BY LINDA EGENES

simone delaty

Simone Delaty’s renowned slow dinners embody what great meals are all about. (Photo by Kurt Michael Friese)

The  first time I drove through the Italian heartland, I thought I’d entered heaven. Romantic medieval villages, rolling hills sculpted with vineyards and olive groves, and, of course, the food. Whether we ate in a family-owned trattoria, shopped in colorful outdoor markets, or frequented tiny frutta e vedura (fruit and vegetable shops), locally grown produce was everywhere. And it tasted amazing—the mineral-rich Italian soil yielded raspberries the size of your thumb and zucchini tasting like manna.

I remember solemnly telling my husband and friends, “You know, we could have this in Iowa.” They eyed me warily, wondering if my brain had fried in the Tuscan sun. But I didn’t mean the castles or winding roads or Renaissance art. I meant the food. Because even on that first  brief visit, I glimpsed how the small family farm was the living heart of Italy’s vibrant rural culture.

In his book A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland, Chef Kurt Michael Friese takes us on a culinary journey as delectable as any Italian countryside’s—except this particular feast for the senses is happening right here in the heartland of America.

As a national board member of Slow Food USA and co-owner of the celebrated Devotay restaurant in Iowa City, Chef Friese knows good food when he sees it. Over the course of four years, he traveled to 13 heartland states in search of people who champion Slow Food. The book is a collection of his informal essays about the various farmers, chefs, food artisans, and organizations that he encountered.

What’s Slow Food?

You can think of Slow Food as the opposite of fast food, and everything industrial, tasteless, and exploitive that fast food represents. Friese points out that eating is a political act, a moral act, and a philosophical, even religious act. He defines Slow Food in simple terms: “If the food is raised with care, prepared with passion, and served with love, then it is ‘Slow’ food no matter who makes it.”

a-cooks-journey-slow-food-in-the-heartland-kurt-frieseThe Slow Food movement started (you guessed it) in Italy, when folks protested the first MacDonald’s opening at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. Unlike its name, since its beginning in 1986 Slow Food spread quickly—around the world and most enthusiastically in America, mainly along the coasts. In 1999 Friese founded the first Slow Food convivium in Iowa (today one of five). He wrote this book partly to show that Slow Food is not a coastal phenomenon—in fact, he points out, many of the world’s most cherished food traditions are from the rural centers (think Tuscany or Provence or Sichuan).

The essays are as easy to read as a chat over the back fence, seasoned with deft character sketches and sprinkled with recipes tested and tweaked by Chef Friese (making the recipes alone worth the price of the book). Infused with the consummate chef’s love for good food and good living, Friese dishes his philosophy with a spoonful of brie, so to speak, skillfully weaving the tenets of Slow Food with sensual descriptions of heat coming off a just-picked heirloom tomato or the nutty flavor of Walloon, a raw-milk goat cheese from Missouri.

In one of the Iowa vignettes, you’ll meet the French immigrant Simone Delaty, dubbed Iowa’s “Queen of Slow Food” by CBS’s Sunday Morning news crew, who raises chickens and vegetables and flowers on her bucolic farm in Wellman. Using her own vegetables and eggs, she cooks private dinners—sold out months in advance—and serves them on her screened porch. She calls her cuisine “plain and simple,” which Friese interprets as “simple farmhouse cooking made with generations of French technique.”

Preserving Variety

While there are many eye-openers in the book, the description of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, one of the world’s largest guardians of heirloom seed diversity, hit close to home. It was sobering to read that today only 30 plant varieties feed 95 percent of the world’s population.

By collecting some 24,000 heirloom seeds from around the world and making them available to its 8,000 members around the world, Seed Savers is possibly the most biodiverse place on the planet. The orchard alone, which is open to the public, contains 700 varieties of 18th century apples. This sounds like a lot, until you read in the next sentence that in 1899 there were 8,000 apple varieties recorded.

The Quiet Revolution

One thing I like about foodies—they don’t dwell too long on problems. Although Friese touches on the bureaucratic snafus some of the organic growers have encountered, referring humorously to the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” he mainly points to the ways our heartland foodscape is rapidly changing for the better.

