September 2010: Seasonal Harmony


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“We are a replica of the universe passing from season to season in a natural unending cycle of life”
…Dianne M. Connelly, Ph. D.


September transitions us into fall, but in a fickle way. Summer heat and humidity linger, sporadically broken by cooling breezes. Nature straddles two seasons, too, offering a rich array of summer and fall fare. Fast-growing, perishable, cooling summer fruits and vegetables—berries, melons, stone fruits, corn, and tomatoes—are still at juicy perfection. But, their high-water content makes them perishable. Their time is fleeting, and they do not promise to sustain us.

 

Thankfully, September begins to introduce us once again to slower-growing, durable, and naturally warming produce—sweet and/or pungent onions, turnips, rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, winter squash, pumpkins, and apples— with nutrient energy that lasts through colder months. September offers, perhaps more than any other month, the best, broadest choice in garden-to-table eating.

 

Seasonal Profile of Foods
Have you ever stopped to think how seasonal foods are perfectly matched to our own seasonal needs? Today, with giant supermarkets that offer fresh foods from around the globe, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that foods grown locally and in season help synchronize us with own local weather conditions: Tropical foods grown at the equator are consistently cooling; but, in northern climates when temperatures vary, produce changes in character from growing season to growing season:

 

Spring, a time of growth and renewal. Chlorophyll-rich green is the color of spring. Most spring greens are bitter, drying, cooling, and cleansing to help the body lighten up and detoxify from the heavy fats and proteins of winter meals.

 

Summer, a season of hydrating, cooling, fast-growing foods. Their moisture and expansive nature provide energy and relief from the hot summer sun. Summer produce comes in an array of colors, loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients to alleviate oxidative stress inherent in summer activity and solar radiation.

 

Fall, when the slower-growing, warming vegetables are harvested and stored away for winter. Onions, cabbage, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, winter squash, and pumpkins are the perfect ingredients for warming winter soups, hearty stews, and baked treats.

 

Winter, the most contractive time of the year and the dormant growth season. Without fresh vegetables, traditional cultures relied upon animal products and natural fats to provide heat and warmth, complemented by preserved (fermented, dried, salted, smoked) foods.

 

The harmony and attunement brought by seasonal foods is but one positive aspect. Eating seasonally also means foods are fresher, more economical, and deliver more vital force energy. Eating by the season also implies a natural rotation of foods to help prevent allergies (the Ig-G type) caused by repetitively consuming the same foods. Put simply, eating in season supports health, economy, and efficiency.

 

Moderating Considerations
Eating seasonal foods for harmony and attunement is just one part of the picture, of course. It is not the only consideration when it comes to choosing foods. Tempering factors include:

 

Personal makeup. Personal health profiles and specific conditions take precedent when shopping for foods. Every food has its own unique set of characteristics, which include taste and direction of energy, temperature, and specific actions and effects upon key organ systems. Understanding foods in this way underlies the concept of foods used as medicines, long incorporated and practiced by Chinese, Ayurvedic, Native American, and other traditional cultures.

 

For example, Chinese medicine suggests that a person who is energy (Qi) deficient is best de-emphasizing cooling, cleansing bitter greens as well as cooling, watery summer fare. More appropriate to support Qi through digestion and assimilation of nutrients are fall-harvest foods—well-cooked sweet round and root vegetables. In contrast, an individual who shows heat signs and is fluid (yin) deficient might need to avoid too many sweet, warming foods; instead, cooling, hydrating summer foods—some eaten raw—would be ideal.

 

And, there are other things to consider, particularly for those who suffer from joint pain (avoid nightshades), hypothyroid conditions( goitrogens ), or osteoporosis (oxalic acid ). My own joint pain some years ago forced me to give up my garden tomatoes—these favorites were simply too difficult to resist!—and once I did this, and began to limit potatoes as well, my joint pain disappeared.

 

Nightshades. Nightshades—tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers (and tobacco)—contain solanine, which is an alkaloid that can upset digestion and cause headache. Nightshades also move calcium from the bones to joints, organs, and soft tissues, which can create joint pain and arthritis, kidney stones, and arteriosclerosis. Many people who suffer from joint pain vastly improve by eliminating (allow several months) nightshades from the diet.

