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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.”]  

 

Somewhere around the first week of December (either that or the 3rd day there’s snow on the ground, whichever comes first), I decide I’ve had enough of winter.  Bah!  Who needs lawns covered in a glistening, pristine blanket of white?  Who needs billowy undulations of snow-covered hills along the roadside?  Who needs that dainty spray of unique, lacy flakes as they gently descend from the heavens?  Not I!   

Despite all its awe-inspiring beauty, winter also brings with it a whole host of evils: treacherous patches of “black ice” concealed beneath a thin veneer of fresh white powder; knee-high snowdrifts that are agony to traverse in my ponderous, barely-warm-enough galoshes; wooly scarves pulled high over the nose (must protect my delicate proboscis from all that cold air whipping around, after all), causing impaired vision as my glasses fog up from the vapour of my heaving breath; and The Ordeal of the Walk, with its multiple layers of clothing, toque pulled low on the forehead, aforementioned scarf, earmuffs, double-layered gloves, and two wacky canines, each hauling on a leash in an attempt to leap and gambol, totally oblivious to the fact that my being upright is only a temporary state in this dreadful weather.  

Right.  For me, winter is hellish.  The only things that make it even barely tolerable are two major comforts: number one, my friend Gemini I’s country “cottage,” (a palatial residence that offers far more amenities and techno-toys than the city abode in which I normally dwell), and number two, comfort food.

Like most people, when I think “comfort foods,” what comes to mind are those dishes that populated my childhood as well as those I currently seek out when feeling blue.  These fall into two basic categories as well:  sweet, and savory.  In addition, my favored comfort foods tend to be both soft and warm.  The squishier, the better.  And if they can be cooked twice as long as the recipe suggests, well, we’ve hit the jackpot.  

Many of the savory dishes I used to eat are no longer welcome in my diet, but they are nonetheless ones that conjure fond memories (and ones my mother used to cook regularly):  salmon patties doused in ketchup; thick and hearty potato soup with corn kernels; baked beans (the canned variety), occasionally gussied up with maple syrup or hotdogs; or overcooked hamburgers alongside mashed potatoes and green beans. 

Of course, the “sweet”category still reigns during the frigid winter months:  slow cooked, (or better yet, baked) oatmeal and raisins (though I now consume the steel-cut variety instead of the instant packets we had back then); warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies; sticky, just-out-of-the-oven, tender and delicate cinnamon rolls; and the Mother of All Comfort Foods: rice pudding. 

ricepud1.jpg When my sisters and I were kids, the rice pudding my mother made most often was a baked version poured raw into a casserole dish and left in the oven for an hour.  What was supposed to end up as a homogenous mixture of custard and grains inevitably turned out as a hardened mass of uncooked rice settled below a thicker layer of eggy custard, which my sisters and I would scrape off without touching the grains. Our preferred rice pudding in those days was the canned variety, an overly sweet concoction of nearly-disintegrated rice in a suspension of various chemical compounds that approximated a pudding-like consistency.  Yum.  

These days, when I think of rice pudding, I aim for something a little more sophisticated; and I  no longer eat polished white rice in any case. So imagine my delight when I discovered a recipe for Brown Basmati Pudding, uniting brown basmati rice, fragrant spices and coconut milk, in Audrey Alsterberg and Wanda Urbanowicz’s ReBar: Modern Food Cook Book.   The perfect combination of urbanity and unpretentious comfort, this pudding seemed the ideal contribution to the Monthly Mingle hosted by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey?.  The theme this month?  Comfort Foods. 

The final product was, after all, divine, and very grown-up.  With a smooth, creamy base cradling tender yet solid grains of rice, mingled with plump, juicy raisins, the pudding was warmed throughout by the subtle interweaving of cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Rich, sweet, soothing–warm or cold, this rice pudding is the perfect antidote to winter. In fact, it almost makes the ice and snow bearable.  

Almost.

Brown Basmati Pudding with Coconut, Cardamom and Ginger (from ReBar Modern Food Cook Book)

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Although I followed the recipe fairly closely, I did substitute ground spices for the cardamom and cinnamon, because I like my spices cooked right into my pudding.  I used 1/8-1/4 tsp. cardamom and about 2 tsp. cinnamon.

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

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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?”)

I remember vividly my first day in English class as an undergraduate student, so many decades ago.  The professor was lecturing about Samuel Beckett, and remarked that Beckett was “an enigma.”  With that comment, I felt a little faint:  here I was, an upstart 17 year-old already in her second year of university (courtesy of advanced credits from having attended CEGEP in Quebec), and I had no idea what “enigma” meant.  I immediately scribbled the word down at the top of my notepage, and as soon as class was over, dashed home to look it up.  Thus started my lifelong practise of vocabulary-expanding via writing things down.  Needless to say, as soon as this new word was on my linguistic radar, I began to see it everywhere.

