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Foods of the Month 2016

January -Tofu   February - Chocolate   March - Cinnamon
April -Daikon   May - Asparagus   June -Soy Foods
July - Berry Crazy for Summer    August - Summer Cooking
September - Late Summer, Earth Energy Phase
October - Cooking for the Fall Season with Ginger
November -
Cooking for the Holidays
December - Brown Rice Syrup

January -Tofu

Tofu is a harmless bean curd made from soybeans, so why are so many people afraid of it? Maybe because they have tasted a dish made using the wrong kind of tofu, and/or it was not properly seasoned or cooked. When used in the correct way, tofu can be very tasty and can be used to create all kinds of different dishes. The key to cooking with tofu is that it has no real flavor on its own, so it will take on whatever tastes you add to it when creating a dish. Always make sure you add salt, or a salty ingredient, and make sure to cook the tofu. The cooking process will enhance the flavor and make the tofu easier to digest.

Five thousand year old texts describe the soybean as one of the most important crops in China. And for good reason, high in protein, iron, B vitamins, soybeans can also help support detoxification, improve circulation, and have many anti-cancer properties. A food that has been eaten for thousand of years, has been proven through time to be a healthy food for the human species to consume. There is a lot of information out there claiming that soy food is bad for us to consume. But do not get confused, the bad stuff is refined and processed. Such things as: soy flour, soy flakes, soy isolates, (TSP textured soy protein). I do not use these products in my cooking. And when purchasing tofu and other soybean products, always buy organic. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the soybean crops have been genetically engineered.

Using the correct type of tofu is also important to create the correct texture for your dishes. I use the fresh, fir, tofu packed in water, found in the refrigerator section, for almost all my recipes. If you can find a local producer of tofu, that is best, the fresher the tofu the better the texture and taste

 

February - Chocolate, Food of the Gods

Because of its unique taste and health benefits, chocolate a long time ago was considered the Food of the Gods. It was thought of as such an important crop that the Aztecs used it for currency. The history of Chocolate begins in Mesoamerica as far back as 1900 BC. Originally prepared as a bitter, frothy, liquid drink, sometimes it was mixed with spices, wine, or corn puree. Most people would not recognize chocolate the way they served it thousands of years ago. It was not until it arrived in Europe in the sixteenth century that sugar was added to the chocolate and it became a sweet treat.

Since most people have heard so much about the healing benefits of chocolate; tryptophan, endrorphins, vitamins, mineral, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, let's focus on how chocolate is produced for you consumption. Harvesting the cacao bean is still done by hand. The pods are carefully broken open, to release the cacao bean. The beans are embedded in a moist, fibrous, white pulp. The beans and pulp are scooped out and gently heaped in a pile. The pile of beans and pulp starts to ferment, and during the process they are gently mixed to introduce oxygen in to the pile which produces lactic acid. The fermentation process takes up to 8 days. The cocoa beans, which they are now called, come out of this process with a high moisture content. The beans are then dried in the sun. The cocoa beans are then sent to the manufacturer for roasting. During the roasting process the beans are cracked (not crushed), and are then called cocoa nibs. Then the cocoa goes through a process of grinding and gets turned in to the chocolate we all know and love. it is interesting to note that cocoa is always roasted before we consume it, so labeling some forms as 'raw' is very mis-leading.

Most chocolate is sweetened with refined sugar, however I use grain sweetened chocolate in my cooking. Being that it is made with malted corn and barley, the sugar is maltose, the least reactive form of sugar.

 

 

March -Cinnamon

One of the most popular spices on the planet and for good reason. It is what seasons so many of our favorite dishes, pies, cookies, cakes, hot beverages, and cinnamon rolls. There are actually two different types of cinnamon, Ceylon and Cassia. The kind most of us use and are used to is the Cassia. It has a stronger smell and flavor and is from Indonesia. Ceylon is from Sri Lanka, it has a milder, sweeter taste and is more expensive.

Cinnamon was used as early as 2,000 B.C. in Egypt for a perfuming agent in the embalming process. It was used in ancient times as an anointing oil, and was traded to the Europeans from the Arabs. Cinnamon became very popular in Europe, especially when it was discovered that it could be used to preserve meat during the cold winter months.

