No Such Thing as Too Many Desserts

Lately, I’ve gotten into making desserts. I’ve always loved making them, but in my efforts to eat healthfully, I stopped preparing them as often. In the past, the problem was that I would end up with more left over than I wanted (I was going to say needed, but is dessert ever necessary??). However, since then, I have learned that almost everything can be frozen and then eaten whenever.

Two things in particular got me going. One was a recipe from the magazine Cooking Light which was for Peach Cobbler Ice Cream with a Bourbon Caramel Sauce and the other was meeting the two women who run the truffle-making business, Evolve.

I’d held onto the ice cream recipe for a long time never making it partly because there is no point to it unless one has fresh, perfectly wonderful, peaches. And, I was going to have to make changes because I can’t eat cow dairy and it called for that (as well as whipped topping which I never buy as I think of that kind of thing as akin to ingesting a petroleum by-product).

So, I’ve made three kinds of ice cream over the summer and they were all delicious (is there bad ice cream??). The first was inspired by the aforementioned peach cobbler ice cream which I decided to do as a Peach Pie Ice Cream as that sounded more appealing to me. I used as my base one can of lite coconut milk, one egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, ¼ cup sugar and 1-2 packets of stevia sweetener. This became the base for my later ice creams. To create the pie crust flavor, I made a quarter recipe of pie crust (just using a basic pie crust recipe), rolled it out flat, baked it on a sheet pan, let it cool, and then broke it into pieces (it was very difficult not to snack on this because I love pie crust. It should be a dessert in its own right. Hmm…maybe that’s an idea). For the peach flavor, I mashed up some chopped peach, added some sugar and a dash of nutmeg, mashed it up some more and then put it into the fridge until I was ready for it. I made the ice cream in my ice cream maker, transferred it into a plastic container and then poured the peach sauce and the pie crust pieces into it and swirled them together. After that, I popped it into the freezer until after dinner when I got to try it out (as if I hadn’t “quality-tested” every step of the way!).

It was so good that I was inspired to make more flavors of ice cream. The next two kinds I made were lemon meringue and butter pecan. I made the lemon meringue by adding home-made lemon curd (made with goat butter instead of cow butter) and broken graham crackers to the coconut milk ice cream base. For the butter pecan ice cream I made butterscotch sauce, swapping goat butter for the cow butter and evaporated goat milk for the cream, and toasted some pecan pieces. Again, I swirled those into my ice cream base (for this one, I subbed in brown sugar) and put it into the freezer.Butter Pecan Ice Cream

The one problem I’ve come up against with my ice cream is that it freezes so hard that I have to let it soften on the counter for a few minutes before scooping as it is like trying to scoop a rock. At first I thought it might be because it wasn’t particularly rich, but now I’m pretty sure that’s not the problem as I purchased some ice cream made with a coconut milk base and it was about twice as rich as mine and it also comes out rock hard. I don’t want to raise the temperature of my freezer as I want everything else to be that cold/frozen. The consequence is that I actually have to wait to eat my ice cream and I’m not very good at that!

So, as I mentioned, the other inspiration was some truffles I had while attending this great musical event called Chucklestock. They are made by this female duo who started a truffle-making business, Evolve, relatively recently and the truffles they make are pretty darn fabulous. I haven’t been one of those people who have gone all crazy for chocolate. I was just fine with plebian milk chocolate and didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Then, I was diagnosed with a cow dairy allergy and could only eat semi-sweet or dark chocolate and I didn’t like them as much. However, I guess our taste buds change over time, or something, because I began to crave chocolate (I also started to crave spicy foods, but that’s another story, … or not) and dark chocolate started to taste just fine with me. A couple of years ago my friend Katharine Kagel was visiting and gave me two bars of a dark chocolate that she helped develop in collaboration with Askinosie Chocolate that had pistachios, ancho chiles, goat milk, and sea salt in it. It was really hard to share because it was so delicious. I was sold on chocolate.

