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(“Um, Mum, you are taking us with you, aren’t you?  Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans on this blog than you do.”)

 

* Or, Give Pods a Chance!

okrabare2

[Okra pods, in the raw]

I have a confession to make.  I haven’t told you all about this yet because, quite frankly, I was afraid you’d reject me.  Move that cursor elsewhere, and click.  At best, roll your eyes.  Maybe snort in disgust.  Maybe gag, even.

But I’ve decided it’s time.  I mean, really, what kind of lasting relationship can we have without full disclosure?  

So I’m just going to come out and say it:

I love okra.

I.

Love.

Okra. 

Are you running for the hills yet? 

Oh, I know what you’re thinking:  Okra?  That polygonal pod that’s a staple in gumbo, and mostly reviled? That much-maligned member of the marrow family (but cocoa is in that family, too!) that most people reject without so much as a nibble?  That pariah of the produce aisle that’s often referred to as gluey, viscous, slimy or mucilaginous–with seeds that remind you of those bowls of peeled grape “eyeballs” we all stuck our hands into at Halloween when we were kids?

Yep. That okra.

I adore okra’s long, lantern-shaped pods, the vibrant green skins with just a hint of fuzz and the wagon-wheel innards when you cut them across. I love the mild, slightly woodsy flavor and the pop of the seeds in your mouth.  I could eat okra every day, and never tire of it.

I think it’s heartbreaking that okra gets such a bad rap.  Okra is like the pimply nerd at school–the reject, the Carrie, the Napoleon Dynamite , the Ugly Betty.  The last kid to be chosen for the baseball team.  The scrawny kid on the beach who gets sand kicked in his face.  The pink-and-too-frilly kid who takes her dad to the prom. The computer geek nobody wants to date so then he quits high school and starts some computer company run from his parents garage and redeems himself by becoming the richest guy in America. . . oh, wait.  That would make him Bill Gates, wouldn’t it?  And then he’d actually be much sought after, wouldn’t he? Well, heck! To my mind, that IS okra!

okraquinoa1

[A bit of spice, a bit of bite, a bit of lemon zest: an endearing combination.]

I think we should give okra the accolades it deserves. Let’s nurture its low self-esteem. Let’s compliment its grassy hue and lovely symmetry, tug its cute little tail at the narrow end and make it blush.  Sure, it was born a green vegetable (already at a disadvantage compared to, say, watermelon).  And then there’s the goo factor.  But sometimes, with a recipe that takes our humble ingredient and pushes it to be its best, well, that little green lantern can really shine.  That’s what I wish for my buddy, okra.

In these recipes, okra is elevated to something that transcends its reputation. It’s like okra gussied up for a date.  Okra getting an A+ in physics. Okra at its best self–I know, like okra after taking one of Oprah’s “Be Your Best Self” weekends!  (Just imagine the introductions at that seminar, sort of like David Letterman’s ill-fated attempt at hosting the Oscars:  “Okra, meet Oprah.  Oprah, okra.”).

Besides, okra has much to offer us.  Described by WholeHealthMD as having a taste that “falls somewhere between that of eggplant and asparagus,” it’s a good source of Vitamin C and several minerals; and the seeds offer up protein in every pod, along with 4 grams of both soluble (known to help keep cholesterol levels in check) and insoluble (great for regularity) fiber in a one-cup (240 ml) serving.

okramasalaside1

[Still slightly al dente in this photo; cook a bit longer if you’re an okra neophyte.]

These are two of my favorite okra dishes, ones that we consume fairly regularly here in the DDD household.  The first is another adaptation from my dog-eared copy of Flip Shelton’s Green, a Moroccan Spiced Okra-Quinoa Pilaf.  I’ve made liberal changes to this one, including altering the base from rice to quinoa.  The spices are subtle with a barely detectable undertone of lemon zest in the mix.  Served sprinkled with chopped nuts, this pilaf is a meal in a bowl all on its own.

The second dish comes from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Indian Cooking Course by Manisha Kanani. Again, I’ve made a few alterations to the original, which asks you to dry-cook the okra on the stovetop; I’ve found that adding chopped tomatoes and allowing the tender pods to stew in the juices produces a more appealing taste and texture. Although a masala curry, this one isn’t the least bit spicy, yet is still rife with the flavors of tomato, cumin, coriander and fresh cilantro. It’s a perfect side dish for Indian food, of course, but we also enjoy this as an accompaniment to burgers or cooked grains. 

So go ahead, give okra a try!  Who knows? You may even like it.  And don’t worry, the secret will be safe with me.

Moroccan-Spiced Pilaf with Quinoa and Okra

adapted from Flip Shelton’s Green

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

okraquinoa21

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

Okra Masala

adapted from Indian Cooking Course by Manisha Kanani

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

okramasalatop

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

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved! 

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“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.”]  

edamamesalad1

Full disclosure: even if I hated seaweed and loathed green soybeans, I would still have tasted this salad based on the poetry of its name alone.  I mean, how can you pass up such alliteration, such euphony, such gastronomic lyricism?

