People (myself included) generally want to be good. Sometimes they just need a little encouragement. I wrote about this in Sidewalks and Schoolyard Gardens, when I told the story of the sidewalk that was built near our house last spring. It exemplified the 'Field of Dreams' phenomenon. In other words, “if you build it, they will come.”
Make something attractive and accessible, and it becomes exciting and desirable—whether it is a ballpark in the middle of a cornfield, or a way to perambulate unscathed down a busy byway. A sidewalk is the perfect public health intervention. It is a means of promoting physical activity, people-powered transportation and neighborly interactions. Peter Maurin, an early twentieth century social activist, once said, “We need to make the kind of society where it is easier for people to be good.” We can’t just tell people what they should or shouldn’t be doing for their health. We need to make the positive options more appealing.
This is especially true of food. Recently I wanted my family to experience the benefits of buckwheat, a tasty powerhouse grain that is perfect for active individuals who live in cold climates. Despite it's name, buckwheat is not wheat, and is also good for people who have wheat gluten sensitivities.
I first tasted buckwheat as a child. My father, an inveterate breakfast maker, occasionally veered away from eggs and other traditional morning fare to experiment with pancakes comprised of buckwheat flour--otherwise known as 'ployes.' We made our ployes from a mix sold by the Bouchard Family in Fort Kent, which is in Aroostook County, at the very northernmost part of Maine. Ployes are flatter than most pancakes; almost crepelike, though more hardy. They do not contain eggs, and they can be eaten throughout the day.
I became interested in buckwheat again this past winter, when I read Aveline Kushi's Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking:
Buckwheat is the traditional staple in Siberia, Manchuria, Russa, Poland, and other parts of Europe and Central Asia. Its kernels are called groats, and it is eaten in whole form or coarse or fine granules, which are roasted and called kasha. In Japan, buckwheat has been eaten for centuries in the form of noodles called soba...Since it flourishes in nearly any soil, among rocks, and in cold climates, buckwheat is the hardiest of the cereal grasses. It is extremely warming to the body and provides reservoirs of energy and stamina in the winter and cold weather.
"Aha!" I said to myself, upon reading this. "What a perfect food to feed our family." Everyone in our house is active, and of course, Maine is very chilly in the winter. Maybe not as cold as Manchuria, but it it feels close sometimes.
My husband did not need to be convinced to experiment with buckwheat. As it happens, he is originally from Fort Kent, and has been eating ployes all of his life. Fort Kent is much colder than where we live in Southern Maine. They may even rival Manchuria. And this winter the snowbanks on the road are so high that you can't see the houses. So they REALLY need the benefits of buckwheat up there.
According to Paul Pitchford's Healing With Whole Foods
Cleans and strengthens the intestines and improves appetite...Rutin, a bioflavanoid found in buckwheat, strengthens capillaries and blood vessels, inhibits hemorrhages, reduces blood pressure, and increases circulation in the hands and feet.
Paul Pitchford does point out that buckwheat is not recommended for those with
high fever, thirst, red face, deep red tongue color, and high blood pressure, or for those with...dizziness, disorientation, nervousness, spasms or emotional instability.
In other words, buckwheat can be too warm and energizing for some people. But not our family. Not this winter.
We found that Abby could be easily convinced to substitute soba noodles for the pasta she usually brought to swim meets. After boiling the noodles until they were just slightly al dente, I tossed them with a little light sesame oil, a touch of shoyu soy sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Abby liked them so much that she started bringing them to school.
We also experimented with using soba noodles in family meals. This past week it was 'soba lo mein.' It received rave reviews.
Soba Lo Mein (Adapted from 'Beef Lo Mein,' Jane Brody's Good Food Book)
3 Tbs reduced sodium tamari soy sauce
2 Tbs oyster sauce
1 Tbs light sesame oil
½ tsp brown rice syrup
½ lb soba noodles (we used Eden Organic)
3-4 quarts boiling water
½ lb flank tempeh, flank steak, shrimp, chicken, other previously cooked meat or protein (we used flank steak for the meat eaters in our midst)
1/2 tsp peanut oil
2 Tbs miced garlic
1 cup julienned celery
½ cup bamboo shoots
1 cup julienned bok choy
3-4 cups coarsely chopped, well washed spinach
(optional: 1 cup shredded Chinese cabbage, 1 cup bean sprouts--we did not use these)
Combine sauce ingredients, stir well, set aside.
Prepare soba noodles in boiling water as directed, set aside.
Heat remaining oil for 15 seconds. Add garlic, celery, bamboo shoots. Stir fry for 30 sec, add bok choy (and bean sprouts & cabbage, if desired). Toss for 1 minute constantly. Add reserved meat and noodles. Mix ingredients well. Add spinach.
Stir sauce, all at once, into stir fry. Mix thoroughly. Serve heated or chilled.
Though I usually steer clear of noodles myself, I liked this recipe. Soba has a low 'glycemic index,' which means that it is not metabolized as quickly as other types of pasta.
As an aside, we did not use all of the bok choy we had purchased in preparing our Soba Lo Mein, so the next day I chopped it up and sauteed it in light sesame oil with minced ginger, shoyu soy sauce and just a touch of brown rice syrup. I finished it off with a scattering of sesame seeds and ate it with brown rice for lunch. I would have had leftover Soba Lo Mein, but it had already been devoured.
Today, we were back to enjoying our buckwheat in pancake form: Abby & I made ployes drizzled with a miniscule amount of buckwheat honey (which happened to be the type used in the Honey & Cough Study). As we did, we thought of Kevin, who is currently in Fort Kent with his family and the fifteen foot snowbanks. They are experiencing a Good Friday blizzard. I hope they have buckwheat on board.
I also hope that Kevin's Nana, who has made many a ploye in her day, feels better soon. She has spent Holy Week in Fort Kent Community Hospital. We are all praying for her. I know that Nana would love to hear about our adventures with ployes and soba lo mein. She has been feeding her family (literally and figuratively) for most of her 96--almost 97--years.
If you don't have a Nana in your life, you can feed your family with your own 'field of dreams' food:
make it tasty, and they will eat.