Christy and Shannon Fox of Evolve Truffles also do some unusual pairings. Like, Askinosie, they make it work. Not everyone can use wasabi or beer in a truffle and make it delicious. They also make more regular truffles, but I like how they push the chocolate envelope. The last time I made truffles was when I was in college and went door-to-door in my apartment complex asking for a couple of ounces of liqueur so I could make different flavors (I think I ended up with things like Kahlúa and Peach Schnapps).

This time I wanted to be a bit more creative. Again, I had a “base” for my truffle, which was chocolate and coconut “cream” (refrigerate a can of full-fat coconut and then skim off the “coconut cream”). For my first batch I steamed the cream with some chopped fresh ginger, strained it, re-heated it, added it into the chopped chocolate and stirred it until the chocolate melted, and theCoconut GingerTrufflesn added minced candied ginger. After I had chilled the truffle mixture, I rolled it and chilled it again, and then coated it with some tempered dark chocolate and topped it with a curl of toasted coconut. They were good enough that I wanted to make another batch with different flavors.

My next endeavor featured mangoes and pistachios. I added to my truffle “base” pureed dried mangoes coated with some kind of lime-chile concoction (I bought them from my local co-op so no weird/bad stuff on them). Then I played with different ways to coat them. Some I just rolled in pistachio flour and topped with a chocolate dipped pistachio. Others got the roll in pistachios and a coating of dark chocolate. I also tried mixing the pistachio flour into the dark chocolate and then coating the truffle to see if that made it taste different (it didn’t, but I’m no connoisseur). Lastly, I tried melting sugar until medium brown, dribbling it over the truffle, letting it harden, and then dribbling the chocolate-pistachio flour on top of that and sprinkling a few flakes of salt. That was really different and really good …probably my favorite. However, I kind of ruined them by refrigerating them all. I did not know that if you refrigerate a dry caramel it goes back to a liquid state. At least it did in this instance. So, the dry caramel “melted” off the truffles and made little puddles around each one. Interestingly, the dry caramel that was coated with the chocolate-pistachio flour stayed put. I really liked the crunch it Mango Pistachio Chile Lime Trufflesadded. Of course, the salt made it good too and was an excellent counter-point to the additional sugar.

What I meant to do, and forgot, was to sprinkle each one with some amchur powder. I have some that came with a variety pack of Indian Spices. I never knew what it was until recently. Turns out it is made from dried unripe green mangoes. It has a rather sour taste—not surprising since the mangoes would have been sour if eaten instead of turned into powder. However, the truffles tasted great without it and it would not have gone well with the sea salt, in my opinion.

It has been a fun little journey back into the world of sweets. I learned that if flavors are complex and have depth to them, eating a small amount really is enough. The advice many have given that having a small amount of a quality dessert (like a square of dark chocolate) should satisfy any craving, had never worked for me in the past. Now, I find that that can be possible for me, and it is a little freeing. Also, the freezer solution helps!

Nose-to-Tail Eating, Vegetarian Style

Over the past few years I’ve read the tales of those who embark upon “nose-to-tail” eating with the kind of interest one usually reserves for looking at dissected frogs in Biology class. I like the idea in principle, but I just can’t get excited about eating entrails and organs. However, in the past 2 years I have embraced what I call nose-to-tail eating vegetarian-style. It began with my habit of snacking on the food I’m preparing. Nibbling on broccoli leaves, for instance. Other times I would find a recipe that intrigued me like pickled nasturtium seed pods (taste like capers!). I have found that it has broadened my view of what can be eaten and allows me to waste even less food.

We Americans waste approximately 40% of our food. It is truly appalling. I do everything I can to avoid wasting food. However, I know I can do more. So, with that in mind, I am sharing one aspect of what I do to reduce waste in my home.

What follows are some of my most useful (and fun!) discoveries.

