Mind, body … belly? A monthly community dinner adds to the physical and spiritual benefits of tai chi 

Tai Chi in the KitchenLocal Society Members Share Cultures While Cooking Up Sumptuous Dinners

By Karen Thurston Chavez

Food probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of tai chi – that would be the mesmerizingly slow, balletic movements that can improve health and foster meditation. But those who are members of the Tallahassee Taoist Tai Chi Society, or are lucky enough to score an invitation, know they’ll find superb cuisine at the group’s communal meals.

Converting a recipe designed to serve six into one that serves 50 to 100 takes mathematical and culinary finesse, but that’s just what society members do when they volunteer to make one of the organization’s delightful dinners.

Each month, the group serves up traditional Jai cuisine – a rich vegetarian stew of vegetables, seeds, nuts and noodles that features a plentiful mix of texture and color – as well as meals from other cultures, including Irish, Greek and Cuban.

“The Cuban dinner we had was just wonderful,” says Virginia Bell, a 22-year member of the Tallahassee Taoist Tai Chi Society. “We’ve also had shrimp boils, German food, Greek – just about everything you can think of.”

Although the feasts have a reputation among members for being fabulous, it isn’t just about the dinner fare.

“It’s very much about a sense of community,” Bell says. “It’s about family and sharing a meal around the table.”

Bell says the dinners are unique because, often, volunteer cooks share a story behind a recipe.

“If we have Irish food, it’s family Irish cooking. It’s not what you might find in a restaurant,” Bell explained. “It’s what that family’s parents or grandparents used to cook and they might have a story or history behind a particular dish. It is all part of our aims and objectives to have cultural exchange.” And cultural exchange is one of four primary objectives of the Tai Chi values.

“Those have been my philosophy most of my life,” Bell says. “The quality of the organization itself has been very meaningful to me.”

The Tallahassee Tai Chi Society, which has about 300 members, schedules several dinners throughout the year, but you must be a member (or, in some cases, related to or friends of a member) to attend. Dinners start at 6 p.m. and wrap up around 9 or 10. They are served family style and typically include several courses.

This year, May’s menu featured vegetarian Thai food, while the theme for June was “Grape Expectations.” On the calendar are a shrimp boil for July, an Irish dinner in November and a holiday potluck in December.

The society’s biggest and most popular dinner event is its Chinese New Year celebration, which usually falls in February.

“Our most attended event is always the Chinese New Year banquet,” Bell says. “It’s also our most formal meal of all. We try to present a joyous celebration. We have decorations and speeches, and we invite members of the city and county commissions, the mayor and governor.

“I have always been impressed these 22 years. This organization is so big and run almost totally by volunteers. That’s very unique about the society here: it’s all volunteers trying to help other people,” Bell says. “The community of meals is just part of it. You share with your family, you share with your community.”

Karen Thurston Chavez is a Tallahassee native and a freelance writer and editor.


About Taoist Tai Chi

Developed by Master Moy Lin-Shin, Taoist Tai Chi is a low-impact exercise designed to enhance health. It is an ancient Chinese exercise emphasizing relaxation, stretching, health improvement and stress reduction.

The Tallahassee Taoist Tai Chi Society teaches a 108-move form of the Taoist Tai Chi Taijiquan set, which is designed to bring your mind, body and spirit into balance, providing many health benefits.

The International Taoist Tai Chi Society is a nonprofit organization, featuring four aims and objectives:
• Make Taoist Tai Chi available to all
• Promote the health-improving qualities of Taoist Tai Chi
• Promote cultural exchange
• Help others

To learn more about the Tallahassee Taoist Tai Chi Society, visit tallahassee.florida.usa.taoist.org, call (850) 224-5438 or send an e-mail to tallahassee.fl@taoist.org.




