No food today, my love has gone away. . .

No, not really (well, unless you count chocolate going away). 

However, today’s blog title is a bit of a double entendre: first, since today was Day One of my detox regimen (no wheat, animal products, sugar; and NO GRAINS), I do somehow feel as if I’ve had no “real” food yet (though I must admit, I actually ingested a fair amount); second,  as a result of today’s overcast, dreary, and very glum weather, I have no food to share with you all on the blog.  Oh, I prepared something, all right; I was just unable to produce a photograph in which you could actually make out anything recognizable as food (or anything else) beneath the obscuring veil of gray (a pox on that inadequate, gratis camera, I say!). 

For now all I can share is this: I prepared a soup; and the HH and I practically licked our bowls clean when we ate it.  I promise to try again tomorrow (no hardship having to eat it again, believe me), since the weather is supposed to be sunny and more conducive to taking photos.

In the meantime, it seemed as if even The Girls were having a hard time finding food today.

[“Oh, Mum, you embarrass us.  And really, if you gave us more food, we wouldn’t have to eat this crappy green ball.  (Oh, wait a sec, we’re color blind. . . that was just a lucky guess.)”]

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Dreams of Chocolate

February 23, 2008

Nope, not one.  Not a single one.  Not even the tiniest smidgen of one. 

That’s right: for the first time ever in my adult life, I have not seen ONE of the movies nominated for Best Picture tomorrow night. (And YOU thought I was going to say “not one piece of chocolate!  Ha ha on you!! Well, I haven’t had a single smidge of that, either.)

And that is all I will be saying about the Oscars.

I’ve decided that I must have been a cacao overlord in a previous lifetime, and now as part of my atonement, I’m seeing chocolate, chocolate everywhere–just when I’m trying most to avoid the stuff (for those of you who just joined us in medias res, I’m attempting a detox to clear my body of the influence of the Devil Chocolate–and so, the Week of Chocolate Asceticism). 

As I mentioned before I began my week, I did whip up a few delectables before I started so that the blog wouldn’t be entirely bereft of the sweet stuff for the entire time.  Then, last night, I even dreamt of some new chocolate-based dessert I could make! 

And, of course, other bloggers are flinging chocolate this way and that, directly into my field of vision all this week: Eat Me, Delicious has just posted about a mouth-watering Chocolate Cookie Bark; The Good Eatah made a very rich, very creamy chocolate pudding;  Vegan Noodle of Walking the Vegan Line made some wicked-looking truffles; Hannah made her own–homemade!–white chocolate bar; that rascal, Michael Clayton, made nothing; Cate from Sweetnicks made Chocolate Pots de Creme (how did she find the time??) and Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice has even devoted an entire month to the stuff (please, somebody save me!)

And so, I decided I couldn’t escape it.  Although I am still determined not to let one mote, not one spec, not one shaving, not one MOLECULE of chocolate enter my mouth until I’ve given my system a decent break, I thought a little virtual indulgence wouldn’t do any harm.   

So here I’ll share some photos of chocolate-based recipes I’ve played with over the past few weeks, as well as some goodies I had to bake for customers.  

When I expressed some dismay that I wouldn’t be able to taste-test any of my catered goods, my friend’s very helpful teenaged daughter piped up:  “Well, you could just take a bite, chew it, and then spit it out.” Remember that episode of Sex and the City, where Miranda has dinner with an ex-boyfriend?  And they haven’t seen each other in years, and when they do, he’s lost a ton of weight?  And then they go out to eat at a swanky NYC restaurant, and he orders steak?  And then she catches him spitting a gnarly, saliva-soaked wad of chewed steak into his napkin?  Yep, that’s the one. And so you see why I couldn’t take the daughter’s advice. 

As it turns out, I’ve made most of these items several hundred times, so I didn’t have to break my WOCA and sample anything. 

The first item was a Double Chocolate Mint Explosion Cookie, part of the treats table at a birthday party.  These are fudgy on the inside, just slightly crispy on the outside–a definite winner with kids and adults alike. 

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Then I revisited a recent experiment with vegan chocolate-covered caramels (to which I must devote an entire post, anon):

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After that, the chocolate rush subsided a bit, leaving just the chips in a Chocolate-Chip Blondie, baked for a school event (yes, indeedy, that is a kitchen towel behind the plate):

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 Next up, a Chocolate Satin Tart.  These were a holiday item last year, which I baked for a vegan meal-delivery service here in Toronto to give to their customers (I hear they’re thinking of expanding to Calgary, where the Canadian Music Awards–called the Junos–are taking place this year).  A shortbread-like crust is filled with chocolate ganache, then dusted with cocoa:

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And I ended the virtual pig-out with a memory of a recent experiment, with sugar-free, gluten-free chocolate buttercream frosting:

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After this heady daydream, I felt prepared to snack on my lovely carob pudding, or raw fig and cherry bars (recipe to follow eventually).  And while it’s true that this No-Chocolate Land is a tough place to be (and it’s no country for old men, either, believe me),  I do feel more energetic, a bit more in balance, and happy about my healthy eating ths week.

