I will post my final article about my Nagano trip soon, but life has intervened a bit and I haven't yet sat down and put it all down (or up).
But I want to write a little about my new hobby--cooking, in particular cooking organic, almost Macrobiotic foods.
Because of my dad's influence, I grew up eating Macrobiotic food, though only occasionally and not with much zeal. However, I learned a lot from the experience, and now, as an adult with high blood pressure and more mature taste buds, eating a stricter diet appeals much more to me. I generally try to eat organic foods, more for philosophical reasons than concerns about pesticides, though I do find organic foods taste better than conventional (sometimes much better, for example peaches and tomatoes). I always buy shade grown, fairly traded, organic coffee also for philosophical reasons, but more than anything because it just tastes better. But I've spent the last year eating primarily processed foods from the local supermarket, mainly because of laziness, I suppose. Once in a while I'd stop in at a ramen shop or Matsuya (Japanese-style fast food, with pork over rice), or even a curry tonkatsu, or fried pork cutlet. No wonder my blood pressure has risen.
Because of concerns about my health, because of some odd stuff that happened at the end of my biking trip, because of concern about the environment (livestock contributes more to global warming than automobiles), I decided last week to cut back on the processed food and try my hand at cooking some real food from scratch.
Before I continue, I should note that I am using the word "Macrobiotic" in a very loose way here--Macrobiotics is not just about being vegan or cutting sugar and salt, it is a whole way of life that I do not participate in. I actually know very little of the philosophy underlying Macrobiotics. I use the term basically because the cookbook I am using is called "Macrobiotic Start Book," and I want a better word than "vegan" to describe what I am doing.
In any case, using the book I just mentioned, I have made almost every meal from scratch, entirely with organic foods. I'm not going to claim any miracles have happened--if my blood pressure has gone down, I haven't measured it; I haven't lost any weight; I still need more sleep than I would like. What I'm interested in is the taste--four or five out of the five or six meals I've cooked so far have been really, really good, much better than I have eaten before. They were filling, more filling than most foods I eat. And I feel better about what I am eating--I know where every ingredient came from and how much I put in. So I also know I am eating a much wider variety of foods--until last week I probably ate a main dish consisting of salty sauce, some kind of meat, and perhaps one vegetable. I did often eat salads, but at best that was lettuce, avocado, tomato, onion, natto, and mushrooms, and recently I had settled on lettuce, natto, and onions most of the time.
Here's what I've eaten this week:
daikon (Japanese radish)
mushrooms (maitake and shiitake)
green onions and their cousins, nira and naganegi
Japanese pumpkin (kabocha)
Japanese seaweed (nori, wakame, and, in stock for soup, kombu)
Japanese cucumbers (kyuri)
Japanese eggplant (nasu)
Most of these are included in every meal (I mean dinner). I haven't included the wide variety of nuts, the tofu, or brown rice.
And I'll tell you what. It's good. It really tastes good. The best miso soup I've ever eaten came from my kitchen, and not because I made it. It just was made with high quality ingredients in the right proportion. I just ate an excellent curry, and perhaps my favorite dish so far was the first one, mabodofu, a spicy Chinese dish of tofu often made with pork. It was fantastic. It really pleased me that I had made it, but more than that I was happy to be eating something that tasted so good!
Honestly, an important part of the change was shifting from eating processed foods to cooking from scratch--using quality ingredients improves the flavor a hundred-fold, I'm sure. But the simplicity of vegan ingredients makes it enjoyable as well--when it tastes good. If it doesn't taste good, I won't bother eating it. I've had a couple of flops so far, but the rich flavor of the other foods have made up for those bad meals. And it would be pretty difficult to go back to processed foods, though I haven't sworn off them completely yet.
One final note--one big reason I've started this whole business was to reduce the amount of packaging I throw away because of processed foods. I haven't kept a tally so far, but I imagine the difference is pretty pronounced. But my biggest problems is drinks--I drink a lot of water and juice every day, and plastic bottles add up extremely quickly, and though I can recycle the things, plastic recycling isn't the most pleasant process from what I hear. I filter my water and try to bring a bottle with me wherever I go, but juices are a much bigger problem. At some point I'll probably start making my own fruit juices, but for now I'm very happy with my latest concoction: Tangy Ginger Water(TM). I cut up some ginger, throw it in a teapot and boil it, then add apple vinegar and honey. I let it cool to room temperature, then throw it in the fridge. It really tastes great, and would be ridiculously cheap if it weren't for the honey (it tastes good without it, but I prefer a bit of sweetness in my drinks), as it is mainly water. I just wanted a little bit of a healthier drink, and it turned out pretty well.