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.”]  

  

A few weeks ago when I hosted a pot luck dinner for some friends from my nutrition school days, I promised on this blog to post all the recipes from the evening.  This napa cabbage salad was originally on the menu (but got usurped by Isa and Terry’s Caesar).   Well, tonight we ate the salad with/for dinner, so I’m happy to finally present the recipe here.

Napa is one of those foods that seems to straddle two different types of vegetable:  is it a lettuce (genus lactuca)?  Is it a cabbage (genus brassica)?*  What I love about it is its perma-crunch quality; even the next day, and even if you’ve thrown foresight to the winds and dressed the entire salad, the leftovers are still crisp.  In fact, my HH remarked this evening that he prefers this salad on the second day, as the flavors mature! (I’ll try that next time I make a salad of mesclun greens, too:  “Yes, that’s right Honey, it’s supposed to be limp and a bit slimy; that’s just what happens on the second day, after the flavors mature“).

After a long day of grocery shopping, errands, school work, and grumbling over the thermostat falling once again, I wasn’t feeling overly hungry (shocking, I know, but it does happen once in a while).  I’d picked up some sliced turkey for my HH, and had the napa in mind for me.  Turned out to be the perfect dinner for a six-foot one, 195-pound male carnivore and a five-foot four (and a half!), mumblemumbleunclearnumber-pound female vegetarian:  turkey sandwich and napa salad for him; a big plate of napa salad for me.  Mmm.  Can’t wait for the mature leftovers, tomorrow.

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Napa Cabbage Salad

This fabulous salad recipe was given to me by my friend Barbara, who got if from someone else (exactly whom, she can no longer remember).   The two essential components, I’ve found, are the napa and the dressing; pretty much everything else can be adjusted or substituted. This is the type of salad that invites picking at it, right out of the salad bowl, once you’ve already finished what’s on your plate.

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

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Smooth Operator

January 10, 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.”]  

 

Way back in my salad days. . . . (Come on, now, who am I kidding? Okay, let’s start again): 

Way back in my cake-for-breakfast, Snickers-bar-for-breakfast, leftover-nachos-for-breakfast days, I was seemingly able to get it all done:  work at a burger joint until 1:30 AM, sleep five hours, get up and make it to school for an 8:30 class, get my groceries done, clean my apartment (ah, the days of the bachelorette apartment–only one set of dishes to wash!), pay my bills, wash out 44 pairs of socks and have ’em hanging on the line! Starch and iron 2 dozen shirts before you can count from one to nine! Cause I was a woman–W-O-M-A-N–I’ll say it again!. . . . oh, wait a sec, wrong memory.  Excuse me. 

What I mean is, I was able to get everything essential done, eat whenever I wanted, and still remain relatively healthy.  Of course, in those days, I didn’t appreciate how resilient my body was (looks like George Bernard Shaw had a point), and never worried about consuming a “healthy” breakfast.  Or a healthy any other meal, for that matter.

These days, I am living proof of the adage that one really must have a good breakfast.  On the days I don’t, my day is off to a horrendous start and I feel lethargic for the next 15 or so hours.  What to do, then, when you’ve got papers to mark, classes to prepare, blogs to write, dogs to walk, HH’s to hug, dinners to cook, 44 pairs of socks. . . etc.?  (Actually, one thing I don’t have to do any more–hallelujah!–is my laundry; as Elizabeth Gilbert marveled at the beginning of Eat, Pray, Love, I, too, am blessed with a guy who does the laundry in our house, skivvies and all).

As I may have mentioned before, breakfast is actually my favorite meal of the day.  Something about breakfast foods just appeal so much:  they jump start your day, they’re cakelike or crunchy, they’re either sweet or fruity-tart or scramble-spiced, it’s bright and sunny out, you’re well rested, the birds are twittering in the trees (well, in another 8 months they will be, anyway). . .  and so, I love breakfast.

I’ve got a fairly large repertoire of morning “regulars” I rely on to break my fast, all of which are quick and easy.  One of my favorites is a smoothie.  So versatile, you can throw anything in a blender and just whizz away; then, presto, change-o!, a delicious, nutritious breakfast magically appears.  And it doesn’t hurt that it resembles a milkshake in taste and consistency, either.

