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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarian Reading


Each issue the VIP birds will endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment. In this issue we focus on a natural food cookbook that concentrates on vegetarian cooking with a macrobiotic emphasis.

Amber Waves of Grain

Traditional American Whole Foods Cooking

and Contemporary Vegetarian, Vegan and Macrobiotic Cuisine

By Alex and Gale Jack

One Peaceful World Press, 2000


Alex and Gale Jack have created one of the most exceptional and unique natural foods cookbooks we have encountered. From its opening pages to the very last chapter, their soft-cover book endows the reader ever so gently with macrobiotic philosophy presented with a loving touch. Macrobiotic Their 25 years of experience in the field of teaching and preparing whole foods has given them the knowledge they eagerly share. The Jacks teach macrobiotic cooking at the Kushi Institute in Becket, Massachusetts and have been spreading the health message through macrobiotics for many years. The book includes a multitude of recipes for preparing healthful native foods from every region of our country using the macrobiotic principles.

The philosophical principles of macrobiotic food preparation are clearly set in the early chapters of the book from its approach to cooking utensils to the specific kind of heat used in preparing foods. The authors consider wood the ideal cooking fuel because it gives warm, natural heat. Because they recognize that cooking with wood is not a practical approach in today's world, they recommend natural gas because it "respects the natural energy of the food." They react negatively to microwave cooking because it alters the natural structure of the foods, causes degenerative disease, and creates a loss of natural immunity.

For those new to macrobiotics, they summarize the four principles applied in their cooking:

  1. eating according to the evolutionary spiral of biological life

  2. eating according to ancestral tradition

  3. eating according to climate and environment

  4. eating according to personal health, activity level and personal needs.

  5. The terms yin and yang appear often emphasizing the need for balance in our approach to living and eating.

Alex and Gale stress the importance of cooking with love and eating together with family and friends, and sharing common dreams. "By preparing food with a calm, peaceful mind, the cook creates health and happiness for her family. This in turn contributes to community health, national health, and eventually world health and peace," say the authors.

Some especially colorful features that appear throughout the entire book are the sidebars with fascinating quotations pertaining to food by famous historical figures such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Brillat-Savarin, Thoreau, and Ben Franklin. Many of the sidebars contain helpful information such as cooking times for grains, cooking tips, health notes, and ecology notes.

Unlike so many gourmet cookbooks that contain recipes with dauntingly long lists of ingredients, the book focuses on simplicity of ingredients as well as cooking methods. Many of the recipes contain no more than three or four ingredients. The emphasis is not on fancy foods with intricate processes but on ingredients that are whole, natural, and healthful.

Cabbage Some of the recipes that intrigued us were the Zuni Water Balls made simply from cornmeal, salt and water, Moors and Christians, a grain and bean dish, and Plymouth Plantation Boiled Salad, composed of cabbage, currants, rice vinegar, rice syrup, and salt.

Included is a chapter on recipes using sea vegetables prefaced by informative notes on how early settlers learned to use these treasures from the sea to thicken soups, leaven their breads, and heal sickness. The authors themselves use sea vegetables daily in their own cooking.

The section on Seasonings, Condiments, Pickles, and Sauces includes Gomashio, a traditional Japanese seasoning made from black sesame seeds and sea salt. There's a recipe for Sea Vegetable Powder that is used to sprinkle over foods, and Carrot-Top Miso, a condiment that cooks in just a few minutes and is used to perk up simple grain dishes. Several recipes for pickles, which help to digest grain and vegetables, are made with ingredients like parsnips, mustard greens, and turnips.

There are desserts galore, from Southern Apple Crisp to Grape Couscous Cake as well as some simple preparations like Sweetened Chestnut Puree and Amasake Pudding.

In this book one can easily learn to appreciate cooking the earth's delights in the most natural way--by keeping it simple. So many people today fear the drudgery of cooking and turn to unhealthful convenience foods. If everyone could learn to approach cooking in the natural style Alex and Gale Jack have presented, they might be as easily drawn to the delicate, earthy flavor of Corn Silk Tea or Tofu Cheese II as we were.

Chapter 9 offers Medicinal Foods such as Rice Cream for healing and Ginger Compress to stimulate blood and circulation and relieve pain and blockages. The Children's Food section offers recipes for Baby Food, Grainburger, and Irish Moss Tea especially for "delicate infants." The last chapter has some excellent ideas for travel food such as Rice Balls made from cooked rice, nori, and umeboshi plums.

There's a helpful Glossary that explains ingredients and terms used in macrobiotic cooking, including Yin and Yang in terms of specific foods. The index is exceptionally well done and features three sections, one a recipe index, one an index by food ingredient, and the third a general index.

Amber Waves of Grain provides a straightforward and uncomplicated approach to preparing foods. The Jacks demonstrate the simplicity of incorporating macrobiotic teachings into every day cooking in a way that reaches into one's heart and soul.

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