HALE AND HEARTY FOR WINTER
I have been in love with the concept of seasonal energy for decades. After all, it is not merely about just changing your wardrobe; it’s about adapting your diet to suit the environment and ‘Living’ with the Seasons. When I see people eating cold salads for lunch or ice-cream for dessert in winter it makes me shiver. Make this warming bean soup and medicinal tea below and incorporate both into your winter eating plans.
My interest in health and nutrition over the past 30 years eventually led me to the macrobiotic approach to eating. When applied with common sense this is a very flexible way of eating. It reflects the connection between humanity and the planet –it is an ecological approach to eating and I love it.
Modern macrobiotic dietary principles have developed over the past 50 years in America, Europe and Asia. They are based on the philosophy of Asian medicine as practised in China and Japan. These concepts reflect physical, environmental and social observations over a period of more than 5000 years. Although the philosophy bears little relationship to Western nutritional science, the conclusions are very similar.
The macrobiotic approach to eating focuses on assisting the body to recover from nutritional stress, often the result of the modern diet, and return to a more sensible state of biological balance. The diet helps the body exercise its own self-healing capacity. Try the healing tea I suggest below and give your Kidneys some T.L.C during the cold damp months of winter. Go one step further and have your partner or friend treat you to a ginger compress; it’s heaven on earth. Of course, they will expect a treatment in return! so enjoy sharing this restorative home remedy.
It’s all about balance! The study of yin and yang energy is useful but is complemented in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) by the theory of the Five Transformations. The dynamic interaction between yin and yang does not produce a universe of simply black and white. Because of the infinite possibilities of yin and yang interaction, each with varying degrees of dominance, a wide variety of energetic qualities is possible. This is just like the water of a river that changes its character dramatically from rapids to waterfalls to silent ponds, before eventually flowing into the sea. The primary energy of nature expresses itself with incredible diversity, but it is the appearance that changes and not the primary reality of the water.
In TCM and Macrobiotics each season of the year is represented by an energy that dominates. Spring is dominated by TREE energy that rises and is the birthing of vegetal life. Summer is represented by FIRE – the energy of the sun and the season of abundance. As the energy of the summer wanes there is a swing season, late summer, when energy starts to settle – this is the time of SOIL. Autumn is ruled by METAL energy, when energy concentrates and settles into the earth. This settling and contracting energy is coiled and then released into WATER, the energy that animates winter before rising to continue the cycle.
The concept of seasonal eating is a basic principle in traditional health care systems from around the world. The truth is that people didn’t use to have much of an option. When you don’t have refrigerators and developed transportation systems, you eat what grows when it grows and learn to naturally preserve it, or you find out which foods can be safely stored.
One of the reasons that more people are drawn to this way of eating is that it supports regional self-sufficiency. If we can eat the foods that are produced closer to home it is better for the environment. Another reason to let the seasons guide us in food choices is that it is healthier. With enough flexibility to make a varied diet, the seasons give us what we need and serves as a guide for better health choices.
Hale & Hearty in Winter
Winter is when the life energy of the earth settles deep within the soil. It is the time of moving within, both socially and physically. The energy of the body wants to move deeper and we have a tendency to conserve energy needed for warmth. We move indoors more and socialize with family and friends. There is a drift towards contemplation and reflection on the past seasons and making plans for the future.
As we approach the year-end and look forward to the New Year, the Northern and Southern hemispheres are experiencing seasons that are literally poles apart. Winter solstice is the day of the year (normally 21st December) when the sun is farthest south. It marks the first day of the season of winter and the shortest day of the year, in the sense that the length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset on this particular day is the minimum for the year.
Winter is ruled by the WATER element, which is associated with the kidneys, bladder and adrenal glands. It is a time when nature is silent and still, and at rest. In order to rejuvenate the body and the mind, we also need rest and warmth. The kidneys are of paramount importance to overall physical health and are considered to be the most vulnerable organs at this time of year.
Exercises that help to generate heat and energy in the kidneys, such as certain Pilates and Yoga postures, are extremely beneficial. The kidney energy is also depleted in the winter by long hours of work, excessive exercise or punishing fitness regimes. Little rest, lack of sleep and eating cooling foods are inappropriate for this time of year. If we dampen the warmth of the body in the winter months we are susceptible to colds and fevers.
Health is greatly enhanced by going to bed earlier in the winter and eating good, wholesome hot foods, such as whole grains, legumes, stews, soups and warming dinners. This is the season to give yourself permission for a lie in and to encourage yourself to go to bed early. If we take care of our energy in winter and guard against energy expenditure by cultivating quietness and contemplation, we will find ourselves feeling refreshed and healthy in spring.
The body heals and balances itself more quickly when we are still and deeply relaxed. From a place of stillness and deep reflection, we are able to flow with life and change our attitudes, perceptions and life habits with less resistance and personal drama. Nurturing the WATER element is the best way to ensure a long life.
The cooking and food choices outlined for winter are all about warming the body and strengthening the WATER element. If a person is living on a diet all year round that is better suited to hot climates or warm months, they may suffer damage to the kidneys, adrenal glands or sexual organs. The lower areas of the body or kidneys may feel cold, sexual energy may diminish or there may be a weakness in the bones. How many times have you heard someone say that they were chilled to the bone? Cooking for winter can be helpful when the body is locked into a cold condition.
Azduki Bean (Shepherd’s Pie)
2 cups dried azduki beans
Small piece kombu
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 onion finely diced
1 clove garlic
1 tsp each of oregano, rosemary and thyme
1 stalk celery finely sliced
1 cup leafy greens, chopped into small pieces
1 cup stock of your choice (I use dashi stock) for the rich umami taste
1 cup cooked millet
½ cooked cauliflower (steamed or boiled)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dried chives or ¼ cup fresh, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
Soak beans overnight with a postage size piece of kombu and cook until soft (approximately 45 minutes if using stovetop.) 25 minutes if using a pressure cooker.
Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan and fry onion, garlic and herbs in oil until soft. Add celery and greens and stock. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 175c/350f Combine cooked millet and cauliflower in a bowl and mash with oil, chives, salt and as much water as needed to make a smooth mixture.
Stir the greens mixture into the beans and spoon all into a casserole, baking dish or I prefer to use individual pie dishes so each person has their own ‘pie’ Top with the cauliflower and millet topping. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until nicely browned and serve as is or with a shitake gravy poured over the top.
Note; you can purchase canned organic azduki beans to save time in cooking the dried beans.
Aduki Bean Tea
Great for strengthening the kidney/bladder/adrenal function
Soak 1 cup of adzuki beans and a 2 inch strip of kombu seaweed for 4 or more hours. Discard the water and add the beans and kombu to a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil then simmer for 25 minutes. Strain out the beans and drink the liquid when hot. You can store this tea in the refrigerator and re heat for a second or third cup. Add more water to the pot and continue cooking the beans until soft to the bite. And the good news is you now have the beans to make your sheperd’s pie. Clever or what!
Adzuki bean tea is one of the easiest teas to make and it’s wonderful for the kidneys. Medications that many people take put a lot of stress on the kidneys couple that with adrenal exhaustion, or fever, and your kidneys become completely overloaded. This tea helps lift the load.
If you’re new to the adzuki bean (also known as azuki or aduki) they pack such an incredible nutiritional punch for such a tiny bean. They are LOADED with protein and also contain calcium, thiamine, niacin, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and a lot of folate.
There are over 200 delicious healthy seasonal recipes in my book ‘Macrobiotics for all Seasons’ available worldwide on amazon.
In good health