When we were early married and waiting for our first baby, we headed to the mountains of North Carolina. My husband was born in that state, his family, original early Americans. We were going ‘back to the land’ to live a (or the) simple life. We met in Boston at the Seventh Inn Restaurant. Natural foods and Macrobiotics led both of us there to learn cooking and a different living-life mindset from its extraordinary chef and our beloved teacher Hiroshi Hayashi.
Back in the day (!) there was only ‘natural’ foods. No organics. No gluten-frees. No paleos. No non-GMOs. No Atkins. No foodies. There were mostly just hippies eating foods with lots of vegetables, especially the locally or personally grown varieties. Foods that weren’t out of boxes or cans, didn’t have preservatives or additives, weren’t manufactured or chemically ‘lo-cal’. And then there was us, not really hippies, but still, part of that 60’s and 70’s generations looking for a new pattern to living. We had a notion, a conviction really, that there was more to ‘natural’ foods than what I call ‘substitute eating’ where every food everyone loves but deems ‘bad’ for them is turned into ‘good’ for them by substitution… tofu for cheese or eggs; whole wheat for white; ground nuts for flour; honey for sugar; soybeans (TVP) for meat; carrots for tomatoes; and on and on and on. Of course, that style of eating is still going strong. But we were looking elsewhere and so landed at the feet of a few Japanese wise-wizards of food and philosophy and medicine.
We came away from Boston and the Seventh Inn with cooking skills and blossoming ideas about food and healing and what it would take to live a truly, truly simple life. We’d ‘moved on’ from natural foods to macrobiotic foods and Japanese foods and then beyond that to ‘whole foods’. It was quite tricky but we meant to eat everything as whole as possible. With an onion it wasn’t so hard. You could put an onion with its shoots and roots and skin in a pot or a pan right into the oven, bake it, and eat (almost) all of it. Carrots were pretty easy, too — and delicious— baked whole, tops and all, in the oven. And then there was broccoli and cauliflower and squash. Peas and tomatoes and beans. We didn’t usually eat entire plants: fruits and flowers, leaves and tems and roots. You can imagine the whole foods challenge!
Eating foods whole was an interesting experiment to say the least. You might ask: what inspired this adventure? The answer: the single most important thing we came to know and understand from cooking with Hiroshi and studying Macrobiotics with Michio (Kushi). At the heart of every Diet, of every Way that traditional peoples eat, is a Principal (and Perfect) Food: Grain.
Whether we were eating rice or wheat or millet or corn or buckwheat, grains became the center, the heart, of every meal we ate. Grains provide anchor, the hub for all embellishments we add to our table…vegetables and soups. meats and fish, condiments and sauces, and even the finishing touch, dessert.
‘Principal’ makes sense. But what about ‘Perfect’? A kernel of grain is in fact WHOLE and is, rather astonishingly (so we thought and so I still think), a complete cycle of life in a tiny, tiny vehicle. It is the beginning and the end. The seed and the fruit. Grain is what you plant and what you harvest. Truly a contained miracle. Each and every grain in each and every bowl would gift us as we chewed and digested with the nutritional and energetic imprint of a whole life, a potential and then completed life. Magical. Cosmic. Not to be missed.
I wanted to discover everything about these tiny gems of perfection. How and where they grew. How they were prepared and eaten. And then, how to cook them and serve them myself. I brought glass jars home and bags of every type of grain. I poured the grains into the jars, lined them up on the shelf, and began to practice and to learn. My practice was to cook each grain by itself using all the cooking methods I could think of, and then, to combine grains together, one with another, to see how they cooked together; how they tasted together; how they changed or improved together; how they all stood as the centers of meals, alone and together. I wondered how and how well they would all work and where this grand experiment would lead. A journey, as it turns out, for a lifetime.