It was 1983. I was 26 years old. My mother had just passed away after a long battle with colon cancer and I was just…how can I explain it? I was over it. Over struggle and sadness; over life, really. So it came as no surprise when I faced my own mortality just mere months after my mother’s death. I remember thinking that it was the perfect ending, in a twisted sort of way.
I could not have known that it was really a new beginning.
As I faced my own health challenge, a friend introduced me to Robert Pirello who introduced me to the macrobiotic way of life. It’s important to note, at this point in the story that I had heard of macrobiotics, even experimented with it when my mother was ill. I remembered that it was shrouded in mysticism: yin and yang, order of the universe… and that the food was…well, boring.
I had cooked from scratch all my life and loved everything about food and cooking, but this…this was so weird. When I look back, I laugh as I now embrace all that I thought was weird as normal and the lens through which I view the world.
So What is Macrobiotics?
A lot of myths and misconceptions surround this wonderful lifestyle, so let’s ditch those before we get too far in. While Georges Ohsawa and Michio Kushi are considered the fathers of macrobiotics in America, it is in fact a style of living in harmony with nature that was embraced by all cultures. It is not only Asian, although it is influenced by ancient Eastern wisdom.
Macrobiotics a lifestyle that hearkens back to a more traditional way of eating and living. No matter the culture, every society was steeped in traditions with respect for…and connection to nature that was universal. Macrobiotics suggests that we choose and prepare food in a manner that serves our health condition and lifestyle.
Choosing to live in harmony with nature and realizing that we are part of everything around us is the basic tenet of macrobiotic thinking. We realize that we are part of a giant web of life, all connected to each other as one life form, one energy. We realize that our choices; from food to lifestyle creates who we are as it becomes part of us…literally. We realize that our choices have an impact on all of us, not just our own personal health and well-being.
Macrobiotics gives us an understanding of food as energy which makes it easy to create delicious, healthful meals.
Now all of this may sound a bit airy-fairy and you might be thinking that it all sounds cool, but what does one eat and do when living a macrobiotic lifestyle?
What a Macrobiotic Lifestyle Looks Like
Simply stated, macrobiotic eating is largely plant-based seasonal foods cooked with respect for your own lifestyle and health condition. It is living more naturally, connected to nature.
Macrobiotics is founded on the thinking that whole grains, beans and vegetables nourish humans best. Not necessarily vegan, most people living a macrobiotic lifestyle do, in fact, eschew animal foods of any kind (me included). In macrobiotics we view food as energy and use that energy to serve the larger purpose of our lives.
So what does a macrobiotic meal look like? It will very likely begin with soup (typically miso). We hold the belief that soup prepares thedigestive tract for assimilation of nutrients and so soup begins most meals (once or twice a day, every day, every season).
Your plate will be gorgeous as it will be brimming with nature’s bounty. Whole grains are the cornerstone of any meal as they provide us with complex carbohydrate nutrition so essential to human health. Balanced with grains will be plant-based proteins, like beans, tofu and tempeh…in any proportion you desire or need. People who are active may require more protein than those who are less so, but you have freedom to create and build your meal as your health requires. Veggies rule your macrobiotic dinner plate from sweet roots like carrots and parsnips to centering ground veggies like cabbage, winter squash and cauliflower as well as leafy greens like kale and collard greens. Rounding out macrobiotic eating is the use of nuts, seeds, good quality fats and oils, fruits…and some deliciously homemade sweet treats.
The beauty of macrobiotic eating is that…contrary to what you may have heard, it gives us an understanding of how food works in the body resulting in total freedom of choice. For so many of us, we go through the day blindly making choices; from habit or belief system or environment. In macrobiotics, we understand food and its impact on us and that drives our choices. We are never in the dark wondering why we feel as we do. We know that we have laid a foundation upon which we have built our health and it’s either solid or well…not so much. We can choose whatever we like to eat; from brown rice to chocolate; from vegetable juices to smoothies; from whole grains to pasta and breads…because we understand food which frees us from fear and uncertainty about the effects of food on health.
Benefits of Macrobiotics
The good news is that for most people living a macrobiotic lifestyle, once we discover the truth about the impact of food on health and once we see how great we feel most of the time because of the choices we make, we make better choices…for ourselves and the planet.
I always say that you cannot un-know what you discover. In macrobiotics, once the awareness of our connection to each other and nature is awakened, we make our choices based on human health and the health of our environment. It becomes nearly impossible to pollute or step heavily on our fragile planet.
Macrobiotics woke me up. It was as though a veil had been lifted from my eyes and I saw clearly the impact of my daily choices on my health and all of humanity.
And the truly gorgeous thing about macrobiotics? It all begins with delicious food provided us by Mother Nature.
And if you don’t believe me, try some of these recipes for yourself!
