SEASON-ing Sonoma Offers Ayurveda-inspired Cooking Classes
Consider two things: First, that it’s possible for 5,000-year-old knowledge, accumulated without the benefit of microchips, digital data and terabytes of information storage, to have relevance, credibility and useful application in the full-blown digital age.
And second, that much of what we’ve learned about food and nutrition in the last 5,000 years — the ever-changing FDA nutrition pyramid, what foods to combine with other foods — could be just flat wrong. If you dip your toe in the ayurvedic pool, you’re going to learn a lot about how much you don’t know.
Ayurvedic teachers often shake their heads in wonder at the fact that, even after wave upon wave of Western food fads, many of them healthy ones, the American medical establishment spends little (and sometimes no) time on the subject of nutrition. Ask any medical school graduate how many hours they studied nutrition and the answer is usually slim to none.
Even more shocking to ayurvedic practitioners is the fact that Western medicine says almost nothing about digestion, about how the food you eat — whatever it may be — is broken down and assimilated.
In ayurvedic medicine, health starts with digestion, it’s the base of the pyramid. And everyone’s digestive universe is, to some extent, unique. Every season presents different choices for optimal eating, and every body has a different combination of the three constituent “doshas,” or bio-elements, known in sanskrit as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. One of those elements usually dominates, and it is useful to know which one. From there, the challenge is to balance that dosha with the other two in order to have greater physical and mental harmony.
Ayurveda is derived from the four Indian Vedas, perhaps the oldest religious texts on earth, composed in Vedic Sanskrit and communicating what are purported to be the words of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation.
Balancing those three characteristics takes us deep into the more esoteric depths of ayurvedic eating, and we’re not going to go there now.
But Teri Adolfo and Kara Adanalian may give you a glimpse as they take you through the ayurvedic foothills in their kitchen classes, called “SEASON-ing.” Adolfo is a certified ayurveda practitioner, and an East Asian nutrition and cooking instructor. She is also an acupuncture and massage practitioner. Adanalian, a graphic designer, is also a prize-winning contest cook, winner of countless regional and national cooking contests, and holds the title “America’s Best Home Cook” from Fine Cooking magazine and Sur La Table. She’s also a cancer survivor who has found healing and peace in the deep silence of meditation.
Together they lead classes through the ayurvedic maze, turning the complicated concepts into simple healthy steps.
Most people who see the word “ayurveda” for the first time can neither pronounce it nor explain it. It’s a four syllable mystery. So Teri has simplified the message.
“Usually I will start a class by telling them it means, ‘the science or knowledge of life.’ And everyone goes, ‘Oh,’ because that’s so simple. Then I explain, there’s a lot of Sanskrit words, but what I want you to get out of it are the basic concepts of living through the seasons and the rhythms of the seasons in your physical and mental state. When you can do that, you will have better health, period. But we don’t pay attention. We’re this fast food society.” Which is not what ayurveda is about.
The complexity and density of Vedic texts is not light reading, and if you’ve ever tried to plow through an English translation of the Rig Veda you’ll understand why it’s not a casual pursuit.’”
On the other hand, the Vedas — and the Upanishads which inhabit them — have been studied intensely for centuries, and some who do so report astonishing parallels between Vedic knowledge and the modern science of theoretical physics.
But that’s not a subject Teri and Kara find appropriate in a casual class focused on cleanses and seasonal cooking, and is built on the mantra, “Temperature, Taste, Texture.”
They do, however, introduce class members to the doshas because they’re basic to eating and living an ayurvedic life.
“I might throw out the dosha terms by saying, ‘This season we’re in, you’re in vata, or in you’re in pitta, or you’re in kapha.’ I do a little discussion within that season, then we talk about what foods are best, regardless of your personal dosha, body constitution — whatever you want to call it — you can still eat with the seasons. You exercise, breathe, drink with the seasons. We talk about how it doesn’t make sense to eat cold foods in winter, and why. How it doesn’t make sense to have hot foods in summer, and why. Then we talk about the best times of day to eat.”
But there’s a bass layer to this song that is foundational. “Throughout all of this discussion is digestion. We just keep coming back to digestion, what herbs, what spices, how you cook something can help you have the best digestion. Your health will be better because you’re absorbing all the nutrients in food.”
Kara adds that not all participants are deeply interested in ayurveda. “Sometimes they just want something a bit lighter so we did a class on Winter Soups. Everyone relates to the seasons, and from there you get an understanding of the tastes, textures and temperature. You don’t even need to know anything about ayurveda.”
So, when people leave a SEASON-ing class, what do they walk away with?
“They understand,” says Teri, “that their digestion is the most important thing to their overall health, that they can have their own impact by knowing that. They also walk away with skill sets on how to season based on health aspects, not only flavors.
I’ll discuss health components, and then Kara will offer a pantry tip, for example, an easy way to do something that you can store in a freezer.”
People seem to really love that. In fact, they love it so much that a few clients have asked for custom classes. So Teri and Kara came up with a theme of Mediterranean small plates … again, ayurveda-inspired but creative takes on classic recipes.
There’s also a calming health element to every class. “When we cleanse,” explains Teri, “we tell them to be in a quiet place, be really mindful, have a flower nearby, turn off the news, practice deep breathing, and give thanks.”
Teri recommends that clients eat out of a dedicated bowl during their one-week cleanse. “It could be something you get at Goodwill, it could be your grandma’s old bowl, something that has some meaning to you. You’re going to be very mindful whenever you eat a meal out of that vessel. If emotions come up, digest those feelings, eliminate them and move on. Be in the moment. The past doesn’t matter.
Be right here, right now.”
For more information or to sign up for SEASON-ing’s cooking classes, go to seasoning-sonoma.com.