WOCA Update:  Big, massive, seismic cravings today. And just when I thought they’d all passed!  Serves me right for being so smug about it last post.  But I shall persevere. . . I shall battle the demon with all my wits and all my inner resources. . . and I shall overcome. . . the scourge. . . that is Chocolate! Watch out; it’s possible there will be blood. (Oooh. Do you think I could maybe get away with just one little, tiny, eensy-weensy piece?  Naw, didn’t think so.)

And to those of you who watch them, enjoy the Oscars tomorrow (and sorry about that Juno reference.  It was either that or mention the mythological daughter of Saturn.)

[All of these recipes will 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.]

My Diet: MIA

February 15, 2008

For the three of you who’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you may have noticed that my “diet” posts (ie, posts in which I talk about how my diet’s not working, posts in which I discuss how I’d like my diet to be working better, posts in which I examine how I might be able to make my diet work better, or, simply, posts in which I use the word “diet” a lot) have gone MIA.  Wherefore art thou, O Ricki’s Diet, and why has she forsaken you?

Well, I must apologize.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten about my diet (ha! AS IF), but more that I haven’t felt there was anything worth reporting or mulling over lately without sounding terribly repetitive. Given that the original intent of this blog was (at least, partly) to chronicle what I hoped would be a monumental (40-lb.) weight loss over the next year, and to share with you how I was going to go about doing that, I seem to have lost sight (but never taste, apparently, or I might have actually lost an ounce or two) of the goal. 

Honestly, it’s not because the “diet” aspect of the blog is any less important.  It’s not because writing about food–desserts, especially–is any more fun (even though it is). It’s mostly that I haven’t been feeling very worthy of writing about dieting lately, given my recent eating patterns (which, suspiciously, resemble my pre-blog eating patterns).  How can I write with any authority about losing weight when I’m not doing so?  If you’ve looked at the progress tracker at all, you’ll see that the numbers have been going up, down, up, down, up, down, even more than the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills negotiations.  I’ve been so taken lately with all the appealing, interesting recipes and food in the world of blogging that I’ve neglected taking care of me and my health.

Well, that’s all about to change.  Now that Valentine’s Day is almost over (in our house, it’s taking place tomorrow), I’ve made a resolution.  True, most people make their resolutions on January 1st; but I’ve always been a later bloomer. 

Soooo. . . I’m going to declare the rest of February a “Chocolate-Free Zone.” 

You see, since I was a wee tot (who am I kidding?  I was never “wee”), chocolate has been the bane of my existence. Like an ex-boyfriend that you can’t quite let go of, like a Canadian winter, like the Oscars–I both love it and hate it.

The “love it” part is easy:  it’s a perfect base for dessert (which, after all, is my area of specialization); it’s creamy, smooth, sweet, delectable; it’s a booster of serotonin levels; it’s a portable bite for that 3:00 PM sugar crash; and it’s my very, very favorite, “I-can-eat-it-any-time-even-for-breakfast,” food.

The “hate it” part is less black and white (or milk and white, depending on your predilection): it’s a source of sometimes uncontrollable cravings; it’s the cause of weight gain (though not of acne, as once believed); it’s a pathetically poor substitute for a hug, a phone call with your best friend, or therapy; and it’s usually not as good as you thought it was going to be (sort of like that ex-boyfriend, again).

For me, the only way to avoid the inner turmoil around chocolate is the extreme move of cutting it out entirely.  Not forever (I couldn’t live with that), but for at least a week, until the urge passes. I’m embarking on a chocolate fast.  No chocolate.  No eating it, no baking with it, no buying it, no hiding it in the cupboard for a little nip when I’m feeling down. 

Instead, I’m going to try out a week (or, if I can make it, two) of eating in a way that’s worked for me in the past: a NAG-friendly , semi-detox diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds; minimal whole-grain flours; and only stevia as an added sweetener.  And NO CHOCOLATE.  (“How about cocoa, Mum?”) No, not even cocoa. (“How about carob, Mum?”)  Carob is acceptable. I’m also going to aim for over 50% raw foods each day. 

For me, this move is part desperation and part a yearning to regain to the experience of vibrant energy and health I enjoyed during my year studying natural nutrition.  At the time, one of my teachers there followed a 100% raw-foods (or living-foods, as it’s also called) diet. She also taught cooking classes, and I attended every one.  I was amazed at how fantastic the food was–colorful, delicious, a veritable feast for the senses.  I’m hoping to share some of her recipes, as well as others I’ve discovered over the years.