The same pattern persisted with basically all the new words I learned along the way (okay, maybe not with “hermeneutic”), but the one that stuck in my mind and won a singular place in my heart was oxymoron.  You know, the kind of paradox that contains the opposite of itself, yet is essentially true: to wit, George Carlin’s famous “jumbo shrimp” or the now-ancient (and no longer true, anyway) “Canadian literature.”  So when I say that I myself am an oxymoronic kind of eater, I say it with a modicum of affection.  But with a heavy stress on “moronic.”

Tofu and Twinkies, Collards and Caramels, Chard and Chocolate, Brewer’s Yeast and Brownies–take any of these diametrically opposed pairs of foodstuffs, and I love each individual part–and love them equally.  I can munch on millet with sauteed garlic, onion, tamari and walnuts, then an hour later, go out and chomp on some chocolate-covered raisins.  I can eat a delicious meal of raw kale salad with avocado, baked sweet potato wedges with sesame seeds and Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce (I must post that recipe–fab!), then later in the afternoon, suck back some Betty Crocker Cream Cheese “Flavor” Frosting, straight from the can.  And, just as with my Girls, I recognize that each one is totally different from the other, yet can adore each with the same degree of passion.    

I got to thinking about this paradox today after spending a lovely morning at the Whole Life Expo with my friend Michelle.  I’d previously enjoyed a great week of eating totally healthfully (yes, I’ve been indulging in my Mock-Chocolate Pudding, but hey, it’s tofu and agave nectar!) and looked forward to seeing a plethora of new health-foodie products at the show. 

 After a long drive downtown during which our chatter became so animated that I, the driver, nearly hit a streetcar at one point, we began our tour of the place.  Aisles and aisles of alternative-health products to gaze upon and sample.  It was like Disneyland for hippies!  As it turned out, we started our tour in the food section, and viewed some amazing products.  All with abundant free samples.  All delicious.  All good for me. Until the chocolate.

gojiplain.jpgFirst up was goji berries, the latest berry to join the antioxidant roster. If you haven’t tasted gojis yet, I’d highly recommend it.  Higher in Vitamin C than oranges, higher in Beta Carotene than carrots, higher in protein than whole wheat, and higher in most other vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients than pretty much any other berry, these little crimson gems are both tart and sweet, with a whif of bitterness as a nearly undetectable afterthought. One of my favorite alternative health gurus, Dr. Ben Kim, describes them as a cross between “sweet cherries and plums.” I’m a regular consumer of them, and so was highly intrigued by their latest incarnation, enrobed in pomegranate-flavored yogurt coating.  Yum!  After a couple of samples, I found myself dishing out $10 for one small bag.  

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[The yogurt-covered variety]

We also saw (and sampled) a wide range of shakes, smoothies, greens powders, supplements, juicers, oils, all-natural soaps, and more before happening upon the Xocai healthy chocolate booth.  Now, I’m not even a fan of dark chocolate, but these nuggets contain both blueberries and acai berries for the ultimate in antioxidant benefits.  The perfect combination of decadence and desirability at the same time.  Of course, we just had to sample it.  Both flavors.  More than once.

What happened then was something that’s occurred probably thousands of times in my life: one bite of chocolate and all my previous willpower just dissolved–poof!–like that. Suddenly, I was overcome by the urge to eat every piece of chocolate, and anything else, in sight. (Unfortunately, that also included a spoonful of concentrated maca liquid, very nearly causing that chocolate to re-visit me on its way back up.) 

Shortly thereafter, we came upon yet another chocolate-touting booth and I bought not one, but two 100-gram bars.  Quite enjoyed the cappuccino one on the way home (though I did save some for C.).  Now, I feel quite confident that Michelle did not go home and do the same, considering her stable, and very slim, physique. 

By the time I arrived home, I’d eaten the other bar, too.  Reflecting on this behavior, I had somewhat of a revelation regarding my bingeing habit.  Seems I run on something very much like a binary code: my compulsion for sweets is either “on” or “off,” but there’s no in between.  (Ergo, I seem incapable of moderation in that area).  Eating that one initial piece of chocolate flicked the toggle switch to the “on” position, and I was off and running (toward chocolate). So I’m beginning to see that one of my strategies must be to simply not go therein the first place–no initial taste, so no overweening desire to eat the entire bar, cake, package, can, bag, jar, or whatever.

By dinnertime, I’d reverted to eating from the healthy side of the spectrum, a la Stacy Halprin’s advice (ie, just soldier on as if it never happened).  So I whipped up some of my very favorite vegan Mac and “Cheese” (or “Cheeze,” as the original recipe calls it) from the Fat Free Vegan’s blog (I used rice pasta, though).  Filled with the aforementioned brewer’s yeast and its cheesy goodness, miso, tahini, and a whack of delish herbs and spices, this is true comfort food that’s also incredibly nutrient-dense and good for you.  Given that I had only rice milk (albeit unflavored) in the house, I was afraid it would ruin the flavor, but it turned out just as delicious as usual. 

