I was raised on meat and potatoes, the Standard American Diet (SAD). Sometimes when I need comfort food I go back, with modifiers. When I got together with my husband, he expected me to do the cooking. I was like, “Excuse me, didn’t you notice that hamburger patties and cottage cheese were my go to meals?” I bought cookbooks and started following the recipes. We moved to a remote Alaska community and I started learning how to can food. We didn’t have a refrigerator for the first few years so food that was canned was a priority. I canned salmon, halibut, venison, kelp salsa and a wonderful green found on the beach at low tide – “beach asparagus”. Our diets continued along the lines of the standard American diet while incorporating local foods.
LIVING OFF THE LAND was something that had always attracted me. I had come to Alaska with a stone wheat grinder under one arm and Carla Emory’s Old Fashioned Recipe Book under the other. I learned from the locals which mushrooms were edible. We would go “treasure hunting” in the fall collecting and drying mushrooms for our year round enjoyment. Then a wonderful woman came into our community to teach a class on wild foods and herbs. That opened up a whole new world for me. I found out which plants could be used for food and or medicine. We each had to pick one plant and study its food and nutritional purposes. I chose the dandelion as I had always been attracted to their happy color and faces. We learned how to harvest wild edibles and herbs with honor for the land and the gift we were receiving. We took our findings into the school kitchen and made amazing edible dishes, tincture’s, balms, salves and healing teas. One of the dishes I made with my dandelions was fritters, which turned out delicious. I also took those happy little flowers and dipped them in egg and breading and fried them. Those were also a tasty treat. Eating local became a whole new passion for me. If you didn’t know, dandelions have some amazing medicinal properties as well. Their roots are an amazing anti-inflammatory detoxifier for the liver and kidneys. It aids in many other ailments. I was lucky to live in a place where they had not been killed off with pesticides and herbicides. My medicine cabinet became a treasure trove of local plants made into tinctures and salves.
WHOLE FOODS COOKING – One day at our local post office I saw a poster for a “Whole Foods” cooking class. I knew the woman who was offering it ate differently at the community potlucks. They were very “picky” about what they ate as they followed a macrobiotic diet. I contacted her and inquired about the class and how much it had to do with macrobiotics. She said the right words to get me interested in the class, talking about eating local foods, whole foods not processed foods, healing physical ailments through food. I had read Diet for a New America by John Robbins and was ready to start changing our diets. In my collecting of cook books, I had also found an interest in eating healthy. Sugar Blues by William Duffy was tucked in between the recipe books, as was Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss.
The cooking class was held in the school kitchen and was several days long. The instructor introduced us to the history and principals of macrobiotics, then we started cooking. Rice, beans, seaweeds and vegetables. Miso and tofu and unleavened bread. Some of the tastes were very foreign to me. Some of them were easy enough to adjust to. I had no idea there were so many varieties of rice. I knew quite a few beans but I learned about humus, nut butters, and the delicious spreads that could be made.
After the class I went home and we cleaned out our pantry in preparation for all the new whole foods we were bringing in. We bought square buckets to store our rice, beans and grains in. I learned how to make Tofu and bought a tofu press. We bought a grain grinder and started grinding our own wheat, corn, eventually rice and garbonzo beans as we explored with gluten free options. My husband and I lost weight and felt fabulous, full of energy from the nutritious food we were consuming.
I cooked that way for several years then life changes took us back into more of the SAD way of eating as macrobiotics took planning and preparation. As much as we enjoyed it, the time crunch of our new changes didn’t allow for it. It was a choice. We put on weight, we didn’t have as much energy but life was good and we were doing what we thought was rightWe still employed some of the principals, foods and styles of preparation. . I had learned about the Environment Working Group’s “Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen”. If we couldn’t find or afford organic, we at least followed this guide for which foods were not saturated as much with pesticides and herbicides. I still enjoy “slow cooking” when I have time.