Hopefully, this new hard-line regime will help me ride out the chocolate-DTs, followed by a more moderate approach to eating (and, of course, chocolate)–and maybe even a little weight loss.

I do have a couple of desserts and one or two other dishes that I’ve recently prepared and will post as blog entries over the next two weeks, but for the most part, I’ll be sharing my healthier, detoxifying, health-conferring goodies with you.  And I’m hoping that declaring it this way on the blog will help me to actually follow through!

So I hope you’ll bear with me after the recent influx of indulgent baked goods.  Like some of you, I sometimes feel that a day without baking is a day devoid of some ineffable, necessary primal “something,” something that satisfies at the chromosomal level. 

No doubt, the baking will return.  Part of my goal when I started this blog was to lose 40 pounds before my next birthday, and unless I somehow get the chocolate habit under control, I know it won’t be a very happy one.  (And speaking of birthdays, another HUGE impetus for the chocolate ban is the upcoming birthday bash for Gemini I’s husband–a massive party in the works–on March 1st.  Two weeks away; need something nice, nothing fits, don’t want to have to buy something new. Think I could lose 10 pounds by then?  Me, either.)

And so, chocolate, adieu.  It’s only for a short while, but I’m hoping that absence, in this case, will not make the heart grow fonder.  No doubt I will miss you; I may even pine for you.  Still, one day, I hope to look at you with the same indifferent eye with which I gaze at Cream of Wheat, or paisley, or Josh Groban (sorry, Josh, not a big fan). After the week is over, let’s renegotiate our relationship in a more level-headed manner. In the meantime, I’ll attempt to forge ahead on my own, without you. But we’ll always have Paris (it is, after all, home of your finest specimens).

(“Oh, Mum, you’re so histrionic.  Really, get a grip. Who cares about chocolate?  It’s not a big deal.  But, um, you’re not thinking of changing your mind about carob now too, are you?  Because, you know, we’re allowed to eat carob, and we really love that carob-date thing you make.  So we can keep the carob, can’t we, Mum? Can’t we?  Mum???”)

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A Sweet Alternative

December 18, 2007

What was I thinking, agreeing to post an entry a day for a whole month? True, I have really been enjoying the whole Holidailies event, but given the whirlwind of events that are generally going on this time of year, coupled with the fact that I’ve been fighting some kind of weird virus the past two weeks (hope it’s not some alien quinoa I ate, or something), and this whole idea of posting to a schedule seems insane.   

And so, I’m going to chuck the schedule tonight and write about something else entirely, instead of the pre-planned “diet” post.  True, the title of my blog includes this very word, AND it is so often foremost on my mind that I may as well have a “diet” tatoo emblazoned on my stomach (where, of course, no living soul will ever see it if I can help it). Still, I am, every so often, occupied with something other than diets.  Like dessert. Or dogs, for example.

These days, when I make or bake desserts, I tend to use organic, natural, unrefined sweeteners.  That wasn’t always the case.  I grew up in a home with an immigrant father who’d been raised on a dairy farm and was quite accustomed to home-baked desserts (not to mention everything else made from scratch as well).  As it turned out, my mother was a dessert lover herself (the ultimate cause of her death, I’d wager) and an excellent baker.  So we always had homemade goodies in our house, and my sisters and I would come home from school to cookies, cakes, or whatever else my mom had whipped up.

Growing up in a house like that was both a blessing and a curse.  I knew how to bake by the time I was six or seven, helping my mother and aunt (who was also a professional baker and happened to live right upstairs in the same duplex).  On the other hand, all the females in my family have or had weight problems, and struggle with sugar addictions.  (My father, in contrast, is now in his eighth decade, has never been overweight, and just doesn’t understand how it can happen.  “If I feel my belt getting a bit tighter,” he says, “I just stop eating dessert for a couple of days, and I go back to my normal size.”  There’s no point telling him that (a) he doesn’t have an eating disorder, so of course he just “stops eating dessert”; and (b) he’s male, so all he has to do is have one less sip of coffee a day, and he’ll probably drop 10 pounds in a week.

The curse part is being so attached to dessert that I’m unwilling–perhaps unable–to cut it out of my life entirely, despite the deleterious effects I witnessed growing up. Even when my naturopath put me on a rigid diet that excluded all sweeteners for two years (including all fruits for the first 3 months), I eventually found a way to make dessert. I’d grind nuts with fruit puree–once the fruit was allowed–along with carob and spelt flour, shape it into patties and bake it; my HH called them “Dust Cookies.” 

So maybe I just need to accept that baking is something I’ll always do, like writing, or patting my dogs, or brushing my teeth every night.  I can live with that, as long as I’m not harming my health in the process.  And that’s where the alternative sweeteners come into play.