He talks about a quiet revolution that is taking place, noting that today Iowa has more farmers’ markets per capita than any other state. And throughout the Midwest, he observes, “Where once a restaurant might be judged by the distant and exotic sources of its ingredients, today the best restaurants are known for getting their food from just down the road.”

Friese is eclectic, featuring deer, buffalo, and mulefoot hog ranches alongside the Dragonfly Neo-V—Columbus Ohio’s world-class vegan restaurant. He is also inclusive, explaining that although not everyone featured in his book is an official member of the Slow Food movement, they are still important contributors. “So many are and don’t know it,” Friese muses. As readers, we can become part of the Slow Food movement, too, he reassures us, just by planting a garden, shopping at a farmers’ market, or visiting a farm.

“As I have so often said, if you think about the very best times in your life, I’ll bet that most of them were spent around a table with great food in front of you and the people you love all around,” Friese writes. “If the Slow Food Movement is about anything, it is about making many of those moments possible.”

Reading this book is like sitting down to a home-cooked feast with new friends and old—the best kind of food for the soul.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, September 2008. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_4482We’ve all heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” To most people this means simply that the vitamins, carbs, and proteins in food build the cells, blood and bones of your body.

But according to Maharishi Ayurveda, “You are what you eat” means something far more subtle and powerful. Food is known to directly influence your consciousness and feelings. It can create bliss or anger, contentment or restlessness, thoughts of the sacred or the profane. In Ayurvedic diet, the quality of the food you eat literally creates your state of mind, emotions and consciousness.

 Prepare Food for Happiness

Foods that are whole and unadulterated contain more of the intelligence of nature, and thus create more vitality, alertness and happiness when you eat them.

Just think of this example: if you eat an ayurvedic meal composed of fresh, organic vegetables, whole grains and dhal (lentils) lovingly cooked in delicious spices and garnished with panir (fresh cheese) and fresh-fruit chutney, how will you feel afterwards? Contented and satisfied. Now consider how you’d feel after eating a meal consisting of canned vegetables, processed foods, or food fried in unhealthy oils—or food served at a fast-food restaurant. The result might be dullness or a feeling of lack of wellness.

Ayurveda gives a name—tamasic—to such foods that create dullness, disease and even aggressive behavior in the people who make a steady diet of them. Tamasic foods may include leftovers; packaged, frozen, canned and processed foods; vinegar; red meat; alcohol; and any old, spoiled or rancid foods. Tamasic foods are anti-ojas (ojas is the finest and most refined product of digestion). They result in dull thinking, depressed emotions, and physical imbalances.

The foods you want to favor are the foods that have and create positive, spiritual qualities—they are called sattvic foods. Sattvic foods are wholesome, create bliss, heighten alertness, and are easy to digest. Sattvic foods include oranges; almonds; unheated honey; amalaki; rice and whole grains; milk; fresh, organic vegetables; and organic, sweet, juicy fruits such as mango, papaya and pear.

A diet consisting of easy-to-digest, sattvic foods is recommended for almost anyone desiring good health and is especially recommended for people who have chosen a spiritual path in life. These foods convert rapidly into ojas, the product of perfect digestion that in turn creates a glow in the skin, sparkle in the eye, and mental, emotional and physical balance.

Eat Food Cooked with Love

When you cook for your friends or family, it’s important to be in a happy frame of mind. Since ancient times, the ayurvedic texts have pointed out that the emotional state of the cook affects the quality of the food. This is why it’s ideal, in the ayurvedic view, to serve home-cooked meals whenever possible, because food cooked in a restaurant by strangers is unlikely to match the positive energy of a meal cooked by someone who loves you. It’s especially important to cook often for children. There is nothing to replace a mother’s (or father’s) love—a key ingredient in a child’s food.

When cooking, to the extent you are able to easily control your environment, focus on the food and make it a settled, conscious event rather than something thrown together under pressure. Turn off the TV, shoo the kids and pets out of the kitchen, and give yourself time to enjoy the simple act of smelling the spices, feeling the textures of the foods, playing with the colors, and having fun. Or, if your kids, friends or spouse like to help, get them involved, too. However it works for you, make meal preparation a happy time. Your positive thoughts and feelings make a meal a life supporting, sattvic act.

