Eat, Love

Food.

I’ve alluded to food and my love/hate relationship with it a lot.

The private Ayurveda course I took in Kerala changed some of my beliefs and ideas about food.

I guess, since I was a child, I have harbored some latent belief that eating is somehow shameful and wrong.  There are varied clear reasons for this, but I’m not feeling a big desire to delve into those.

There’s a healthy way to view food.  Our Ayurvedic Doctor/Professor Madan put it best.

Delicious Ayurvedic dishes representing all 5 tastes, or elements

“One of our biggest tasks in life is eating,” he said gravely as we sat around him, crosslegged.  “We treat it with respect.”

I’ve tried lots of diets.  Over the past few years, I’ve diligently tried no type of diet (just mostly pure and organic).  Neither way, hard-core restriction or permissive free-for-all, seems to work for me.

Turns out, Ayurveda, just like yoga, prescribes a scientific and slightly magical, prescription for the task of eating.  Based on your specific dosha (constitution), there are specific times of day to eat, specific things to eat at those times of day, and also specific combinations of food to promote healthy agni (digestive fire, metabolism).

Tip: Serving food on a banana leaf provides astringency, which helps with digestion and food metabolism. Also, baking in earthen vessels takes some of the caloric content away from the food!

For example, my Kapha element needs spicy food, ginger tea and lots of astringent vegetables, sitting on hard surfaces and doing vigorous exercise.  My friend Liza’s Vata element needs milk, sweet food, cushions and naps.  Surprisingly enough, I crave the cushions, naps and sweets while Liza can’t get enough of spices and activity.

Sometimes, in Ayurveda, you also have to give your body the opposite of what it thinks it wants.  That is why it can often be a confusing science.

But once I began to eat in the proper way, my body has actually begun to respond by telling me when it’s hungry and when it needs rest, when it wants to move and what, specifically, might be good for it.  Crazy!

Sometimes, my brain might be hungry, but I can feel that my physical body is still working hard to absorb the nutrients from the last meal into all seven tissues (this generally takes at least 3 hours), so I try to drink warm tea (for my Kapha imbalance, no sweet fruit juice) and wait it out.  When my body is actually hungry, it now usually craves vegetables or a chapati (no yeast in bread for me).

“All the things you are served in restaurants are utter foolishness,” Madan said once.

We aren’t easily given the guidelines for healthy Ayurvedic eating in any culture.  For example, fruit is too complex to be digested with a milk product.  Dinner should be very light – a small soup and chapati while lunch can be sort of a feast.  And the two tastes in Western food (usually sweet and salty) are only two of the six tastes needed to compose a complete meal (the other tastes are sour, pungent, bitter and astringent).

I stuck to my new-found rules well for a while in India, and now I’m giving myself some grace (grace like vodka and mango juice).

I feel the best policy is always to learn rules in order to break them.

So, being in Thailand for two days as a tourist, I am making the most of it by eating everything I damn well please!

I have followed this self-imposed rule wonderfully since I am leaving tomorrow for a hill tribe village to learn Thai Yoga Massage, and then will head south to Cambodia directly to begin a job as Resident Yoga Teacher at Hariharalaya Retreat Center in Siem Reap, right near the ruins of Angkor Wat.

Chaing Mai Buddhist Temple

I have filled my two days with Buddhist temples, $6 massages, shopping for silk and skirts, deciding about where to get a haircut after 3 months of scary India hair (should it be Best Haircut and Laundry?  or the place with snapshots of the same old lady all over the mirrors?), AND eating AND Thai cooking school!

My first Thai food experience was on the 14-hour train journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  A group of friends, all 70+ year-old ladies, sat next to me and took great delight in feeding me morsels, watching my face to gauge a reaction.  They fed me delicious “Thai mushroom” balls, “finger” bananas (tiny), and much to my dismay, what I think was marinated water buffalo and some kind of pig-in-a-blanket (I hid the “pig” part in my coffee cup).

The train itself provided all meals for the journey, with no stops to get out and choose anything from the station vendors.  So, even though I am now a vegetarian after befriending so many chickens in New Zealand and cows in India, I decided “when in Thailand…”  Conclusion?  Even train food is tasty in Thailand.

Teacher selects fresh produce from the "Cooking School Market"

Cooking school at May Kaidee’s was pure foodie bliss, from the selection of fresh vegetables and herbs at the market to the cooking of all the vegetarian classics in an open lanai surrounded by mango and jackfruit trees, the occasional calf meandering past the fence.

When you cook Thai with fresh ingredients like lemongrass, kafir lime leaves, homemade chili paste and grated coconut, it is like you have never actually tasted Thai food before.

Here is the recipe for absolutely killer Thai peanut sauce.  This should not be limited to Pad Thai, but can also be a dip, a salad dressing and a spread for crackers and bread.

Luscious Chiang Mai Thai Peanut Sauce

1.  Fry half a coarsely chopped tomato in a wok with a tablespoon of boiling vegetable oil.  Mash the tomato into a paste while stirring.

2.  Reduce the heat a little, then add red chili paste or Thai chili jam (GET THIS – it rocks).  Fry until the fragrance wafts over you and you feel like swooning (my embellishment).

3.  Add 6 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk, 3 tablespoons at a time, along with 1 tablespoon crushed dry-roasted peanuts (dry roast them yourself if possible).

4.  Add 2 teaspoons raw sugar, 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice and 1 teaspoon soy sauce (we used 1/2 teaspoon each of light and dark soy sauce).  Cook just a minute or so until consistency is thick.

EAT and LOVE!

Added note:  In Ayurvedic tradition, you can eat a lot on a FULL MOON DAY (today) without it being “increasing”.  So if you want to try to be scientific about it, make this closer to the full moon than the new moon (at which time you should consume very little, which is nearly impossible if you’ve made a batch of luscious peanut sauce).

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