It’s true that all “real” sweeteners will be converted to glucose in the body, thereby raising blood sugar levels.  But there’s a huge difference between the immediate BOOM of sugar (converted quickly) and something like agave nectar, (converted slowly, more like a whole fruit would be, allowing for a more even rise in blood sugar levels).  The lower GI (glycemic index) of agave also supposedly makes it appropriate for diabetics (if only it had been available when my mother was younger!). 

It was a huge challenge at first when I began to bake with alternative sweeteners (not to mention the shift from regular flour to mostly spelt flour, from using eggs to no eggs, from butter to vegetable oils, and myriad other small changes).  Eventually, though, I learned how to substitute healthier (for the most part, liquid) sweeteners for the sugar. 

I use a variety of natural sweeteners now, but agave is by far my favorite. Somewhat like honey with a lighter consistency, it has a delicate flavor that won’t overpower the other tastes in your dessert (so, for instance, while I will use maple syrup in baking, I opt for agave when I’m making something light, like a lemon cake or banana cupcake). It’s also less sticky than honey, so it won’t cling to the bottom of the jar when it’s almost empty (just invert and wait a few seconds, and every last drop makes its way out).

If you haven’t tried it and would like to, here are a few quick tips for converting your existing recipes:

  • Agave is about 1-1/2 times sweeter than regular sugar.  So if you’re replacing sugar with agave syrup, you can start with 2/3 to 3/4 cup agave for each cup of sugar. 
  • Since agave is a liquid sweetener, simply substituting one for one with sugar will alter the chemistry of the batter by adding more liquid.  To compensate, either cut other liquids in the recipe (say if it calls for 1 cup milk) by about 25%.  In other words, if the original recipe used 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk, change that to 2/3-3/4  cup agave and 2/3-3/4 cup milk.
  • If the original recipe didn’t use much liquid, you can still compensate for the agave by increasing the flour.  Add about 25% extra flour for each cup flour (in other words, if the original recipe calls for 1 cup flour, use 1-1/4 to 1-1/3 cups with the agave).
  • Baked goods made with agave may be a little heavier than what you’re used to, so you might want to increase any leaveners. If the original recipe calls for 1 tsp. baking powder, I usually up it to 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 tsp.
  • Finally, agave browns faster than sugar (just as honey does), and so should be baked at a slightly lower temperature for best results.  If the original recipe uses 350F, I will bake an agave-based recipe at 325F.      

Baking with agave allows me to create sweets that I’m willing to eat (that is, things that are actually tasty), without causing terribly unhealthy swings in blood sugar levels.  And I do believe that dessert can be part of an overall weight loss eating plan (see, I didn’t say “diet.”). 

 [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?!”)

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[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.

 

Green Drinks

November 1, 2007

If you see a Naturopath or follow the principles of holistic nutrition, you may have heard that drinking “green” drinks can help with sweets cravings.  A green drink is just what it sounds like–a drink made with greens powder, usually containing some form of sea algae or seaweed (such as spirulina or kelp), or a combination of that with dehydrated, ground up green veggies (such as kale, collard, dandelion, etc.).  Often they are flavored or also include some fruit extracts or other immune-boosting elements (such as bee pollen).

I have to admit that I actually like greens drinks.  And I actually really like spirulina–I have it almost every morning with my ground flax seeds, mixed with a little soy or rice milk.  My HH calls it “green slime.”  

 (“We love green slime, Mum!  You can let us lick up the leftovers any time!”).  The greens powder I use is by Nu Life, called Nu Greens.  My two favorite flavors are the apple-banana and tropical (which tastes vaguely of pineapple). 

The theory behind these drinks is that, because they are so heavily alkalized (from all the greens) and ALSO contain magnesium (often attributed to be the cause of chocolate cravings), that they will help to reduce or even eliminate cravings for sugary foods.  Spirulina, in particular, is said to help keep insulin levels steady, another reason some people have sugar cravings.  So I dutifully started drinking more greens on a daily basis about a month ago, sometimes two or three times a day (according to the manufacturer, one serving contains only about 33 calories, so I wasn’t worried), in the hopes that they would inhibit or even prevent the cravings entirely. 

What did I discover?  Well, as I said, that I really like greens drinks.  To my mind, they’re sort of like a very darkly hued, all-natural fruit juice.  And that I can drink quite a few of them in one day (well, at least they help me get my 8 glasses of H2O).  And that they do absolutely nothing to stop my cravings.

So. . . . will I continue to drink them?  Of course I will.  They are extremely good for me, they provide a host of very important minerals and other nutrients, they help keep my blood sugar levels in check.  And I like them.  Have I mentioned that I like them?

If they have helped anyone else out there with cravings, I’d love to know!

[Chaser polishing off the green stuff.]