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[This week’s Lucky Comestible is sweet potatoes; here’s part 2 in the series. ]

A few weeks ago, I hosted a potluck for friends and promised to provide all of the recipes from the evening on this blog.  And while I’ve done pretty well on most of the others, I hadn’t supplied this one for sweet potato “fries,” partly because it’s so simple I feel it doesn’t require its own recipe (just instructions).  However, this past weekend when The CFO came to visit, we had brunch at a local haunt and ordered the sweet potato fries with miso gravy.  Well, I was determined to reproduce that gravy! So I’m posting my own version, with not one, not two, but THREE variations on the fries.

I first tasted sweet potato fries (real ones–literally fried, in fat, and lots of it) many years ago, before I hit my 4th decade and, therefore, before I knew the true meaning of the word, “heartburn.”  Nowadays, deep-fried anything is anathema to me, because hey, as someone born in the Year of the Dog, I can easily be classically conditioned.  All it took was one or two repetitions of the stimuli “deep fried” and “one portion ingested by me” paired with the response “mega heartburn,” and it was sayonara to fried foods in my diet. 

These oven-baked “fries” are much lighter (which means you can eat more!) and, if baked correctly, still provide the exterior crunchiness and interior smoothness that is characteristic of the traditional sweet potato fries.  Most of the time, I just toss these with a combination of olive oil, garlic salt, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, and curry powder, for a sweet/spicy mix that’s divine (and is Version One).  When paired with the miso gravy, however, something a little more demure is called for, as the gravy is quite assertive on its own.

Given all the amazing health benefits of sweet potatoes (more of which I discussed yesterday), I’ve decided to include this recipe as part of Sweetnicks‘ ARF/5-A-Day Roundup this week.  (In fact, I was sure they’d be on her list of top-20 antioxidant-rich foods, but was surprised to find they’re not!  Won’t stop me from eating them, though. . . ).

Sweet Potato “Fries” with Miso Gravy

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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These are quick, easy, and great as a side dish or appetizer.  Either version works well with the gravy; if you’re more of a ketchup lover, try the spicy ones, mentioned above.  In any case, make more than you think you’ll need–they shrink a little while baking, and you’re going to want seconds.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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[Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved!  If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

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.”]  

* * *

[I thought it would be fun to start a little series over here at DDD: the series will profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days.  For this first entry, I’ll be focusing on Sweet Potatoes. The series will be presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]

 

 

 

Let’s just say that my mother was not an overly adventurous cook. She habitually repeated the same six or seven dishes over and over, with the occasional new recipe from Family Circle, my aunt, or someone in her Mah Jong group thrown in on occasion.  So we were treated to salmon patties and potato boats (called “twice-baked potatoes” these days), hamburgers with mashed potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, or tuna salad over cucumber, tomato, and iceberg lettuce on a rotating basis. 

Fresh fish?  Forget it.  Artichokes?  Don’t make me gag.  Fresh herbs?  Bah!  Who needs ’em?!  (Once, when I was visiting during March break, in a moment of temporary insanity I wondered aloud if we might purchase some dried oregano for the pantry.  It was as if I’d taken a cup of steaming clam chowder and poured it over her bare feet.  Actually, no.  Clam chowder was too exotic for our house.) 

So. When I finally discovered the beauty and gustatory appeal of sweet potatoes at a visit to a restaurant here in Toronto, it was truly a revelation.  Allen’s (known primarily for its extensive selection of specialty scotches, come to think of it–how odd!  What on earth was I doing there??) to this day still serves up a killer dish of sweet potato fries with mayonnaise.  In my mother’s house, on the other hand, those off-color interlopers had never once been allowed to sully our doorstep (don’t forget, this was the woman whose entire repertoire of herbs and spices consisted of onion powder, paprika, and dill).

It wasn’t until years later that I finally began to cook the sweet spuds myself, and my next encounter with sweet potatoes, unfortunately, wasn’t all that auspicious.  I had just been put on a very restricted diet by my naturopath and was feeling pretty resentful of all this crunchy-granola, health-foodie, good-for-you-five-to-ten-a-day foods.  Sweet potatoes?  Well, if I couldn’t have them after they’d been immersed in a vat of 400-degree, week-old restaurant fat for 20 minutes or so, then I didn’t want them at all!  Besides, weren’t they only appealing to commune-living, hemp-smoking hippies (or–gasp!–Southerners)?  I’d never actually tasted one without the benefit of hydrogenated enhancements (though I did suspect I’d enjoy Sweet Potato Pie, what with all the sugar, eggs, and cream they added to it). 

