Foods Have Flavors And Flavors Have Directions
By Ellasara Kling
Five Element Theory provides a framework through which we can observe and understand the deeper connections between ourselves and Universal Flow/Natural Cycles throughout our lives. An understanding that has very practical applications at any given moment because we are able to utilize Five Element theory to deepen our understanding of the interrelationships of all things, and apply it to our lives. Truly, Five Element Theory is a way to understand the “10,000 things” which arise from the interaction of Yin/Yang. So, once again, we turn to Five Element theory to explore the current season, Winter and some of its relationships especially to food and general health. (The Five element chart below highlights Winter/Kidney Season.)
Winter Season is “ruled” by the Kidney function. According to the principles of Chinese medicine, it is within the Kidney that our innate qi, which we received from our parents, resides. This basic energy supports us throughout our lives and its preservation and, if possible, cultivation, is of utmost importance for a long and healthy life. During the course of our days, we acquire additional qi that we can use for daily living from the air, water, food we eat and energy cultivation practice. This acquired qi with our “prenatal” qi are what we rely upon to nourish our bodies and to protect us from external pathogens and support us in times of stress. Since our acquired qi is our first available resource and it can be more easily renewed than our prenatal qi, we want to keep that reserve strong and abundant for daily use. In contrast, we want to utilize our Kidney qi as infrequently as possible since it is a finite gift whose abundance and quality is a determinate of our health and longevity.
Even from the brief thumbnail sketch of qi reserves above, we can see the incredibly important role that Kidney qi plays in our lives. Winter has long been used as a metaphor for aging, death, dying, endings, withdrawal, and desolation. I suggest that we think about Winter this year from a different point of view. That we view Winter as the source of our new beginning (Spring), because without a strong Winter, our Spring and Summer will likely be less than they could have been. It is not mere whimsy or poetic allusions that caused the Sages of ancient times to pair Winter with Kidney. It was clearly from a deep understanding that without deep nourishment, restorative rest, storage and conservation of our energy, we would not be able to follow the depths of Winter with a bright, healthy and energetic Spring. By paying attention to the dictums of the Winter season and the needs of the Kidney system you will be creating better health for the year to come.
Here are some ideas of what to do this Winter to tonify and strengthen yourself. Get plenty of rest. Eat simple warming foods, especially soups, congees and warm cereals. Although Winter foods are denser (heavier) always keep to the guideline of only eating until 70% full. Refrain from eating greasy foods or overly processed foods. As much as possible, have meals that are made from fresh, unprocessed foods. Keep your feet warm. Gently tap your teeth together about 50 times a day. Choose foods that support you individually and are also seasonal. Spend time in meditation and/or inner reflection. Remember that the emotion for this season is fear so do things to keep your spirits up and bright – laugh and smile often.
Head/neck/ear massage: Starting at the center front of your head, place your “pinky fingers” next to each other along the hairline and let your other fingers fall naturally along the hairline and the thumb slightly behind the temples. With a firm but still gentle pressure, “rake” your fingers over your head and ending at the occipital ridge. Do this 9 times. Then with your open palms, and alternating hands, lay your hand across the back of your neck and so that the heel of your palm is on the large neck muscle and your fingers are resting lightly on the other side of your neck. Again, with a firm but gentle stroke, drag you hand across your neck. Keep your head held up as you do this 8 times with each hand. Finally, with your thumbs and forefingers on either side of your ears, rub the ear starting in the front and continuing down to the lobe. End by giving the lobe a little light tug.
Some Foods That Are Particularly Good For The Winter Season:
Black Beans, Black Mushrooms, Blackberry, Black sesame seeds and oil, Black soybeans, Blueberry, Bone marrow, Cabbages, Celery, Chard, Chestnuts, Cranberry, Ginger, Job’s tears, Kale, Kidney beans, Kohlrabi, Longan, Lotus seed, Miso, Mulberry, Mutton, Ocean Perch, Parsley, Pine nuts, Prunes, Raspberry, Rutabaga, Seaweed, Shrimp/Prawns, Soy Sauce, String beans, Turnips, Walnuts, Wood ear mushrooms.
Winter Energy Cereal
1/2 cup of rice
6 cups of water
½ cup toasted black sesame seeds
½ cup toasted crushed walnuts
½ tsp salt
Cover the rice in 2 cups of water and soak for 2 hours.
Toast the walnuts and crush. A simple crushing method is to place the walnuts in a plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin.
Toast the black sesame seeds.
Drain the excess water off the rice.