Just listen to it:  AH-ra-may.  EEE-da-MAH-may.  “Arame” brings to mind “aria.” And “Edamame” –well, “edamame” just makes me want to break out into song:  “How I love ya, how I love ya, my EEE-da-MAH-MAYYEEE. . . .” 

When I think of poetry, most of the time I think of how much I abhorred  it in university (mostly because I could never understand it). Even when I went on a poetry bender at the suggestion of my crush-cum-mentor, Dr. D, I never quite “got” it.  Let’s see; here’s my experience with poetry, in a nutshell:  T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” –I did dare, I did dare, but it just would not sing to me; Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning,”–say what? WHO is the mother of beauty?  (Just too creepy); Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro“–I was haunted by apparitions in every crowd for months; ee cummings’s “in-just”–it was spring and the world was mud-luscious, but the poems just weren’t; Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy“–I felt the need to throw away my black telephone; William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow“–(because so much depends on a red poet–no, make that red poet’s society–no; oh, whatever. Who cares?) 

In the end, I felt as if I’d read thousands of miles of poetry and all I got was a lousy T-shirt.

One form of verse that always did intrigue me, though, was haiku (you were wondering how all this related to the recipe, weren’t you?  And here we are:  both Japanese-themed!).  I’m sure you’re familiar with the stuff–a specific set of three metered lines, first seven syllables, then five, then another seven.  What’s great about haiku is that pretty much anyone can do it. 

Here are some examples to give you an idea:

Poetry scares me. 

Once, I tried to understand.

Alas! What a waste.

Or this:

Winter is cold, long.

Snow falls, so soft and so white.

Must I suffer so?

Or how about:

Elsie sleeps sweetly.

Chaser is a crazy girl.

Sit! Stay! Be like her!

In fact, the HH informs me that even he composed in this form of verse once, in grade school.  Here’s his masterpiece:  

He comes off the ride.

As the fair whirls round his head,

His dinner comes up.

 

 

Ah, yes, HH, The Sensitive Artiste. 

 

More than anything else, I think that haiku makes poetry easy and accessible. 

edamamesalad2

 

Well, think of this salad as the haiku of Japanese food, if you like–making seaweed accessible to all (or “sea vegetables,” if you prefer the more literary term).  If you’ve ever wondered about kombu, nori, wakame, dulse, or any of those others but have been afraid to try them, this seaweed salad is for you.  In fact, it’s already been taste-tested (and mightily approved) by hundreds of thousands of others, since I modeled this recipe on the extremely popular salad of the same name sold at Planet Organic stores.  Except at Planet Organic, it sells for something like $6.99 per 100 grams ($31.73 a pound), which means you pay approximately $17.42 for two tablespoons (okay, I’m exaggerating–but just a little).  Clearly, my version is infinitely preferable.

The salad is incredibly simple to prepare, with just arame (a fairly mild seaweed that looks sort of like black spaghetti) and edamame (green soy beans) as the major ingredients.  Toss these with a rice vinegar/sesame oil dressing and some lightly toasted sesame seeds, and you’ve got yourself a delectable dish that perfectly combines sweet (the beans), salty (the tamari) and even umami (the seaweed).  The bonus is a great source of protein and Vitamin C from the edamame, plus some much-needed trace minerals (and a few major ones, too) from the seaweed.

 

The soy and seaweed

Are in perfect harmony.

You will love this dish.

 

Arame and Edamame Salad

edamamesalad3

 

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

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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’ve decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly, or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required.  Here’s today’s “Flash in the Pan.”]

[Thanks to everyone who hazarded guesses about what type of peppers I’ve got flourishing in my backyard. . . I think we all agree they’re not jalapenos, but as to what they actually are, we may never be sure. They’re definitely spicy, yummy, and abundant–all I need to know, I guess!]

Another plant that grew beyond any sense of propriety in my back yard this past summer is mint.  In my eternal quest to find as many uses as possible for the wayward herb, I began to drink this refreshing, ridiculously simple-to-prepare iced tea almost daily.  I’d mix a huge batch of the beverage, pour it into a pitcher in the fridge, and just add ice whenever I felt parched, tired, or even a bit peckish.  It always worked to perk up my spirits and leave me reinvigorated.

And no wonder: mint has long been used to help soothe digestive problems, and the oils may also aid in preventing bacterial or fungal infections (perfect for someone like me, who’s been rather slack with her ACD lately).  Ginger is renowned as an anti-nausea remedy (which is why real ginger ale is so great for pregnant women). It’s also an effective anti-inflammatory and has been shown to help prevent various types of cancers while boosting the immune system. 

With all these benefits in a delicious and easy drink, there’s just no reason not to sip some every day.

