Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Year in Sedona: Feast On Your Life

Chapter 4
Feast On Your Life


          We have always feasted, in huts and palaces and temples, in an instinctive gesture of gratitude to our gods for the good things that have come to us. It is our way of admitting, subconsciously or not, that hunger is more than a problem of belly and guts, and that the satisfying of it can and must and does nourish the spirit as well as the body.     --MFK Fisher

            The seeds of a new relationship with our muse planted upon arrival in Sedona had begun to blossom and as I wondered how best to nourish this budding connection, I had an epiphany. We should remodel our kitchen. I revealed this illumined thought to Louis with great fervor: "You, seeds, nourishment!" I imagined my argument as beguiling and persuasive, reminding him that traditionally the kitchen had always been the real heart of a home, the creative center where the muse lives, the place where we nourish body, mind and spirit. And so forth. I explained why my idea was  a) timely b) feasible and c) necessary and summed up with "Think about it, this is the perfect way to honor our muse!"

             Louis, versed in the arts of carpentry, had always been a solid, steady and self assured presence in matters of remodeling as they had arisen over the years. He knew down to the nail, board and penny what would be involved in such an undertaking and replied in  his stodgy, reasonable and determined fashion,  a) maybe, b) not really, and c) no. The line must be drawn, he said, at such a massive, messy and expensive way to pay homage to the guiding spirit of nourishment and creativity. Sparing you the details of our spirited back and forth on this, I will tell you that all my enthusiastic and rational argumentation came to nothing. He won this one and we agreed to continue our body and soul renewal with a more modest, but still creative endeavor. We would review our diet. 

           After a certain age, the truth is that less is more and simplicity is the essence of elegance, which is not to say that some comfort food dishes from childhood can ever be replaced (creamy macaroni and cheese, the occasional brownie, pizza, and double dip chocolate ice cream sundae). Butfresh push for  a diet embraced by time honored world cookery traditions meant giving even more attention to whole grains, beans and nuts, fruits, vegetables and fish. Hello! I'd heard about some Ayurvedic cooking classes offered by a local yoga center and in the spirit of innovation and change, I signed up for one. It turned out to be one of the true delights of our first year in Sedona.

           A cooking adventure with a really good teacher is a creative encounter with the muse of conscious cookery. Our class had six people, most with some knowledge and experience of Ayurveda. Our chef  and teacher Melissa was an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner, knowledgeable and completely at home in the yoga center's rustic kitchen. Grouped together around the prep counter next to the stove we could all observe and savor the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the lunch as it took shape in all its sensual detail. Watching Melissa sift and shape a cacophony of familiar and new ingredients to  produce something whole and beautiful from a jumble of disparate parts was a first rate creative adventure, at least from my perspective. The whole things set stomachs to purring appreciatively as the oohs and aahs grew louder. The periodic tastings were interspersed with lively instruction on the essential details of spice selection, pot stirring, as well as how one could best pay homage to Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of cooking.

        The main event was Kitchari, a sumptuous mung bean + rice  stew celebrated for its supremely nourishing qualities, easily digestible and inherently healing with its variety of warming spices and and herbs. Coriander, turmeric, cumin, fennel, salt, cardamom and hing as well as cilantro, ginger and lime as garnish held court to produce the six tastes, achieving the delicate balance necessary for true health: salty, sweet, sour, pungent, astringent and bitter. As the stew simmered, Melissa popped in some sliced zucchini, carrots and chopped chard and there it was in all its savory wonder. 

      Next up, the real star of the show. Dessert was a saffron, honey and cream cheese stuffed date production that delivered as promised. If you haven't ever tried this delight, rush right on out to the store and get the goods. After our cooking class I whipped up this delight and served it the next night at a small soiree here at the house (I'm sure I don't need to tell you it was the highlight of the evening). 
         Feeling nourished in body, mind and spirit was the real point of the class, something that became clear at the end. Topics close to the heart not usually found in a cooking class had taken a real and important place in the course of our three hour adventure in conscious cookery. Personal narrative was shared with a welcoming smile, ditto memories of growing up as kids helping out in the kitchen. Conversation about how and why we got interested in the art of Ayurvedic cookery and feelings about the art of nourishing our loved ones through food were on the table too. An easy flow made possible by a sweet creative spirit hovering above us (Annapurna?) enhanced our feelings of having been part of something bigger and better. By the time we sat down to a hearty bowl of Kitchari and dessert dates, everyone felt appreciated, included and nurtured. Such feelings are welcome anytime, appreciated even more on the way to wisdom's edge. I couldn't wait for the next class.

