Chinese Medicine considers preventative care as important as treating the disease itself. If we cultivate our health we can prevent illness and injury from occurring and minimize their consequences when 'disease evils' do attack us. Join Kath Bartlett, MS, LAc as she shares thoughts, news articles, recipes & tips derived from a wide variety of source material, as it relates to Chinese medicine and cultivating optimal health for the body, mind and spirit.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Boston - Style Baked Beans & Blue Cornbread

These baked beans are not really baked, but they are easy and mouth-watering delicious. I like to make a large quantity as beans freeze well, and these are winners at potlucks. I team it with Blue Cornbread, a favorite quickbread of mine that I've been baking for many years.

The (not) baked beans recipe comes from my dog eared and adored cookbook (the velveteen rabbit on my cookbook shelf), Peter Berley's The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. Peter was the executive chef at NYC's Angelica Kitchen, my favorite vegetarian restaurant there, a standard established in 1976. The Angelica Home Kitchen cookbook is my also often used but not so dog eared favorite.

Boston (not) Baked Beans

I've used lots of combinations of beans here, all work well, so it's really up to your imagination and your pantry. Peter suggests pintos or northern beans. I like cranberry and rattlesnake beans, when i used to be able to find them. I like to do a combination of different beans. One year I tried 1/2 Lima's (believe it: they were good) with 1/3 navy, 1/3 northern and 1/3 white cannelini for the other half. My note in my books says "delicious". Another time i combined pintos and kidneys. I've also done all northern. It's a fool-proof recipe that works well no matter what you use. Most recently i did a black soybean, Appaloosa and red bean combo. I tend to think i prefer the white bean combo

dried beans, sorted and soaked overnight
2 onions, cut in half stuck with 4-5 cloves - peeling unnecessary
3 celery ribs, with leaves, broken in half
3 carrots, broken in half
9 cloves garlic, not necessary to peel
1 strip kombu
6 slices ginger root (3/16" thick)
2 bay leaves
1/3C olive oil
water to cover
3/4C maple syrup
1/2C tamari soy sauce
2T Dijon mustard
celtic sea salt
freshly ground blk pepper

Optional: first saute the veggies in the oil. or just combine the beans and veggies and salt a pressure cooker and cover with 1" of water. bring to a boil, skimming off foam. attach lid and bring to full pressure, reduce heat and cook 10 minutes.
release pressure by running pot under cold water. remove veggies and discard.

(i collect the discarded flavoring veggies and spices as well and veggie scraps in a bag in the freezer. when it gets full i use them to make veg stock. for more, see the last item on this post.)

heat the beans on a medium flame. add the syrup, soy sauce and mustard. cook, uncovered for 30 minutes or so until "meltingly tender". the liquid will thicken into a rich sauce. add pepper to taste. Voila.

Why Celtic sea salt?

this type of salt is loaded trace minerals from the sea, accounting for its grey color. many of these have few other dietary sources.

Why Kombu, and What is it?

Kombu is a sea vegetable, sold in the macrobiotic section of natural food stores, and co-ops. When cooked with beans, it aids their digestibility and also adds valuable trace minerals we normally would not include in a daily diet. 100g provides 800mg of calcium, 300mg iodine, 150mg phosphorous, a whopping 5800 mg of potassium & 430 ius of vitamin A. Keep in mind that 1 strip of kombu weighs about a half a gram. After cooking the beans, pull out the Kombu and either compost it or finely chop it and mix it into your pet’s food to add the trace minerals to their diet.

I am fortunate to come from a family of cooks. Both my grandmothers made delicious meals. My maternal grandmother was considered a gourmet in her day. I remember standbys she made, like potato, split pea and lentil soups, apple butter and apple sauce, kidneys (i didn't touch them, but apparently my mother requested them), spaghetti sauce (gravy), lots of jams and so on. She would come to our house once a month for a week, cook up a storm, and load the pantry until her next visit. it would sure be nice to have her around to do that for me, as an adult. she was helping my mother raise a family. that was her generation. so i lived in a house full of home cooked food. no packages or cans, that was her conviction.

my mother is not so much a gourmet, she makes solid wholesome staples, like fresh green salads, steamed veggies, rice. she to served her family fresh, balanced meals. typical a meat, generally broiled chicken, lamb chops or beef, a steamed vegetable and a starch or grain. nothing stands out for the latter category, but i am sure that it was represented on the plate. my father, typical male, liked to bar-be-que: chicken, steaks or ribs. he always enjoyed cooking and has taken over the kitchen in retirement (to my mother's great joy). he also is a gourmet and adventurous. you name it, he makes it, really.

so true to my genes, i began cooking as a teenager, taking over for my working mother. i got tired of late, simple meals so started getting creative: coq au vin, ratatouille, if the picture looked appetizing i wanted to try it.

however, when as a young woman i changed to a vegetarian diet, i found cooking impossible. i couldn't just modify all the ingredients and turn the dishes into veg-friendly offerings: it didn't work. i couldn't rely on a no-brainer, broiled meat and a veggie, and couldn't find an easy plant based protein to sub for the meat.

i was living in NYC at the time, and fortunately discovered the Natural Gourmet Cooking School, where i learned to cook again, this time vegetarian. i have favorite dishes i'm still making from those invaluable classes.