Today’s recipe is what I called a “Mystery Smoothie” when I taught it in my cooking classes. These days, what with Jessica Seinfeld’s bestselling cookbook (I’m not even going to link to it; she’s got enough attention already), the concept of spinach in a smoothie is oh-so-passé, but for many moms who are new to alternative or vegan cooking, adding hidden spinach in a sweet and kid-friendly breakfast drink can be a revelation.  It’s a great way to infuse your drink with vital minerals and protein, as well as Omega 3 fats (yes, in spinach!).  Which, of course, makes it the perfect recipe for me to submit to Cate at Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Roundup on Tuesday.

In addition, it’s infinitely variable according to your own tastes, since you can substitute pretty much any greens for spinach and add any other fruits.  I’d recommend still leaving the blueberries in, though, unless it’s St. Patrick’s day, Halloween, or your kid thinks s/he’s a Martian.

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Mystery Smoothie

This smoothie can be served as a full meal or a dessert/snack–it all depends on the quantity. This smoothie combines the rich nutrient content of spinach with its creamy, fruity base.  No one will ever know!

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

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You know we love this smoothie, Mum.  Can we help clean up the leftovers?”   

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

Happy Trails

January 9, 2008

Snacks:  should we or shouldn’t we?  The jury seems to be out on that one.  Just this morning, as I plodded along on my trusty treadmill, I happened upon a brief TV interview with ND Penny Kendall-Reed hawking  discussing her new book, The No-Crave Diet.  One of the supposed myths that she busted was the idea that we should basically snack all day long ( what’s been referred to as “grazing” in recent years), and eat 4-6 smaller meals per day.

 

No, no, no, said Ms. Kendall-Reed, that theory has been thrown out the window!  Recent science indicates that leptin, the fat-controlling hormone in our bodies, only begins to really work its magic about 5 hours after we’ve last eaten (and so, works best overnight).  If we keep shoving food into our mouths every two to three hours, we undermine the function of leptin.  So to really lose weight, she advised, don’t snack at all.  Stick with 3 meals–that’s it.

Well, I’m not sure I could ever give up snacks entirely, but if I do snack, I’d prefer it to be something that isn’t going to cause my fat cells to multiply or my arteries to stiffen up.  What better choice than trail mix?  It’s the perfect snack for us North Americans:  quick, portable, ostensibly healthy, it provides us with the twin hits of two favorite tastes, sweet and salty.  

But don’t kid yourself that you’re eating a health food if you consume store-bought varieties.  Often, these are roasted in unhealthy oils (the nuts), coated in unhealthy oils (the dried fruits) or sprinkled with flour (wheat can be nasty for some) or sugar (which is nasty for everyone). They may also contain additives, coloring, artificial flavorings, preservatives, or hydrogenated oils. By far, the best way to acquire trail mix is to make your own.  And since it’s so easy to throw together, why not?

girlsoncarpet.jpg I thought it might be useful to run through the basic components and offer what would or wouldn’t work for a healthy trail mix.  I’ll also include our own preferred mixture here at the DDD residence (“We particulary enjoy those cashews, Mum. But thanks for not giving us those raisins!“).

What Should I Include in a Basic Trail Mix? 

The generic recipe is very simple:  use any combination of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and cereals that you like. 

  

Just keep in mind one essential rule:  minimize or eliminate processing. In other words, for the optimal trail mix, it’s preferable to gather all your ingredients in their raw form, measure according to healthy percentages of protein and carbs (since the original purpose of trail mix was to provide a boost of energy while hiking—a high-exertion activity—it should contain a fair amount of protein and carbs for energy, or a high proportion of nuts and seeds), then dehydrate or cook the ingredients, as you wish. 

  My own basic trail mix recipe includes:

  • approximately 75% nuts and seeds (I use almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, peanuts, and Brazil nuts; pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds)
  • about 20% dried fruits (I use unsweetened dried cherries, dried cranberries, raisins, chopped dates and chopped figs)
  • and about 5% grains or cereals, if you wish (I tend not to worry about the cereal part).

The following guidelines may help you decide which ingredients to include in your own mix.

 NUTS AND SEEDS:  

In general, nuts are a wonderful and very nutritious food.  They contain heart-healthy Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats, monounsaturated fats, antioxidant vitamin E, and they are also generally high in protein.  Nuts arrive in their own natural packaging—their shells—which will help preserve and protect them as well until ready to use.   

