Lessons from Christina: Rethink Breakfast

by JL Fields on June 8, 2011

Last Friday I packed aprons, towels, knives, spoons and several other favorite kitchen items — and running shoes — and caught an Amtrak to Philadelphia

Laptop, phone, MiFi on the Amtrak

to attend  The Christina Pirello School of Natural Cooking and Integrative Health Studies Three-Day Intensive Study Program.

Why?  A couple of reasons. First, you may recall that I’ve recently admitted to my slightly fanatical devotion to taking cooking classes.  Second, shortly after going vegan my friend Kari suggested I sign up for Christina Pirello’s email list for fabulous, healthy vegan recipes.  Of course I then began faithfully reading her website.  Finally, last February my friend Lee of The Vegan Version took to Facebook to rave about a workshop she had just attended with Christina.  We started messaging back and forth and Lee said there was a 3-Day Intensive in June, with just a few seats lefts.  You should know two things:  I had never met Lee and I had never considered taking a $500+ cooking class (out of town, no less).  Within 30 seconds I picked up the phone and spoke to Robert Pirello. I registered  and asked him to hold the last seat for Lee.  She got the seat.

Lee, Christina Pirello and JL

Four months later I can now say that Lee is my friend “in real life” and that Christina Pirello has rocked my vegan cookin’ world.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the incredible amount of information I learned.  Too much for one post, for certain. So I’ve decided to write a few posts about my extraordinary weekend in Philadelphia with the intent to share a bit more in-depth — as opposed to simply posting photos and soundbites. These posts, “Lessons from Christina…”, will focus on a single (or thematic) take-away that is meaningful to me and I hope to you, as well.

Lessons from Christina:  Rethink Breakfast

Long time readers know that I started eating higher raw in January.  I’ve felt amazing and have learned to get creative in the kitchen.  But I have definitely been in a rut. I drink green smoothies or juices in the morning–or occasionally eat raw Ice Cream for Breakfast–but I can probably count on two hands (and maybe one foot) the number of cooked morning meals I’ve consumed in the last six months.

Enter the biggest damn cooked breakfast I’ve made in a long time!

Let me back up.

Christina (and Robert) made it crystal clear that we need to really think about our morning sustenance.  We are “breaking our fast” from the night before and we literally need to fuel for the day (especially for those of us who are active/athletic).  In addition to fueling up we need to eat a varied diet — a wide selection of grains, beans, vegetables (seasonal!) and fruits, as well as fermented foods (aids digestion), high quality fats and the occasional sweet for those of us who crave it.

Christina recommends the following for a traditional breakfast:

  • Miso soup (don’t make it the same everyday — use seasonal veggies)
  • Whole grain porridge
  • Cooked leafy greens
  • Seasonal vegetable stew
  • Pressed salad or pickle
  • Occasional additions: tofu, tempeh

It’s a lot of food, right?  You don’t have to eat everything, those are simply the elements.  But, eating miso soup every morning is highly recommended, as is eating vegetables (and we learned a great way to prepare our cooked veggies and then use the broth to prepare miso soup — easy peasy!)

On Saturday morning Robert made this:

Polenta, greens and squash

and miso soup.

Sunday morning we, the students, helped Robert and Christina make this:

Porridge, greens, nishime, scrambled tofu, pressed salad, kasha and bow tie pasta (and pickled and dried daikon)

and miso soup.

We got some great tips on preparing a grain or porridge dish the night before and were also encouraged to freeze what we don’t eat.

Taking theory to practice, here’s what happened in my kitchen on Monday and Tuesday morning, all before work.

Monday I started a pot of water and added carrots, cabbage and a collard green.

Lightly boiled veggies with Umeboshi paste

I diced onion and a few thin, round slices of daikon (good for digestion!) and added them to the boiled vegetable broth and wakame to begin the miso soup.

I did make a grain, millet, in the rice cooker but decided that after a weekend of eating many, many (many) grains I would save it for lunch. The soup and veggies made for a fantastic breakfast.