Cinnamon recently has gotten a lot of attention because it can help control blood sugar levels, making it beneficial to people with diabetes. It also has anti-bacterial properties and can be effective in treating; E-Coli, salmonella, compyobacter, I.B.S.(irritable bowel syndrome, and can make a natural disinfectant. Cinnamon can help with candida yeast infection. And it is one of the most powerful anti-oxidants, helping the body fight off diseases, There has been studies on how cinnamon has shown promising results in the treatment on tumors, gastric cancers, and melanomas.

April -Daikon

Look, it's a bird, it's a plane, No, it's super radish, daikon! With all its incredible healing properties and health benefits, it is definitely a super food! A long, thick, white vegetable, looks like a large carrot, that most people have seen but are afraid to use, is daikon. It is in the radish family, but the taste is not as strong as the small, red, round, very pungent ones most people recognize. I, myself, am not a fan of the small red ones, but I love daikon. When you put this power packed vegetable in stews and soups it cooks up to be sweet in taste.

And it is one of the best root vegetables to use to make naturally fermented pickles. One of the easiest and most tasty ways to prepare daikon is roasting it. That is why I have included two short, easy recipes this month.

Known for it's cleansing properties because of it's high water content, daikon is diuretic in nature. And it keeps your kidneys clean and functioning at a high level, by stimulating the elimination of excess toxins. Daikon can help clear out excess mucus and phlegm from your respiratory system with it's antibacterial and antiviral properties. And it's anti-inflammatory properties, can significantly reduce inflammation in the body. When you use daikon grated and served raw, it has enzymes similar to those of the human digestive tract to help digest fats, protein and complex carbs. And can also reduce constipation and increase nutrient efficiency in the gut.

One great thing about daikon is it has the ability to inhibit the formation of carcinogens in the body. Which is one reason it has been studied to show it can help reduce certain types of cancer, particularly the stomach.
Daikon originated in the Mediterranean and Black Sea coast. It found it's home more then 1,300 years ago in Japan. Ninety percent of daikon produced and eaten today is in Japan. This unique, powerful vegetable became popular throughout the world between 1603 - 1868, when merchants and travelers introduced different varieties to other parts of the country. Throughout the years it has remained a main staple in the Japanese diet, and it saved the people time and time again from famine.

When buying daikon, look for it to still have the greens attached. That way it will be very fresh. If you can not find it that way, look for a firm vegetable with as little black spots as possible. No need to take the skin off, leave it on, most of the vitamins and minerals are located right under the skin. And if you lucky enough to find daikon with the greens make sure to use the greens, You can cut them up and use them in stir-fries, soups, and stews.

May - Asparagus

Spring is the season of asparagus. Their strong, green stalks are one of the first foods to start growing after our long cold winter. Asparagus, like many spring time foods, has the natural ability to cleanse the body. Containing the amino acid, asparagine, asparagus acts as a diuretic and helps remove fluids and excess salts from the body. This is very good for people who suffer from edema, high blood pressure, and other heart related diseases. This delicate, slightly sweet vegetable is also high in fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E, and K.

When shopping for asparagus, look for crisp stalks that are not wilted and the tips are not mushy. Most of the time the bottom inch has to be cut off and discarded because it is too fibrous.

One of my favorite foods that most people have never heard of is mochi. It is a traditional food from the Orient. Made from sweet brown rice, it is sold in most health food stores. It comes in a square, wrapped in plastic. It is made when you pound the brown rice to get a sticky consistency. Then formed into the square cakes. My favorite way to use mochi is to grate it. I always keep grated mochi in my freezer so I always have it ready to use. It works great thickening a soup, like this recipe. Once the grated mochi is cooked it becomes sticky. It will thicken soups, make casseroles creamy, and when melted you can make a (mock) cheese sauce.

June -Soy Foods

Often while teaching a cooking class I get asked if soy food is good for you. I believe there is a lot of misleading information that causes many people to become confused. When considering what foods are good for us and what may not be, I look to history. If a food has been eaten for a long time, and with no problems, we can know it is safe for us to eat. Such is the case with soy. Five thousand year old texts describe soybeans as being one of the most important crops grown. Miso, fermented soybeans, has been eaten since 2,500 years ago in China. And tempeh has been eaten for centuries in Indonesia. If there was something wrong with this food, it would have been discovered a long time ago.

