Eating Global Thinking Local

So what does a Korean-Japanese restaurant have to do with eating local and seasonal in New Jersey? A lot. It has to do with exploring traditional foods. What are “traditional foods”? See the basics of traditional food as defined by Nourished Kitchen:
“In the simplest explanation, traditional foods focused on four basic principles: 1) avoidance of modern, refined foods; 2) celebration of unrefined, whole and natural foods; 3) respecting the importance of nutrient-density in our food and 4) preparing and eating foods in the same manner that nourished our ancestors and kept them well. In essence, if your great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, don’t put it in your mouth”.

Each one of us will find within our family and geographic background foods that sustained our forefather’s generation after generation. When eating at our favorite ethnic restaurants we can peel back the layers to discover principles that can be applied to our lives.

In my own experience, although I grew up in the north I was deeply influenced by my family’s southern traditions. I grew up eating greens from our back yard. Aunts and friends would occasionally treat us to vegetables, peaches, and pecans from visits down south. Our neighbor, now well in his 90’s gardened year after year and still does. Despite so many years living in New Jersey, his Alabama roots and traditions of growing and sharing his produce with family and friends has been maintained. I can still see him in years past with his wide brimmed, straw hat and green jumper quietly tilling in the morning sun. On occasion as a child we’d walk by and he’d offer us a fresh cucumber straight from the garden or share tomatoes for my grandmother.

Back to the Korean-Japanese restaurant . . . Kimchi Hana, one of my favorite places to eat. When you arrive you are asked if you want barbecue or regular. Once seated, you get up to seven dishes, all vegetables with the exception of perhaps one served before your entree. Besides the Kimchi, a fermented spicy cabbage dish infused with chilies, garlic and ginger, they vary from visit to visit. Many are seasoned with a kiss of sesame oil and seeds for garnish. Fermented foods are always present from the Kimchi to the Miso soup served with some of the specials to the house-made soy paste served with barbecue to the small charming bottles of soy sauce present on each table. The flavors range from sweet to spicy to pungent to briny. During the meal, the server brings barley tea; it’s finished with fresh, thick orange slices to cleanse the palate. When we peel back the layers we find:
• Warm beverages are consumed during the meal
• Fermented and pickled foods are incorporated into each meal
• Sprouted foods are commonly eaten with meals
• Sea vegetables are commonly eaten with meals
• The meal is primarily vegetables
• When animal protein is present, there are still plenty of vegetables
• Meals are finished with fresh fruit

Also, there are warming elements to the food through the use of chilies, garlic and ginger. All of which are perfect for our damp, wintry, Jersey weather. We can apply these same principles by doing the following:
• Drink warm teas with meals.
• Eat fermented and pickled foods daily (see a list of fermented foods at the end).
• Add plenty of garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper or chilies to stock, beans, and whole grains; spicy peppers can be pierced and simmered to tame the heat.
• Eat plenty of local, organic, seasonal vegetables with throughout the day.
• Finish your meals with seasonal fruit.

These are just a few examples of how we can translate something wonderfully exotic and delicious into principles we can use on a regular basis within our lifestyle and budget. Sources of dairy and non-dairy fermented foods:
Dairy Fermented Foods
• Yogurt
• Cottage Cheese
• Whey
• Kefir

Non-Dairy Fermented Foods
• Sauerkraut
• Pickled cucumbers
• Pickled garlic
• Pickled beets
• Pickled radish
• Pickled corn relish
• Korean kimchi
• Natto
• Miso
• Tempeh
• Soy sauce
• Fermented tofu
• Naturally fermented and unpasteurized beers

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Roots & Spice: Birth of a Dream

I’m a planner.  That’s what I do.  Somewhere in my late thirties, I decided if I ever had a child of my own one day, I needed a career change.  I needed a way of earning a living that would allow me to spend those first few formative years being a stay-at-home mom.  I began researching culinary programs and stumbled upon The Natural Gourmet Institute, a unique school that not only focuses on classical, gourmet cuisine but also using food as means of healing.  Food is seen as a holistic, integrated system.  Students are given the opportunity to learn the principles of a variety of dietary approaches, Western nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Macrobiotics, Ayurvedic, etc.  After attending a public class and hearing my friend rave about the food, I decided this was the training I needed to break away from the corporate world and to pursue one of my deepest loves, cooking.  I took that lifelong love with me to The Natural Gourmet Institute and graduated in July 2010.  One part of the puzzle was complete.

Fast forward to May 2012, the second part, a baby was also complete.  That’s when reality began to set in . . . cooking with a newborn while breast feeding around the clock was no easy feat, even for a trained Culinarian.  Gone were days of “playing in the kitchen” for hours experimenting, my mind became focused on how to best multi-task and make nutrient dense food.  That is after I resumed eating again.  The first few weeks of having my daughter, I barely ate.  Suddenly 20 pounds lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight I jokingly told people I had no time to eat.  But I knew deep down, this couldn’t continue. The quality of my milk depended on me eating.  I needed food.  I needed to be at my best to heal and to have the energy for all that had to be done.

Holding the most precious and beautiful baby, my baby, in my arms, I felt a kaleidoscope of emotions post delivery. Pre-delivery, I managed to freeze a small stash of food (did I mention I’m a planner?) to help me through the initial transition but it eventually dwindled and there I was sleep deprived and  delirious trying to survive the daily challenges of managing our baby and lives while my husband worked very long days. 

Somewhere in the midst of the insanity, I came up with ways to use all my food, wasting little to nothing, I gathered routine recipes that could be varied and I began to draw from traditions I experienced as a child.   I became more creative as I adjusted to what I had (or didn’t have) on hand and what was left over.  I found ways to buy organic, seasonal produce that wouldn’t break our budget.  I honed my skills at cooking things with humble ingredients using aromatics, spices and herbs to elevate dishes.  All the while, I found myself thinking of the mothers I knew and the many I didn’t who were in the same place I was, exhausted and pushing on an empty tank while seeking to provide nutrient-rich, cost-friendly food for themselves and their families.

Six weeks in, the average amount of time many mothers are allotted for maternity, came and went.  As circumstance would have, it was impractical for me to return to work but I kept thinking of friends I knew who were.  I listened as they expressed concern over finding trustworthy child care, leaving their babies and struggling, emotionally, as well as, physically as they adjusted to being a full-time worker and full-time mom.  Rarely did they ever express concern or complain about time for themselves.  Their stories humbled me. Those women were my heroes.   On my toughest day, when I found myself shuttling through the kitchen at lightning speed, feeling like I was in a pressure cooker, scrambling to get meals completed before nap time was over or the next feeding was due I thought of them.    It was these moments that gave birth to Roots & Spice. 

Roots & Spice is about making plant-based delicious, nourishing foods drawing from traditions and wisdom from around the world that sustain the entire family.   A special place will be made for children and mothers, those expecting or who have given birth whether nursing or not. Although I am a huge breast feeding advocate, please know this is a place for all mothers.  This is not a place of judgment.

My hope is that this will be a community where women and mothers of all backgrounds can share and draw strength from one another.  My goal as a budding entrepreneur is to use my God-given talents, passion, and knowledge to create a resource for women like me.  I love ethnic food of all kinds and I love learning about the history, the stories of those traditions.  Along the way, I will share tips and tricks that have helped me in this new and ever evolving journey of motherhood.  I look forward to learning from all of you and cannot wait to learn YOUR STORY!

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