Because it’s more difficult to buy nuts with the shells still on and then shell them yourself before blending into a trail mix (that alone would provide enough exercise to earn the right to eat them all!), the second best choice is raw, natural nuts from a health food store.

Organic nuts, of course, would be preferable, but these are often quite expensive.

Choose unroasted, unsalted, raw, natural nuts for your mix.  If you wish, you can roast them yourself, by laying them out on a rimmed cookie sheet and baking in a 350 F (180C) oven for about 10-15 minutes, until just starting to turn golden.  If you do choose to add salt, use a natural sea salt with a full complement of minerals.  Cool completely before adding to your mix.

Keep in mind that the oils in nuts and seeds are volatile; this means they are prone to rancidity if exposed to air, heat, or oxygen (which is why you don’t want to buy those pre-roasted ones). In order to preserve the integrity of the oils in your nuts and seeds, refrigerate (or freeze) raw nuts/seeds until you use them. This way, you’ll obtain the highest health benefits from your healthy snack. 

 Best choices:

  • Almonds.  These are always at the top of my list, since they offer a high protein content, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, and a lower fat content than most other nuts.  They are also the highest nut for calcium.
  • Coconut.  Previously maligned because of its high saturated fat content, coconut has recently been promoted by some alternative health professionals as a heart-healthy food that can also help preserve thyroid functioning. If you can find high quality organic coconut, this can be a great addition to your trail mix.
  • Pumpkin Seeds. Known to be high in zinc, pumpkin seeds can help boost immunity and have been shown to help prevent prostate problems. They’re also high in iron and other minerals.  The phytosterols (plant sterols) in pumpkin seeds have also been shown to help reduce cholesterol.
  • Sesame Seeds.  These tiny gems are a great source of calcium and the same type of phytosterols as in pumpkin seeds. Remember that they need to be chewed to crack the outer hull, as this exposes the healthy oils within and renders the seeds digestible by our digestive tract (otherwise, sesame seeds—like flax seeds—are not digested and pass whole through our systems.  While they offer fibre in this manner, they won’t offer nutrients this way).
  • Walnuts.  Filled with healthy Omega 3 oils, walnuts are good for brain function (and they look like little brains, don’t they?) and heart health.  Slightly higher in fat (about 65%), they probably should be eaten in moderation.

 Avoid:   

  • Conventional (non-organic) peanuts.  Even if you’re not allergic, peanuts can harbor aflatoxins, a highly toxic mold (supposedly more toxic than DDT!).  Organic peanuts tend to be less problematic in this area.
  • Commercially prepared soy nuts.  In general, though soybeans offer great protein and are also important for women in pre- and menopausal years, commercial varieties are often roasted in poor-quality oils, high in added fat, and, unless organic, genetically modified. Check preparation and ingredients carefully if buying soy nuts.

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[“Yum!  Thanks for those cashews, Dad!”]

FRUITS:

Fruits are not only a high-fibre, no-fat snack; they’re also an excellent source of vitamins, some minerals (especially dates, raisins, and figs), and they add the chewiness and sweetness that so many of us crave in a trail mix.  

 Best Choices: 

  • Apricots:  These fruits offer a great source of vitamin A.  The organic variety is naturally darker in color than conventional apricots, and much sweeter! If you’ve never tried organic dried apricots, I highly recommend them.
  • Blueberries/Cranberries: both these berries have been shown to help prevent urinary tract infections by inhibiting bacteria from clinging to the urinary tract. They’re also high in vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Cherries:  tart, organic dried cherries provide pucker-power in a trail mix and offer vitamins A and C, as well as a source of calcium.
  • Goji Berries: A relatively new addition to the realm of dried fruit, Goji berries are delicious (not quite as sweet as raisins and a bit chewier), with an impressive nutritional profile including high levels of vitamin C (higher by weight than oranges), several vitamins and minerals, and an array of amino acids.  I previously wrote about goji berries (among other things) in this post.
  • Raisins:  a perennial favorite, raisins are a good source of iron and also contain other minerals and vitamin B. Don’t forget, however, that raisins can be poisonous to dogs! (“We appreciate that, Mum.”)
  • Figs: dried figs are known to be anti-parasitic and help keep the intestines in good shape.  They also provide a great fruit source of calcium as well as potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and phosphorous, not to mention good fibre content! I’ve grown very fond of figs (it’s just platonic, silly) and will post some new recipes with them in the next week or so as well.