Soybeans have many anticancer properties:

  • Genistein may stop the spread of some forms of cancer at an early stage
  • Protease Inhibitors, universal anti-carcinogen and may block the action of cancer causing enzymes
  • Phytic acids, inhibit growth of tumors

Soybeans have easily absorbable iron, many B vitamins, carotin, support detoxification, promote vitality, and feed and nurture the lungs and large intestines. Soybeans made into tofu are high in calcium. When made into tempeh it is 19.5% protein. Containing all eight essential amino acids, it is a complete protein. When made into miso it has 11 g. of complete protein in 1 T. And by fermenting it to make the miso, the healing properties are enhanced. Miso is a living food containing lactobacillus, a healthful micro organism that aids in digestion. There are so many wonderful health benefits from soy foods, I can see why we have been eating it for thousands of years.

I feel there is a lot of confusion about the plant based phyto-estrogen, isoflavones in soybeans. This part of the bean does not disrupt your estrogen levels, it balances them. If you are too low, it raises them, it you are too high it lowers them. These isoflavones also have been credited with slowing the effects of osteoporosis, relieving some side effects of menopause, and alleviating some side effects of cancer. Not to mention it has been shown to dramatically lower the undesirable L.D.L. cholesterol. It is interesting that in China, where they eat soybean products such as tofu, tempeh, and miso everyday, that until recently they did not have a word in their language for hot flashes. Of course now, because they have introduced our highly refined and processed way of eating into their culture, that is changing. Also many times a women is told by her doctor to take photo-estrogen pills, for whatever reason. Why not get it from your food instead of a pill?

I do want to say that when buying soybean foods, you must buy organic. It is, right now, our only way to have some kind of insurance that the soybeans have not been genetically altered. And eat the soy foods that have stood the test of time: tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari, and shoyu. Just like any other food, if it has been refined or processed some of the nutritional quality will suffer.

I know there are articles and books out there that give soybeans a bad rep. They quote studies that say it is harmful. And I have come to the conclusion these studies are not reliable. Soybeans have been studied probably more than any other health food. So it is easy to pick only a handful of negative studies, if that is what will profit you, and ignore the majority of favorable studies. And most of these studies are done on animals, usually mice or rats. These animals are fed high amounts of the isoflavones isolated, not the whole soybean. Also they are feed a large amount that is much more then a human would eat. And human bodies assimilate differently then mice, so the reaction can not be compared. Every one of these that I have seen excludes the foods I mention above and have been eaten for thousands of years. Our epidemic of sickness does not come from food that has been eaten for thousands of years. It is from our culture of fast foods, processed foods, microwaved foods, refined foods, and the huge amount of stress we live with everyday. Also from the absurd notion that more is better. For instance, if you drink three quarts of soy milk a day, you are going to have some reaction. (This was actually one study that came to the conclusion soy is bad.) That is way too much of any one food to be consuming. I do not care if it is cow's milk, goat's milk, almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk.

Do some research and decide for yourself. But I would not pay any attention to studies done on animals and studies done with huge amount of soy consumed. Up until recently, China had one of the lowest rates of cancer. One of their main food sources is soy and has been for thousands of years. If there was any link with eating soy and getting cancer, don't you think the Chinese would have been dying from cancer long before this. (Common sense!) And lastly I would like to point out there are huge multi billion dollar industries that would not want to lose their business to a wonderful, high protein plant based food source. Maybe some of these multi billion dollar industry sponsored the research?

July - Berry Crazy for Summer

Hot summer days of July mean that we get to enjoy all the fresh berries grown in our beautiful state of Michigan. It is my favorite month of the year, not just because it is the month of my birthday, but also because it is right in the middle of the warmest days of summer. During the summer months, if you ever have the opportunity to go pick your own berries, it is well worth your time and effort. And if you are fortunate enough to find wild berries, they are the best treat of the summer.

 

All berries are known to have high fiber content, high antioxidant properties, and phytonutrients. However each different type of berry has its own unique healing properties.

Blueberries: High in potassium, folate, Vitamin C, B6, and helps combat free radicals. Good brain food, helps to improve memory.
Raspberries: High in Vitamin C. Contains quercetin and gallic acid, which can help fight against colon cancer, and heart and circulatory disease. Contains rheosmin: may be able to reduce risk of obesity as well as help with a fatty liver,
Blackberries: Rich in boiflavanoids and Vitamin C. Helps improve digestion, promotes strong teeth and bones, can help improve vision and prevent diseases of the eyes.
Strawberries: HIgh in Vitamin C, manganese, iodine, folate, copper, potassium, biotin, phosphorus, magnesium, B6, and contains omega 3 fatty acids.

