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As someone who considers herself an unabashed fan (and follower) of popular culture, I love trend-watching (and also soap opera-watching, and celebrity-watching, and style-watching. . . plus reading trashy magazines at the supermarket checkout line. . . I could go on, but really, haven’t I embarassed myself enough for one day?)

Over the years, I’ve noticed that trends in food, much like trends in fashion or architecture or music, tend to be cyclical. Something new makes a splash on the scene, there’s a frenzied public reaction, and everyone rushes to snap up the boots or to hang the accent mirrors or to buy the CDs from the stores.  Eventually, the trend fades like a tan in winter and is forgotten. . . just long enough for everyone to discard any traces of trend-related goods they may own (though I could never bring myself to part with those hand-embroidered Lee overalls from my highschool days, even though they’d barely cover my kneecaps today).

About 20 years after it first appeared, said craze resurfaces as if it’s now been discovered for the first time (to wit, iceberg lettuce.  I mean, was it even good the first time?  And then there are bell bottoms–which have seen more than one resurrection, in fact.  And Supertramp.  Oh, and Rachel’s hair on Friends. Is it just me, or isn’t that simply a revamped 1970s shag haircut?). Only problem is, this new iteration, bearing enough resemblance to the original so you know it’s basically the same concept, also exhibits just enough variation from the prototype so you’re forced to purchase it anew if you wish to hop back on the bandwagon (so those original bell bottoms you lovingly preserved in tissue paper? Sorry, now they’re just slightly too wide at the base, and slightly too low at the hip to be “fashionable” today).  

So it goes with gastronomy, as well. I am (barely) old enough to remember the first wave of hippie food that gained popularity.  The trend, I believe, started in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s.  It was the era of Jane Fonda touting wheat germ in hamburgers (and lots of aerobic exercise), and the inception of the Moosewood restaurant and (then) curly-haired Mollie Katzen as its main proprietor and artist-in-residence.  And the Seventies was when Frances Moore Lappe first publshed Diet for a Small Planet, of course.  In those days, an overabundance of grey-hued, homemade tofu and crunchy granola gave “health food” and veganism a bad rap.  Today, thankfully, the new wave of “healthy” foods can be both good for you and good-tasting.  

Luckily for me, I’ve always loved the taste of healthy foods, whether in vogue or not. (Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t also love the taste of incredibly UNhealthy foods, which, if you’ve ever read this blog before, you already know).  Still, I hold fond memories of living in my first bachelor apartment (basically, a glorified closet with a bathroom on one end) as a grad student.  A step up from most bachelor pads, it boasted a “kitchen” (the wall that had the sink and counter affixed to it) as well as a “bedroom” (the wall that had the window cut into it), separated by a waist-high partition that jutted halfway across the room.  Remember Mary’s original pad in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and how she had a semblance of space from the kitchen counter off to the side, with that lovely, bright central area flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling window, the area that featured a hide-a-bed sofa?  Well, my place was nothing like that.

One of the first things I did living on my own was attempt to expand my culinary repertoire by branching into “health” foods.  My main motivation at the time was purely pecuniary, but I now realize that my choices introduced me to vegan foods as well. In those days, single and sans wheels, I was happy to tote along a “granny cart” (basically a steel basket on wheels), haul it onto the city bus, and travel an hour each way for my weekly pilgrimmage to the one bulk store in the city. 

Once there, I faced dozens of plastic bins, brimming with dried beans in varied shades of grey, white, brown, and green; nubby grains ranging in size from pinpoint to pencil eraser (with strange names like quinoa, teff, or amaranth); exotic flours from carob or fava beans, which I’d only just encountered; and assorted candies, soup mixes, dog biscuits, nuts and seeds–well, I could easily browse for a couple more hours before picking and choosing my purchases (not to imply that I ate dog biscuits in those days, or anything–just that they were there, laying the mental foundation for my current forays to the local bulk store, in which The Girls and their appetites always figure prominently).

This salad is from one of the first cookbooks I bought, called Horn of the Moon.  As you can probably tell from the title, it was a “health foodie” book. Most of the recipes reflect its early origins:  falafel, lentil burgers, tofu stuffed mushrooms.  Maybe it was nostalgia for those first heady days living entirely on my own; maybe it was a need for something simple, hearty, and evocative of fall; maybe it was my way to reintroduce an earlier trend; in any case, I had a craving for this salad last week and promptly pulled out my worn copy and prepped a batch.  

And while the HH found this too “plain” (seems his 2008-era palate, now accustomed to cilantro, garam masala, mysterious fiery jalapenos and the like, has rejected such rudimentary gustatory pleasures), I still loved this dish. With its chewy buds of beige-hued barley and oats, and sweet, toasty crunch of hazelnuts or crunchy bits of carrot and celery, this salad offered up a welcome mouthful of memory, warm and tingly, and a perfect way to reminisce about the past.