Turns out sweet potatoes were my savior.  During a period when I could eat NO sweeteners or fruits of any kind, sweet potatoes quickly becamesweetpotwarmwalmond.jpg my favorite sweet treat.   I ate them for breakfast (baked, with a dollop of almond butter–delicious–much better than they look in this photo!–seriously), lunch (raw, sliced, as a base for raw almond pate), or dinner (heavenly, spiced sweet potato “fries,” which were really baked).   Later on, once I was allowed to broaden my diet, I began to experiment with sweet potatoes in baking, and created recipes for sweet potato muffins, mini loaves, pudding, pie, and several other sweet treats.

Besides being high in fibre, vitamin A (as beta carotene) and other minerals, sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin E and iron, and even contain a contribution of protein.  According to Paul Pitchford in his phenomenal tome, Healing with Whole Foods, Traditional Chinese Medicine uses sweet potatoes for their cooling nature and to promote chi energy in the body; they are also useful to enhance functioning of the spleen and pancreas.  And because they’re a source of phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen), sweet potatoes can help mitigate those pesky symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.  In addition, they are also alkalizing in the body, which is great if you tend to drink a lot of coffee, eat a lot of sugar, or prefer to discourage the growth of cancer cells in your body. 

Best of all, sweet potatoes are low on the gylcemic index (the measurement of how food influences your blood sugar levels), registering at 54 (surprisingly, lower than white potatoes, with a score of 88-93), so they are a great food for type II diabetics or plumpers like me.  And when baked, their natural sugars caramelize, producing the most ambrosial sweetness.

Though most North Americans consider the more orange-fleshed, moister vegetables to be yams, they are, in fact, just another type of sweet potato alongside the lighter-fleshed, dryer ones.  (According to PCC Natural Markets, “true yams, which are which are grown in the tropics, are almost ivory in color, and are more starchy than sweet”).

Sweet potatoes have become a true staple in our home, and are definitely at the top of my list of favorite vegetables.  With that in mind, I thought this would also be a good entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, the terrific event originated by Kalyn’s Kitchen and this week hosted by Anna at Anna’s Cool Finds.

 Mini Sweet Potato and Chocolate Chip Muffins

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

I’ve previously posted another of my favorite sweet potato-based recipes, the Thanksgiving-themed Sweet Potato and Carrot Casserole.  Today’s contribution is a mini-muffin using the sweet spud, as well as a sprinkling of chocolate chips. These are a great snack when baked as minis; you can also double the recipe and make a dozen regular-sized muffins.

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TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Sister Love, Self Love

January 18, 2008

This morning, as I slipped out of the shower and dashed toward my towel, I was arrested by the flashing image of some alien being–large, bulbous torso with spindly appendages,  squishy and amorphous, with a dimpled, pasty-grey hide–as my gaze flitted briefly across the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet.  Extraterrestrial close encounters in my bathroom? Ultra-magnified image of a cotton ball and stray eyelashes? Cate Blanchett in her newest role, as Truman Capote? 

Uh, no, to all of the above, sad to say. With a start, I realized that mysterious reflection was me.

My HH finally put up the medicine cabinet a few days ago, so I wasn’t yet used to having a mirror in just that location, and forgot to avert my eyes as my naked self passed by.  Now, with two mirrors basically facing each other in the bathroom, just as they tend to do in women’s dressing rooms, I am treated to the full 3-D, 360 degrees, visual equivalent of surround-sound, image of myself every time I exit from the shower.  Bummer.  BIG bummer, if you get my drift.

Why is it I’ve come to avoid looking at myself in the mirror, you may wonder?  As a child, I never really thought about my looks very much.  These days, I can barely stand to gaze at my own reflection, and most especially not naked.  For many women, this is the last frontier of self-esteem:  being able to take in our own naked reflections without censure, or nausea.

I know that my body is not where I’d like it to be, and what’s worse, I know it has been in a much better place in the past.  As much as I consciously tout–and believe in–self-acceptance and self-love, it never occurred to me that I’m sabotaging myself by avoiding my mirror image just because I don’t like what I see.  What I end up doing each time I refuse to look is nurture that kernel of low self-esteem.