WINTER SQUASH AND MILLET SOUP
This deliciously sweet soup will relax the middle organs of the body–spleen, pancreas and stomach. And your looks? Think about how great your face looks after a vacation…ten years younger, usually. Removing constricting stress from the body will relax the face and open the body so you can breathe more deeply, oxygenating the blood and creating a smooth, line-free, relaxed, youthful face. And with celery working to help the body eliminate accumulated fluid, you can knock off a few more years…
Makes: 6-8 SERVINGS
- 1-inch piece kombu (high-mineral seaweed that aids digestion)
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 stalks celery, finely diced
- 1 cup finely diced winter squash (butternut, buttercup, kabocha)
- 2/3 cup yellow millet, rinsed well
- 5-6 cups spring or filtered water
- 2-3 teaspoons white miso
- 2-3 whole green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal, for garnish
Layer kombu, onion, celery, squash and millet in a soup pot. Gently add water and bring to a boil, covered. Reduce heat to low and simmer soup until vegetables are tender and millet is creamy, about 35 minutes. Remove a small amount of broth and dissolve miso. Stir into soup and simmer, uncovered for 3-4 minutes to activate enzyme activity. Serve garnished with green onions.
TUSCAN BREAD SOUP
This splendid soup is more than just a starter. Practically a meal in itself, this thick, rich stew is laden with vegetables and beans, delicately seasoned–just perfection in a bowl. The hearty nature of this soup makes it ideal in cool weather, when you need to keep your internal fires blazing. Use any veggies you like to create many variations on this winning recipe.
Makes: 8-10 SERVINGS
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup dried white navy beans, rinsed well, soaked 1 hour
- 8 cups spring or filtered water
- 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 1 small leek, split lengthwise, rinsed well, diced
- sea salt
- generous pinch dried basil
- 2-3 carrots, diced
- 2-3 small fingerling potatoes, diced
- 1 cup diced winter squash, do not peel
- 1-2 stalks celery, diced
- 1/4-1/2 small green head cabbage, diced
- 3-4 teaspoons white miso
- 1-2 yellow summer squash, diced
- 1 bunch dark leafy greens, such as kale or broccoli rabe, rinsed, thinly sliced
- several slices whole grain, sourdough bread
- small handful fresh parsley, minced, for garnish
Place bay leaf on the bottom of a heavy pot. Top with beans and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over high heat. Boil beans for 5 minutes, before covering, reducing heat to low and simmering until just tender, about 45 minutes. Transfer beans and remaining cooking liquid to a bowl and mash beans until about half broken. Set aside.
Place oil, onion and leek in a soup pot over medium heat and begin sautéing onion and leek with a pinch of salt. Add basil and sauté for 1 minute, until onions are limp. Add carrots, squash and potatoes, a pinch of salt and sauté 1 minute more.
Add celery and cabbage, a pinch of salt and sauté until cabbage is limp. Add the balance of water, plus the pureed beans, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until vegetables are tender and beans are quite soft, about 35-40 minutes. Remove a small amount of hot broth and puree miso. Stir in dissolved miso, summer squash and greens. Simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes to activate the enzyme activity of the miso.
To assemble soup, place a layer of bread slices on the bottom of a soup tureen. Ladle a generous amount of soup over bread. Repeat with another layer of bread and then soup. Continue layering until the tureen is full. Make sure the top layer is bread. Cover the tureen and allow soup to stand for 5-7 minutes before serving. Serve soup and bread by ladles into individual serving bowls. Garnish with fresh, minced parsley.
COOK’S TIP: You can use canned organic beans to save on cooking time but this recipe is designed to be slow-cooking so it keeps us warm in cold weather.
NUT-STUFFED WINTER SQUASH
This tantalizing entree combines sweet squash, savory nut meats and aromatic spices—a delicious centerpiece dish, especially when served with a light soup, crusty whole grain bread and a crisp, fresh salad.
Makes: 2 SERVINGS
- ½ cup quinoa
- Spring or filtered water
- Sea salt
- 1 acorn squash, halved and seeded
- ½ cup minced pecans
- 1 onion, finely diced
- About 2 teaspoons light sesame oil
- ¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Pinch each cinnamon and nutmeg
- About ¼ cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
Rinse quinoa several times to help remove an oil called saponin, that if not rinsed off, can make the grain taste bitter. Bring quinoa, 1 cup water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat and cook, covered, over low heat until quinoa is tender and fluffy and water is completely absorbed, about 25 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold squash. Cut the bottoms off the acorn squash just enough so that each half sits squarely, cut side up. Arrange the squash halves in prepared baking dish.
Combine cooked quinoa, pecans, onion, a light drizzle of oil, parsley, spices, a little salt and enough bread crumbs to make a stuffing that holds together. Divide stuffing among squash halves, filling them abundantly. (You may have more quinoa filling than you need; serve it as a side dish.)
Add a little water to the baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake 1 hour, until the squash pierces easily with a fork. Remove cover and bake about 5 minutes to firm the filling. Serve warm.
CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES
These crisp yummy cookies will win you raves…you can make them softer and more cake-like by adding ½ teaspoon baking powder along with the baking soda.
Makes: 30-36 COOKIES
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) vegan butter substitute, softened
- ½ cup brown rice syrup
- 3 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- Pinch sea salt
- Generous pinch ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 bar non-dairy, dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup coarsely chopped pecans or other nuts
Preheat oven to 350o and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Place vegan butter, rice syrup, coconut sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whip until creamy. Add flours, salt, cinnamon and baking soda/powder. Mix by hand to create a soft dough. Fold in chocolate and nuts.
Using a spoon, place cookies on baking sheet leaving space between then for spreading. You will get about 12 to a tray. Press lightly on the cookie with your fingers to flatten them slightly.
Bake for 14-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.