November 29, 2007
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I have to admit, it took me a long time to warm up to tofu.
When I first revamped my diet in accordance with the NAG principles, I had never eaten tofu, let alone familiarized myself with the many varieties in which it’s available. My naturopath touted the truism you hear so often: “It’s basically flavorless on its own, so it absorbs the flavor of whatever you cook it with. ” Great!, I thought, I’ll make some tofu tonight! , and went out and bought some.
Back then, I didn’t know about the importance of buying organic tofu, or which type to buy, so I just got any old extra-firm. Went home, and created some kind of pseudo-stew (the ingredients of which elude me now) and tasted it. Bah! Feh! Ptewie! I couldn’t even eat one full mouthful.
No taste, you say? Absorbs the flavors of whatever it’s with? Uh, sorry, no. Tofu tastes exactly like what it is: cooked, compressed soybeans. Ugh.
It took me several months of experimentation, some great cookbooks, and a dogged determination to finally hit upon a few recipes I could actually eat and enjoy. Over the years, tofu has become one of my very favorite foods, a staple in our home, despite the many controversies swirling round it.
The trick, I’ve found, is to use assertive flavors that can complement and conceal it. Pressing the tofu helps considerably, as that causes the water to exude, thereby leaving little gaps for the sauce to sneak its way in and become absorbed. Baking firm or extra-firm tofu in a hearty sauce is useful, too. (Now, desserts are a whole other matter, and they most often require aseptically-packaged silken tofu. But depending on the dessert, you can choose anything from Soft-Silken to Extra-Firm Silken. Occasionally, cheesecakes are good with Chinese-style, water-packed firm tofu. Some souffle-type desserts are best made with medium tofu. Okay, got all that? Quiz to follow).
I’ve said this before, and it truly bears repeating: I’m a very lazy cook. Not the best trait for someone whose dietary restrictions require that everything be made from scratch. Consequently, I try to find shortcuts where I can. Use the food processor instead of the hand grater; make up huge batches and freeze for later re-heating; or, as in the case of this morning’s breakfast, recyle up leftovers whenever possible.
[Yesterday’s Simple Sauteed Greens]
I enjoyed some simple sauteed greens for dinner last evening (yes, that’s all I even wanted, after a mid-afternoon chocolate frenzy), and so had a container of pre-sauteed broccoli rabe hanging out in the fridge. The saute was super-easy: sliced garlic, olive oil, chopped rabe. That’s it. I also noticed some leftover canned crushed tomatoes being stored in a glass jar. I’d been hankering after a tofu scramble for several days, so thought this would be a great opportunity to whip one up (no matter that the house is still not unpacked, and I’m hosting what will probably be my last-ever at home cooking class tomorrow evening–none of which is prepared yet).
Tofu is a wonderful scrambled egg substitute, I find, especially when it’s crumbled (as here) rather than cubed. This dish provides complete protein courtesy of the tofu, high-protein pine nuts, and the greens. You’ll also be acquiring a surfeit of minerals here, due to the many trace minerals in the greens and the high iron in the raisins. Garlic and tomato round out the dish for antioxidant benefits–and the many anti-bacterial, anti-viral qualities of the garlic are a true boon this time of year (at least, for those of us enduring a cold, wet winter, such as we get in Ontario).
You’ll find this dish is still quite saucy, so decrease the tomatoes if desired. The combination of herbs works wonderfully with the pine nuts and raisins, the sweetness of which act as a perfect counterpoint to the bitter greens and slightly acrid tomato. If you find broccoli rabe too bitter, I think chopped chard would be excellent here, too.
As I said, I ate this for breakfast, but it seems to me most people would find it suitable as a dinner dish or even a side dish.
Mediterranean Tofu Scramble
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November 27, 2007
For a long time when I was younger, my weight would fluctuate fairly regularly, sometimes quite a lot in a relatively short time. My basic pattern seemed to be this: I’d feel some kind of impetus to stay on a diet, get charged up to lose weight, and would begin eating to accomplish that goal (ah, such fond memories of An Entire Box of Weight Watchers Chocolate Mousse For Dinner; or One Compressed Cube of Dried Ramen Noodles for dinner; or Three Boiled Artichokes for Dinner; or A Raisin-Bran Muffin and Peanut Butter For Dinner). Eventually, after semi-starving myself for several months, taking up weights and power walks, I’d manage to get into shape and lose anywhere between 20 and 35 pounds. I’d revert to a size I could be happy with (usually a 10), and regain some sort of confidence and the sense that I could actually be attractive to the opposite sex.
