It was a very long winter -- you just can’t argue that. Ask anyone you like and they will certainly agree. It wasn’t the amount of snow; in fact, more snow might have made it a little more tolerable. It was the long, seemingly never-ending March with not even a glimpse of spring and practically no sugaring season. Then came April, which just stayed cold. And here we are in May, feeling like its April -- everything taking its time leafing out and budding. We’re celebrating days that hit 55 and happy when the nights stay above freezing.
One thing this long winter did to me was keep me in hibernation. I craved comfort foods, and, feeling like they would help me cope, I ate them, especially in front of a movie or curled up with a good book. The lasting effect of this was accumulated weight gain, a general sluggish feeling and some entrenched bad habits. And I wasn’t the only one -- several people that I spoke to were struggling with the same things for the same reasons.
Toward the end of March I received an email from a health coach that I had worked with in the past inviting clients to join in a spring cleanse. Susan Reade is in the Lebanon, N.H., area and works with many women to help them reach their lifestyle goals, with much focus on wellness and nutrition. And nutrition was something I was completely lacking. In this email she spoke of her body’s "craving a little bit of lightening up." I stopped to listen -- this was exactly what my body was asking for!
So, with a bit of apprehension but a willingness to try, I spoke with Susan. She reassured me that this experience was meant to be nurturing and about abundance, not deprivation. Knowing my past experience with her I decided to give it a go. After all, doing this by telephone gave me plenty of room to "adjust" anything I felt too difficult, right?
About a month later I received the initial cleanse information from Susan. It was to be based on Ayurvedic principals, an ancient system of natural healing that originates in India and something that I didn’t know much about. Susan also included much about mindfulness and self-care, two components of my life that tend to get pushed aside with a busy work and family life.
I was intrigued to see that part of this cleanse consisted of a short-term mono-diet of kitchari, a dish made of mung beans and rice with cleansing spices. The idea was that this nutritious and nurturing dish would allow my body to focus on recovering, rebalancing and healing instead of simply trying to digest what I was putting into it haphazardly. Susan wondered if it might become a new comfort food. I’m not sure that I had ever had a mung bean and I couldn’t quite imagine eating the same thing over and over, even if it had these seemingly magical powers. Hmmmm.
In the end, this cleanse was even more successful than I had hoped. The initial couple of days of sugar, gluten, butter and cheese withdrawal were not easy, but I managed. I then found the kitchari to be exactly what Susan had described it -- a comfort food. I surprised myself by enjoying the ease and simplicity that not having to make choices about what to eat gave me. I felt better -- way better -- than I had going in to this cleanse, definitely as though I was getting a fresh start in this slowly but surely arriving season of spring. I even found myself having a difficult time transitioning from the kitchari back to "regular" foods, which now looked very different than the "regular" foods that I had been eating all winter. I no longer craved gravy and mashed potatoes but was looking forward to more fresh vegetables and healthier grains. It was a strangely wonderful transformation in many ways.
I certainly don’t claim to understand Ayurvedic tradition, but I do know that I will be turning back to kitchari again, and not necessarily as part of a formally defined "cleanse" but as a way to take a digestive breath and help get myself back on track. It doesn’t seem a "seasonal" food to me and knowing that it is nutritionally sound makes it an easy and healthful option when I might need a boost. Apparently there are endless versions of kitchari, and even I developed my own based on what Susan initially sent me. Try it as part of a cleanse with Susan or someone like her to guide you, as a quick break from your current eating habits or just out of curiosity and because it sounds good to you -- all are great reasons to add this to your recipe repertoire.
(adapted from Susan Reade)
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or canola oil
1Ž2 teaspoon each fenugreek and fennel seeds (I got mine at the co-op)
1 cup mung beans, rinsed and soaked 12 hours
2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, grated
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1Ž2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
1Ž4 cup basmati rice, rinsed
5 cups water
2 large carrots, chunked
6-8 small kale leaves, chopped
Heat ghee or oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Toast fenugreek and fennel a moment; add mung beans and stir to coat. Add remainder of spices and rice; stir to combine and allow to "toast" a few minutes. Pour in water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer 15 minutes. Add carrots and simmer an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary. Incorporate kale, cover and turn off heat.
There will be barbeques this spring and ice cream this summer, but I move ahead feeling refreshed, renewed and proud knowing that I was able to stick to it and hit my "reset" button. I feel so much better and while my family is happy to see the return of more regular, albeit healthier meals to the table (I’m not actually sure what they ate while I was in the midst of this cleanse) I know that they can see and feel the difference in me too.
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.