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[Elsie polishing off the sauce, enjoying her share of B12 for the day]

And now, at least, I can feel as if I’ve eaten something that will nourish my body and help me recover from the chocolate overload today.  Not quite as bad as Tofu with Twinkies, but chocolate (and chocolate, and chocolate) with vegan mac and cheeze–still pretty contradictory.

This evening, remembering something Michelle said as we drove home (no near-fender bender that time), sparked another mini-epiphany for me.  Apparently, she used to be one of those “Type A” personalities, always rushing to fill her time as much as possible, to accomplish seventy tasks a day, running from one pre-planned event to another.  Now, having met her in her current incarnation, I can only say that imagining her behaving in that manner seems virtually impossible.

Once she started yoga, she said, she’d effortlessly lost five pounds and found that she had a new perspective, one which allowed her to relax, take things as they come, and enjoy the moments in her life.  It was a deliberate choice, she said, but now she makes a point of not letting the “little things” get to her, and trying to slow down and enjoy each day. 

I felt a little bit of squishy nostalgia for my own year at nutrition school (oh so far away, now), when I was able to focus on health in all its myriad aspects–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.  During that time, I ate really, really well, and spent time preparing and appreciating the fantastic food I was learning about and cooking with; I took time to appreciate my dog and my honey (oops, yes, I think it was in that order, actually), enjoyed relaxing and meditating and reading and listening to music; enjoyed breathing in the sharp air in the autumn mornings, meandering walks along the trail with The Girls, an occasional glass of red with my honey over dinner–heck, I even enjoyed the plush feel of the carpet under me each morning as I struggled through my sit-ups. 

During that year, I enjoyed all the daily pleasures and even some of the more mundane tasks–all the things that were a regular part of my existence.  It really does make a difference, I realized, if you take even a few minutes to exhale away the stress and anxiety that can so easily accumulate. 

Thinking about it, I realized a paradox extends to the rest of my life, as well, not just my eating habits.  I have the credentials of a holistic practitioner (nutritionist), yet am regularly afflicted by the same pressures and unhealthy habits of so many other middle class, overworked white-collar workers.  I resolved, immediately, to meditate tonight. 

But I’d just better make it quick, because I only have ten minutes to de-stress before I have to get back to work. 

 [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.”]  

* * *

The snow here in the GTA this morning is relentless–curtains of white, ice pellets grazing your cheeks as you attempt, vainly, to walk the crunchy path to the local park to appease The Girls.  It was Chaser’s first experience with snow, and apparently (so my H.H. tells me), she loved it, bouncing and prancing and pawing at every crystallized chunk that scuttled her way along the road.  (“That stuff is awesome, Mum!  Can we go out again?  Can we? Huh? Huh?!”)

firstsnow.jpg

[If you look really hard, you can see snowflakes against the fence.]

On mornings like this, I wish I had a fireplace before which I could curl up and just read, my latest book club book (as-yet unchosen, since it will be my pick this time round), one of the fifty or so I have stacked up in my office, the entire newspaper, magazines, or food mags.  But, hey, wait a second!  I do have a fireplace (albeit gas–ugh), one of the nicer features of this house.  Unfortunately, it’s still surrounded by boxes and as-yet unassembled bookcases and other detritus that we haven’t found a place for yet. 

But something about the snow and the cold, as we all know, elicits a strong desire for comfort foods. As if I don’t have enough cravings for chocolate, anyway.

In order to satisfy the urge and eat something relatively healthy, I decided to mix up my favorite vegan chocolate pudding.  Now, admittedly, there are at least 7,482 such recipes floating on the Internet and in various vegan cookbooks, but I still think mine is best.  It’s an amalgam of recipes I’ve read over the years for similar puddings, from the McDougall‘s original to the ubiquitous vegan chocolate mousse one finds everywhere. 

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This one is ultra-rich tasting, creamy and has a certain globby texture that reminds me exactly of old-fashioned, cooked, chocolate pudding.  Only this one is made with relatively low-fat silken tofu (the kind in the aseptic boxes), cocoa powder (lower fat than actual chocolate), and agave nectar instead of any refined sugar.  Chocolate bliss, truly. 

One caveat:  my photos do not do justice to this extraordinary dessert.  (In fact, the H.H. thinks it looks sort of like poo.  “Poo?  Did you say, ‘Poo,’ Mum?  But I love to eat poo!”).  Seriously, you have to try it.  Even the highly carnivorous H.H. loves it (despite its scatological appearance).

Heavenly Chocolate Tofu Pudding

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[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog.  For more information, check the “Cookbook” button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]

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