Avoid:  

  • non-organic dried fruits, as they can be coated in wheat flour (to prevent sticking together), sugar and/or unhealthy oils (same reason as flour), and often contain sulfites (a preserving agent).   For people concerned with maintaining the enzymes present in raw fruits, look for dried fruits that have been dehydrated at low temperatures (usually below 118 degrees F).

 CEREALS (Optional): 

Best Choices:

  • plain puffed cereals, such as brown rice (I use Erehwhon unsalted) or organic oat circles. Many gluten-free grains, such as quinoa or millet, are now also available puffed as well.
  • Avoid: many commercial cereals contain sugar, hydrogenated oils, flavors, and so on. Check labels to ensure healthy ingredients and no extra sweetener. 

How Do I Store My Trail Mix and How Long Should I Keep It? 

For maximum longevity, store your trail mix in sealed, opaque containers in the refrigerator and take out only as much as you’ll need at a time.  This will keep both the nuts and seeds fresh as long as possible, usually about a month (though it likely won’t last that long).  However, if you detect even the slightest trace of rancidity in the taste of your nuts or seeds, it’s always better to discard the mix.

Trail mix is a real staple in our house, as my HH adores nuts of all kinds (Including me.  You DID see that one coming, didn’t you??).  And making your own, besides being fun, provides a comforting sense that your snacks can provide at least some of the essential nutrients in your day.  And what if Ms. Kendall-Reid is right, and we should forgo our daily snacks?  Well, just toss that trail mix into a big bowl of organic baby greens, and you’ve got an instant meal (and no one’s prohibiting that just yet!).

Driven by Distraction

January 8, 2008

I wouldn’t have believed it myself if it hadn’t happened to me personally (why, yes, you’re absolutely right, that does sound like the opening line of a letter to Penthouse Forum! But sorry, it’s not).

Two whole days, and I have consumed not one single sweet. No cookies.  No cake.  No muffins, even.  But best of all:  no chocolate! My small intestine is saying, “thank you.”  My gastric juices are whispering, “we appreciate the time off.”  My liver is chanting, “Bless you, my child.”  The scale is even winking at me in gratitude. The Girls–well, they’re not as thankful.  (“We really do miss getting the leftover bits of those oatbran banana muffins, Mum.“)

How did I accomplish such a feat, you ask? Well (like so much else in my life, unfortunately), it wasn’t a conscious choice.  I have discovered since our new semester began this week that it is just soooo much easier for me to eat healthfully when I have some distraction.  During the past two days, I’ve had distraction squared.  Exponential distraction.  To wit, dozens of students emailing with questions, numerous pieces of coursework to put into place, several meetings with colleagues, coordinators and Chairs (and chairs, too, actually), a cooking class to present in a major grocery store, a doctor’s appointment, and myriad other little errands and domestic tasks that I’ve left by the wayside for too long (hmmmm. .. why don’t we see just how long we can live without unpacking the second half of our kitchen, still in boxes from our recent move?)

On some level, I guess I know that my dietary habits are curbed by being busy, so I tend to overbook myself, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.  But hey, I like it that way; I get too stressed out when I’m not so busy that I’m stressed out.

It just seems that the ability to exert willpower over poor dietary choices is much more effective when I have many things to occupy my time and mind.  This fact tends to convince me that my eating is, indeed, emotional, as I am able to easily ignore even the most insistent rumbling of my stomach during times that I’m involved in what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (I swear, that’s his real name) would call a “Flow” activity.

I guess I’ve always been someone who requires structure and consistency to be comfortable and stave off anxiety. As an undergraduate, I was exceedingly organized, so much so that I could work part time, go to school full-time, be a teaching assistant part-time, and still have a social life.  I was one of those annoying students who elicited the gag reflex in others by always having her course readings done (with notes) before class, and always finishing essays long before the due date (though I never actually handed them in before the due date, because I didn’t want my professors to think I hadn’t used the maximum time allotted, thereby designating me a slacker).

When it comes to my eating habits, however, I tenaciously resist the idea of structure.  Why? There have certainly been times in my life when I did diet according to “Diet Rules,” whatever fashion dictated they were at the time. 