 

Goitrogens. Goitrogens—broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, rutabaga—are part of the brassica family of vegetables. In their raw or lightly-cooked form, they support health through their anti-cancer compounds dithiolthiones and indoles. However, these same vegetables, unless fully-cooked, depress thyroid function and should be eaten sparingly by anyone with a hypothyroid condition. (It is estimated that half of all Americans are hypothyroid, including those whose blood tests suggest otherwise.)

 

Oxalic Acid. Spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, rhubarb, cranberries, and plums have oxalic acid which (like nightshades) interferes with the absorption of calcium. Cooking these foods (as in the case of goitrogens) helps to mollify oxalic acid and makes their nutrients easier to assimilate.

 

Living environment. Many of us spend much of the day indoors and are little exposed to the seasons. Often, offices and apartment buildings are over-heated in winter and over-cooled in summer. The average temperature in office buildings is characteristically 10 degrees cooler in summer than winter! If, in summer, you are dressed in lighter attire and working all day in a super-cooled office, warming, hearty soups may feel better than a cool, crisp luncheon salad. Also, if you live as I do in an over-heated apartment building in winter, salads and tropical fruits that cool and hydrate, such as bananas and pineapples, may be more welcome than the heavy meals we usually associate with winter.

 

What’s in Season?
The Recipe tab of my website (click here:) http://pathways4health.org/recipesfoods/ now includes a tabular listing of fresh produce when it first appears in the Northeast region of the country. This website page also includes seasonal recipes (to be built upon in the future) to correspond by month with what is in season. Also included are cautionary asterisks on fruits and vegetables, such as apples and celery, that have an unusually high pesticide load and are particularly worth buying “organic”…or purchasing from a local sustainable farmer whom you know and trust. If you live in a different area of the United States, or want to search seasonal produce by specific state or specific food, try Eat Local by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) or Epicurious websites:
http://www.simplesteps.org/eat-local
http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/seasonalingredientmap

 

September Recipe: Stock Pot Improvisation: Vegetable Puree to Transition, by the Season
Soups are amazingly flexible and can be based on ingredients that suit the climate as well as our work style and our own personal health profile. The two recipes below are identical in spirit, but the summer version uses cooling zucchini, while the autumn variation substitutes warming fall harvest vegetables like turnips, rutabaga and butternut squash in place of zucchini. These two standbys are among my own improvisational favorites.

 

Summer Roots and Rounds Soup (yield: about 8 quarts)
6 large onions, diced
12 small/medium zucchini, halved and sliced
2 pounds carrots, peeled and rough sliced
4 T. thyme
1 piece kombu or dulse, optional (these add cooling energy and extra minerals)

 

In a large stock pot, sauté onions until soft and translucent. Add remaining ingredients and cover with filtered water. Bring to a boil, lower heat simmer, simmer, with lid ajar. Soup is finished when vegetables are tender. Allow to cool. Puree with an immersion wand or in a blender.

 

Fall Roots and Rounds Soup (Yield: about 8 quarts)
Onions, turnips, rutabaga, and carrots are all warming. Turnips add a pungent flare to offset the sweetness of the carrots and butternut squash.

6 large onions, diced
4 medium turnips or 2 rutabaga, diced
4 pounds carrots, peeled and rough sliced; or the equivalent amount of diced butternut squash
4 T. thyme
1 piece kombu or dulse (optional: these add extra minerals)

 

In a large stock pot, sauté onions until soft and translucent. Add remaining ingredients and cover with filtered water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, cover with lid ajar. Soup is finished when vegetables are tender. Allow to cool. Puree with an immersion wand or in a blender.

 

I cook a big batch of these soups and store them in quart jars in the refrigerator, to be used anytime to make instant meals for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.
For Breakfast, lunch, or dinner: the soup can be heated, stirring in eggs for a hearty egg-drop soup, with toasted wholegrain or sourdough bread or add in cooked beans and grains or grains and leftover cooked chicken or fish.

 

The possibilities are limitless, but when you take time to cook soup in a big batch, the major part of the cooking job is finished. This is because preparing beans and grains or using leftover animal proteins or opening a can of wild salmon or Portuguese sardines (www.vitalchoice. com), for example, is easy. Soaking and cooking beans or grains takes more planning than real time. Soaked the night before and cooked during breakfast time, these staples are ready to eat later when you are, and like the soup, they can keep for days in the refrigerator. There are endless variations for quick, nutritious meals.

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