LIFE HAPPENS I will forever be grateful for my exposure to macrobiotic cooking and the change it made for us. While we were eating that way we felt the best we ever had. It exposed us to organic vegetables, which is something we never let go of. If you don’t understand the difference, try an organic carrot next to a regular carrot. The taste difference is as different as night and day. I understand the damage that the chemicals in things like Round-Up do to the land. I am not a gardener but I have friends who do and know that we can produce foods that are good for us and sustainable for the planet. That is a topic for another time.
LIFE CHANGES Fast forward to several years later when my husband and I had a role reversal. I was the one out making our living and he was the one at home taking care of meals, shopping and all the things it takes to maintain a home. It was a great change as he was always a better cook than I. He was one of those people who go into the kitchen, look in the fridge to see what was there and create an amazing meal with the resources available. He didn’t need to follow the recipes in the cookbooks as I had, he knew what tasted good.
After I retired we cooked together. He took the lead most of the time and I helped, cutting vegetables and taking on the baking. We never did go back to eating strict macrobiotic but continued to embrace whole foods, organic foods, foods that were natural with less processing. We used to love “Hoisen” sauce for stir-fry’s. Until we started reading labels, that is! We went to the store and looked at the ingredients of things we liked, then went home to the kitchen and created our own healthy versions. Memories of being in the kitchen with Keith are some of my most cherished.
FOOD AS MEDICINE When the spot on my face became an issue, we cleaned up our diet, still not eating strict macrobiotics but employing the things that felt right for me, based on the research we were able to do from our remote Alaska location. I began to adhere to a more alkaline diet. I also started a morning tonic of organic natural immune and metabolic boosting ingredients. We went gluten free for several months but really didn’t feel any changes in our health. At the time I had a “Jupiter” mill with which we ground our grains. It was fun exploring brown rice flour, garbanzo bean flour and of course the main reason we got it was to grind our own wheat and corn. We bought an attachment for it so we could mill our own oats. Oh MY MY, the difference between standard oatmeal we buy versus fresh milled oatmeal from oat groats was as amazing as the first time I did a comparison with organic carrots versus regular store bought carrots. It was so very delicious and I knew the nutritional value must be that much more.
When I moved to Hawaii after my husband’s death, I thought I would like to cook for someone, to help them heal. Little did I realize at that time that the cooking would be for me. Within the first month of moving here, I was diagnosed with stage three melanoma.
I ate pretty healthy as I started into cancer treatments with western medicine, which really doesn’t pay that much attention to diet from what I could tell. Prior to starting into radiation, the Universe aligned me with an amazing acupuncturist which introduced me to intermittent fasting. I had been an eater of small meals, every few hours. He helped me understand that my body couldn’t heal if it was always in digest mode. He then introduced me to an anti-inflammatory diet. He stressed the importance of it to help me battle the cancer. It opened me up to a new way of looking at gluten free – wheat being an inflammatory item. I loved bread but I wanted to live. Another thing my acupuncturist had me do was “eat a candy bar” a half hour before treatment. That way the cancer cells would open up, thinking they were being fed – making them more susceptible to the radiation. I didn’t eat regular candy bars, having avoided high fructose corn syrup since my early macrobiotic days. My little sister, who had come to help me through the treatments, and I would go to the health food store and find a different desert or treat every day. It was a fun way to make the radiation treatments more effective. I had learned to listen to my body while cooking macrobioticly. One time we went and had regular bakery donuts – a maple bar. Wow did that feel like a grease bomb in my body. Back to natural, healthier alternatives!!
Since that time, I have continued to pay attention to what I put into my body. I love to cook with natural foods, whole foods and try to feed my body the nutrition it needs. I see as I get older that those needs also change with activity levels. I continue to explore nutrition and recipes. I love to cook and share my creations with others. Baking is one of my things and I enjoy taking regular recipes and modifying them to use healthier choices of ingredients. I believe if I start with good quality healthy ingredients, whatever I am cooking will turn out great.
Living here in Hawaii now, I love cooking with local foods and am starting my study of medicinal properties of local plants.
Cooking is my passion. Food is the fuel for our bodies. Cooking with love makes food taste better, and that is a fact.