Ah, nostalgia: I remember clearly when The Nurse first explained to me (a mere tyke at the time!) about the concept of calories. The rules were easy:  it didn’t matter where you got your calorie buzz as long as your sinful activity never exceeded a certain number per day (I think it was 1000 at that time).  You could eat anything you wanted, no matter how decadent, and you’d still lose 5 pounds a week as long as you followed the rules. But if you went too far, or enjoyed too much, you’d pay for breaking those rules by growing fatter and fatter, and your friends would ultimately reject you. So we went on a chocolate cake diet, eating one slice of it for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner in order to lose weight. (Come to think of it, that was also about the time she explained the birds and the bees to me as well, so maybe I’m getting those two sets of rules mixed up.)

Later on was the “same thing for each meal” diet (not to be confused with the previous one, which is technically the “same thing for every meal” diet).  In its second incarnation, the diet prescribed a bowl of corn flakes with skim milk for breakfast, a salad and orange for lunch, and chicken and vegetables for dinner.  At that time, I was working lunch hours in the high school cafeteria, so I’d get my orange and salad for free (I know, I can get my entire lunch for free, and what do I pick?  Salad and an orange).  Back then, in my early teens, that diet also worked beautifully. I did lose weight, my first large weight loss.  Unfortunately, I also lost my period and felt pretty crappy most of the time.  (Oh, and losing the weight didn’t help me get a boyfriend, either. Bummer.)

I could go on (but I’ll spare you).  Suffice it to say that, over the years, I tried sundry and various ways to lose weight, always keeping it off for a short time (except my one big “lose,” after which I maintained my slim self for about a decade).  But eventually, I gained back the weight in the most cliched fashion, even surpassing the previous “high” weight.

Lack of success in the past may explain why I’m diet-shy at the moment and bristle at any mention of counting points, calories, carbs, fat grams, or anything else that would cause me to practise my rusty addition or subtraction skills before eating.  I am truly thankful that I haven’t felt the urge to consume anything unhealthy in the past two days, but I’m still not entirely sure why that’s been the case. 

What I’m aiming for, eventually, is to regain the power in that equation (there’s that darn math again!), allowing me to assume conscious control of whether or not I lean toward the slice of chocolate cake or the scrambled tofu for dinner.  And judging by the last couple of days, it would make sense to examine just what it is that distraction offers.  Because in the end, I think it’s far preferable to meander through your days, relaxed and aware, than to rush through a predetermined schedule just to avoid the temptation of unhealthy eating.

It was all quiet on the DDD front yesterday, as I’m both preparing to return to school (gak!) tomorrow, and am still fighting off a weird viral thingie.  So with my sinuses throbbing, I didn’t much feel like being creative in the kitchen.  chaserbedhog.jpg Woke up feeling very cold, only to discover that someone had stolen the blanket from the bed and was hogging it!  (“Sorry, Mum, but since you won’t let me up there, I have to get in on the act somehow.  Sheesh, haven’t you heard of the Family Bed?”)

Well, after catching up on some of my own blog reading, I was inspired by Veggie Girl’s recent baking marathon to get at it myself.  In another recent post, she had mentioned the fantastic cookbook by Ellen Abraham, Simple Treats, a book I own and love, but had left, forlorn and forgotten, on the bookshelf for the past while.  With my memory jogged, I set about finding something from the book to bake.

I adore freshly baked muffins or scones for breakfast, and was in the mood for something like that.  I also had a bag of dried figs that have been waiting on the shelf for just such an occasion, so searched for something and came up with Ellen’s Walnut-Fig Bread.  The recipe is straightforward and I love the fact that she uses barley flour for a change from spelt, so I dug right in.  Rather than bake the bread in a loaf pan, I opted for a 9 x 9 inch square so we could cut it in cubes, sort of like a cornbread (not sure why; just in the mood!).  The square pan cut the baking time almost in half, but other than that, I followed the recipe exactly.

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Well, was it ever delicious!  Dense, moist, with the crackly seeds and sweet chewiness of the figs dotted throughout, plus a hint of cinnamon–perfect for a cold winter’s morning with a dollop of almond butter and a steaming cup of green tea.  My HH, reluctant to try it at first, ended up ready to devour the whole thing and ate three squares in quick succession, even after having had a full breakfast! (And no, despite my many references to how much he eats, my HH is NOT overweight, and has never had a weight problem.  Is that warped, or what?).