Fresh Ginger Mint Iced Tea

about 2 cups (480 ml.) unpacked fresh mint leaves

2 2-inch (2.5 cm) pieces of ginger, peeled and sliced into think disks

8 cups (2 liters) boiling water

agave nectar, to taste

splash of lemon juice, if desired

Either coarsely chop the mint, or place In the bottom of a large glass or other non-reactive bowl (big enough to hold 8 cups or 2 liters) and then muddle with the end of a wooden spoon or muddler (but really, who actually owns a muddler??).  Add the ginger disks.

Pour boiling water into the bowl and stir gently to submerge all the leaves.  Cover if possible while allowing to steep (I used the lid from my wok, which was large enough to cover the entire bowl). Allow to steep 5-10 minutes, or longer if you prefer a stronger brew.  Add agave and lemon juice, if desired.  The tea can be used immediately if poured over lots of ice (the ice will cool it sufficiently).  Refrigerate any leftover tea and use as needed.  Will keep up to a week in the fridge.

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

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.” 

Some foods are just acquired tastes–sort of like scat, living in the suburbs, or Quentin Tarantino films.  I know that avocados work that way for many people, but that wasn’t my experience.  Like eggnog or chocolate, avocado was one food I knew intuitively that I’d like, even before that first buttery, golden slice ever slid across my tongue. 

In my teens, I used to walk to high school each day with my friend Phil.  We’d meet at her place (about halfway between my house and our school) where she’d usually invite me in for a breakfast bite. It was in her mother’s white and gold formica-clad kitchen that we learned to love coffee together (stage one:  1/2 cup coffee, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup cream and 5 sugars.  Stage two: 4/5 cup coffee, 1/5 cup cream, 1 teaspoon sugar.  Stage three: eliminate sugar.  Stage four: Congratulations; you’re hooked for the next 30 years, until that ulcer/heart condition/high blood pressure diagnosis, and then you go back to “no coffee”.)

While at Phil’s place after  school one day, her mother (who was born in Belgium, and was therefore very glamorous) introduced me to avocados.  The rough, gravelly exterior, greenish black skin and ovoid shape all seemed very exotic to this apple-and-banana gal.  But as soon as she cut the fruit open, removed the glossy pit, and proffered a halfmoon slice, I was forever hooked on the smooth, velvety texture and slightly nutty, slighty sweet flavor. 

(Apart from foodstuffs, Phil and I also learned to smoke cigarettes together, two giggly fifteen year-olds strolling round deserted parks after dinner, attempting to inhale, and–between fits of sputtering coughs–singing, “They. . . asked me how I knew. . . my true love was truuuuuue.  .  .”  But that’s another story).

To me, avocados are a nearly perfect food.  Technically a fruit (sometimes called the “alligator pear”), they are used more often as a vegetable, and almost always raw.  A few years ago, though, I read a magazine article about authentic Mexican cuisine. I found out that, in addition to being tossed into pretty much every salad or salsa, the avocado is also used sometimes in that country in cold soups and even cakes.  Wow, I thought, what a great ideaWith the extra healthy fats (and monounsaturates can stand up to low heat pretty well) as well as the fiber, avocados would make a terrific egg substitute in baking! 

So I started playing and came up with a few baked goods (and I promise to share later in the series) as well as a cold soup–perfect for summer (recipe to follow as well). If you feel like playing with avocado as an egg substitute, use it the way you would tofu (1/4 cup avocado purée = 1 egg).  Or simply add about 2 tablespoons puréed avocado to any baked good for added moistness. 

Whether your preference is the crinkly Haas or the smooth-skinned Fuerte variety, an avocado is ripe when it “gives” slightly to soft pressure with your thumb or finger (be sure to press at the top of the fruit to avoid bruising the flesh). Most avocados are sold before they’re ripe and require 2-5 days at room temperature before they’re ready to eat. 

Once ripe, however, they don’t last long–a day or two at most–before they reach the overripe, slightly fermented, stage (you know an avocado is past its prime if it starts to smell a bit like wine).  If you can’t consume them once ripe, they’ll keep another 2-3 days, unpeeled, in the refrigerator.  When I find myself with an overabundance of ripe avocadoes, I simply peel, purée, and freeze in one-cup containers for later use (frozen pulp is perfect for future dips and spreads, those baking experiments, or even added to pasta sauces later on).  Frozen avocado should keep up to five months.

Avocados are also incredibly healthful–they aren’t a staple of Mexican cuisine for nothing!  Brimming with heart-healthy monounsaturated oils, they are a good source of fiber, potassium (great to counteract high blood pressure) and vitamin K, essential for blood and (of particular interest to those of us with osteopenia) bone strength.  They also contain a good dose of lutein, an antioxidant found mostly in green leafy vegetables that’s been shown to contribute to eye health and even help reduce the effects of macular degeneration (a disease of the eyes in which central vision is slowly erased).

And today’s recipe?  Well, guacamole is one of those iconic foods that regularly makes an appearance at end-of-semester pub bashes, summer Bar B Qs, surprise birthday parties, or work pot lucks; I simply couldn’t do a series on avocados without including this classsic dip.