Carrot greens can be used in a number of ways. I have used them in place of basil when making pesto. Because I find making pesto tiresome, I cram as many carrot greens as I can in my food processor so I don’t have to make it very often. To streamline the process further, I use almond butter instead of nuts and I don’t bother with the cheese. If I want it later, I can just add it then. Next, I freeze it in blobs on a piece of tin foil, peel the blobs off and keep them in a zipper bag in the freezer. They are great for tossing into a pot of cooked orzo for an easy flavor blast. Another place to use carrot top pesto is slathered on roasted vegetables. This is rather like icing on the cake as roasted vegetables are already so fabulous. The addition of the pesto is so good you will not believe it.

Carrot Greens
Carrot Greens

Carrot greens can also be used in place of parsley. Nothing annoys me more than a recipe that calls for a sprinkling of parsley as garnish. And what am I supposed to do with the rest of the bunch of parsley I had to buy? If I am buying carrots with greens anyway, I can just use those! Last summer, a friend recited for me a recipe that is an old stand-by for her: smoosh up some anchovies in a large bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil (or oil from the anchovies), and pepper. Chop up a couple of bunches of parsley (here’s where you sub the carrot greens) and place them in the bowl with the anchovies. Toss until the greens are well-coated and serve. Anchovies are very nutritious (chock full of omega-3s) and, since they are smaller fish and have a shorter life span, they are near the bottom of the food chain so they add far fewer toxins to your body than larger fish.

Carrot Green & Anchovy Salad
Carrot Green & Anchovy Salad

Now, you might wonder, where am I going to get all these carrot greens? I started out using ones I had grown in my garden. The carrots were pretty puny, but the greens were quite luxuriant! Later, I learned that a good way to be sure carrots you buy are fresh is to choose ones with the greens still attached. Once they get wilty, supermarkets cut them off so that is a good sign that the carrots are getting older and are not as nutritious. I was eating lots of carrots so we ended up having quite the bonanza. It got to the point that my son and I started taking some of them to some chickens we helped take care of as they thought they were quite a treat.

Another under-utilized part of a vegetable is the leaves and stems of broccoli. I started out just peeling and slicing the stems of broccoli that I bought and steaming them with the florets. Then I realized they could be treated like vegetable sticks and served with dip just like carrots and bell peppers (call them “batons” make them sound more elegant). Next, I noticed that a large proportion of recipes published that purported to be “quick,” called for broccoli slaw. I very rarely buy convenience foods like that, but I was curious so I checked out what it was the next time I was at the grocery store. Well, if you haven’t figured it out, what it is is merely the shredded stalks cut off of all those pre-cut broccoli florets people buy, except they jack up the price. What I do is save the stems from a bunch of broccoli and then peel and shred it in one go in my food processor. Then I use it as a salad or in a stir-fry.

The tender broccoli leaves near the florets are also edible. Then can be steamed alongside the stems and florets or sliced and sprinkled on top of a salad.

I have also found that steamed artichoke stems can also be as good as the heart. Simply trim the end, peel the stem, and allow it to be steamed along with the rest of the artichoke. Sometimes it will be a little stringy or bitter, but I have found that to be the anomaly and if you don’t try it, you’ll never know.

Nasturtium Salad
Nasturtium Salad

If you grow nasturtiums (a very easy flower to grow and, so far for me, deer do not appear to like them), almost all parts of the plant can be eaten. The leaves can be torn and added to a salad. The same with the flowers. Both are a little spicy so I wouldn’t use them as the only green in a salad. Near the end of summer, gather the seed pods and pickle them by putting them into a jar and then filling the jar with pickling liquid. You can just use leftover pickle juice. After a few months, the seed pods will be pickled and can be used in place of capers.

Sour Cherry Marzipan Cookie with Chocolate Drizzle
Sour Cherry Marzipan Cookie with Chocolate Drizzle

A year and a half ago I had a bonanza of grapes harvested from some friends’ farm. I used many of the grapes to make jelly. After extracting the juice from the grapes I had a mesh bag full of grape skins. Because I was curious, I ate a couple and was struck by how tasty they were. I was thinking they would be good in muffins in place of something like raisins or blueberries. However, my husband was the one who identified that they taste like sour cherries. Sour cherries are pretty pricey (I’ve paid $5/lb at a u-pick!), but make superior pies. Using grape skins is much more economical and easier as they don’t require pitting. With the grape skins, I made 3 delicious crisps which I froze to have later.