Most of the time, I find baking to be therapeutic and soothing. Unfortunately, the effort this time pretty much wiped me out, and I spent the remainder of the day just reading and procrastinating attempting to do some course prep. By the time dinner rolled around, I abandoned my original, more ambitious, plans for pasta and focused instead on some kind of quick but warming and nutritious soup to make.

To me, soup is a saviour in the kitchen, since you can basically throw any and all vegetables–whether fresh or even a little past their prime–into a pot, boil away, and you’ve got something hot, yummy, and good for you.  Even when the combination is otherwise less than dazzling, just pour the whole mess in the blender, add a splash of soymilk and/or a previously boiled potato for creaminess, and you’ve got a great potage.

Last night, I just combined whatever bland winter veggies we had on hand.  I began by sauteing an onion, some chopped garlic, sliced celery, and sliced carrots.  While those were softening up, I chopped some broccoli and a Yukon Gold potato.  To the pot, I added some salt, pepper, fresh parsley, dill, and just a pinch of smoked paprika along with about 6 cups of water.  The mixture was still looking a little pallid, so I ramped it up a bit with a teaspoon of instant veggie broth powder, a squirt of ketchup (we had no tomato in the house, and it needed something) and a splash of Bragg’s.  By then, its appearance had perked up a bit, so I tossed in the broccoli and potatoes an set it simmering.

But something was still missing. . . . something to add the chewy density you’d get with pasta, something to give it a little more oomph. . . .ah!  It hit me: dumplings!  I have a wonderful recipe for a curried vegetable stew with dumplings, so figured I could just wing it and create something similar to go with my veggie soup.  For variety and flavor, I settled on fresh herbed dumplings:  in a bowl, I mixed about a cup of oat flour with chopped fresh cilantro, salt, thyme, and some ground mustard.  I rubbed in about a tablespoon of coconut butter, then splashed about 4 tablespoons of soymilk into the bowl, tossed with a fork until it came together, and rolled little balls that I placed gingerly on top of the simmering soup, where they bobbed gently (covered) for about 10 minutes.  This is the end result:

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 It turned out to be quite satisfying, with a hearty flavor and big chunks of the veggies.  The dumplings provided a contrast in consistency, light and tender on the inside with a springy bite. 

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After slurping up a couple of bowls, I was feeling a little better and was able to spend the rest of the evening relaxing with my HH and Girls.  I guess Chaser could tell I wasn’t feeling up to par, as she didn’t even attempt to steal the covers at night, but just let me sleep. 

(“I thought I’d give you a break, Mum, since you were under the weather.  But now that it’s morning, how about some of that fig bread?”)

Remembrance of Foods Past

January 4, 2008

As our man Marcel so eloquently illustrated, it’s pretty much natural for most of us to be flooded with sensory memories when we inhale the aroma of some beloved or long-forgotten food–images come flooding back as quickly as a montage in a rap video. 

The scent of hot chocolate?  Of course: that was studying for high school metriculations, 1978.  The wafting aroma of eggplant parmesan?  That dinner party with my wacky room mate (ah, yes, the one my friend Ed said had a revolving door in her bedroom) in 1981.  The tingly, acidic rush of champagne bubbles on the nose?  The first New Year’s Eve with my HH, way back when.  Oh, and the next one.  And also our anniversary.  Oh yeah, also my birthday.  And the following New Year’s.  And this past one. . . .

Yes, food certainly elicits memories for most of us.  What’s weird about me, I’ve since discovered (among all the other things) is that the opposite is also true: memories elicit food.  What I mean is, I tend to recall past events according to the food that was present at the time.

Just the other day, my HH and I were discussing how sweet my friend Gemini I is, to always invite us to her cottage for major holidays like New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving.  “Yeh, too bad we didn’t make it this past year,” my HH remarked. I thought for a moment, then realized we had, indeed, been there. 

“Sure, we were there, don’t you remember,” I said.  “It was the first time my gravy came out perfectly, no lumps. And Gemini II made that amazing Caesar salad in her huge salad bowl on the stand.”  (Okay, it’s true, I didn’t call her “Gemini II,” but I did say the rest of it.)  My HH had no recollection whatsoever of this.  When my HH remembers places or events, he remembers them as normal people do:  according to what happened, or where the place is, or who else was there.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t recall those types of details as well.  It’s just that, for me, it seems major events are distinguished by the kind of food that was present.

