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[Sometimes, you just want to eat something now.  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.” (For other FitP recipes, see “Categories” at right).]

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It’s astonishing to me how our tastes can change so dramatically as we age. Remember those things you loved as a kid which elicit apathy now? As a tot, I loved The Monkees.  In my teens it was historical romances. In my twenties, I wore dark eye shadow and painted eyeliner across the base of my lashes.  In my thirties, I dressed in black almost every day for three or four years in a row.

There’s no doubt my palate has changed over time as well.  Foods I loved to eat as a child–saltwater taffy, Cap’n Crunch cereal, mellowcreme pumpkins or (a dinnertime favorite) a hillock of mashed potatoes with nuggets of hamburger cut up and hidden under it–all seem slightly repulsive to me now.  Then again, many of the foods I abhored then are ones I adore today; to wit, parsnips, cilantro, and–as of two days ago–baked apples.

When I decided back in January to attempt a “cleaner” diet for a while so that I might reverse some of the holiday era choc-o-rama indulgences, I turned to a cookbook I’ve had for some time but have never really used:  The Detox Cookbook and Health Plan, by Maggie Pannell.  Hiding at the back, on the very last page, was a rather fetching photo of a lone baked apple, stuffed to the brim with chopped figs and walnuts.

Apple?  Baked?  I could feel myself recoiling, thinking, “Nawwww. . . . ”  I mean, who eats baked apples?  They’re granny food.  They’re ulcer food.  They’re nothing-else-is-in-the-house-so-I-have-to-make-do-with-this-dull-fruit food.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I love raw apples and try to have one every day.  But I’ve always found the concept of a baked apple to be rather meh

Besides, apples are so common, so quotidien, so humdrum that they’re suffering from overexposure, like cupcake wedding cakes or Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons or Pamela Anderson’s cleavage.  I mean, aren’t apples like the perma-date of fruits–pleasant, enjoyable, always there–but just not exciting enough to seek out for something exceptional?  When I think of apples, all the old, hackneyed language comes to mind:   Apple of my eye.  One bad apple. An apple a day. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Apple Paltrow-Martin.

I was also flooded with memories of baked apples from my childhood, and why I never liked them back then: plain, dowdy, as wrinkled as your frowsy neighbor’s housecoat.  And yet, that photo beckoned to me.  I found the final push I needed when I went grocery shopping a couple of days ago: I often buy marked-down packages of apples to cut up and serve The Girls along with their regular dinner.  That day, I found three packs of six apples each, at 99 cents a pack.  Usually, these bargain-basement fruits and veggies sport more than a few little bruises; but these packages were perfect–smooth, rosy, unblemished; pristine. Seriously, I couldn’t find  a single nick or mark on any of the apples!  It was a sign. 

I went home and baked these apples.  The recipe was ridiculously easy, with only 4 ingredients.  And while they baked, I got dinner ready and even fed The Girls (they got the unbaked fruit). 

I guess my tastes have matured now that I’m an adult.  I loved these–they were stupendous.  I’d say these apples are like the homely, bespectacled secretary in the 1950s movie who suddenly tears off her glasses, pulls the hairpin holding her bun and shakes her head, and then–mon dieu!–she’s beautiful!  I now am officially smitten with baked apples. Baked apples are my hero!

I used Gala apples (that’s what was on sale) and the outcome was perfect.  The contrast between the sweet, pliable stewed figs with their popping crunch, and the perfectly creamy, tart apple flesh was delightfully unexpected. And as the glaze baked and thickened up, it acquired a deep, intense orange flavor as well as a deep caramel hue, contributing a glossy, sticky exterior glaze to the skins. 

I think I’d better try to eat baked apples at least a few times a week through the winter. I plan to have them as often as I can. I mean, who knows when my tastes might change again? 

 Baked Apples with Figs and Walnuts in a Citrus Glaze

adapted from The Detox Cookbook and Health Plan

by Maggie Pannell

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

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This is an elegant weekday dessert, that’s a comforting winter treat.  And for pennies a serving, you really can’t go wrong.

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

 

Last Year at this Time

: Reubenesque Sandwich

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!

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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.

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?”)