Tuesday morning I put the leftover miso soup in a small saucepan on simmer to reheat (I used a bit of boiling vegetable water and a smidge more miso and added it to the leftover soup just before eating because you don’t want your miso to boil).  I started a porridge, in the rice cooker, and I boiled water in a larger pan for cooked the veggies.

This was breakfast:

Bok choy, spinach and fennel with Tamari sauce

and

Brown Rice & Farro Porridge

and miso soup.

This meal really stuck to my bones!  Here’s the porridge recipe:

JL’s Brown Rice & Farro Porridge (Printable Version)
Inspired by Christina Cooks

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 1/2 cup short grain brown rice (rinsed and drained)
  • 1/2 cup farro (rinsed and drained)
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 2 and 1/4 cups water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Fresh spicy globe basil from my garden!

Instructions

  • Add the first five ingredients to the rice cooker and cook on the porridge setting.
  • Garnish with fresh spicy globe basil

A few things to note:

  1. This meal took about 30 minutes to prepare.  While cooking the veggies and soup I was also preparing my lunch and snacks for work, so I spent as much time in the kitchen as i usually do.  (The millet and porridge take longer, but you don’t have to tend to a rice cooker so I took my shower and got ready for work while the porridge was cooking.)
  2. There are leftovers!  Monday I had leftover miso soup.  Tuesday I had leftover porridge (3 servings, which are now in the freezer). I also saved the water from the veggie boil (with kombu) and will use that as a base for today’s veggie miso soup (I will also reheat some millet and eat raw veggies instead of cooked, for some variety)
  3. Be sure to check out Bistro Katie‘s post on her first breakfast after taking the class.  (I was delighted to meet her after admiring her blog for some time now.)

Let me anticipate a question.  Am I giving up higher raw? No way!  (I made a point to ask Christina and about it and she also feels great eating a good amount of raw foods.)  It’s much more about the what and when of eating raw that I will be adjusting. I mean who wouldn’t want to drink this refreshing smoothie? I will have an occasional juice or smoothie for breakfast (on a day that I enjoy my porridge and veggies for brunch, perhaps) or for an afternoon snack or before an evening workout.  I might even have one for lunch today! My snacks and lunch on Monday and Tuesday were raw/mostly raw and I made a point to have a raw side with dinner.

So, let’s talk breakfast.  What are your thoughts on loading up early in the morning?

  • mmmmmm…. I could seriously get into having miso soup for breakfast every morning! I’m in a green smoothie rut too. But soup… soup could very well change all that!

  • JL @ HealthyHeyday

    Great post, JL!  I look forward to your ‘Lessons from Christina” thread.  Everything looks so scrumptious!  Enjoying the balance of your food fare.  This morning I started with a green smoothie and after my hour walk/run I loaded up with raw chia porridge.  This post has given me ideas to broaden the horizon of my breakfast options.  🙂  

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I’m definitely stuck in a breakfast rut as well, but it’s so hard for me to *want* much more than an apple or a small bowl of oatmeal at 7:30 in the morning. Definitely thinking about giving the polenta a try, though.

  • Elizabeth @ RunWithSneakers

    Breakfast is by far my biggest meal of the day.  I sometimes have a savory breakfast, but your post has encouraged me to do this much more often.  I also like the idea of adding miso soup to breakfast.  Great ideas!

  • I am glad to have you as my “real frend” too.  I have not yet tried/started the new breakfast regimen but am on vacation next week and plan to do so!  I have absoultely added more whole grains to my diet and I am loving it!!  Thanks for the great posts. One of these days I will get it together to write some too 🙂

  • Your brown rice and farro porridge looks beautiful.  I love the idea of these macro-style breakfasts, but I’m so used to sweet things in the morning like cereal and fruit or a smoothie!

  • Anonymous

    Do you have a recipe for the polenta porridge? That sounds really yummy for breakfast!