This cornbread recipe comes from one of their basic series cooking classes, this one taught by Tim Aiken. I've done some modifying over the years, and now have this standby that i still make often.

Blue Cornbread

2C blue cornmeal

2C spelt flour

2T Baking pwd

2C water

1/2C coconut oil, melted

1/3C raspberry brown rice syrup

1t sea salt

preheat oven 400.

whisk wet (and salt) and dry ingredients together in separate bowls. add the wet ingredients to the flours, blend well. pour into a 9x9" baking pan and bake 400 for 10 minutes (8 min convection). reduce heat to 375 and bake 30 min (23 min convection) until lightly browned. cool and cut into squares. serve with Earth Balance margarine.

Why blue cornmeal?

i have an adventurous palate, and like to try anything different (yellow and purple cauliflower are favs). so when i saw the blue cornmeal, i wanted to give it a try. i think its a little heartier and more flavorful than yellow.

i use spelt flour to avoid wheat (even though its a cousin). i use the pastry flour, its lighter for baking.


use pampered chef stoneware baking pans. they don't require greasing and they are easier to clean. the company recommends against soap. just soak in warm water and loosen and remove any stuck food with a brush. KB

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Formula For Longevity

(Translated from a Chinese scroll)

For a person to live 100 years should not be uncommon,
Less meat, more vegetables, and warm tea makes a healthy spleen [digestion],
To live a healthy long life has a secret,
Picky eating and over drinking over time becomes disease,
Go to bed early, wake early, over-sleeping has no benefit,
Use medicinal herbs [medicines] carefully,
When you are ill, seek medical care,
There should be balance between work and rest,
Work and rest should have regularity,
Keep a positive outlook and an open mind,
When encountering things, don’t rush,
Be sure to breathe plenty of fresh air,
Less stillness and more activity will increase your vitality,
Your environment should be neat and clean,
Get plenty of sunlight,
Martial arts and qi gong will bring out your exuberance,
Music, chess, calligraphy, and painting strengthen the mind and make the body healthy,
Running and exercise have great benefit,
Be disciplined with your diet,
Smoking and drinking should be avoided,
Physical work can prevent illness and dispel disease.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Asparagus Risotto

Asparagus were on sale at Greenlife/Whole Foods in Asheville this Saturday. In honor of the vernal equinox, i picked up a bunch and made my yummy spring risotto. This is a hearty dish. I combined a couple of recipes i found in 2007 & 2008 in the NY Times and did my own thing with them. One is the Pope's Risotto, a dish developed for the Pontiff's 2008 spring visit to NYC. Age 81 at the time, the Pope requested bland dishes that were light and seasonal, so this asparagus, peas and fava bean risotto was developed to suit the papal entrails.

The other is from my favorite food columnist, Mark Bittman's The Minimalist. Typical of his recipes, this Asparagus Risotto is simple, easy and mmm, mmm good.

so here's Kath's Yummy Spring Risotto with Spinach/Onion Pesto Sauce

For the Risotto:
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1" pieces, tips reserved. remove any thick stems.
1 1/2 lbs Arborio rice
4C veg stock
2C water
2T olive oil
3T Earth Balance margarine
1/3 medium red onion, medium-small dice
1 portabello mushroom cap, large dice
1/2C peas (frozen OK)
1/2C white wine
1+t Celtic sea salt, to taste
3-4T vegan Parmesan
3-4T hemp nut seeds
1/3-1/2C toasted pine nuts

For the pesto:

1C packed spinach leaves, washed
1/4-3/8C packed sliced chives: 2-3
1/2C+ olive oil
1/4t Celtic sea salt

Steam half a bunch of the asparagus stalks (no tips) until soft, approx 5 min.

Put stock & water in separate pans and heat on low.

In a large, deep stir-fry pan, heat the oil and 1T of the margarine on medium heat. When its hot, add the onion, stirring occasionally until soft, about 5 min.

While the onion is cooking, puree the steamed asparagus stalks in a food processor (yes, u get to use it :), adding enough water to get a smooth paste.