August - Summer Cooking

According to The Five Transformations Of Energy, it is summertime and that means we are entering the Fire energy phase. For those who are not familiar with The Transformations, let me elaborate on the subject. The Five Transformations Of Energy is the ancient Chinese study of the energy of nature and how it relates to us and our health. It is studied and used in Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and some forms of martial arts. I have been studying and applying the theory in my own life for 18 years. It may seem foreign at first when you hear about it, but the knowledge is self evident when you learn about how each season, or energy phase, connects with a certain part of our body and the foods we eat.

We are entering the Fire energy phase or Summertime. This is the most active time of the year. We are outside more doing yard work. We are doing adventurous things like kayaking, bike riding, swimming, and playing sports. This is the time of the year when we focus on easy, quick cooking foods and eat more raw foods. The Fire energy phase is the most Yin energy phase. Yin is an upward, expansive energy. Just like the flames of a fire that move outward and upward rapidly, this rapid energy holds the potential for moving forward in your life, creating and getting your creations out into the world. The two most active organs in your body are associated with Fire energy, the brain and heart. Also in this energy phase is your small intestines and circulatory system. Your brain is always thinking and creating and your heart is always pumping blood through your whole body. With the heart being animated by this energy phase, it is no wonder the emotions associated with Fire energy are joy and passion.

The signature flavor for this energy phase is bitter. Anything you eat with a bitter taste will feed and nurture your brain, heart, small intestines, and circulatory system. This includes; arugula, endive, broccoli, rabe, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, parsley, and dark leafy lettuces. The signature grains for this phase are quinoa, corn and amaranth. These three grains are quick cooking and have a light energy perfect for summertime. They are also very hardy plants that are known to survive in challenging conditions. This gives them the strengthening quality that when we eat them, becomes our strength. You are what you eat. And you become the energy of what you eat.

There are ways to tell if your Fire energy is balanced, excessive, or depleted.
Balanced Fire energy gives us a sharp and clear mind. We can express our true selves freely. Our communication skills are good and we are passionate about our life path. We have a good sense of who we are and can be perceived as charismatic. But just like the fire we also have our calm side which allows us to have compassion and empathy for those around us. If our Fire energy is excessive we can be over dramatic. We talk with excessive animation and can be highly excitable. We magnify everything, positive and negative. We may experience excessive anger, crying, or even joy. Because we are overly dramatic it can be extravagant or flamboyant. We may appear to be 'always on'. This can be exhausting to be around for long periods of time. If our Fire energy is depleted we experience the opposite. We are left slow moving and expressionless. We lose our ability to feel joy or passion. We lose our ability to move forward, no longer having passion or enthusiasm.

Our goal is to have balanced Fire energy along with all the other energy phases. By focusing on eating whole, unprocessed food we take a big step forward to achieving balance. There is important knowledge about the energy of the food we eat in The Five Transformation Theory. Our culture's simplistic views of diets and other 'health' fads do not incorporate this knowledge. I believe this is the missing link that we need to understand to create a healthy life. I see and feel unbalanced energy in the people I counsel on a regular basis. My goal is to help people understand this ancient knowledge
so they can apply it to their lives to create health and longevity. My cooking classes are based in this knowledge. To learn more, come to my cooking classes so you can learn how to incorporate this balanced approach to health in your life and experience how delicious balanced energy food can taste.

September - Late Summer - Earth Energy Phase

According to The Five Transformations Of Energy, it is Late Summer, or what is sometimes referred to as Indian Summer and that means we are entering the Earth energy phase. For those who are not familiar with The Transformations, let me elaborate on the subject. The Five Transformations Of Energy is the ancient Chinese study of the energy of nature and how it relates to us and our health. It is studied and used in Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and some forms of martial arts. I have been studying and applying the theory in my own life for over 20 years. It may seem foreign at first when you hear about it, but the knowledge is self evident when you learn about how each season, or energy phase, connects with a certain part of our body and the foods we eat.