    • Sorry, Audrey I don’t have a recipe (I just checked Christina’s site and didn’t see it there, either). Most of what we made over the 3-days was without a recipe. Her philosophy is that we are there to learn how to cook, not read recipes. It was a challenge (and fun!)

  • This all sounds super nutritious but… I have read a bit of stuff recently on the macrobiotic diet which includes many of the foods that you mentioned. I can’t quite get my head (or stomach) around eating cooked greens, pickles etc. for breakfast. Different grains in the form of porridge with savory additions is great though. I suppose I have a “breakfast rut” as well: smoothies, overnight oats or buckwheat bakes. However, I think I like the rut compared to the other option.  : )

    • I’ve been eating greens for breakfast for quite awhile. Nothing like a tofu and kale scramble! So the big difference for me is more of the technique (blanching or boiling) and the dish (soup, hearty grains).

  • what amazing ideas… this looks MUCH better to me that normal sweet breakfasts! i will definitely be trying the farro porridge soon.. YUUUUM. i am very much in a breakfast rut to REALLY appreciate this post!

    • I’m so glad you found the post helpful! Let me know what you think of the porridge!

  • kate

    great post JL….I was so glad to participate in the intensive as well and have I been cooking like crazy.  I took out a loan (haha) and bought loads of grains from Whole Foods just to get me started. I am determined to eat more grains than I did before the weekend intensive.  My stomach felt so calm and settled from the fabulous food that we digested over the weekend.  I definitely need more grains.  I loved that cooking experience with Christina and Robert and it was nice to meet you….I’ll read more later…

    • Kate, thanks so much for stopping by! I know just what you mean about the grains — I’m finding this way of eating really fulfilling. Today I had another big breakfast of millet and zucchini porridge and a big bowl of miso soup with bok choy. Then I made “liquid” snacks, and lunch, because it’s so darn hot. Fully satiated all day!

  • I, too, am looking forward to reading all about your 3 day intensive.  It sounds wonderful.  I have had a major problem with breakfast lately, that being that I haven’t been eating it.  Things have been so stressful that if I eat anything in the morning I get sick, so I’ve been waiting to eat until lunch.  Next week starts summer vacation so I intend to remedy this and your tips are perfect.  I think it will take me some time to wrap my head around that many veggies and grains for breakfast (green smoothies are ok with me but for some reason soup seems different) but it would be a wonderful goal.

    • It’s definitely a different approach but I must say that I’m loving the hearty meal after a workout. I’d love to hear how it goes for you. Please let me know!

  • I have Christina’s book “This Crazy Vegan Life”. I was also into the macrobiotic thing for a while and I love the food. It’s hard to imagine eating as much food as she recommends for breakfast although I think I could handle the miso soup. Normally I eat a fruit salad, a smoothie or oatmeal for breakfast and I usually grab that on the way to work. I’m glad you enjoyed the class!

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  • I’ve heard a lot about eating these types of food at breakfast, but I’m personally not a fan.  I dislike “mixing it up” in the mornings…I have a couple of standbys that work very well for me and am quite fond of munching on fruit first thing.

    • That’s interesting! If I eat fruit (by itself) in the morning I’m starving all day!  I don’t think I can do this everyday (though I did for the past seven) but I like that now I can choose from a nice range:  raw breakfast, savory veggie breakfast, smoothie/juice or a tofu scramble. I like variety!  I get into ruts way too easily.

  • Paganangelz

    This is a timely post!  I just got back to the US and have been enjoying indulgent breakfasts–and thinking that I really need to get my diet back on track (bagels, breakfast sandwiches, and quesadillas are delish, but not the healthiest options).  But, I’ve been feeling lost…these are some good ways to expand my options while focusing on more whole foods.

    • I know just what you mean! When I’m on vacation I enjoy a huge breakfast and when I get home I resume to “normal” breakfast ….and am so hungry! I’m finding these filling, hearty morning meals extremely satisfying (and healthy!) and it’s changing how I eat for the rest of the day. Welcome back!

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