Candy corn, pumpkin spice, and seasonal eating

Scroll to the end for seasonal recipe ideas if you don’t want to read my rant!

We crave the foods the earth offers

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What’s the deal with pumpkin spice flavored everything? Why do we go so nuts for manufactured foods like candy corn, Shamrock Shakes, Cadbury Creme Eggs and so on? I’ve seen this insight attributed to Michael Pollan - that ultimately we crave seasonal eating at a deep ancestral level so we flock to these commercial substitutes (let me know if you have a source on this - it’s not original to me).

Once strawberries, oysters, pheasant, asparagus, peaches and fresh churned butter were transient seasonal delicacies, enjoyed for their fresh, once a year flavor, as well as the health benefits that our ancestors reaped from eating seasonal foods. Modern agribusiness has cut us off from the rhythms of the earth and sold our ancestral heritages back to us as pumpkin spice m&ms.

My family in Canada sometimes mocks my commitment to seasonal local eating, given that I live in California, with a 12 month growing season, surrounded by farms producing some of the world’s tasty produce all year long. I ate seasonally and locally when I lived in Toronto as well, and there were a lot of apples and beets during the winter, I’m not going to lie. On balance eating seasonally is generally tastier (and more frugal) as we eat the foods when they are at their best, and can enjoy heirloom varieties that won’t withstand the rigors of transport and supermarkets. We also gift ourselves with the intense pleasure of eating a food for the first time in the year (in Judaism, we have a special blessing to acknowledge the wonder of that moment - the taste of the first strawberry of spring, the first peach of summer, the first pomegranate of fall)

Your perfect diet

A central tenet of Traditional Chinese Medicine and many traditional and holistic approaches is that there is no one size fits all approach. In modern Western culture, we quest constantly for the ‘perfect human diet’ (in fact there’s a best selling book by that name) but let me break it to you. There is no such thing.

Western science is only starting to understand the barest glimmer of how food and nutrition actually interacts with our body processes, and is continually exasperated by contradictory findings when it tries to study whether a particular food or macronutrient or diet is ‘healthy’ or not. The dualism of dominant western thought endlessly strives to judge whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ but this profoundly misunderstands the nature of reality. Your genes, your age, your lifestyle, the climate where you live, your history, what you ask of your body - all of these deeply affect what is ‘’healthy’ for you. Fortunately, we don’t need to wait a couple of thousand years for Western dietitians to figure this out - we have the wisdom of all our ancestors and traditional knowledge available to us.

One thing I have come to understand in recent years is that the toll of modern ‘foods’ including food processing, additives, intensive hybridization, genetic modification, as well as environmental degradation and toxic exposures has resulted in an even more challenging situation for many people, where what appear to be natural whole foods cannot be tolerated. There are folks whose health restricts them from certain foods - like wheat - that are cornerstones of traditional diets. But is it really wheat as our ancestors or even other countries know it? Witness the common phenomenon of North Americans with wheat or grain intolerances who are able to eat bread and grains in Europe or Asia without symptoms. Undoubtedly being on vacation can reduce our stress load and improve our digestion, but in fact there are measurable differences between American and European wheat and bread.

Understanding the properties of food

In Traditional Chinese Medicine we learn that all foods have different properties. These are based on the Five Flavors, each of which has different effects in the body. This enables us to understand foods as active, interactive substances that we can combine and use for pleasure, nourishment and healing.

The Five flavours are: Pungent, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Sweet. Different seasons have affinities for different flavors, and we benefit from emphasizing that flavor in the right season. This approach to food can be a study in its own right, but I really believe it is accessible to any home cook who is interested in this approach. Soon it becomes second nature to choose and modify recipes in harmony with the season or with particular needs or conditions of those who will be eating. It’s really just part of cooking to think about complementary flavors and properties - you are already doing it when you choose what to make for dinner!

There are a variety of cultural approaches to this, and I recommend exploring Ayurvedic sources like Acharya Shunya’s Ayurvedic Lifestyle Wisdom or the works produced by the Weston A. Price Foundation which promotes traditional eating from a European perspective. The Tao of Nutrition by my teachers Dr. Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease is a friendly introduction to the specifics of the TCM energetics of foods, and I love the recipes in Daverick Legget’s Recipes for Self-Healing. California based Jessica Prentice’s book Full Moon Feast is probably my number one recommendation for the North American resident looking to eat seasonally.

