It's Christmas Day, and I have a confession to make...I'll be eating turkey—and enjoying every last mouthful. I love my veggies, and for about 20 years of my career, I would not even entertain the idea of being in the same kitchen as anything that once walked. I was committed to my vegan lifestyle, which began with the image of a cow being slaughtered.
Growing up in the Irish countryside, the cows grazing in the fields became my friends, and it deeply saddened me to see them being piled into trucks and taken to be killed. I was a teenager when I first witnessed one being killed, and that was the moment I made my decision—I proudly let my family and classmates know that I had become a vegetarian. Of course, I was consuming more than my fair share of milk and butter and piled up on the nuts and whatever I considered to be an adequate substitute for animal flesh. It was when I discovered macrobiotics that I started to understand how I could get my protein from other sources, such as grains and beans.
When I was very young, I overheard my aunt telling my mother, "That Aine is very easily influenced." As a young child, I had absolutely no idea what she meant and wondered if this was a good or a bad thing. Words are very powerful and, especially as children, when we hear something we take it on board. Even though I had no idea what she meant at the time, I now totally understand what she was talking about. I've learned that this quality can be good or bad, depending on what the influences are. Fortunately, mine have been for the most part good and I've taken from my journey and experiences in my life that which serves to propel me forward in a positive way. I believe it's exactly this quality that allows me to be in people's lives in a way that's not intrusive but rather supports them in living healthier and more productive lives.
I don't believe in imposing my way on people and, in fact, my way changes daily depending on the "influences." I have some core beliefs that I stand by and a lifestyle that I'm personally committed to that works for me, but within that I allow myself a lot of flexibility and am constantly changing, growing, learning and allowing myself the luxury of changing my mind. A mind is a mercurial thing, and its nature is to change. Too often, we get stuck in our ways and can be overly judgmental of others who are not in alignment with our ideas or philosophies. One of the best compliments I've received from a client was not at all in relation to my food. She told me that after me being in her life for several months, she found herself being a lot less judgmental and realized that by being judgmental or stuck in her ways, she missed out on so much in life.
When it comes to my work with food, this quality of being "easily influenced" has been the very quality that allows me be in people's lives in the most supportive way. When I meet clients, rather than imposing my way or preaching to them in any way, I talk to them and get a sense of where they're at in their lives. This is what influences me and dictates the direction we need to move forward. If they're choosing vegan lifestyles, I support them in that by making sure they get a good balance of nutrients to keep them strong, active and healthy. If they're meat eaters, I create balance by tipping the scales in favor of vegetables and make sure that the meat I cook is from small-scale food producers who raise pasture-fed livestock in a sustainable and ethical manner whenever possible. Excess meat can result in an overly acidic condition, which creates an environment within the body conductive to disease, so I make sure I include lots of alkalizing elements in their diet, including fruits and vegetables, particularly green, leafy vegetables.
More tips from Aine
With some of my hard-core meat-eating clients, I often have to be quite sneaky to get them eating their veggies. So I integrate vegetables in dishes rather than serving them on their own on the plate where they may be considered mere garnish. Cooking meat has been a big learning curve for me in the past four years, and I have to say I've become quite good at it. On my blog, I will be sharing some of my clients' favorite meat dishes, but I will definitely be leaning more toward whole grains, beans and vegan-type dishes. I believe there are many chefs out there who have worlds more experience and expertise than I do when it comes to cooking meat and perhaps not so many who are experts with whole grains, beans and vegetables, so I'd like to fill that void. I tend to stick more with fish and white meats if I am going down the flesh road, but I am not opposed to cooking lamb and occasionally beef.
I'm a great believer in the energetics of foods and believe we take on the energetic qualities of the foods we're eating. I explained to my basketball player client that I did not want to give him steak before a game because I felt it would slow him down. If we look at the nature of a cow—they're gentle, slow-moving animals who laze and graze all day long. Is that the energy you want to bring to the court? Instead, I recommended eating fish—fish are fluid, fast-moving creatures and this energy would be much more beneficial to take to the game. Fruits and vegetables in general give a lighter quality, and the broad range of fruits and vegetables creates more dynamic when combined in a meal.
Even though I like to listen to my clients and take their likes and dislikes into consideration, I don't always take it too seriously when they tell me they don't like a particular food. In fact, I see it as a wonderful challenge, and the foods they claim to dislike will often be the first that get served up to them. When I started out with a new client a few years ago, one of the first things he said to me is that he really dislikes fish but loves red meat. I decided to put this to the test, and off I went to my local fish market and bought a lovely fillet of opah, fresh from Hawaiian waters. I took it home, breaded it with some deliciously seasoned macadamia nuts, made a flavorful mango ginger salsa and served it up on a bed of wilted bok choy with teriyaki seasoned shitake mushrooms and a side of sweet potato and shallot.
I watched as he tucked into his meal, savoring every last morsel. He asked me what he was eating and when I told him it was fish, he responded "I'll eat this fish." I repeated the experiment several times, and it was always met with the same response. Finally, he came to the conclusion, "I guess not many people know how to cook fish." I don't believe this is the case, as I've sampled some delightful fish dishes, but perhaps he had an experience in his past that left him tainted.
So whether you're enjoying a two-legged, a four-legged or a leg-free Christmas Day, I hope you're having a happy one and have been blessed with gifts and the presence of loved ones to share nature's bounty with. Tomorrow will be a lazy day in the kitchen for me, but I'll be serving up my Day-After-Christmas Soup and turning the remainder of my Holiday Tofu Loaf into little patties to serve as appetizers with a dollop of my zesty cranberry sauce.