During our first rocky summer together, my HH and I split up twice.  I will forever remember the second split, since we were at a favorite restaurant and ordered, respectively, linguine with seafood, and veggie pizza (before the days I couldn’t eat wheat).  As I sat, tears streaming down my face, my HH shoveled food mechanically into his mouth as a way to stave off the rising emotion at our impending separation.  Back in those days, untrained in how to emote (or even have a discussion with someone who was emoting), my HH seemed unable to utter the simple words, “But I don’t want to break up.”  As a result, I sat there, immobile, crying, but not touching my food. 

After a few minutes, the very solicitous restaurateur approached to inquire whether the food was not to my satisfaction (No, no it’s great, sniffle, I’m just not hungry, whimper whimper, thanks anyway, boo hoo sob sob), and then proceeded to return to the table every five minutes thereafter, sweetly attempting to encourage me to eat–anything–by placing one after the other free dishes on the table before me (I declined on the antipasto, garlic bread, and cheesecake, but did accept the wine–hey, even heartbroken, I’m no fool). 

When I think of that breakup, I always think of the food involved.  (In the end, that’s sort of what brought us back together again:  I wrote about the incident in the newspaper, and after reading it, HH contacted me to give it one more try.  In the end, what I assumed was no more than a several-night stand has endured more than a decade.)

Almost every major event I’ve experienced is somehow associated with an attendant meal, or at the least, a dish.  My ultimate date with my first love, way back during the Me Generation and Excessive Everything, was a phenomenal meal at a Detroit restaurant called The Benchmark (no longer in existence, alas).  A very posh place, far beyond the budget of a sweet, romantic History major trying to impress his girlfriend, they sure did know how to treat a couple. Led to wait for our table at the upstairs bar, we became so engrossed in our conversation (I know, youthful amour can do that to you) that we completely lost track of time and, before we realized it, more than an hour had passed.  When we inquired whether our table was ready, the horrified maitre d’ apologized profusely and offered us a free bottle of champagne as compensation for the time lost. (That brand remains my favorite). 

Later, I remember vividly the most delicious, velvety, slightly pungent and salty Cream of Olive Soup I’ve ever tasted.  Was it the company that made the soup so spectacular?  Or the fact that, as a starry-eyed twenty-something with very little experience in restaurant protocol, I was bowled over by the incredible opulence and extravagant service of the place? Who knows.  But whenever I think of ol’ Spaghetti Ears, that dinner isn’t far behind.

And what can I say, my family is weird.  (Actually, that has nothing to do with food-related memories, just a random factual statement). My sisters and I define memories based on food.  Which birthday was it?  Oh, yes, that’s right, the one with the Bo-Peep birthday cake.  Or remember when The Nurse’s boyfriend managed to quit smoking for a year and we baked him that “Happy Healthy” cake?  For years afterward, all my friends wanted a Happy Healthy when they, too, quit smoking (because in those days, everybody still smoked). 

And speaking of healthy, what about the evening–the first after I’d started on my naturopath-decreed cleansing diet–that I shared a dinner with my friend Mark? We’d actually found a restaurant willing to honor my new restrictions and serve me plain, steamed, organic vegetables and steamed basmati rice–no seasonings, no flare whatsoever.  Mid-meal, I sensed some lightheadedness and attendant dizziness.  Within minutes, the room spun and I wasn’t sure I’d make it home.  It was mid-February, snowy, and visibility was almost nil as I inched my way along the roads, gripping the steering wheel for dear life, moving no faster than 20 km per hour (that’s less than 12.4 mph, my American amigos), desperate to avoid an accident before getting back to my house.  I was so weak by the time I arrived home that my HH actually had to take my shoes off for me, before I collapsed in a heap on the bed and fell into a fitful slumber for 18 hours. My first (and only negative) detox experience.

I’m not sure why I evolved this way; maybe it was the constant parade of homemade foods in our house, the kitchen as the fulcrum of our family life, the genes I inherited from my mother’s side of the family. 

Whatever; I’m hoping I can establish a novel trend in 2008 and begin to associate milestones with healthy food, or–shockers!–nothing to do with food at all.  How about baked sweet potatoes (one of my favorites) linked with our 11th anniversary? Or a great trail-walk with The Girls encapsulated by raw Fig & Cherry Bars (recipe in a future post)? Even better, I’d love to relate significant events to other activities entirely (and no, they don’t have to be “that” kind, you naughty ones!).  Wouldn’t it be great to have strong associations with other things besides food?