So, where to begin? Where you are of course! If you’re in the US, visit www.seasonalfoodguide.org for a fun interactive listing of what’s currently in season in your area (you can even get the app!)

Foods and flavors of Late Summer:

The Earth element rules late summer, and conveys a sense of both transitions and neutrality - neither here nor there. The direction associated with the Earth element is none -  the center. Foods that support the Earth element often carry its associated color of golden orange or yellow, as well as being relatively neutral or sweet in taste, grounding, comforting and calming. As we move from the expansive activity of summer to the challenges of Fall, and the often frantic pace of modern life including returning kids to school, projects on overdrive to finish out the calendar year, accelerating towards the frenzy of the holiday season, these weeks are ones where emphasizing simple, comforting and easy to digest foods is a blessing.

Gorgeous golden seasonal foods in California right now include persimmons, cantaloupe, winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes

Meals to try could include squash soup (or squash curry with meat or legumes for a one pot meal), carrot salad with raisins, or lentil dal over baked sweet potatoes. All of these are easy to make ahead, pack for lunch, or heat up quickly at the end of busy day for a peaceful, centered meal that will nourish you body and soul.

Foods and Flavors of Autumn

The Metal element rules autumn, and conveys an energetic sense of contraction, withdrawal, the harvest and the in-breath. We are gathering-in and preparing for winter, darkness and the quiet and restful time of the year (in theory!). Metal and autumn are associated with the lungs, skin and respiratory system - and we certainly know this as the onset of cold and flu season. The pungent or spicy flavor, which warms the body and opens the lungs is the associated flavor - our friend pumpkin spice, with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger and allspice does both these things, and is a wonderful example of a medicinal, seasonal food (when not in m&m form!) Metal is associated with the color white and many white foods help alleviate dryness, considered the most common cause of illness and dis-ease during autumn. We can cook longer, slower dishes, infusing them with warmth and helping us to slow down.

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Seasonal autumnal foods which reflect the autumnal white color - the blanching of the vibrancy of late summer and the contraction of the natural world include pears, apples, bok choy and cabbage, celery root, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, endive, turnips and mushrooms. Most of these are also beneficial for the lung system. Pears are a traditional remedy for lung ailments and western researchers have identified a mucus thinning component in pears which helps people with asthma breathe easier

Meals to try are roasted cauliflower soup (roast florets in the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, then puree with chicken stock), chopped celery root and fennel salad, leek and potato soup, and poached pears. Here’s my recipe. (Oh and pick up some good quality pumpkin spice blend or make your own - a wonderful addition to poached pears or baked apples!)

Poached Pears - serves 4

4 pears, any variety
Water or tea to cover, about 4 cups (try Earl Grey for a taste of elegance)
Spices to taste: try cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, and star anise

For Asian pears, use an apple corer to hollow them. Regular pears can be cut in half and the core scooped out. Bring water or tea to a simmer in a medium sauce pan - add the pears and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, until the pears are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Lift out with a slotted spoon. Delicious with a drizzle of honey, a natural antimicrobial and lung moistener.

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TCMTalk for 2017 - Holistic Healing for The Times We've Been Given

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

This quote has been front of mind for me many times in my life, but never more so than in the months leading up to and following the American presidential election of 2016. These are grim days for those of us committed to a vision of world filled with diversity, with mutual care, with celebration, with love of our planet, and commitment to the future we leave for generations to come. Angelica & Peony and my work in the world is about healing - so even though being a potion maker and an acupuncturist may not seem inherently 'political,' it absolutely is.

Coming to the United States in my late 20s from Canada via Israel, I encountered a country without universal public health care for the first time. I was shocked to treat people as an intern at TCM school who would ask for herbs to treat serious infections. "I want you to see an MD, you may need antibiotics." or "I'd like you to have some tests so we can rule out some things" to be told "I don't have insurance, I can't afford to go to the doctor, that's why I'm getting treatment for my pneumonia at a student clinic for acupuncturists." I also vividly remember one of my first patients, a woman in her 70s with a severe heart condition. She was desperate for help to get back on her feet so she could return to work before she got fired. Every acupuncturist and healer I know has suffered with their patients for whom crushing economic and social realities stand in the way of health and well-being.

Denise and I have spent time discussing how we can contribute to what is and must become a growing national and global movement for the human future. As well as our personal activism, we are dedicating this year's episodes of TCMTalk, our video series about Traditional Chinese Medicine and holistic healing, in support of activists - all of us.