                                         Meeting Your Muse: Adventures In Creative Cookery

              Sometimes meeting the muse is as simple as stepping into your own kitchen to take an exotic foray into the world of Ayurvedic cooking and its amazing approach to creating healthy, life giving fare. Goodbye mummified food, RIP in your cellophane and cardboard caskets. Ditto canned and frozen vegetables. Grow your own even if you have to learn from scratch the art of vegetable growing or have to fashion an ornamental flower garden appropriate for an altitude of 4,500 feet, as we did. It helps of course, if you fall short, to have a thriving local local Farmer's Market only two blocks away.

      Ayurvedic translates into “knowledge of life” and is a 4,000 year old system of health and well-being that originated in India. The philosophy of Ayurveda offers a perspective on matters of health through diet and is a mini-medical system showing us what and how to eat. Almost any food can be useful for promoting health if it's fresh, in season and prepared in a conscious, loving manner. If you want to try this approach, it's likely you already have in your kitchen almost everything you need for giving the muse a free hand to create these aromatic wonders. How it's put together determines whether the essential spark of creativity will flourish.

     A little rice, a few mung beans, some stand by vegetables seasoned with an array of fabulous spices...hard to come up with anything more appealing than a steaming, sensuous pot of stew, brimming with fragrant spices and herbs known for their exotic taste, ancient healing properties and ease of preparation. There are numerous ways to create such a stew but this time honored recipe for Kitchari, a bean + rice stew, is one that never, ever disappoints.

Kitchari     The basic staple of the Ayurvedic world of cooking, renowned for its cleansing and grounding properties, this Kitchari recipe was developed by Dr. Vasant Lad, Ayurvedic practitioner, teacher, author and founder of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


* Enough Ghee (clarified butter) to cover bottom of cooking pot large enough for four cups of Kitchari
* 1/2 teaspoon each of coriander, and cumin
* pinch of asafoetida (hing)
* 1/4 teaspoon each of cardamom, cinnamon and ground fennel seed
* 3/4 teaspoon turmeric
*1 teaspoon ground Celtic or pink Himalayan salt
* 1/4 cup white basmati rice, rinsed well in cold water and drained
* 1/2 cup mung beans, soaked overnight prior to cooking
* 3 1/2 cups water
* 1 cup each chopped zucchini, carrots, chard
* Garnish with cilantro, lime and ginger to suit

        Cover bottom of pot with ghee. Add the spices in order listed and warm until fragrant. Drain the mung beans and add them to the pot along with the rice. Stir until all is coated with the spice mixture. Add the water and bring to a boil.
Stovetop: Once mixture has boiled,  lower the heat to simmer, add vegetables and cook fora simmer for 30-45 minutes until well done. 
Pressure cooker: Seal lid and let pressure build on high heat. When the top starts hissing, turn the heat down to medium and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand (don't open!) for about an hour and it will slowly depressurize. Then open and stir vigorously until all is well mixed.
Saffron Cream Cheese Stuffed Dates      For dessert who doesn't want something that's sensual but sensible (hoping that's not a serious oxymoron). Why can't we do something free of artificial sweeteners, problematic carbs and complicated sauces, something like this: Fat, happy dates stuffed with exotic saffron, sweet honey and silky cream cheese. If you want to, substitute soft tofu for the cream cheese, works great. Nourishing to the reproductive system and heart, this Ayurvedic favorite is easy and looks fabulously inviting. From a recipe by Ysha Oakes, this is a little nugget of "ojas" (vitality & energy), nourishing to the reproductive system and heart. Let cream cheese soften at room temp and puree all ingredients together in food processor. Slice dates open, remove pit, then spoon cream cheese into date. Also makes great cake frosting! 

Ingredients 1 package organic cream cheese
3 T flax oil
2 T raw honey
12 threads saffron (soaked in a few spoonfuls warm water)
5 drops lemon essential oil (or 2 t minced zest and squeeze of  juice)
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t  each cardamom and ground dried ginger