Barley-Hazelnut Salad

from Horn of the Moon cookbook

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

An unpretentious, hearty salad that’s straightforward and unambiguous in its nutritional offering.  It’s easy to eat a large serving of this as a meal on its own–which is a good thing, since this recipe yields a huge amount (it may be halved if you have fewer than four people in your house).

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

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Leftover Pizza for Breakfast

November 30, 2007

pizzaslice.jpg I must be on a “dinner-for-breakfast” kick.  This morning, I scarfed up the last 2 pieces of pizza from last night’s cooking class.  Normally, the class participants take all the leftovers home with them, but due to intermittent snow squalls throughout the GTA, two people cancelled at the last minute and left me with–yum!–breakfast.

I am feeling a bit downcast this morning, as last night’s was the final class, not just of 2007, but likely forever.  After four years of offering alternative cooking classes in my home and finally reaching some sort of critical mass on the website, I decided with this recent move to stop teaching in the house. 

First of all, my H.H. hated it (since he was relegated to the upstairs TV room for the entire evening), and even though The Girls loved it (“Yes, Mum, all those new people to sniff and free food dropping from the air all evening!”), I find this new place isn’t as well suited to having three cooking stations in the kitchen.  Besides, it’s a new home; time for a fresh start.  I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with other projects and commitments lately that it was beginning to seem onerous every time I had to prep a class (a full-day venture, plus cleaning up until midnight most nights).

What I will miss is meeting an ongoing array of amazing women (sorry, Garry, you were the only man to register in the entire four years!) who have opened my mind to new experiences and taught me more about life than I could ever have taught them about cooking.

Believe me, as one who formerly suffered from anxiety attacks, I was the last person you’d expect to invite total strangers into  my home.  But after a giddy year as a nutrition student at CSNN, my desire to share what I’d learned and cook with the amazing selection of new and healthy foods I’d discovered overcame any doubts I may have had.  (Besides, we all know that the last thing those health-foodie, crunchy granola types would ever do is steal or pillage).

So:  to Giovanna, who burst onto the scene post-radiation with her smile still beaming, it was such a pleasure to meet you and observe as you entered this world of alternative medicine and organic eating.  Your courage and determination have inspired me.  And so cool to know that there are such incredibly gorgeous wigs out there (though I must say I prefer the natural grey on you).

To Sandra, with your naturally effervescent nature, thank you for winning the prize for “only student who attended all fourteen cooking classes in a single season.”  I enjoyed hearing the plethora of stories about your kids and their pranks, and I wish you continued success as you introduce healthier options into your family’s menus. 

To Barbara, with your peripatetic streak and calming smile, I so enjoyed hearing about your many travels and so many interesting customs from other countries.  Thank you for your unbridled appreciation of the food and for being so affectionate with my dogs (“yes, thanks, Barbara!”).  I know you will love your upcoming time in Cairo.

To Maria-Elena, you brought an informal approach and many guffaws to the class.  Thank you for showing me that the Coconut Cream Pie could work when made in the blender, even though that wasn’t what the recipe called for. Who needs to measure, anyway?

To Michelle, I’m so glad you took that first chance and leapt in.  I have so enjoyed our outings and discovering this new friendship. And thanks for all the great puppy pix and recipes to try out! You are a natural at it.

There are so many more, and every one has touched me in some indelible way.  Still, I know this was the right move for me, one that will allow my concentration to move to more current interests (hmm, such as this blog!). 

Yes, I will sorely miss the camaraderie and buzz in the kitchen.  What I won’t miss is having to dash frantically around the house cleaning up the night before class (oh, wait, maybe I should miss that–this may mean our house is never clean again!).  I won’t miss the last-minute forays to the corner store for overlooked okra or missing miso, or having to reprimand Chaser when the guests arrive because her exuberance overtakes her and she jumps up on people even though she’s been trained not to (“But Mum!  They might have food!”).

Last evening’s theme was “Light and Easy Suppers,” healthy dishes that are mostly kid-friendly and can be cooked up in a fairly short span. 

Here’s the final menu (this suddenly feels like a tribute to the Titanic, or something!):

  • Sesame Sweet Potato Wedges with Thai Dipping Sauce
  • Spelt Thin-Crust Pizza with Artichokes, Caramelized Onion, and Chard (photo above)
  • Tofu Masala Curry with Brown Basmati
  • Moroccan Spiced Tomato Soup
  • Napa Cabbage Salad
  • Gluten-Free Pumpkinseed Shortbread Cookies.