The first time I tried guacamole, I was at an end-of-semester party thrown by my friend Carol, a legendary hostess known for her ability to draw crowds of disparate personalities who, for the course of an evening (and often into the wee hours of the morning), all got along over beer, wine, and literary discourse.

Carol and her husband always included their two children (then aged 9 and 11) in every social activity, so the kids would meander quite comfortably among the professors and graduate students, stopping every now and again to chat with the bearded hippie sucking back a Becks or the the raven haired T.A. in the inappropriate tank top who was hitting on our Drama professor.  Completely unfazed, the children might stop for some corn chips and guacamole, then move on. Around 10:30 or 11:00, they’d wander upstairs to their bedrooms, where they’d doze entirely undisturbed by the din beneath them, like babies in the neonatal ward who can all sleep through their own wailing.

Carol’s guacamole that night was spectacular, and I knew I’d have to make it again.  I clipped this recipe from an old Chatelaine magazine from the 1990s, and I’ve never even tried another since.  I do realize that everyone and their hairstylist has a fabulous recipe for guacamole, but this really is the best one I’ve ever tasted.  The unusual step of rinsing the onion (which removes any pungency that might linger on the palate hours later), elevates this version to one of the all-time best recipes I’ve ever made. 

With its prominent use of cilantro, this is a great entry to Kalyn‘s Weekend Herb Blogging event, this week hosted by Joanna at Joanna’s Food.

Oh, and there’s still time to enter the contest for a new cookbook–which might just contain a new recipe for guacamole!

The Perfect Guacamole

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

I used to think that guacamole required garlic to taste this delicious, but this recipe proved me wrong.  The contrast between the chunky tomato and smooth, rich avocado is stellar.  Add more cilantro if you’re a fan.

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

The Dirt on Cleansing

June 8, 2008

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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.” 

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that I’m on a cleansing diet this week, an outgrowth of the Total Health course I’ve been taking for the past month and a half.  Well, I hadn’t intended to post yet another non-recipe entry this week, but since I’ve received quite a few questions about why I’ve chosen this particular cleanse and how it works, I thought it might be useful to share a bit about cleansing in general and my own choice for this week in particular.  I’ll warn you, though: what follows is a fairly long post (word count: 2443).  If you’re simply interested in the food I’ve been eating, I’ll post that later–so feel free to come back then!

[Please note: This is a condensed and somewhat simplified account of the process, based on what I learned while studying to become a nutritionist, my own reading on the topic, and my personal experience with cleanses over the past five years.  It is by no means intended as any kind of medical or professional advice and is purely my own perspective on the topic, presented for informational purposes only. ]

Q: Why Detox at All?

Whether you use the term “fast,” “cleanse” or “detox diet,” the process focuses on a single goal: detoxifying and rebalancing the body’s internal operating systems, primarily the digestive tract (but also the liver, respiratory system, urinary system and lymphatic system).  Given the environmental factors, lifestyle, and eating habits of most of us in the modern world, I believe that everyone, no matter how thin, active or deemed “healthy,” could benefit from a cleanse once in a while.  Even the instructor for our course (who has been following a strict regimen of ultra-healthy eating coupled with cardiovascular exercise, strength training exercise, yoga, dance, nia, sports, and a daily spiritual practise for over 20 years) undergoes a cleanse twice a year. 

As denizens of the modern, industrial world, we are exposed to myriad toxins daily, both from within and without.  Just by virtue of living near the great and wonderful metropolis of Toronto, I have the pleasure of inhaling highly polluted air most days of the week.  For the first two months that we lived in this house, I could smell the distinct aroma of fresh paint gases (courtesy of the landlord, who was actually attempting to do us a favor) every time I entered the house.  I ingest all kinds of unsavory substances that leach through plastic water bottles, the plastic containers I use to transport my lunches to work, the dyed and bleached clothing I wear, or the cleansers I use (though I’ve tried to eliminate as many of those as I can).   

And that’s only the exogenous toxins.  We also take in toxins from the food we eat, whether hydrogenated oils from junk food, artificial colors or flavors, or “milk” shakes at McDonald’s or Burger King. Because these substances are not made in nature and our bodies weren’t designed to process them, the liver works overtime to detoxify them out of the body (as much as possible) to keep us healthy. 

When your liver is on overdrive neutralizing toxins that you take in, free radicals are formed.  Free radicals are basically cell-killers, and they can result in cancer and chronic diseases that are often connected to inflammation (such as arthritis, heart disease, etc.). Those of us with weak immunity or overworked filtering systems (such as myself) suffer the consequences and wander around with stuffed noses, digestive distress, joint inflammation, or other chronic conditions that are so often attributed to “aging” or simply “life in general.”

One of my natural health practitioners put it this way:  imagine a pile of bricks that’s being built into a little tower, one brick at a time. Each brick is a different toxin that your body has to deal with and try to eliminate.  As with a pile of bricks, you can add quite a few to the pile without any dire consequences at all; in fact, observed from the outside, everything appears hunky-dory, stable and unchanged. One would even infer that the extra weight being piled on top is doing no harm, making no difference whatsoever. 

