visit www.christinacooks.com for more information.

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