I will post recipes for all of these over the next while. Now that there will BE no more cooking classes, this is my best place to share, though I don’t have all the photos yet (of course, given my shaky photography “skills,” that may not be a bad thing).

In the meantime, why not indulge in pizza for breakfast?

The Diet: NAG

October 30, 2007

 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.”]  

* * *

Today’s post will outline the diet plan I intend to follow for the next year and the rest of my life. 

1) NAG Diet.  As I mentioned, at school they called it “NAG”: natural, alive, good quality.  So what does this mean?

Natural:  foods that are not processed or are minimally processed.  So nothing packaged, no frozen dinners, no prepared cakes, cookies, buns, muffins, breads, nothing with preservatives, colorings, additives, chemicals, or anything like that.  Does this sound hard?  Actually, it’s the way I usually eat anyway, ever since my diagnosis with candida in 1999.  What’s great about this category is that everything is just what you see when you buy it:  an apple is an apple, quinoa is quinoa, eggs are always eggs.  Nothing added, nothing taken away. 

If you can eat this way (at least some of the time) you’ll find two things:  first, your groceries are cheaper.  When you buy brown rice and cook it yourself along with onion, peppers, and herbs, you are paying waaaaay less than buying pre-packaged rice pilaf mix.  Second, everything you eat is more filling, more substantial, and, eventually, more satisfying.  You’re getting real food, with real nutrition.  Oh, and a third, one worth mentioning:  everything takes much longer to cook.  I’ll deal with this issue throughout the blog, as I list what I’ve cooked and how long it takes.

Alive: for optimum health, “live” or raw foods are recommended.  This is not to say I’m advocating following a raw diet. No, just raw some of the time (I’m aiming for something raw with each meal, 30-50% raw each day).  This could mean a fresh apple cut up into cereal, a salad with lunch, baby carrots for a snack, cucumber slices with dinner. Or it could mean a raw almond-veggie pate as a lunch option (recipe to follow–promise!). As raw foodists know, raw foods contain health-enhancing enzymes that also help us to digest food better.  You digest faster and more efficiently with raw. . . it only makes sense to include it.

Good quality:  this trait refers to many things, but generally I think, “organic.”  I try to include as much organic food as possible in my diet.  One thing that’s absolutely essential to me is that any animal product be organic.  After learning what’s done to milk, meat, eggs, cheese, etc., I wouldn’t even give my dogs non-organic in these areas!  (Lucky for Elsie and Chaser, they get lots of organic veggies with their organic dog food for dinner.) (“We do appreciate that, Mum, really!”)

I guess I’m lucky in that I do love healthy foods, so it’s no hardship to eat this way.  The problem is that I also love unhealthy food.  So I can eat a perfectly healthy meal of my favorite almond-curry stir-fry with tofu and mixed veggies, then 30 minutes later eat 6 cookies.  Granted, the cookies are my own creations, made with spelt flour and Sucanat or maple syrup. . . but it ‘s the quantity, man, the quantity! 

Which leads me to. . . the rest of the diet. 

2) PORTION CONTROL. Ideally, if I follow the diet I see in my head, I’ll be able to eat moderate amounts of very healthy foods, with small amounts of less healthy foods (such as my beloved desserts or a glass of wine occasionally).  For me, this is probably the biggest challenge:  I don’t feel I’ve “eaten” unless I feel full (sometimes, almost to the point of bursting). So being able to eat a regular-sized meal followed by a regluar-sized dessert would be an amazing accomplishment for me.

3) EXERCISE. Technically, not part of the diet, but an integral part of the plan related to it.  The mission is to alternate my weights with aerobic exercise, 6 days a week.  This means treadmill for me, as bad knees prohibit either running or cycling.

Interestingly, I do already walk every day by virtue of my furry girls (“No problem, mum, we’re happy to remind you to take us out!”).  I generally take them out every afternoon for a minimum of 20 minutes (this in addition to their morning walk, courtesy of C., and their evening walk, which we all take together).  I see this as one of the major benefits of having dogs. Though I have to say here, that when we watch The Dog Whisperer, one of our favorite shows (“No! Don’t watch that, mum! Don’t watch that show!”), I’m always amazed that when asked how often they walk their dogs, people say things like, “Well, I manage to get out once a week. . . .”.  Huh?  Knowing that dogs were basically born to be outside running around, I would destroy myself with guilt if I didn’t take them out at least twice a day.  Strangely, though, the twice-daily dog walks don’t seem to affect my weight.  Ergo, adding in the aerobics every second day.

That’s it for now.  Tomorrow, I’ll cover the Goals section of the plan, after which I’ll really be on my way.