Bijgewerkt: 14 jul 2019

Growing up in a Cuban family my normal food was rice and beans with a bit of over cooked veggies on the side and whatever meat was available. Later after immigrating to the U.S with my parents in the 70's other foods came into the picture. The 70's in New York city was a time when fast foods and TV Dinners had taken hold of the culture and claimed to fill the gap that housewives had left when they joined the work force; it was the modern way. Coming from a country that had been isolated since the late 50's, seeing colorfully plastic packaged food and treats, that were cheap and readily available symbolized freedom and capitalism. The new food was beyond temptation, it was the way to go. My family went from eating simply cooked rice and beans with whatever tiny piece of meat was available, prepared at home by my grandmother to a pantry filled with sliced white plastic tasting bread and a fridge filled with 2 liter bottles of Coca-Cola and frozen tv dinners my mother would warm up after coming home from work. I still remember the sound of her panting breath as she climbed the stairs to our fourth floor apartment in N.Y carrying a big supermarket shopping bag filled with sugary cereals, milk, frozen vegetables and a box of supermarket pie (not the kind any proper baker made but rather an assembly line sort of artifact). We were experiencing progress, modernity, liberation from drudgery or so I thought. At that time I couldn't have had a better treat than to go across the street to a newly opened McDonald's. A paradise of colorful plastic furniture, very sweet, salty and greasy foods cutely wrapped in disposable packaging. What emancipated and struggling 70's working mother had time and energy to make an apple pie from scratch which resembled the warm, crunchy gooey apple pie you could get for a couple of cents at the Golden Arch across our apartment building?

Well, it turns out the kids are resilient and in spite of those regular McDonald trips my brother and I grew up relatively unscathed. It was not until years later that I came across the idea of trying to understand the art of cooking and of not eating meat as a possibility. After several attempts during my college time to avoid eating meat, which led back to eating meat and many tasteless meals my friend Ellen sent me a book that I still cherish: The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, by Molly Katzen. This book was my entryway into consistent vegetarian cooking and paved the way to a healthier and more conscious approach to cooking and eating. The Enchanted Broccoli Forest led to more books and more books, now I must have about 300 cooking books. These books have been my cooking university. Just like with any teaching or study the end goal is to liberate yourself from the teacher. I have liberated myself from the need to use any of the books to prepare meals and I have realized that that is when the fun really begins. I still love all of my books and would dare say that I know what's inside all of them.

In the last 20 years I have developed a real love for helping people find ways to get creative with cooking and not to see it as a chore or an activity which one has to free oneself from. One of my missions is to inspire people to embrace cooking and to see it as their everyday work of art.

Here is a recipe adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, which I use almost daily in my restaurant.

Pie Crust:

Apple Pie

1. 90 grams (3/4 cup) flour 2. 35 grams almonds (1/4 cup)

3. 2-3 tablespoons coconut sugar 4. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

5. 6 tablespoons coconut oil 6. 60 ml. (1/4 cup) water

  • Process the first 5 ingredients in the food processor.

  • Add the water through the feed tube a bit at the time until the dough sticks together

  • Roll the dough on baking paper and transfer to a pie form

  • Fill pie with whatever fruit you like.

  • Make sure you mix the fruit with 3-4 tablespoons of Maizena or Arrowroot to bind the liquid. If you want add a bit of sweetener, cinnamon or vanilla.

  • Bake for about 20 minutes at 180 c. degrees

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  • Mercedes Leon

It was the food critic Grimod de la Reynìere who two centuries ago said that "only the vulgar would see no more to a kitchen than saucepans and no more to dinner than dishes".

The art is cooking to prepare nutritious foods that turns the eaters on, making the process of being nurtured and of developing ourselves into a pleasure and a feast for our senses. The colors, textures, flavors, aromas on our daily plates will transform into those of our daily lives. Food can and will transform us. When cooking it is important to play with the variety of principles which we have at our disposal, and to stretch our imagination in order to create the world we would like to live in. Daily cooks, more so than the fancy haute cuisine cooks, are the builders of civilization.

So what are some of the principles

that we can use to help us create dynamic nourishing foods on which civilizations can continue to be built successfully?