This shift in mental state would, inevitably, precipitate a change in the energy I projected, and–bingo!–like magic, I’d seem to meet men. I’d find another boyfriend, get serious, start dating, and after four to eight months, gain back all my weight. Believe it or not, it wasn’t the stereotypical reason (ie, being so comfortable that now I felt I could eat whatever I wanted) that caused me to gain; it was sheer stress from being in a relationship (I’m still trying to work on that one with my H.H.).
In any case, as a college teacher at the time, I was forced to get dressed every day and head onto campus to teach. My increased weight and blooming midsection were on display for all to see.
Now, I wonder, how many overweight, 30-something women in the prime of their childbearing years haven’t had this experience:
[passing you in the hallway] “Hi, Miss. Wow, congratulations!”
[Blank stare. Congratulations? Did they just announce a promotion and I missed it? Did I win the lottery and not realize it?]. “Congratulations? On what?”
[Blank stare, followed by uncomfortable silence]. “Uh, congratulations on your, you know, upcoming addition.”
[Truly stumped]. “Addition? To what?”
[Longer silence. Visibly uncomfortable now]. “To your, your family. You know, um, er, uh. . . because you’re expecting.”
[Blood draining from face. Light-headed silence. Following the thread to its inevitable conclusion]. “Expecting? Expecting what?”
[Desperately glancing around for a loose floorboard, garbage chute, natural disaster, abducting alien, or any other exit strategy] “Um, a baby? I mean, aren’t you–?”. . . . .
It makes sense, really. When students see a 30-something woman gaining weight at such an accelerated pace, and especially when said 30-something tends to carry most of her weight in her abdomen (I’m a pear-shaped person, and it all settles on that expanse between waist–such as it is–and upper thigh, though at least that means I’m less prone to sudden heart attacks), well, when they see that kind of weight gain, they most naturally assume that the 30-something is pregnant.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Oh, when are you due?” To which I’d reply, in a voice shrinking with humiliation, “I’m not pregnant.” After the 27th incident or thereabouts, I’d gotten over being mortified, and it basically just started to piss me off.
Now, seriously, what kind of person asks someone else if she’s pregnant without already knowing the answer? I would never dare to pose such a question unless the last words the woman had uttered were something like, “Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant, I mean with child; you know, expecting a baby, in the family way, with a bun in the oven, and and I’m going to be giving birth to a human infant in a week or so.”
After years of awkward conversations concerning my faux fecundity, I decided I had to combat this pattern somehow. So I came up with a battle plan:
- The next time someone asked if I was pregnant, I would smile sweetly and respond, “Why? Do I look pregnant?”
- If someone asked me when I was due, I planned to say, “In —-,” and name the previous month. In other words, if the inquiry came in January, I’d say I was due in December. Let the questioner do the math and figure out I couldn’t possibly be pregnant yet. Either that, or I was the next miracle to be profiled on Unsolved Mysteries.
- If anyone asked whether I was pregnant, I’d answer, “No, I was pregnant until a couple of days ago, though.” Hah! Now let’s see what kind of quip s/he could come up with!
- My favorite: I intended to have a custom T-shirt made, to wear whenever I gained uncomely amounts of weight in a short span, emblazoned with the words, “I’m Not Pregnant, Just Fat.” That way, I could avoid the whole uncomfortable exchange entirely.
This embarrassing question hasn’t been directed at me in recent years, thankfully, mostly because I’m now too old for people to think I’m pregnant any more. Or maybe my weight has redistributed, and now I’m just fat all over instead of only in my belly. Either way, I am grateful I haven’t had to deal with it. Of course, just because I’m not asked that question any more doesn’t solve the real problem of my freqently erratic weight gain–but that’s another issue entirely.
November 25, 2007
I remember vividly my first day in English class as an undergraduate student, so many decades ago. The professor was lecturing about Samuel Beckett, and remarked that Beckett was “an enigma.” With that comment, I felt a little faint: here I was, an upstart 17 year-old already in her second year of university (courtesy of advanced credits from having attended CEGEP in Quebec), and I had no idea what “enigma” meant. I immediately scribbled the word down at the top of my notepage, and as soon as class was over, dashed home to look it up. Thus started my lifelong practise of vocabulary-expanding via writing things down. Needless to say, as soon as this new word was on my linguistic radar, I began to see it everywhere.