As it happens, The CFO is coming to visit this weekend (a deferred trip, after the last one was cancelled due to a snow storm).  Like my mother, my older sister, and me, The CFO has struggled with her weight most of her adult life.  And when I think of her and how I feel about her, it would seem ludicrous to me to reject her based on weight gain, of course.  So, if I’m infinitely capable of lavishing unconditional love on my friends and family regarless of physical appearance, it begs the question: why can’t I do so with myself as well?  

I believe in self-acceptance, and I’ve written about this before.  And I’m repeatedly inspired by other bloggers who’ve managed to incorporate self-love into their diet routines.   But I tend to separate acceptance from approval in my assessment, sort of like the mother of a toddler who tells her naughty child, “I still love YOU, but I am very angry at what you did.”  And let me tell you, what my fat cells are doing these days really sucks.

But I’m working on it.  There’s a great scene in the otherwise nondescript movie, Safe, one of Julianne Moore’s early films (1995).  Suffering from multiple allergies to basically everything (what was once called “20th Century Disease“), Moore’s character withdraws from the “real” world to an alternative-medicine retreat where she can be sheltered from the onslaught of all civilization’s many toxins and environmental villains.  Part of her cure involves practising self-love; her therapists believe that the root of her problems stems from her inability to really love herself, unconditionally. 

The movie ends with a tone that is both somewhat mocking (of all things alternative) and also portentous: Moore stands facing herself in the mirror and repeatedly chokes on the words, “I love you,” as she stares into the reflection of her own eyes.  But watching the scene, you just know that her salvation lies in that little phrase, in truly believing it.

I think this coming weekend is the perfect place to embark on a new approach to achieving such a salvation: I’m going to throw a superabundance of affection toward the CFO over the next two days, and attempt to do the same with myself, especially next time I pass by the mirror.  There may not be any skinny dipping in my foreseeable future, but perhaps I’ll eventually step out of the shower without shielding my eyes. 

 Have a great weekend, all.

Raw Almond-Veggie Pate

January 17, 2008

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

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.”]  

 

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When I was in nutrition school, one of the alternative diets we learned about was the raw food diet, also known as the living foods diet.  The diet consists only of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains (such as your garden-variety bean sprouts), as well as the occasional raw milk, cheese, or yogurt.  “Living” is defined as anything not heated above 118 F (some adherents say 115 F), as that is the temperature at which the foods’ enzymes are denatured (and why pay for denatured milk when you can still get some raw milk for free?–or something like that).

I was not immediately drawn to this diet, as it does present some difficulties for me. First, and most important, eating a “living” diet 100% of the time is somewhat unrealistic in a Canadian climate, as an abundance of locally-grown raw foods is not available all year; further, your body craves warm foods in a cold climate.  It’s also not varied enough for my personal palate.  I have my favorite raw dishes, and I try to eat them as much as I can, along with the usual array of fruits, salads, and any other uncooked goodies I can find (some dried fruits also qualify here), but I don’t believe it’s necessary to do so all the time.  And finally, I have an aversion to trying out anything completely “in the raw” (what with my 36.5 pounds of excess avoirdupois–I’m sure you understand).  

Well, after learning about some of the principles behind the diet and the theory as to why it’s healthy, I was intrigued enough to sign up for a “cooking” class that featured entirely raw dishes.  Everything was astoundingly delicious–I could barely contain myself from slurping up the velvety carrot and cashew soup, munching on the brilliant red peppers perfectly contrasted with the deep, glowing emerald of the broccoli florets in the “Pad Thai,” gobbling up the juicy, smooth and tangy apple pie with crushed nut crust–it was enough to make me wax poetic about produce, even.

When I got home, I pulled out my newly purchased raw foods cookbook and set about reproducing the veritable feast I’d enjoyed in the class.  Once I got to work, I quickly realized, however, just how much work was involved.  Regular vegetarian cuisine can be challenging enough, requiring several slots on your daytimer just for the peeling, washing, coring, seeding, slicing, dicing, chopping and grating–not to mention all the other prep–but at least you’re able to do up huge batches at at time and freeze the leftovers for later consumption.  With raw cuisine, you have to eat it all within 4 or 5 days, or it spoils.  Darn that oxidation!

Still, there are other benefits to eating raw.  The major draw, for me, was the fact that raw foods actually aids the digestive process by providing a certain percentage of digestive enzymes needed to break food down in your body.  When you consume cooked foods, your pancreas must produce the enzymes to break it down to its most basic parts–glucose molecules in carbs, fatty acids with fats, amino acids with proteins–so they can be easily absorbed through the small intestines. 