Eat in a Settled Environment

Finally, it’s important to eat your food in a settled, happy, and sattvic environment. This is actually a technique of ayurveda—creatively managing your environment. Make food and table arrangements attractive to the eye, and make sure the dining area is clean, pleasant and sunny, and the air is fresh. These things influence digestion.

Eating with family or good friends is ideal, while enjoying light, quiet conversation. Avoid intense discussions or arguments at the table, as this can interfere with proper digestion. Eating in silence if you are alone allows one to focus on the flavors of the food and the blessing and nourishment that it offers. The natural result will be better digestion. Resist the impulse to switch on the TV or radio. You will feel better and more settled when you create a more sacred, calm atmosphere around the act of eating.

Taking a few moments to give thanks for your food before eating is a universal practice. It’s a chance to remember that food is a living part of creation, and when you eat you are absorbing the infinite energy and intelligence of nature. Saying a prayer or giving thanks also gives you a chance to settle down after a busy day at the office, to give your digestion a chance to create ojas from your food. Ojas is the master ayurvedic biochemical that supports connectivity with nature and with others. Ultimately, eating is a sacred act—a privilege of that divine intelligence that sustains your every action. Preparing and eating food in this manner offers homage to that which is responsible for giving us life and sustaining our lives.

Finally, after the meal is finished, don’t rush off right away. Linger a few minutes at the table to help digestion begin properly and enjoy the opportunity to savor the satisfaction of sharing a delicious meal with those you love.

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], August 21,2012. Reprinted with permission.) 

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_0108Americans spend millions every year on expensive power bars and shakes to power up sagging energy levels or to replenish themselves after a workout.

If you’re spending your money on power bars, you might want to consider a different approach. Power foods are not a modern invention—Ayurveda has long recognized certain foods as natural but serious energy-boosters. The list includes fresh organic fruits, vegetables, spices, and whole grains. These foods are rich in chetna, a Sanskrit word for the healing and nurturing intelligence of nature. They are foods so lively with nature’s intelligence and purity that fatigue-causing toxins are less likely to accumulate in your body when they’re eaten.

The Secret Power of Ancient Grains

Athletes have long relied on the carbohydrates and proteins in grains for long-term endurance and energy. Yet not all carbohydrates are created alike. A croissant, for instance, is high in fat and low in nutrition. The most nutritious carbohydrates are whole organic grains, which have been found to support healthy cholesterol and blood glucose levels and promote a healthy immune response.

Maharishi Ayurveda considers organic rye, quinoa, amaranth and millet the most nutritious, because they are especially high in protein and minerals. They are also high in fiber, and because of that have a detoxifying value. These are the same auspicious grains that are described in the ancient Ayurvedic texts.

One-half cup of amaranth (measured dry), for instance, contains 14 grams of protein, 8 mg of iron, and also magnesium and zinc. The same amount of quinoa contains 13 grams of protein, 9 mg of iron and 3 mg of zinc. Rye is also high in protein, with one-half cup yielding 15 grams of protein and 4 mg of zinc. Millet is a good source of B vitamins. As mentioned earlier, all of them also contain carbohydrates that fuel your body for activity.

All of these grains contain copper, which is an essential trace mineral that improves energy and immunity, and their zinc content also boosts ojas, the finest product of digestion that creates lightness, inner energy, immunity and bliss.

How to Cook Power Grains

To prepare quinoa, rye, amaranth or millet, place two cups of water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add a teaspoon of organic ghee and one cup of the grain. Boil for ten minutes andthen lower to a simmer. The grain-to-water ratio is two cups of water to one cup of grain. Cook until the grain is tender (usually 20-30 minutes is enough).

High-Energy Fruits and Vegetables

Other high-energy foods include fresh organic vegetables, which should constitute forty percent of the meal. Green, leafy vegetables are especially high in minerals and fiber, so they should be eaten often.