The same pattern persisted with basically all the new words I learned along the way (okay, maybe not with “hermeneutic”), but the one that stuck in my mind and won a singular place in my heart was oxymoron. You know, the kind of paradox that contains the opposite of itself, yet is essentially true: to wit, George Carlin’s famous “jumbo shrimp” or the now-ancient (and no longer true, anyway) “Canadian literature.” So when I say that I myself am an oxymoronic kind of eater, I say it with a modicum of affection. But with a heavy stress on “moronic.”
Tofu and Twinkies, Collards and Caramels, Chard and Chocolate, Brewer’s Yeast and Brownies–take any of these diametrically opposed pairs of foodstuffs, and I love each individual part–and love them equally. I can munch on millet with sauteed garlic, onion, tamari and walnuts, then an hour later, go out and chomp on some chocolate-covered raisins. I can eat a delicious meal of raw kale salad with avocado, baked sweet potato wedges with sesame seeds and Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce (I must post that recipe–fab!), then later in the afternoon, suck back some Betty Crocker Cream Cheese “Flavor” Frosting, straight from the can. And, just as with my Girls, I recognize that each one is totally different from the other, yet can adore each with the same degree of passion.
I got to thinking about this paradox today after spending a lovely morning at the Whole Life Expo with my friend Michelle. I’d previously enjoyed a great week of eating totally healthfully (yes, I’ve been indulging in my Mock-Chocolate Pudding, but hey, it’s tofu and agave nectar!) and looked forward to seeing a plethora of new health-foodie products at the show.
After a long drive downtown during which our chatter became so animated that I, the driver, nearly hit a streetcar at one point, we began our tour of the place. Aisles and aisles of alternative-health products to gaze upon and sample. It was like Disneyland for hippies! As it turned out, we started our tour in the food section, and viewed some amazing products. All with abundant free samples. All delicious. All good for me. Until the chocolate.
First up was goji berries, the latest berry to join the antioxidant roster. If you haven’t tasted gojis yet, I’d highly recommend it. Higher in Vitamin C than oranges, higher in Beta Carotene than carrots, higher in protein than whole wheat, and higher in most other vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients than pretty much any other berry, these little crimson gems are both tart and sweet, with a whif of bitterness as a nearly undetectable afterthought. One of my favorite alternative health gurus, Dr. Ben Kim, describes them as a cross between “sweet cherries and plums.” I’m a regular consumer of them, and so was highly intrigued by their latest incarnation, enrobed in pomegranate-flavored yogurt coating. Yum! After a couple of samples, I found myself dishing out $10 for one small bag.
[The yogurt-covered variety]
We also saw (and sampled) a wide range of shakes, smoothies, greens powders, supplements, juicers, oils, all-natural soaps, and more before happening upon the Xocai healthy chocolate booth. Now, I’m not even a fan of dark chocolate, but these nuggets contain both blueberries and acai berries for the ultimate in antioxidant benefits. The perfect combination of decadence and desirability at the same time. Of course, we just had to sample it. Both flavors. More than once.
What happened then was something that’s occurred probably thousands of times in my life: one bite of chocolate and all my previous willpower just dissolved–poof!–like that. Suddenly, I was overcome by the urge to eat every piece of chocolate, and anything else, in sight. (Unfortunately, that also included a spoonful of concentrated maca liquid, very nearly causing that chocolate to re-visit me on its way back up.)
Shortly thereafter, we came upon yet another chocolate-touting booth and I bought not one, but two 100-gram bars. Quite enjoyed the cappuccino one on the way home (though I did save some for C.). Now, I feel quite confident that Michelle did not go home and do the same, considering her stable, and very slim, physique.
By the time I arrived home, I’d eaten the other bar, too. Reflecting on this behavior, I had somewhat of a revelation regarding my bingeing habit. Seems I run on something very much like a binary code: my compulsion for sweets is either “on” or “off,” but there’s no in between. (Ergo, I seem incapable of moderation in that area). Eating that one initial piece of chocolate flicked the toggle switch to the “on” position, and I was off and running (toward chocolate). So I’m beginning to see that one of my strategies must be to simply not go therein the first place–no initial taste, so no overweening desire to eat the entire bar, cake, package, can, bag, jar, or whatever.
