Introduction Chapter for my new Book
The book you are holding in your hands is second in a series of books that provide information and inspiration on eating, cooking and vibrant living. I consider my first book, Essential Nourishment: Recipes from My Estonian Farm, a fundamental education in self-care and nourishment. It is a cookbook and nutrition guide all in one, a holistic feel-good companion for living well, one delicious meal at a time, one nurturing action at a time. Topics include the benefits of natural whole foods, adequate hydration and balanced blood sugar levels, the energies of food, the food/mood connection, super foods, understanding the acid and alkaline balance of our blood, deconstructing cravings and living in harmony with the seasons. The nutrition and lifestyle chapters are followed by mostly plant-based recipes for delicious, whole-food meals. A summary of the chapters from my first book are provided on page x for your information.
My second book delves a little deeper. It explains how to maintain digestive health, strengthen the immune system, cleanse the body and mind, prevent inflammation and achieve weight loss—not by counting calories or dieting, but simply by eating great-tasting, nourishing foods.
You will learn about the profound effects of breathing, awareness and pleasure—and how to use them consciously to counterbalance stress, weight gain and digestive distress. Nutrition and lifestyle chapters are followed by healthful, easy-to-prepare recipes that will expand your kitchen vocabulary. You will learn to include lacto-fermented vegetables, sourdough breads and alternative flours for baking. My recipes are always based on natural whole foods and call for just a few lovable ingredients. No complicated food preparation techniques are involved because fresh, seasonal, quality produce is all you need. No external magic is required to make it taste wonderful. And once you get a taste for natural whole foods, you will never want to go back to eating mass-produced, factory-processed, overly sweet or salty foods. And you will not find any refined sweeteners, white flour or questionable oils in this book.
My food philosophy is very simple: Choose foods that are as close as possible to what Mother Earth provides. These natural foods offer the most energy, life force and nutrients. They are the best nourishment for you and your family, and their impact on the planet is minimal. Natural whole foods are a win-win.
My approach to nutrition is integrative, incorporating the wisdom of ancient oriental philosophies with the science of cutting-edge research. There is nothing extreme about it. My recommendations are down to earth and gentle. I believe that we can’t help but be happy and healthy when our lives are well nourished by non-food as well as food sources: enjoyable exercise, satisfying work, harmonious relationships, fulfilling spiritual practices and a varied diet of mostly plant foods, with or without some products from humanely raised animals.
So often we reach for food to compensate, console or numb us when our non-food nourishment is lacking or out of balance. But food will never be able to fill that gap, to even out imbalances or undo inadequacies in these vital areas of lives. That is simply not food’s job.
Food can sustain and regenerate our bodies, creating a solid base for our health and well-being. But it can never solve the shortcomings in our relationships, our work situation, our physical activity level or our spiritual life.
However, a nourishing, satisfying and grounding diet can provide just the right amount of support and stability we need to resolve imbalances in these fundamental areas.
We all have different food requirements. In this book I serve up a healthy portion of information seasoned with a dash of inspiration to help you make smart food choices and design your own way of eating—one that fits your body and your lifestyle. You will come to understand how food works in your body and be able to embrace a healthy way of sustaining yourself that feels natural, without strict rules or regulations.
In fact, I’d like to share with you my 80/20 rule. Even if you have fine-tuned your personal food philosophy and figured out a way to eat that truly works like a charm—if you try to maintain your regimen 100 percent of the time, you may start to feel a little boxed in and develop a little resistance against it. And shortly thereafter you may just decide to abandon your wonderful food philosophy altogether. That would be such a shame!
I therefore recommend eating wisely 80 percent of the time. For the remaining 20 percent, let life happen, go with the flow and feel free to indulge in foods that are not on your list. A fling will not kill you, because you have the solid 80 percent backing you. Sometimes it is more important to go out with friends, have a good time and forget about your precious food philosophy. These times provide nourishment of a different kind: human connection, laughter, fun, social interaction and a carefree feeling—benefits that can easily outweigh the nutritional shortcomings. When you are invited to a friend’s home and the food offered is not as healthful as you would want it to be, avoid being judgmental. Enjoy it as is, accept it gratefully, relax and trust that it will not do you any harm. Most likely it was prepared with love, which outweighs any possible lack of vitamins, minerals or fiber.
There is no need to become a health-food fanatic or the food police. After all, we are only human and need a little room for play, even naughtiness. We are not perfect, and that makes us so charming! If you become a health-food fanatic, you might find yourself cooking by yourself, eating by yourself, chewing very well by yourself, and feeling quite alone, isolated and glum.
At the core of my teachings is the understanding that the best way to nourish yourself is to listen to your body and heed its messages. You can be your own health specialist. By having an ongoing dialogue with your body, you can make connections between the food you ate and the way you feel. You can recognize your body’s needs, know which foods and drinks will make it run smoothly, offer it the right kind of physical activity and sense when it needs to rest.
By listening, you can create a loving relationship with your body—and that is the cornerstone of your health. But as in any relationship where one partner is doing all the giving and the other is doing all the receiving, something is not right and the relationship is not mutually beneficial.
Your body always wants to return to a place of harmony and balance within as it strives to create a happy and healthy home for you. When you eat junk food, your body attempts to digest it for you. When you drink too much alcohol, your body does its best to flush the excess out of your system. When you deprive your body of sleep, it still gets up for you in the morning. So for a more reciprocal and rewarding relationship with your body, listen to and heed its messages. When you work with your body rather than against it, you can create abundant energy, vitality and ease instead of tiredness, depletion and disease.
Awareness is the number one ingredient for a healthy and happy body and life. Our fast pace these days is not exactly conducive to being present in the moment. Too often we rush through the day’s activities without slowing down once in a while to focus on our bodily and spiritual needs. By the end of the day, we are simply exhausted and have no sense of joy or satisfaction. We turn toward sugar to energize us, toward caffeine to wake us up and toward alcohol to relax us. These are short-term quick fixes, and they throw both body and mind out of balance. Quick fixes do not nurture the body. In the long run, they deplete us of minerals and vitamins and set us up for silent inflammation, weight gain, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.
My books are meant to nourish the mind and the belly, but also to nourish the eyes. Each recipe is accompanied by gorgeous full-page photographs taken at my farm and wellness center in Estonia, my birth country. My intention is to inspire you to start cooking right away, to seduce you into healthier eating and living.
When I cook, all senses are involved. I love the look of the food, its flavor, its scent, the sounds of cooking and the feel of holding, washing and cutting vegetables or tearing lettuces. It often occurs to me that the vocabulary of our hands is diminishing in this automated and virtual century. So many people handle only the mouse and the keyboard these days. Who does intricate handwork anymore? It has become a thing of the past. So making home-cooked meals is extremely important—because of the superior quality of the food, because it tastes so much better, because the action of cooking your own food allows you to put your energy and love into it, and also because it is a sensual, dexterous experience for your hands and fingers.
By handling the food ourselves and being fully present when we chop, stir and knead, we just might spontaneously feel a sense of gratitude, wonder and joy for the gifts of Mother Nature. We become a part of life’s cycles and feel connected, at one with life. Preparing food can be a most beautiful moving meditation.
May this book inspire you to try out new foods, recipes and techniques, to be fully present and enjoy the time you spend in your kitchen, to open up to your senses and to take in the beauty all around you, to be grateful to your body and attentive to its needs, to nourish your soul on a daily basis, and to walk a path paved with awareness, acceptance and appreciation.
May this book encourage you to take charge of your own health and well-being, to make any necessary changes in food and lifestyle, to let go of habits that no longer serve you, to trust your intuition and to create the life of your most daring dreams.