Family and Festive Feasting

December 28, 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 on this blog than you do.”

 pumpbreadpud1

[Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Warm Caramel Sauce]

As I mentioned in a previous post, the CFO came to visit over the holidays, and we had a truly lovely time together, chillaxing (I can’t understand why that word has evaporated from the lexicon.  I mean, it just seems to capture so perfectly the concept its meant to convey), laughing, watching movies*, laughing, shopping, playing with The Girls, laughing, and eating far, far too much.  I’m happy to say that my sister also bonded with both of our furry babies, who have been wandering aimlessly around the house since she left this morning. 

(“Mum, what do you mean, ‘she left’? Doesn’t she live with us now?  Where did she go? And, um, who will rub my belly tonight?”)

It does seem like ages since I’ve written on this blog, when in fact, it’s been just a few days. I’m just fascinated by the science fiction-like relative quality of time at the holidays: the space-time continuum stretches infinitely as you wait for the Big Day (or Days, depending on your belief system); then, like the Big Bang, it’s over in a flash.

Not to belabor the physics theme or anything, but I think my stomach has taken over the role of a black hole this holiday season.  Truly, I didn’t know it was possible that so much food could be sucked into that abyss in so short a span. Ah, if only time could stretch as infinitely as my appetite (and if only the waistband on my pants could do the same. . . ). 

Ah, what the heck, it’s the holidays. While the CFO was here , in effect, we enjoyed two major feast meals:  the first on Christmas Day, a semi-traditional repast that blended the Judeo-Christian cuisines; then, the following night, an Indian-themed feast, because we felt like it. 

Although neither my sister nor the HH is vegan (or even vegetarian), the bulk of the menu accommodated my dietary restrictions, so that we could all enjoy freely. And despite much good-natured ribbing in both directions (the CFO pooh-poohed almost every recipe I suggested on the grounds it was “too Veeee-gan”, while I countered by calling her a “rabid anti-Veegite“), it was the dish about which she was most skeptical, the wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free pumpkin bread pudding, that turned out to be the star of the show. 

For the holiday meal, I relied on several tried-and-true recipes such as herb-roasted root vegetables, balsamic-dijon brussels sprouts and roast on the 25th, plus (in keeping with the Hannukah theme I started with those latkes the other day) an apple-noodle pudding (or kugel).  Even though this was a sweet kugel and more of what I’d consider a dessert, it did work well with the other dishes, offering a bit of luscious creaminess punctuated by tart cherries, along with the similar sweet-tart contrast in the brussels sprouts.  In fact, this noodle pudding would be perfect for breakfast, I’d venture.

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[Apple-Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries]

The bread pudding my sister so loved began with a pumpkin bread (recipe from Simple Treats), soaked in a pumpkin “custard” based on the mixture I used in my French Toast Soufflé.  I baked the puddings in individual ramekins, but you could easily do a single pudding in a loaf or square pan and scoop it from there. I topped the puddings with a homemade caramel sauce–a concoction based on a sweetened condensed milk experiment that went awry–that I’d kept warm. 

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[A bite of pumpkiny-caramelly bliss.]

The result was spectacular–warm, slightly crisp on the outside but moist and spongy on the inside, über-pumpkiny, slightly spiced, and with the smooth, glossy thickness of warm caramel blanketing the whole affair. This is a chic, stylish dessert, yet one that was really simple in its preparation.

We certainly didn’t need any additional desserts after that finale, but since I had loads of tester recipes in the house that I’d recently done up for the cookbook, I put out a tray with Glazed Almond Bars, Dalmatian Cheesecake Brownies and Hazelnut Mocha Cookies; as well as leftover Marzipan-Topped Shortbread, Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies, and Chocolate Macaroons.  All were CFO-approved, I’m happy to say.

The next night, though still full from the Christmas dinner, we managed an incredible follow-up with an Indian feast that, we decided, will go down in the annals of Most Memorable Meals in the DDD household. 

The menu included a lentil dal recipe I first saw about a week ago on Lisa’s blog; peas in a creamy sauce (adapted from a recipe I once borrowed from Gemini I); an aloo saag (well, not really–I just don’t know the word for “kale”) that combined potatoes and shredded kale in a spicy tomato sauce; coconut brown basmati rice; and homemade chickpea pancakes from Meena Pathak’s Indian Cooking for Family and Friends.  I can tell you, there was a symphony of lip-smacking, lentil scooping, potato spooning, and sauce sopping going on, as well as a mellifluous refrain of friendly chatter and wine-glass clinking that evening.  Very chillaxing.

I promise to share the goodies from our Indian feast in a future post, but rather than inundate you with so many recipes at once, I thought I’d start off with the lovely Apple Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries.  This alone would make a great light mid-week  supper–and I, for one, could certainly use some lighter meals these days.

Also:  I’m a little late jumping on this bandwagon, but wanted to mention a charity drive put on by Katie over at Chocolate Covered Vegan.  In honor of the season, Katie is offering to donate 20 cents to the Enough Project (an organization that works to counter crimes against humanity) for every comment she receives on this post.  How sweet is that? It’s incredibly easy to help out this way–just hop on over and leave a comment!

 *Christmas Day:  that classic chestnut, White ChristmasThe CFO and I, while sisters ourselves, bear no resemblance to either Rosemary Clooney or Vera-Ellen (well, perhaps my wrist bears a resemblance to Vera-Ellen’s waist).

Boxing Day:  taking advantage of the nearly-empty theaters, Seven Pounds. What I learned from watching this movie:  1) Will Smith is (still) preternaturally gorgeous;  2) Will Smith is an extraordinarily talented actor; 3) that is one whacked reason to keep a jellfish as a pet.

Yesterday: The Dark Knight. I agree that Heath Ledger deserved an Oscar for his performance.  Not only that, but also a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for being able to unravel the convoluted structure of the multi-pronged plot in this movie.  (Okay, perhaps a not-entirely fair assessment on my part, as I couldn’t bring myself to watch the violent scenes.  Which means I missed about 94% of the movie.)

Apple Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries

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Unfortunately, I can’t recall the original source of this recipe, which I copied from a magazine several years ago in the BB (Before Blog) era of my life.  Nevertheless, I’ve added several elements and changed others over the years, so I consider this my own variation on the original.

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

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

 

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DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!

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

As always, 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.