By dinnertime, I’d reverted to eating from the healthy side of the spectrum, a la Stacy Halprin’s advice (ie, just soldier on as if it never happened). So I whipped up some of my very favorite vegan Mac and “Cheese” (or “Cheeze,” as the original recipe calls it) from the Fat Free Vegan’s blog (I used rice pasta, though). Filled with the aforementioned brewer’s yeast and its cheesy goodness, miso, tahini, and a whack of delish herbs and spices, this is true comfort food that’s also incredibly nutrient-dense and good for you. Given that I had only rice milk (albeit unflavored) in the house, I was afraid it would ruin the flavor, but it turned out just as delicious as usual.
[Elsie polishing off the sauce, enjoying her share of B12 for the day]
And now, at least, I can feel as if I’ve eaten something that will nourish my body and help me recover from the chocolate overload today. Not quite as bad as Tofu with Twinkies, but chocolate (and chocolate, and chocolate) with vegan mac and cheeze–still pretty contradictory.
This evening, remembering something Michelle said as we drove home (no near-fender bender that time), sparked another mini-epiphany for me. Apparently, she used to be one of those “Type A” personalities, always rushing to fill her time as much as possible, to accomplish seventy tasks a day, running from one pre-planned event to another. Now, having met her in her current incarnation, I can only say that imagining her behaving in that manner seems virtually impossible.
Once she started yoga, she said, she’d effortlessly lost five pounds and found that she had a new perspective, one which allowed her to relax, take things as they come, and enjoy the moments in her life. It was a deliberate choice, she said, but now she makes a point of not letting the “little things” get to her, and trying to slow down and enjoy each day.
I felt a little bit of squishy nostalgia for my own year at nutrition school (oh so far away, now), when I was able to focus on health in all its myriad aspects–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. During that time, I ate really, really well, and spent time preparing and appreciating the fantastic food I was learning about and cooking with; I took time to appreciate my dog and my honey (oops, yes, I think it was in that order, actually), enjoyed relaxing and meditating and reading and listening to music; enjoyed breathing in the sharp air in the autumn mornings, meandering walks along the trail with The Girls, an occasional glass of red with my honey over dinner–heck, I even enjoyed the plush feel of the carpet under me each morning as I struggled through my sit-ups.
During that year, I enjoyed all the daily pleasures and even some of the more mundane tasks–all the things that were a regular part of my existence. It really does make a difference, I realized, if you take even a few minutes to exhale away the stress and anxiety that can so easily accumulate.
Thinking about it, I realized a paradox extends to the rest of my life, as well, not just my eating habits. I have the credentials of a holistic practitioner (nutritionist), yet am regularly afflicted by the same pressures and unhealthy habits of so many other middle class, overworked white-collar workers. I resolved, immediately, to meditate tonight.
But I’d just better make it quick, because I only have ten minutes to de-stress before I have to get back to work.
November 23, 2007
Today was an odd day, as I had to return to the old place to meet the cleaners for their final go-through. Standing around as they swept, wiped, polished and mopped made me feel nostalgic for the past, yet kind of weird at the same time, being in the near-empty (except for us) space once again. My H.H. and I actually still have lots more to do, what with closets full of our paintings, several boxes of records (yes, as in “record albums”) in the basement, assorted and sundry nails, screws, and picture hooks on the walls, and one spot, near the bottom of the front door’s moulding, where the Poo Poo Girl chewed a teeny spot out when she was about six months old and teething (C. will be painting it over this weekend).
I truly can’t believe how much effort, money, time, money, and money we’ve sunk into that place, given that (a) we don’t own it; (b) we were excellent tenants for over six years and took really good care of the place while we were there; and (c) we don’t actually live there any more! But after the summer fiasco in which the hellish landlady freaked when the air conditioner broke (not our fault, I promise), I decided I’m going to try to ensure that she has nothing to complain about once we’re gone (officially, on November 29th, even though we actually moved out on the 12th). So sad to think that this is how our generally happy six years of living there will end.
Despite the rather disheartening morning working in the empty house, I agreed to bake up a batch of muffins for a customer today, so came home after my walk with The Girls and set to work. The order was for my favorite, the Sweet Harvest Muffin, which supplies each lucky eater with a full serving of vegetables in each muffin. (No, I am not trying to bask in reflected glory of Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld and her mega-selling debut cookbook; I, like many others out there, have been baking goodies with disguised spinach in them for many years now).