But then you reach the point where the pile can no longer support even one more brick.  You place that last brick at the top of the pile and–BAM! (not to quote Emeril in such grave matters, or anything)–the pile completely collapses.  Your body works the same way.  When you were younger (or healthier), you may have been able to tolerate a huge number of toxic “bricks” in your system. But tax the system long enough and then, suddenly, it appears as if everything breaks down at once.

That’s what happened to me several years ago.  After assuming all was well for years (even though I drank up to a liter (quart) of aspartame-sweetened pop a day, had 3-5 coffees a day, imbibed wine and spirits on weekends and consumed whatever junk food, candy, cookies, cakes, or other garbage I desired on a regular basis), everything came crashing down.  I spent about a year suffering from symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, endured multiple recurrent sinus infections (one so serious that it required four–FOUR!–courses of antibiotics to eradicate), and suffered almost continuous yeast infections, coupled with fatigue, depression, and general feelings of “lousy.” At that point, I really needed a cleanse.

All this to say, if there’ are any actions we can regularly take to diminish our load of toxic “bricks,” we should do so.

Q: What Is a Cleansing or Detox Diet?

Basically, cleansing means “cleaning up the diet (and, ideally, environment) to allow the body to rest from fighting off and eliminating toxins for a while, so that it can repair and rejuvenate.”

There are many levels of detox, depending on where you find yourself to begin with. It’s recommended that people start at a level just one echelon away from (less toxic than) where they are now, because detoxing encourages the toxins to exit the body quickly (through elimination and sweating, primarily), and if too many to escape too fast, you’ll end up feeling sort of like a deflated baloon in a mud puddle–or one really sick puppy (this effect is called a “healing crisis“). 

The very first time I went on a detox diet, my naturopath–only two months into her practice–didn’t think to warn me what could happen if I changed my eating habits too drastically. She prescribed what is essentially a NAG diet, but without any animal products. After one day of the diet, I was felled by my body’s extreme healing crisis (I describe the event here).  Luckily, it passed in a couple of days.

By starting “slowly”–that is, without altering too many aspects of your diet or life at once–you avoid a severe healing crisis.  Most people feel a little bit tired or sleepy; some experience mild flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, but these ususally disappear in a day or two. 

Q: How Do You Know What to Eat and What to Eliminate on a Cleanse?

The diet you choose should depend on the diet you eat regularly before the cleanse.  If someone enjoying a SAD (Standard American Diet) decided to embark on a water fast, it would likely spark a full-scale healing crisis and the person would feel rather sick. So decide where you are now, then move in baby steps toward a full-scale cleanse.

There are basically five or six levels of cleansing diet.  Ideally, you would work your way up to the most challenging level as you clean up your diet over the years. 

Level One: Basic non-toxic diet for everyone. (from Elson Haas, The Detox Diet)

Level one is what I often refer to as the NAG diet, the diet that, if followed regularly, should allow your body to exist with minimum toxic intake and to keep you pretty healthy. (Other versions are Anne Marie Colbin’s diet in Food and Healing, Tosca Reno’s The Eat Clean Diet; or Elson Haas’ diet in Staying Healthy with Nutrition.).  If you’re not already on this type of diet, it would be the first step.  Try this for a week and see how you feel. You could theoretically stay on this diet for the rest of your life.

Level One: The NonToxic Diet (from Elson Haas, The Detox Diet):

  • Eat organic foods whenever possible.
  • Drink filtered water.
  • Rotate foods [ie, eat each of these no more than once every four days or so], especially common allergens such as milk products, eggs, wheat, and yeasted foods.
  • Practice food combining.
  • Eat a natural, seasonal cuisine.
  • Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and, for omnivarians, some low or non-fat dairy products, fresh fish (not shellfish) and organic poultry.
  • Cook in iron, stainless steel, glass, or porcelain cookware.
  • Avoid or minimize red meats, cured meats, organ meats, refined foods, canned foods, sugar, salt, saturated fats, coffee, alcohol, and nicotine.

And while it’s not stated in this list, Haas also prohibits anything processed or made with chemicals or artificial colorings–this should go without saying.

[“Sounds good, Mum, but do we have to do the part about avoiding meat?”]

Level Two: (this and later levels from Caroline Dupont, Enlightened Eating).

Level two is a step beyond level one, as “it eliminates all animal products and glutenous grains.”  As Dupont points out, this can be a lifelong diet rather than a detox diet if mostly organic foods are eaten and sources of protein and vitamin B12 (which can only be acquired naturally through animal products) are carefully monitored. 

For those who already eat a Level One diet as their regular fare, Level Two would be considered a mild cleanse.

Level Three: Living Foods Only

This level kicks it up a notch (seriously, WHAT is Emeril doing in this discussion?) by allowing only raw foods, effectively eliminating grains (except for sprouted grains). People at this level eat raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, freshly pressed juices, sprouts, and possibly raw dairy.