  1. Whole foods

  2. Fresh foods

  3. Local foods

  4. Seasonal foods

  5. Harmony with ancestral traditions

  6. Balanced

  7. Delicious

In order to create nourishing foods the various elements and ingredients in the cooking process should lead us to balance, but the search for balance can be tricky. We usually try to balance ourselves in odd ways, for example by getting into repetitive habits, keeping the same routines, eating the same foods cooked in the same ways year after year. We humans have the tendency to want to hold on to things and seek comfort and stability based on repetition; balance on the other hand is quite elusive. Balance is about keeping up with the constant changes of life, it is the state of reaching stability within constant movement. The fun part is that once we embrace the idea of change as the natural order of things, life becomes a game, we can walk hand in hand with nature, and enjoy the ride. You may ask what does this all have to do with tonight's dinner? The answer is everything. This coming Sunday July 23 I will be giving a cooking workshop titled Cooking for Health and Pleasure. In this workshop we will transform plants into delicious and healthy dishes that will feed your body and soul. Menu:

Tofu Croquettes

Beet hummus

Green Pea Coconut and Mint Soup

Fajitas Quinoa Pilaf with Corn, Spinach and Spring Onions Lemon Pies

Lemon Pies

Are you interested in our workshops and activities and would like to receive information? Drop us an email and we will keep you informed. theartofhealthycooking@gmail.com

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  • Mercedes Leon

My journey begins fifty-one years ago on the island of Cuba. By that time the revolution had already succeeded and Castro had become the leader of the country. The new government instituted food ratios in order to try to equalize food distribution in the country.

As a result, besides often not getting enough to eat, much of the food that was available to the general population was simple and basic.

Luckily I (as well as many other Cubans) had a very creative abuela who was an artist in the kitchen. To me this meant that with the often limited ingredients available to her she was able to create simple, traditional, and delicious dishes. I learned from her, but it wasn’t until many years later when I became seriously interested in cooking that I made a connection between my grandmother’s simple and creative way of cooking and the scarcity of that time.

Although creativity may seem to be the result of affluence and abundance of resources, I have been thrilled to experience how with just a few simple ingredients one can perform magic in the kitchen. As a result good cooking for me is the art of turning simple, mostly plant based ingredients into beautiful and nutritious dishes.

Life takes all source of turns and I ended up as a classical musician, which has had me hooked on art, beauty and creativity long after I decided to move on from my career as a musician. I see art happening all the time, everywhere, and believe that art is something that all of us humans do, and we do a lot of it. Not only are we all productive artists in our daily lives, but our lives are like works of art in and of themselves: novels, short stories, poems, paintings, songs, sculptures, dances, deliciously spicy, bland, tasty and colourful dishes. Becoming aware of our daily works of art will enhance the quality of our lives and give more meaning to them.

Cooking is one of the activities in which I engage daily, and just like most other activities it can be experienced as a vehicle for self expression and creativity. Home cooked meals may not be the kind of works of art which you find in museums or concert halls, but the essence of it is the same: combining ideas with a sense of purpose and creativity, and as a result receiving and giving insight from and to the world around us. Cooking is a medium I have chosen to inspire and awaken awareness of the way that I and others engage in daily works of art.

As with any form of art the art of cooking is inseparable from our own personal stories, our memories and associations. Therefore I thought it important to let you into my world of foods and how foods participate in my world.

Just as with most choices, my food choices partly define who I am. There are are stories and feelings behind many of the dishes that I regularly cook for my family. Some are dishes which are reminiscent of my Cuban background, some reflect a certain Spanish influence from my mother’s side and from having lived in Spain as a child; many have an American influence as a result of having spent a big part of my youth living there; and of course there are Dutch influences behind some, since Holland is where my adult family life takes place as wife and mother of four children.

Most of the food I cook is vegan because that is how my cooking has mostly been for the last 15 years. Plant based cooking has been my basis since I became health conscious 20 years ago, and five years later when I came across macrobiotics.

But, my journey with foods did not come to a halt with those discoveries and my fascination with cooking has continued to grow and develop beyond the confines of philosophies and trends. My goal has been to combine ideas with a sense of purpose, receiving and giving insight from and to the world around us. I don’t consider myself an official vegan since I will occasionally bake with eggs and sometimes eat fish, but my heart is and most likely will remain with the magical world of plant based foods.

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