Before I knew it, I was totally engrossed in the task at hand, measuring, pouring, stirring and scooping; and ended up with two dozen lovelies that will be wrapped and sent on their merry way tomorrow. As always, baking lifted my spirits and distracted me from an otherwise sour mood. And now I can say I’ve had at least 1/2 a vegetable serving today (managed to stop myself after taste-testing the first half). (“And we appreciated being able to taste-test that other half, Mum!”)
November 22, 2007
As always, thanks for reading. I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!
“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]
* * *
The snow here in the GTA this morning is relentless–curtains of white, ice pellets grazing your cheeks as you attempt, vainly, to walk the crunchy path to the local park to appease The Girls. It was Chaser’s first experience with snow, and apparently (so my H.H. tells me), she loved it, bouncing and prancing and pawing at every crystallized chunk that scuttled her way along the road. (“That stuff is awesome, Mum! Can we go out again? Can we? Huh? Huh?!”)
[If you look really hard, you can see snowflakes against the fence.]
On mornings like this, I wish I had a fireplace before which I could curl up and just read, my latest book club book (as-yet unchosen, since it will be my pick this time round), one of the fifty or so I have stacked up in my office, the entire newspaper, magazines, or food mags. But, hey, wait a second! I do have a fireplace (albeit gas–ugh), one of the nicer features of this house. Unfortunately, it’s still surrounded by boxes and as-yet unassembled bookcases and other detritus that we haven’t found a place for yet.
But something about the snow and the cold, as we all know, elicits a strong desire for comfort foods. As if I don’t have enough cravings for chocolate, anyway.
In order to satisfy the urge and eat something relatively healthy, I decided to mix up my favorite vegan chocolate pudding. Now, admittedly, there are at least 7,482 such recipes floating on the Internet and in various vegan cookbooks, but I still think mine is best. It’s an amalgam of recipes I’ve read over the years for similar puddings, from the McDougall‘s original to the ubiquitous vegan chocolate mousse one finds everywhere.
This one is ultra-rich tasting, creamy and has a certain globby texture that reminds me exactly of old-fashioned, cooked, chocolate pudding. Only this one is made with relatively low-fat silken tofu (the kind in the aseptic boxes), cocoa powder (lower fat than actual chocolate), and agave nectar instead of any refined sugar. Chocolate bliss, truly.
One caveat: my photos do not do justice to this extraordinary dessert. (In fact, the H.H. thinks it looks sort of like poo. “Poo? Did you say, ‘Poo,’ Mum? But I love to eat poo!”). Seriously, you have to try it. Even the highly carnivorous H.H. loves it (despite its scatological appearance).
Heavenly Chocolate Tofu Pudding
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the “Cookbook” button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]
TO VIEW THE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.
November 21, 2007
Does this happen to all new bloggers? I come up here to my (still chaotic, after the move) office, intending to do work, and end up sitting for over an hour reading other blogs. If I’m not reading other blogs, I’m reading about blogs, looking for answers to my (many) questions on WordPress’s FAQ.
I’m learning about a whole new world of incredible writers and fascinating people, so many of whom seem to be connected to each other. Having done this for less than a month, I’m already familiar with so many blogs that seem to appear on almost every blogroll: Smitten Kitchen, Orangette, 101 Cookbooks, The Wednesday Chef, Kalyn’s Kitchen, Becks and Posh, and, of course, the piece de resistance, the one that started it all, the very apex of cooking blogs, Chocolate and Zucchini. There are more, there are so many more. . . how to find the time to read them all? And how do all these people find each other?
And yet, I am inexorably drawn to reading them, so enjoy immersing myself in this strange, isolated-yet-connected, online world. I still have much to learn, about RSS feeds and avatars (I think that’s what they’re called) and widgets and trackbacks (still can’t figure out what the heck those are) and everything else blog-related. I just discovered NaBloPoMo (which, at first, my murky memory rendered as “NaMoFoBlo”–how rude of me!), and am so sorry that I’m too late to qualify (unless I cheat, which I won’t).
Ah, so much to learn. And so little time. Now, for instance, I must reluctantly turn to the 200-plus assignments that await marking. And I think I could use some chocolate.
And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving to my American cousins. . . both literal and figurative.