This past Thursday it may have been cold outside, but the crowd inside the Glencoe Park District’s Takiff Center was warm and toasty. This was thanks in large part to the deliciously warming foods everyone was enjoying at the Glencoe Community Garden’s fabulous free community educational program, “Roasty Toasty Veggies” lead by Certified Holistic Health Coach, Evey Schweig. As Schweig explained why some foods are naturally warming and demonstrated how to prepare several delicious recipes, participants sipped on spicy Chai tea while nibbling Roasted Cinnamon Parsnips; Roasted Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa; and a Roasted Root Vegetable Medley.
In her presentation, Schweig explained that nature provides a natural way for us to eat foods that help us adapt to the seasons. Although we may have gotten away from this natural cycle of eating due to modern conveniences and fresh vegetables being available to us all year long, that wasn’t always the case.
In the past, our ancestors had to take advantage of foods when they were available to them. Plus Mother Nature provided the foods people needed to survive: foods that cooled and energized them in the spring and summer; foods that kept them warm and grounded in the winter.
As westerners we tend to think of the number of calories we take in and are constantly searching for guidance on the perfect diet to eat. There are ancient philosophies, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that take a different approach. They believe that each food has its own qualities and energies to them that are transferred to us. Some foods are cooling in nature and some are warming. When warming and cooling foods are not in balance, it leaves the body susceptible to illness.
Not surprisingly many of the cooling foods are those that are harvested in the spring and summer. Foods like lettuce, celery, and sprouts fall into this category. Early greens such as dandelion leaves, watercress, and beet greens fall into this category too, as well as asparagus, summer squashes, and zucchini. Tropical fruits tend to be more cooling in general.
Then there are the foods of fall and winter. Since these foods have taken a longer time to grow, TCM believes they are more warming, have added grounding qualities to them, and make us more focused and relaxed. Sweet potatoes, winter squash such as acorn, kabocha, pumpkin, and carnival; leeks, garlic, onions, carrots and turnips help heat our bodies by pushing the blood and energy to the surface during digestion.
It is not just vegetables that have these qualities either. There are warming and cooling grains, fruits, legumes, seeds and nuts too, as well as beverages. Schweig noted that green tea, even when it is heated, is considered more cooling than black tea. Her recommendation: sip green tea in the spring and black tea in the winter.
Schweig provided helpful tips on how we can make more cooling foods warmer and vice versa by combining foods. One way to do this is to add warming spices. Some good warming spices include many of those found in curries: cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, chili, cloves, ginger, turmeric, and pepper. It’s no wonder that many of these spices are found in our Thanksgiving and holiday dishes!
The way a food is prepared will affect its warming qualities as well. Raw foods tend to be more cooling, so it is best to eat more cooked vegetables in the winter. Foods that are cooked for longer periods, such as roasting tend to be more warming, than steaming for example. So roast your vegetables for the most benefit!
The Glencoe Community Garden in partnership with The Glencoe Park District presents free educational community programs throughout the year. Coming up soon at the Takiff Center: “Foraging Wild Edibles on the North Shore” with Jordan Frazen, Green Building Consultant on Tuesday, January 30 at 6:30 pm; “Hydroponics 101: Forget the Dirt for Inside Growing at Home!” with Fred Miller and Jim Goodman on Wednesday, February 28 at 6:30 pm; “Zero Waste 101: Reusable Alternatives” with Baily Warren and Celia Ristow, Zero Waste Co-Founders, Tuesday, March 20 at 6:30 pm.