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and mix.
Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the rice is thoroughly cooked and all the water has been absorbed. Stir the cereal frequently as it is cooking. The texture of the cereal at this stage is like a thick porridge or cornmeal mush. The rice is creamy and the sesame seeds are still slightly crunchy.
To make into a breakfast cereal: add ½ cup boiling water to ½ cup of cereal – optional: a touch of cinnamon; or adding red dates to the cereal
Yield: 4 cups
Serving size ½ cup
ENERGY SNACK VARIATION: Mix together equal amounts of crushed toasted walnuts and toasted black sesame seeds. Add some honey to make a thick paste. This delicious snack is excellent for an energy boost and can be especially helpful for an elderly person.
Broccoli Rabe with Mushrooms and Walnuts
3 TB sunflower oil or grapeseed oil or other light oil
10 oz mushrooms –your favorite is fine
1/2 tsp salt
¼ tsp Szechuan peppercorns or black pepper
¾ cup Xiao Xing wine (or dry sherry)
2 lbs. broccoli rabe
Tamari or dark soy sauce
¼ cup toasted and chopped walnuts
[The Broccoli Rabe is prepared by removing the thick lower stems leaving the leaves, florets and more tender upper stems intact. Rinse them thoroughly in cold water – do not pat dry let some water cling to the broccoli rabe.]
Put the oil in a heated skillet/wok and heat on low until it shimmers.
Slice the mushrooms and add to the oil. Let them simmer on low until they are tender, but not fully cooked. Remove from the wok and set aside. Leave the liquid from the mushrooms in the wok.
Slice the garlic cloves thinly and lengthwise and put in the wok with the salt, pepper and wine and turn up the heat. As soon as is seems hot (not boiling), add the broccoli rabe.
Add them to the wok and cover. Let them simmer on medium heat for a minute or two.
Turn the Broccoli Rabe like a pancake so that the greens on top now become the greens on the bottom. Cover the wok again for a minute or two.
The greens should be fairly well tender and wilted by now. Add the mushrooms back in. and toss through the greens.
Sprinkle about 1-2 TB of dark soy sauce or tamari and about 1 TB of lemon juice over the greens and mshrooms
Adzuki Bean &Lotus Seed Dessert Soup
1 cup Adzuki Beans (small red beans)
¼ tsp salt
2TB finely minced dried tangerine peel*
½ cup whole lotus seeds
¾ cup rock sugar
Bring the 8 cups of water to boil and then add the beans,** lotus seeds, tangerine peel and salt in the boiling water and simmer for about 1-1/2 hours. Partially cover the pot while simmering. When the beans are “popped” and softened, they are done. As they are cooking, add more water if necessary if it is getting too thick.
Add the sugar ¼ cup at a time and stir till it melts. Taste after each addition to get to the sweetness that is right for you. Remember, you can always add more sugar later, but you can’t take it out.
*Soak your tangerine peel for a few minutes to soften it prior to mincing – so much easier.
**Some people like to soak their beans overnight in cold water, discord the soaking liquid and then boil fresh water for making the soup. Either method is fine, choose what works best for you.
Note: Adzuki beans remove dampness; lotus seeds help conserve kidney energy and tangerine peel aids digestion.
Wood Ear Mushrooms with Tomato
¼ cup dried wood ear mushroom (soak in hot water for a few minutes and when re-hydrated, slice into ¼” ribbons)
1 tomato cut in 8 wedges
¼ cup oil
1/2 clove garlic- minced
3 green onions- whites only,
4-5 dried small red hot peppers
salt to taste
1 TB sugar
1 tsp. black vinegar (balsamic vinegar may be used) (optional)
Heat a large heavy skillet or wok, add and heat the oil, then add the wood ear mushrooms. After a few minutes add the garlic, green onion, ginger, hot peppers, sugar, and salt individually tossing them in. Then add the tomatoes and cook until they have begun to sweat. Remove from the heat and serve. The vinegar may be sprinkled over the dish right before serving. It adds a little zing.
Wishing you good health! Remember to smile at all things.
Ellasara Kling – Following the threads of her personal tapestry, Ms. Kling, a long-time student of Master Nan Lu, weaves her life around the exploration and sharing of self-healing though a variety of modalities, primarily focusing on nutrition, common herbal plants, Qigong Meridian Therapy, and Qigong for Women’s Health. Ms. Kling has written the column “Food as Medicine” in our Qi Dao journal for the past 4 years. For comments, questions, consultations, email@example.com