Q: Why Is Raw Supposedly Better?  Why Are There No Grains? Isn’t That a Lot of Fruit–Why is All That Sugar in the Fruit Acceptable?

RAW:  A raw diet provides the body with readily available digestive enzymes in raw, but not cooked, foods; these would otherwise need to be generated courtesy of your saliva, stomach, and pancreas.  For that reason, it is much easier to digest raw versus cooked food; raw foods give the body a bit of a break so it can concentrate on other functions, such as detoxifying, maintaining, and repairing.  People on all-raw diets have experienced incredible boosts in energy as well as healing effects. 

GRAINS:  Unsprouted grains (the kind we normally eat) are more difficult to digest than raw foods.  There is nothing inherently wrong with eating grains, especially if your digestive system is in tip-top condition; but for those of us with digestive issues, or when cleansing the system, grains are just a bit too challenging.

FRUIT SUGARS:  It’s true that a raw diet provides a large number of fruits, and fruits do contain natural sugars.  But please don’t confuse naturally-occurring sugars with refined white sugar (or even honey or maple syrup, which are both concentrated sugars).  When you eat something refined, the sugar is converted to glucose (a monosaccharide–the smallest sugar molecule, as it’s broken down by the body and passed into the bloodstream) extremely quickly, because it’s already practically in the form of glucose when you eat it. 

With fruits, the sugars are bound up with fibre and other nutrients, and the body must work to extract the different elements in the fruit and to convert the sugars to glucose in the body.  This means you won’t get the same kind of spike in blood sugar levels from eating a fresh fruit as you will from eating a piece of cake or even cup of coffee with sugar in it.  Sugar in fruits is healthy and doesn’t generate toxins in the body. (Think of diabetics, for instance–they’re allowed most fruits).  Fruits with extremely high sugar levels could be eaten in smaller quantities, but even then, they are still healthy foods.  And fruits are digested very quickly and easily in the body–they are the easiest foods for your body to break down, so they don’t tax the system.

[“Give us more fruits is what I say, Mum!’]

Level Four: Blended Foods, Smoothies and Soups

By blending foods, you render them yet more easily digestible.  Dupont suggests incorporating some of these foods into a raw foods diet; furthermore, this level is presented as an excellent “introduction to fasting for people with hypoglycemia, bowel disorders [or] constipation.”

Level Five: Juice Fast And/Or Master Cleanse

At this level, you’re basically removing the need for your bowel to process any fibre and are providing very nutrient-rich clear liquids that are processed very easily by the digestive tract. At level five, a person consumes only freshly squeezed or pressed fruit and vegetable juices, or the Master Cleanse, a mixture of filtered water, lemon juice, maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Level Six: Water Fast

At this point, only those who have already gone through the other five phases should attempt a water fast; drinking only pure filtered water gives the body’s internal organs the ultimate work break. According to Dupont, no one should even attempt a water fast who has not first “established a consistently healthy diet for at least 6 months first.”

[“Yes, pure water is definitely good, Mum.  Especially in summer.”]

Q:Why Did You Choose the Cleanse You Did?

When I was in nutrition school, after spending a full year following the NAG diet and trying out most of the other diets we learned about, I felt ready to complete a Level Five (Master Cleanse) diet for almost a full week.  At that point, my “regular” diet was so non-toxic that the Master Cleanse was a good step.  I felt great while on it and did reap the benefits of better digestion and more energy.

These days, however, my regular diet is more like Level Two, above.  I already don’t eat meat; I already don’t eat refined foods; I already don’t eat most gluten grains on a daily basis.  When I examined the next level–all raw–I realized that would be too challenging for me, and I was afraid I’d slip if I tried to limit myself to raw foods alone. As a compromise, I chose a diet that still eliminated the grains, but retained some cooked foods. I’m happy with the compromise and am feeling some pretty good results so far. 

Maybe next time, I’ll be ready for another raw-go-round. 

Q: Readers: What Do You Think?

If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to know: how many of you have tried detox diets or cleanses?  What was your experience?  What worked, and what would you warn against?

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, thank you for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new home of Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we?  Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans on this blog than you do.”

* * *

 [Yep, another raw bar. . . and so soon!  But there’s a good reason. . . ]

Well, it’s finally happened:  after years of needless anxiety before every annual medical check-up (only to be told each time that nothing’s wrong). . . this time, something was wrong.  And I must admit, I’m shocked.

When I saw my doctor a few weeks ago, she sent me off for all the standard tests appropriate for “someone my age.”  Then yesterday at the call-back appointment, I was informed that I have osteopenia.  Sounds scary initially: osteopenia is the (potential) precursor to osteoporosis, as the word means “thinning of the bones.”  Osteoporosis means “porous bones” and is a greater danger. 