On the Menu: A selection of recipes that have been served at the Tallahassee Taoist Tai Chi Society’s community dinners

Thai Cold Spring Rolls
8 oz – lightly braised tofu, cut into thin strips
8 oz – Napa cabbage, shredded and blanched for 30 seconds
1 c – bean sprouts, blanched for 30 seconds
1 c – grated carrot
½ tsp – black pepper
2 Tbsp – sugar
3 Tbsp – rice vinegar
½ tsp – salt
5 – egg yolks, lightly beaten, fresh cilantro
4 – rice paper sheets (round, 12 inches in diameter), garnish (herbs or vegetables of choice)

1. Place grated carrots in bowl with pepper, vinegar, salt and oil. Mix thoroughly and allow to marinade.
2. Cook the egg yolks over medium heat so you get a thin omelet; do not stir. When cooked, slide omelet out of pan and fold into thirds. Slice into thin strips.
3. Heat 8 to 10 cups of water in wok or wide pan. Soften the hard rice paper sheets by passing them through the water for a second or two, holding one edge. Grab the sheet by the moistened edge and moisten the hard edge. Lay the sheet on a clean, smooth surface.
4. Place one-fourth of tofu strips running the width of the sheet, a little bit in from the outer edge. Continue layering on this row with the egg juliennes, marinated carrots, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts and cilantro. Flap the outer edge over the stuffing and pull it tight. Roll the spring roll tight as if it were a cigar. Cut folded ends prior to serving. Garnish as desired. Serve with peanut sauce (see below).

Spring rolls may be served immediately or kept at room temperature up to 1½ hours. Do not refrigerate, as the rice paper will become stiff.


Peanut Sauce
2½ oz – roasted, unsalted peanuts, processed into a fine meal
2 Tbsp – red curry paste
1½ tsp – lemon juice
2 c – unsweetened coconut milk
1 Tbsp – sugar
1½ Tbsp – soy sauce

1. Dissolve curry paste in one-half of coconut milk, cook on high 10 to 12 minutes until oil from milk has risen to surface.
2. Lower heat to add peanuts and rest of coconut milk. Bring to boil and add balance of ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally 15 to 20 minutes, until sauce is the texture of thick cream and oil has returned to the surface.
3. Allow to rest for a half-hour. Stir to blend oil that has risen again to the surface. Serve lukewarm or reheat to piping hot.


Spareribs in Special Sauce
1½ lb – spareribs (sweet-and-sour cut)
½ c – cornstarch for coating oil for deep frying
1 Tbsp – oil

1 tsp – light soy sauce
1 tsp – sugar
1 tsp – dry sherry
½ tsp – salt
2 tsp – finely chopped garlic

2 Tbsp – tomato ketchup
1 Tbsp – Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp – sugar
½ tsp – sesame oil
2 Tbsp – water

1. Separate ribs. Marinate and set aside for 30 minutes or longer.
2. Heat oil. Coat each rib evenly with cornstarch. Deep fry spareribs for about 8 to 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Remove and drain.
3. Heat the oil again over high heat until very hot. Return spareribs back to the hot oil and fry about 1 minute more. Remove and drain on paper towels.
4. Remove oil and clean the wok.
5. Mix and pour the sauce into the wok over high heat. Add spareribs. Toss lightly until the sauce is almost absorbed by the spareribs. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to spareribs and mix well. Transfer to a plate and serve hot.

Beef and Green Pepper in Black Bean Sauce
8 oz – flank steak, or beef cut from a roast
1 – medium green pepper, diced
1 – medium onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
1 Tbsp – fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
1 tsp – minced garlic
3 Tbsp – oil

1 tsp – light soy sauce
½ tsp – sugar
1 tsp – cornstarch
2 Tbsp – water
¼ tsp – baking soda (optional)

1 tsp – dark soy sauce
½ tsp – sugar
¼ tsp – salt
½ tsp – cornstarch
¼ c – water

1. Cut flank steak lengthwise into 1½-inch strips. Thinly slice each strip across the grain. Marinate beef. Set aside for 30 minutes or longer.
2. Heat wok over high heat until very hot. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Add green pepper and onion, and stir fry about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.
3. Add 2 tablespoons oil to same wok. When oil is hot, add black beans and garlic, and stir fry until fragrant. Add beef and stir quickly to separate beef slices.
4. When meat has lost most of its reddish color, add cooked onion and green pepper, and mix well with beef.
5. Stir in well-mixed sauce. Keep stirring until sauce thickens and coats content evenly. Transfer to a serving plate and serve hot.

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