Join us through the year as we explore the energy of each season with a special focus on connections to activism and resilience, and ideas for self and other care to help us all stay as sane and healthy as we can. We begin at the beginning with Spring! Denise explores the element of the season, Wood, how to find balance, and common issues that we can be especially prone to at this time of year. Kirsten gets specific with her best advice for getting good sleep - especially when faced with imbalances in the Wood Element characterized by stress, anger and waking in the middle of the night.

You can watch all the TCMTalk videos on our YouTube channel - subscribe to get notified whenever a new video comes out!

You can also find us on social media like facebook, twitter, pinterest and of course e-mail!

Denise and I will also be combining our activism and our healing at a great event on April 30th - Karma Clinic. We'll be offering Element balancing aromatherapy acupressure treatments, using unique essential oil healing blends that we've developed over the past year. All proceeds go to benefit Planting Justice. See the schedule for the day and book now with Energy Matters.

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Friday Roundup, May 20, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

Podcasting about Pain: I'm super excited to have met Shelly Jackson, a coach who works with those living with chronic pain. Next week she's launching PAINIAC, the first ever podcast for mindful pain management. I've donated some A&P balms to a lucky listener, and I'm so happy that she's bringing this much needed resource into the world. Check out her website Peaceful Body Coaching, for more, and join the virtual launch party live on May 25 for inspiring, informative listening for people living with chronic pain or illness and the awesome people who love them.

The Story of Lead Poisoning: The Nightly Show on Comedy Central made this depressing yet hilarious and very informative short explaining how the US came to have a lead poisoning epidemic. Get your depressing history lesson with a side of laughs.

Jojoba Happiness: I LOVE jojoba oil. I quickly became a convert when I started making my own skin care products, and it's now a key ingredient in all my facial serums as well as hair oil. It's a skin and hair care superhero, and it's local too - I get mine from organic farmers in Arizona. This article and infographic lay out just what's so special about jojoba and why you should be using it from head to toe!

Have a great weekend!

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Friday Roundup - April 28, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

The Trouble with Clean: I am always inspired by modern American herbalist matriarch Susun Weed. Today she shared one of her occasional essays, this one challenging the notion of 'clean' and cleanses.

"Where are we going to throw away that which we have cleaned away? What shall we do with the toxins, the filth, the disgusting waste, the foul, unneeded, unwanted, unloved parts? Where is far enough away? Can I ever get away from my shadow?" 

Rings of Power: I was mesmerized by these wood and resin rings that capture entire miniature worlds on your finger. Created by Vancouver jeweler Secret Wood, each one is handmade so no two are identical.

I love the cooking blog My Heart Beets, mostly paleo recipes by blogger Ashley. She has a great collection of Indian recipes, including lots of regional dishes. Her Coconut Egg Curry, a scrumptious and frugal dish of eggs simmered in a fragrant coconut sauce is on my menu this week.

Have a great weekend!

 

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Put your skin on a detox regimen - starting on your bathroom counter

Your skin needs a detox. Moisturizers, makeup, exfoliants, anti-perspirants, eye creams, body washes... the whole gamut of personal and beauty products that we happily pick up at the drugstore - or even the health food store, is populated by an unsavory cast of characters that are impacting your body even while they plump, hydrate, exfoliate or deodorize.  

The issue of dangerous ingredients in personal care products is one that's always resonated with me. It bothers me that these products primarily target women, affect our hormonal systems and cycles, as well as causing cancer, and often do all this by preying on self-hatred and unrealistic beauty standards. Break free! give your body and your spirit a break by lowering the toxic load on your body and detoxing your mind from social constructs of beauty!

You can read in-depth on this issue at Skin Deep - the database of skin care ingredients and safety produced by the Environmental Working Group. You can get active on this issue by visiting Breast Cancer Action, whose 'Poison Isn't Pretty' campaign aimed to stop the Personal Care Products Council from giving breast cancer survivors and those in treatment 'gift baskets' laden with cancer causing ingredients.

Here's my 4 step skin detox to give your bathroom this month. Denise Cicuto of Cicuto Acupuncture and I will be talking about natural skin care on TCM Talk all February, so join us on Periscope live on February 11 or 26, and comment here with any questions about non-toxic alternatives, your fave products or Chinese medicine and your skin! #getyourglow #tcmtalk

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