Even as she was speaking, questions caromed around in my mind:  What, exactly, does this mean?  Doesn’t everyone experience thinning of the bones as they age?  How serious is my situation?–etc. Apparently, the test, called DEXA (“Dual Energy X-Ray Absorption”) works by measuring the density of my bones and comparing it against the bones of an imaginary 25 year-old woman (the “gold standard,” as my doctor says.  But hey, shouldn’t that be the “greyish-white” standard?).  Statistically, my bones were a 1.3 per cent standard deviation from that (no idea what that means).  A 2.5 per cent deviation equals “osteoporosis.”  When I asked how I compare to other women my age, she noted that I was still a bit below average.  

Now, I simply cannot express how much this news ticks me off! I mean, isn’t being fat good for anything these days?? One of the health issues I never (I mean, never) considered as a possibility was osteoporosis; you see, being overweight is actually a preventative in that area (bones rebuild and strengthen in accordance with “weight-bearing exercise,” and I have definitely been bearing excess weight the past few years.). I do, however, have some of the other risk factors (such as being female).

Well, I’m trying not to get overly stressed about this (stress, as it turns out, is one of the factors that contributes to bone loss. Bien sûr).  Even my doctor noted that, should nothing change over the next few years, she wouldn’t give it another thought; it would only be considered a problem if I keep losing bone density.

This shocking diagnosis got me moving (in the sense of “getting hyped up,” though of course also in the sense of “walking more”–gotta increase that exercise now!).  I pulled out a bunch of my old texts from nutrition school and started reading.  Seems that the absolute amount of calcium and other essential bone-building nutrients is irrelevant, if you’re not digesting them properly.  Bad digestion=malabsorption=too few minerals in the bloodstream (at which point your opportunistic bloodstream leaches them out of your bones, teeth, and whatever else it can find–the nerve!). In other words, you can consume calcium out the yin-yang, but if your body isn’t absorbing it properly, you may as well be eating matchsticks (actually, no, don’t do that–too much sulfur isn’t good, either).

A highly acidic diet (as in, “those heinous, calcium-siphoning, bone-sucking junk foods and chocolate bars that have wooed me too many times in the past”) will also cause you to lose minerals from the bone (chocolate is a particular culprit, apparently, as it contains both caffeine AND refined sugar–both mineral-leachers).  And believe it or not, meats and most dairy products are equally bad, as they are also highly acidic (too bad I grew up in a household where we ate meat every day, usually more than once).  Oh, and let’s not forget that surreptitious bone-stealer: stress.  So, in a contest to see who possesses the most negative traits contributing to malabsorption–well, all I can say is, “Yay!  I finally won a contest!”

So now I have a real reason to eat better and exercise more:  unlike my Stone-Age ancestors, I am partial to walking upright, and would prefer to retain that ability. 

For those of you who are interested, you can prevent (and some even say reverse) osteopenia with the proper diet.  This includes ingesting sufficient calcium, of course (think green leafys, almonds, legumes, figs, blackstrap molasses and, if you’re so inclined, sardines, salmon and yogurt); sufficient Vitamin D (at least 10 minutes of sunshine per day, or 1000 IU in supplement form); lots of magnesium (green leafys and beans/legumes again), and a complement of other vitamins and minerals, such as B’s, K, and boron, in smaller quantities.  Basically, a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. Because it’s been a while since I practised nutrition directly, I’ll be heading for a trip to my naturopath next week to see what she has to say.  And this will mean a bunch of new, ultra-healthy recipes on the blog!

All this got me thinking about Susan at Food Blogga’s Beautiful Bones” event in honor of National Osteoporosis Month. I’d actually been planning to submit this very entry to Susan.  Now, however, I’m also motivated to go make another batch, just for me. (Oh, and Susan also offers a list of calcium-rich foods on her event page.)

I came up with this recipe when I first started teaching cooking classes a few years ago. Each of the classes was assigned a theme, such as “Glorious Greens,” “Tricks with Tofu” (foods, not making it disappear), or “Great and Gluten-Free.”  One class, called “Bone Builders” (which now sounds to me more like an architectural firm on The Flintstones), was the impetus for these bars.  They were a great hit with the cooking classes, and later, a popular seller at the organic market where I sold baked goods for a few years. And since they were designed specifically to improve bone health, these treats seem the perfect contribution to Susan’s event.  

In the past few years, I’ve discovered that these are terrific as a mid-day energy booster, a great portable lunch on the go, or a substitute for trail mix.  You can keep a wrapped bar in your drawer at work for an emergency nibble, or bring it along during a walk through the woods.  Once made and wrapped, the bars will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge (they have honestly never lasted that long over here). With a texture like that of a protein bar you’d buy at the store, these are much more flavorful, with tart lemon peel, dried cherries accented by sweet dried fig, and the crackly, popping crunch of fig seeds alongside ground almonds.  They’re very filling and a fabulous bar to have on hand. 