Food is great, I love food, and it’s always been at the forefront of most aspects of my life, but I’ve come to learn that’s not the healthiest way to be for me.  Food will always remain a central part of most social events, but maybe in the future, it can be tempered with other important markers as well.  The next time I face a major challenge or triumph, I’d like to be able to connect it with something else, by making a conscious effort to focus on the people, or the place, or the things that contribute to that memory. 

Still, I’ll always have a soft spot for champagne and olive soup.

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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.”]  

 

Necessity is the mother of many a new recipe in our house.

Because there are only the two of us (humans) living here (“Don’t forget about us, Mum!“), it’s usually fairly easy to decide what to have for dinner, or what to buy at the grocery store.  My HH and I share many a similar taste, except for all that animal flesh he eats, and we even enjoy cooking together whenever we do cook (which seems to be less and less frequently these days, come to think of it).

One thing we have in common is an apathetic response to pears.  I crave a fresh pear probably twice a year–no connection to any other event or season; it’s just something that happens, and then I eat a pear.  When I do bite into it, I do appreciate all its lush juiciness, smooth, aromatic flesh and the little-known fibre boost it supplies. 

Pears wouldn’t be a problem over here, except that we are also the happy recipients of a weekly organic fruit and vegetable box.  When I’m not being lazy, or when I have extra time on my hands, I will contact the company ahead of time if there’s something I don’t want (such as cantaloupe, or extra mushrooms) and they will kindly exchange it for something else I do want (such as kale, or sweet potatoes).  However, more often than not, I am forgetful this way, and we end up with two to four pears in the box.

If I’m indifferent to fresh pears, my HH is positively aloof.  He won’t eat them; doesn’t like them; won’t even so much as glance in their direction.  The result of this situation at home is the all-too-frequent overly ripe pears sitting in a bowl in our kitchen, looking ennervated and gloomy and feebly hanging on for dear life.  What to do?

In the past, I’ve simply chucked them, with no fanfare and lots of guilt (well, at least I put them in the organic waste bin). Then I realized that I could quarter, core, and freeze them for later use in a morning smoothie, along with my frozen banana and berries.  This worked well, and I enjoyed the added flavor imparted by the pears.  Eventually, though, the number of ziplocs containing pears just grew too large.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to whip up some of my favorite oatbran banana muffins, and grabbed a bag of frozen overripe bananas to defrost.  To my dismay, I realized once it was too late to re-freeze them that the melted, leaky mass in the bowl wasn’t bananas at all, but a batch of my frozen pears.  What to do?

The pear slices were too soggy and soft to use as they were (and certainly not suitable to cut into dice, as is so often the requirement for any baked goods made with fresh pears).  I had a wonderful recipe for pear and ginger muffins that I’d made about a year ago, but it called for freshly diced pears, and this mass of oozing, juicy, soggy goo was just too amorphous for any such recipe. 

Then it hit me that I could do with the pears what I had intended to do with the bananas: grab my trusty hand blender and whip them in to a puree.  Then use the puree in a quickbread recipe.

I got to work and concocted what I thought would work.  I even threw in some Salba, as I’d just bought my first bag (for the low, low price of $13.70!!!) and wanted to experiment.  An hour later, I had four pear and ginger loaves–a little too flat, a little too dry, but on the right track.  A few more test runs, and I was pleased enough to give the results to my HH to taste. I told him it was a “spice bread.” 

Well, let’s just say, the days of the Pear Prohibition are over.  My HH made quick work of 2 loaves in succession that very night, then asked for another for breakfast the next day.  I’ve since told him they contain pear, and he’s even okay with it. 

Here’s the recipe, so you can see what you think. Another reason I’m excited about it is that this will be my first contribution to the ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday round-up next week, hosted by Cate at Sweetnicks.

[NB.  Those eagle-eyed among you (okay, technically “between you,” since among is reserved for more than two) will notice that there is, indeed, a photo attached to this post, despite my earlier whining that I’d forgotten my camera up north.  Luckily, I shot a few photos of my pear loaves last week, when I baked them.  Wow, that free camera can snap nifty photos!]

peargingerloaves2.jpg

Mini Pear and Ginger Loaves

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