Raw foods, on the other hand, already contain some of these enzymes, so your pancreas can relax a little.  I’ve read that, when eating a completely raw diet, the body produces something like 60 percent fewer enzymes than when eating entirely cooked foods (which amounts to several cups’ worth in one day).  Accordingly, with raw foods, your body will then have more energy to focus on other functions, such as maintenance, strengthening the immune system, or going to see Bruce Willis in Die Hard 27.   

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This recipe is one that I made at a recent cooking class.  The participants loved it, and were even adventurous enough to try the sweet potato “crackers” (thin slices of peeled raw sweet potato) on which it was served.  

(This is just a regular rice cracker in the photo, but do give the sweet potato ones a try; they are really good.  Seriously.)

(“Mmmm, Mum, we love this raw pate!  And, as you know, we always eat in the raw.  You should try it some time, really.  It’s very liberating.”)

Raw Almond-Veggie Pate

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

The recipe is incredibly easy–just toss all ingredients into a food processor and blend to a spreadable consistency–and it provides excellent protein through the soaked raw nuts and seeds (and soaking also renders them more digestible than dry raw versions).  You can also play around with the veggies in this pate to suit your own taste.  I like to include something juicy to help thin out the consistency, but if you prefer to omit the tomato, just add a little water or extra lemon juice to the mix.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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On one episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s post-Seinfeld exploration of our modern cultural zeitgeist, he explains why he got rid of his dog by saying “It’s like having a bum living in your house.” 

As much as I adore Mr. David’s show and can understand how he might feel that way (Larry’s character has had his share of run-ins with unsavory types), I’m more inclined toward the following joke I once heard on CBC One (Canada’s public radio station):

The dog says, “You pat me. You feed me. You shelter me. You love me: you must be God!”

The cat says, “You pat me. You feed me. You shelter me. You love me: I must be God!”

Needless to say, I prefer dogs to cats. 

And even though the Furry Girls may laze around quite a bit during the day, those soulful brown eyes and wagging tails make it all worthwhile (well, maybe, except for the part about picking up poo in a plastic bag). 

I thought today’s entry would be perfect for Peanut Butter Etoufees  Food Bloggy Pets of the Month event.

(“Chaser and I are very grateful, Mum.  We will wag our tails for you any time.  Now, please bring me over another biscuit, and be sure to spread a little of that nice organic peanut butter on it, would you?“)

Tofu Quiche for Thirty

January 15, 2008

The weather continues to annoy me, what with all the grey and gloom and snow and slush.  Too much shadow (and so I take umbrage at the weather. Bah.)

Consequently, I wasn’t all too thrilled when I remembered that I had to drive about 40 minutes just to teach a cooking class this evening at a local RCSS.  Besides, the coordinator had called me on Friday to tell me only six people had signed up!  I love doing these classes, and the intimate number of participants is always nice because it allows for one-on-one attention, but this darned Canadian winter just seemed too intimidating (the temperature was supposed to drop to -4 C this evening, which meant a slippery drive home at 9:00 PM). 

Well, what a surprise when I showed up to the kitchen, only to be informed that the class was fully booked, with 30 people!  Although I’ve previously baked quantities beyond that (muffins for 300, anyone?), I’ve never prepared such large quantities of food, all at one time, in front of an audience.

Luckily, the coordinator was a trained chef who could chop onions and skin tomatoes like nobody’s business.  He had the prep work done in a flash, and when the class started, all I had to do was don my chef’s cap, chat about my recipes, and basically have a good time.  The only difficulty I had was stirring a quinoa salad for 30 (I knew I should have gone to the workout club this morning!)

Even though the participants were neither vegetarian nor vegan, they arrived in such large numbers because the class was entirely gluten-free and they all had issues with gluten.  One of the dishes I demonstrated was Tofu Quiche, a big hit with my HH as well, so I thought I’d share it here.  I’ll post some of the others as well over the next while. (Sorry there’s no photo–I actually brought my camera with me to the store, then forgot to take a pic as the hungry crowd devoured the meal).

Egg-Free Quiche with Millet Crust

 This quiche is great for anyone on a gluten-free diet.  The unusual, mild millet crust is the perfect accompaniment to the smooth and flavourful quiche filling.  Vary the vegetables in the quiche according to your taste—almost anything goes!  