Fruits are another great source of instant energy. You can start the day with a stewed apple, and if you feel hungry in between meals, try snacking on a ripe juicy pear. If you are feeling heavy and bloated after lunch, eat a fresh papaya as they contain enzymes that aid digestion. If you have strong digestion and more Pitta in your constitution, mangoes are a rich ojas-producing food. Half a mango contains 2 mg of beta-carotene and is a rich source of Vitamin C.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, grapes (or their dried counterpart, raisins) are among the best of fruits because they enhance sattva (purity), pacify the mind and heart, and increase the coordination between them. They are also a rich source of iron and Vitamin B6, and provide magnesium, calcium, zinc, and potassium. Raisins aid digestion and elimination when they are soaked in water overnight. One handful per person is a good amount. Nature’s massive source of Vitamin C and rejuvenation is Organic Premium Amla Berry. Every athlete should consider taking this incredible Ayurvedic herb. It contains five of the six tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. The only taste missing is salty. These five tastes give it a holistic, balancing effect on the doshas. Very few fruits have this quality. Amalaki is also a great Rasayana, revered in the Ayurvedic tradition. Rasayanas are the cream of Ayurvedic herbal substances, and have remarkable longevity-enhancing and rejuvenative qualities. Rasayanas also create ojas—the master biochemical of beauty, immunity and connectivity—in the body.

Date-Milk Energy Shake

A Date-Milk Energy Shake is a nourishing way to end the day, because it promotes sleep and calms both Pitta and Vata sleep imbalances.
4-5 whole dates (Medjool dates are ideal. If you use large Medjool dates, one or two is more than enough.)

1 cup whole organic milk (unhomogenized if possible)
1 pinch cinnamon powder

Soak the dates for several hours. Boil the milk until it creates a foam. Turn off the heat and cool until the temperature is comfortable for drinking. Combine the milk with the other ingredients and blend until the dates are ground up. Drink it warm in winter and at room temperature in summer.

Foods that Drain Your Energy

Just as there are foods to boost energy, other foods drain it. Any fast foods as well as canned, frozen, packaged, leftover, or old foods—or foods laced with preservatives, chemicals, and additives—are difficult to digest and contain little nutritional content.

If you do eat some of these foods, and you feel heavy after eating, drink half a glass of water with 1/4 of a fresh lime squeezed into it. Or eat a tablet of Herbal Di-Gest to aid digestion. If you feel occasional indigestion or heartburn, try Aci-Balance, as it works quite quickly.

But if you’re feeling dull, sluggish, and drained of energy every day, it could mean that your diet contains too many energy-draining foods, which have clogged your microcirculatory channels with toxins, called ama in Ayurveda. This is an opportunity to upgrade your diet to include delicious foods that create more ojas and energy.

Adding Ayurvedic spices to your food is an easy way to increase the value of chetna, or nature’s intelligence. Try sautéing cumin, coriander, fennel, and turmeric in ghee, then combine with sautéed or steamed vegetables or cooked grains. Or add spices to your drinking water to boost your energy. The important thing is to eat foods every day that boost your energy, rather than relying on artificial boosters when you feel your energy sag. Try Organic Churnas specifically formulated to pacify Vata, Pitta or Kapha doshas.

Your body is a magnificent expression of engineering and has the potential to generate all the energy you want. Toxins are a big impediment in this regard. That’s because circulation goesbeyond veins and arteries to minute channels that supply nutrients and energy for all the billions of cells in your body. When these channels are clogged with digestive impurities, then fatigue can set in.Top of FormBottom of Form Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus)is a revered traditional Ayurvedic digestion-toning formula usually taken daily before bed. Organic Digest Tone balances the digestive fire, called agni in Sanskrit. Agni represents the transformative intelligence of digestion. It is a process of great importance in the Ayurvedic health model because it is linked to immunity, beauty, energy and detoxification. Balanced digestion reduces ama, or toxins, increases ojas, the finest byproduct of digestion and aids your ability to assimilate nutrients from any other supplement or food. Fatigue Free is another product that helps you recover your energy. It is a combination of Ayurvedic herbs and minerals that help move ama out, reestablish the flow of energy and quickly support the building of new cells.

Cumin-Mineral Water

Prepare this Cumin-Mineral Water drink at home to promote your energy and digestive power.
1 quart water
1/4 tsp. whole cumin
1/3 tsp. whole fennel
2 pinches of licorice
1 tablet Calcium Support 

Boil the water first. Place it in a thermos and add the spices. Sip the water throughout the day to promote digestion and support your energy. If you are a Pitta constitutional type, you may want to let the water cool to room temperature before drinking.

Enjoy!

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], October 18,2012. Reprinted with permission.)