During the Late Summer Earth energy phase we are harvesting and gathering. Considered the center of everything, it is the most balanced energy time of year. Earth energy is considered grounding. This is where we get our resourcefulness, the ability to persevere, and our stability. We also find ourselves gathering together with our family in our homes more, as the days start to get shorter. Yellow is the color associated with this energy, the color of autumn.
The organs associated with this time of year are; spleen, pancreas, and stomach. Sweet is the signature flavor of this time, and naturally sweet foods nurture those organs. Creamy, sweet millet is the signature whole grain and chick peas are the bean for late summer. The spleen, pancreas, and stomach are some of the main organs that are effected by stress. They usually get upset when we find ourselves under too much stress. By eating the naturally sweet and creamy foods associated with this Late Summer time of year, we feed and nurture these organs and therefore helping your body deal with the stresses in every day life.
Some more foods associated with the Earth Energy phase are: cabbage, parsnips, pumpkin, winter squashes, rutabaga, sweet potato, almonds, pecans, apples, raisins, and cherries.
The emotions associated with this time of year are; compassion, self-assurance, and thoughtfulness. When our Earth Energy is balanced, we have a great capacity for compassion and consideration for the feelings of others. If Earth energy is imbalanced, we can fall in to the dept of self-pity or lose our ability to deal with life at any level. When Earth energy is depleted or blocked we seek compassion from those around us, in fact we demand it. We can take on the persona of the whining, complaining weak victim. To achieve balanced Earth energy, incorporate the food associated at this time of year in your diet.

October - Cooking for the Fall Season with Ginger

Fall, with all its magical colors, is here. According to the Five Transformations Of Energy (the ancient study of how nature is related to us) this is the time of year when we feed and nurture our lungs and large intestines. These organs represent the seat of our strength. Without being able to breath and assimilate our food we could not live. The signature whole grain for this season is brown rice. And the bean is soybeans, which are mostly eaten in the form of tofu, tempeh, and miso. And the signature flavor is pungent. Any food that has a pungent flavor feeds the lungs and large intestines. Some examples of pungent foods would be; garlic, raw onions, radishes, daikon, and ginger. The emotions that are associated with this energy phase are optimism and self discipline.

Ginger is native to South Eastern Asia. There are ancient texts that mention ginger from China and India. Well known for it being effective in treating motion sickness and nausea, it can also relieve heart burn. Most interesting is ginger's strong anti-inflammatory properties. It contains a compound calledgingerols which can help relieve the pain from arthritis. Recently there have been some studies about ginger's effectiveness with treating both ovarian and colon cancer. When buying ginger, look for pieces that are not dried out. Once you have brought it home, the best way to store it is in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator.

November -Cooking for the Holidays

Holiday cooking is upon us again and, for some people, it can be challenging to remain true to your healthy lifestyle during this decedent, rich, culinary time of year. I have spent the last 20 years creating and perfecting standard holiday dishes that I now cook with a healthy flare.

Some rules of thumb to remember when you are first starting out on your healthy holiday menu is keep it simple. You do not want to over whelm yourself at first, so stick to what you know. If you have a recipe that you make on a regular basis do not discount it just because you think it is not special enough for the holidays. You can spruce up the recipe to make it more rich for the holiday dinner table, such as adding a little more fat. Good quality fats, such as olive oil or tahini, can be added to most recipes to create a richer taste.

Adding a little extra spices to your dishes can also make them special for the holidays. Sage is the signature spice for stuffing and can be added to any brown rice or millet dish you are creating for the holidays. Thyme and rosemary are also great spices to add to your dishes, and all three taste very good together. Also adding nuts, such as walnuts or pecans, imparts wonderful flavor and texture to dishes making them richer and extra special for the holidays.

December - Brown Rice Syrup

When asked what is my favorite sweetener to use I always answer, brown rice syrup. Unfortunately most people have not heard of it, which makes it the best kept health food secret. I make all kinds of desserts with brown rice syrup, from cookies, cakes, and pies, to candies, fudge, jams, and so much more. As the name implies, it is made from brown rice, which is a whole grain complex carbohydrate, a staple in all of our ancestor's diet.The brown rice syrup is produced when naturally occurring enzymes convert the starch in the grain to sugar. The process retains the vitamin and mineral content of the brown rice. And being made from a complex carbohydrate, the sugar that is produced is maltose.

Maltose is the least reactive sugar there is, it releases slowly into your blood stream. Unlike white sugar or sucrose which releases very quickly into the blood stream and reeks havoc with all the organs in your body. Brown rice syrup and the maltose in the syrup will not spike your blood sugar. For that reason it is considered the healthiest sweetener.

It has a mild sweet taste that is satisfying. However, if you have been using sweeteners that are very sweet, it may not be sweet enough for you at first. If you stick with the brown rice syrup, it will taste sweet after you give up all those intensely sweet foods that are not good for you. You will find it in a jar at you local health food store, or even some main stream grocery stores now carry it. It is thick and sticky like honey.

When measuring it, coat your measuring cup and spatula with a little oil and the syrup will slid right off instead of sticking.

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