For the crust: 

1/2 cup dried millet

1 cup vegetable broth

pinch of sea salt 

For the filling: 

1 Tbsp. organic extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, diced small

2 roasted red peppers or 1 fresh, sliced into thin strips (or one of each)

1 carrot, grated fine

1 cup very firmly packed spinach or chard leaves, stems removed, chopped

700 g. silken or soft tofu (about 2 cups)

1 Tbsp. white miso paste

2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)

1 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari 

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Lightly grease a pie plate. 

Make the crust:  Pour millet into a small pot and add water.  Bring to boil over high heat, then lower heat to simmer, cover, and let simmer for 25 minutes.   Uncover and stir.  The millet should be a bit mushy, with some moisture still in the pan. 

Immediately pour the millet into the pie plate and, using the back of a spoon or wet hands (and being careful not to burn yourself!), press the millet into the pie plate to make a “crust.” (Dipping the spoon or your hands in water helps). Bake in preheated oven 10 minutes until slightly dry to the touch. 

Make the filling:  Heat oil in a large frypan and sauté onions for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent and soft.  Add the pepper, carrot, and spinach, and sauté for another 5 minutes, until the spinach is wilted and other ingredients begin to soften.  Cover and turn off heat. 

In a food processor or blender, mix the tofu, miso, tahini, and soy sauce until very smooth. Pour the mixture over the vegetables in the pan and stir to combine well. Turn into the crust in the pie pan. 

Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until top is light golden brown.  Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving (the quiche firms up as it sits–it’s actually better the next day!).  May be eaten hot, at room temperature, or cold.

Makes 8 servings. 

We’ve been having endless gloomy weather lately, which always gets me thinking in macro mode about my life and career: where they are now, where they are (or aren’t) heading, and where I’d like them to be.  Quite often, it boils down to the issue of focus: I just don’t seem to have much.

In fact, I’m one of those people who might start to clean my house at 9:00 AM by dusting in the living room, only to happen across a stray cardigan lying on the comfy black chair, so I pick it up and take it to the bedroom to put it away, and then notice the dog’s bone on the floor, so I pick it up and take it over to where the dogs’ pillows are, where I notice as I toss it that there’s a full wastepaper basket beside the desk, so I pick it up to take it downstairs to the garbarge can, but when I get there, I notice that big cup of tea I left steeping on the kitchen counter, except by now it’s cold, so I pick it up and put it in the microwave to reheat for 30 seconds, during which time I wander to the kitchen table and notice my daybook that I left there last night, so I pick it up and take it to my office where I notice a magazine I bought last week and never did read, so I pick it up and well maybe there are some good recipes for my blog in here, so I’ll just take a little peek. . .ooh, look, isn’t baby Suri cute?  and wow, I had no idea that there were so many undiagnosed women’s illnesses! and what?  are they kidding?  who’d wear THAT in the middle of winter?? and by the time I next look up, it’s 5:45 PM, I forgot to eat lunch, there’s cold tea in the microwave, my HH will be home any minute, and the house could really use a good cleaning. 

Hmm.  Now what was I talking about?  Oh, yes.  Focus.  

Well, I noticed that this same lack of focus could be detected in my blog. By now, I’ve been visiting other blogs long enough to realize that mine is a bit of an anomaly in the field: it has food info and recipes.  It has diet rants and musings.  It has talking dogs. 

Most blogs zero in on one main theme or topic, but I just can’t seem to narrow it down.  I began to wonder if perhaps I was being unfair to those poor, unsuspecting readers who happened upon the blog and found a recipe, only to return the next day to be faced with a diatribe about chocolate addiction. Or what about those other chocaholics who share my weight issues, and discover a story about how my dear Elsie acquired her name the next time they visit? 

The whole issue got me thinking quite a bit about why I write about the things I do in this blog.  It even prompted me to revamp my “About” page to include a fairly lengthy bit of background.

In the end, I realized there’s no point agonizing about it. The blog is an amalgam of my various parts, and I guess it will have to reflect those. And while I hope it’s not just a “cheese sandwich” blog, it does occasionally focus on the minutaie of my life that, most likely, are of very little interest to anyone else but my closest friends and family (who, as it turns out, have never seen this blog!).  So if I wander from diets, to dessert, to dogs and back again, I hope you’ll forgive me and allow me that little lack of focus.  At least I haven’t offered to clean your house.

Mum, we think the house is just fine as it is.  .  . the dust bunnies just make our beds softer.”