When the onion is soft, add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until glossy, about 5 min. Add the wine, stirring until the liquid bubbles away. Add salt. Begin adding the warmed stock, 1/2C-1C at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time the stock has about evaporated, add a little more.

While the risotto is cooking, blend the pesto ingredients together in the food processor: put the veggies in the bowl and add the olive oil in a stream thru the hole at the top.

When the risotto has cooked about 15 min, add the remaining asparagus and tips, mushrooms and peas (if using fresh peas).

When the risotto becomes tender with a slight crunch (after about 30+ of cooking time) add the asparagus puree and peas (if using frozen). Remove from heat, add the Parmesan, remaining butter, hemp seeds and pine nuts, stirring well. add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a spoonful of pesto over the top. Enjoy. KB

Why Celtic sea salt?

this type of salt has more trace minerals, many of which have few other dietary sources.

Why hemp seeds?

Hemp seeds are high in protein, especially important for those on a plant based diet. You can stir it into rice and grains and sprinkle over veggies and salads. they are about the size of sesame seeds, with a mild flavor.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Gou Ji Berries?

Gou Ji berries have become a health trend in the past few years. These small red berries were plucked out of Traditional Chinese Medicine's (TCM) Materia Medical (catalogue of herbs and other medicinal substances, like shells and animal products). I've seen it included in a range of products and snack foods, such as smoothies and trail mix. Their popularity has shot up the price and reduced its availability. Lately I have discovered that several of the natural food stores in Asheville, NC are not able to obtain it for their shelves. But contrary to popular belief, this tonic herb should not be
used for general consumption.

In Chinese herbal medicine, Gou Qi Zi, Lycii Fructus (lycii berries) tonifies Liver and Kidney yin and blood and brightens the eyes. Yin and yang are polar opposites and in Chinese medicine we use the concept of yin and yang to help explain and treat disease processes in the body. Yin refers to female, quiescence, cool, darkness, earth, feminine, night, moon and water. In the body, substance and blood are yin.

The kidney organ system in Chinese medicine house the root of yin and yang in the body. It also rules the aging process, from conception, through puberty and maturation, as well as decline until eventually we die because the kidney energy has exhausted itself.

The liver in TCM stores blood. For women, at the time of the menses it sends the blood down to the uterus to be expelled. The liver channel begins at the big toe and travels up the inside of the leg, through the genitalia, up the side of the torso to the chest. Then it goes internally up to the eyes and top of the head.

Gou Qi Zi nourishes the qi (energy) and blood of the liver and kidneys. We use it for gyn issues involving deficiency and to tonify the liver and kidney systems when they are weak. It is a commonly used herb for those undergoing radiation and chemo therapy, which burns yin and blood.

In Chinese herbal medicine, we classify herbs according to their temperature. Cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg, cloves and Sichuan pepper are all warming herbs. Mint and watermelon are cooling. Generally speaking Gou Qi Zi is considered a neutral herb: neither warm nor cold. Of interesting note is a personal antidote mentioned by Zhang Zi-Chun in Essays on Medicine Esteeming the Chinese and Respecting the Western. As a neutral herb, Gou Qi Zi is not considered to have the ability to clear heat. However Zhang disagrees, citing a personal experience when he was waking up feeling hot and drinking a pitcher of water throughout the night. He began chewing 30g of Gou Qi Zi before bedtime. He continued to waken during the night, but didn't feel warm and he reduced his water intake by 50%.

This scenario is commonly seen in perimenopausal women. Traditional Chinese herbalists often include Gou Qi Zi in formulas when treating perimenopause to tonify the kidney yin. This example may show some ability of Gou Qi Zi to clear heat for these women. I frequently use the root of this plant, Di Gu Pi, Lycii Cortex to clear heat for hot flashes.

Because it goes to the eyes, Gou Qi Zi is commonly used for eye problems due to deficiency, such as weakness, floaters and blurred vision. For this purpose, a tea can be made with Gou Qi Zi and chrysanthemum flowers (Ju Hua), using a 10-25 berries and a few dried blossoms. Gently simmer in filtered or deionized water for 10-20 minutes and drink 1-2 cups daily.

Ron Teeguarden notes that good quality berries are thick, bright red, sweet and tender. If they are brownish or dry and crunchy they have been stored too long. (2) The berries can be added to soups, stews and grains, up to a handful per day. Be sure you have blood and yin deficiency before using, by checking first with a traditional Chinese herbalist. KB


1. Bensky, Clavey & Stoger, Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, 3rd Edition, 2004 Eastland Press, p760.

2. Teeguarden, Ron, Chinese Tonic Herbs, 1985 Japan Publications. p.97.