When I first created these, I ran a quick nutritional analysis to ensure that they’d provide a meaningful boost of calcium.  Courtesy of almonds (the nut with highest calcium levels), dried figs (the fruit with highest calcium levels), tahini (made from sesame seeds–yep, the seed with highest calcium levels) and sour cherries (no slouch in the calcium department), these bars are a powerhouse of bone-building minerals. The stats confirmed my expectation: each bar offers 140 mg. of calcium per bar (about 1/10 of the daily requriement) along with 6 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber (bonus!).  I’m not sure how much deviation that represents from the statistical norm, but no matter–they’re delicious all the same.

Raw Fig and Cherry Bars

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

These are deliciously chewy and not too sweet.  If you can find organic UNsweetened dried cherries (the kind that are very tart), they are really the best choice.  If you can’t find them, you may wish to reduce, or even omit, the agave nectar.

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

 

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.”]

When I first read about the blog event called No Croutons Required, hosted by Lisa of Lisa’s Kitchen and Holler of Tinned Tomatoes, my first thought was, “Yes! I’d love to contribute my favorite soup recipe!” 

Then, quick on the heels of that thought was this one: “Hmmn.  No, maybe not.  Can’t use that one; too bland. Too boring.  Too commonplace. Too–I don’t know–too beige.” 

And yet, I love that soup.  It’s easy to make, the ingredients are staples we always have on hand, and it’s never let me down. It conjures warming memories of my childhood. In wintertime, it’s often the basis for a hearty, simple dinner in our house.  And it’s delicious!  

And that’s how I realized that yes, sometimes, beige is exactly what you want. 

You know what I mean.  Case in point:  we recently moved into this relatively new house.  The previous tenants had taken it upon themselves to paint every room according to their own eccentric tastes.  Living room:  mustard yellow, tomato red and rust.  Kitchen:  mint green and dusty rose.  Bedroom (I kid you not): DEEP PURPLE and MUSTARD YELLOW.  (Purple!  And yellow!)  Bathroom:  baby blue.  And so on, and so on. . .

Well, before we moved in, we had to have the whole thing freshly painted in a nice, neutral, beige-like color.  And while part of our choice was really just consideration for the next tenants and what they might like, that wasn’t the only reason we picked beige.  Beige is familiar. Beige is inobtrusive.  Beige is unoffensive.  And it goes with everything (unlike paisley, which, apparently, goes with nothing).

There are times in life when you could just use a little beige. 

When, for example, you finally break it off with that philandering Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants), and now you desire a nice, standard-issue, plaid-shirt-Levis-jeans kinda guy.  Or when you’ve already contorted your mind watching Memento, Twelve Monkeys, Adaptation, or Dogville, and now you just want simple and easy, like On the Road to Morocco or Pretty Woman (yes, I realize that last one stars Julia Roberts, but she wasn’t quite so Julia Roberts back then, so I can live with it). Or when you’ve spent a romantic evening lingering over a seven course tasting menu of exotic, geometrically spectacular dishes and a magnum of Veuve Cliquot, and now you just crave a long, cool, soothing glass of plain vanilla. 

Or this, perhaps most of all: when you’re feeling desolate because winter has just gone on far too long with its relentless snowstorms and hours of shoveling, and what you yearn for more than anything is to seek refuge inside, peel off those sodden mitts and pants, curl up with a hot bowl of potato soup, and slurp.

This is the soup my mother made regularly when we were kids.  Unlike my dad’s soup (he was the Soup Master in the house), my mother’s potato and corn concoction was a conventional recipe without bells and whistles.  I’d never tire of watching as she peeled the potatoes, their spiraling, freckled skins falling silently on a sheet of paper towelling by the sink.  After she chopped the flesh into small cubes, she’d ease them by handfuls into the pot of simmering broth. Prep time was usually fairly hasty, as my mother had other things to attend to (such as watching her soap opera) while the soup bubbled gently on the stove. She’d return to the kitchen once or twice at commericals to stir the contents of the pot, but for the most part, the soup took care of itself.

Even though it isn’t fancy or flashy, this soup was a favorite in our house. Though unadorned with dumplings, noodles, or even a dollop of cream, don’t let this soup’s unassuming appearance fool you; this still broth runs deep. Under the basic plaid shirt and Levis exterior you’ll find a sensitive stock that’s more alluring than you might expect. It offers a serious nutritional contribution of potassium and other minerals (potaotes), beta carotene (carrots), soluble fibre and anti-diabetes qualities (corn and barley), all bathed in a reliable, stable, standup broth that would never break your heart. 

Oh, and it’s unabashedly beige.

My Mother’s Potato-Corn Chowder

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

mompotatosoup.jpg

No dissembling here; this soup is just what it appears to be–hot, milky, nourishing, and quintessentially comforting.  Potatoes and corn and carrots and celery cooperate beautifully to create a classically delicious chowder. This recipe was my mother’s specialty, and like her, exudes an understated charm.  

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

[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.

swpotminimuf1.jpg

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

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.”]  

 

rawpatepot.jpg

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.   

rawpatehand.jpg

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.

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.

eatingcashew1.jpg

[“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!).