Chocolate Shards
Chocolate Shards

Over Christmas, I made cookies and I used the trick of placing melted chocolate in a plastic zipper bag and then cutting off the corner so I could drizzle the chocolate out. When I was done, I could see there was still a fair amount of chocolate in the bag that wouldn’t come out easily. So, I popped it in the freezer. Later I took it out and peeled off the plastic to reveal beautiful chocolate “shards.” They would be prefect on top of a cake or cupcakes or on top of ice cream and now that chocolate wasn’t getting wasted.

With the lessons I’ve learned, I would encourage anyone to taste new things and see what he or she discovers. Re-purposing food that is getting old or would otherwise be thrown away is not a new concept. Bread that is going stale has long been made into croutons, stuffing or French Bread (in France called “pain perdu,” literally “lost bread.”) A hambone in a split pea soup is divine and turkey carcasses are wonderful for making soup. Also, a cooking error doesn’t need to be tossed. When you burn something, call it “blackened.” If you over-boil vegetables, puree them. Mushy carrots sounds nasty, but how about pureed carrots with cardamom and a drizzle of olive oil? Just think, if you were in a fancy restaurant, you’d probably think it was something very elegant!

If you have any culinary discoveries you’ve discovered that allow you to reduce waste, please let me know.  I’d love to hear about it.

Caveat: Please note that not everything that grows is safe to eat. Sometimes one part of a plant is safe while another part is not. A good example is rhubarb. The stalks are perfectly edible while the leaves are poisonous. So, if in doubt, check first!!

Bacon Makes Everything Better

It is warming up here in the Pacific Northwest and everything looks beautiful. One of the things I cook a lot throughout the year is soup. About a month ago I created a two-for-one meal that is super easy and features soup. Now, it probably makes a little more sense to prepare these when it is colder, but as a veteran of the Pacific Northwest, I already know that the warm and wonderful weather we are experiencing right now could flee at the drop of a hat and we could go back to cool and dreary until July 5th (people who have lived here a long time say you can’t rely on good weather until after the 4th of July—and sometimes not even then!). These meals can be vegetarian, or even vegan come to think of it, but because I love bacon they aren’t in my house.

Roasted Squash served with Rosemary-Scented White Beans and a BLT Salad with Bacon-Infused Croutons

2 butternut squash
1 T. brown sugar
½ t. ground ginger
Salt and pepper

4 c. canned white beans of your choice (navy, cannellini)
3 stalks fresh rosemary
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

Lettuce
Tomatoes
4 slices bacon
Stale bread
Salad Dressing (I usually use a basic oil and vinegar, but a mayonnaise one would probably be good)

Night One:
Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice squash lengthwise and place it cut side down in a large baking pan. Fill pan with water to a depth of about ½“. Place in oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, drain out water, and place squash cut side up in pan. Combine brown sugar and ginger and sprinkle on top of the squash. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on them too. Return to oven and roast till almost squishy.

Meanwhile, rinse beans and place in a large saucepan. Add water to cover, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste and bring to a gentle simmer.

Cube your stale bread and, if it is soft, place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for a few minutes (you don’t need 2 ovens. Use the same one that has the squash in it). Remove bread and place bacon on baking sheet. Return to oven and let bacon roast for 10 minutes. Depending upon the thickness of your bacon, it may be done. If it is a thicker cut, it may require more time to crisp up. Drain bacon on paper towels, let cool, and then break into small-ish pieces.

Meanwhile, place bread cubes on baking sheet and toss with the bacon fat. Taste and add salt if you think it needs it (I use garlic salt which is probably un-cool, but I like it). Place baking sheet in oven and toast up the bread cubes for about 5 minutes.

Wash lettuce and place in a salad bowl. Slice tomatoes and add them. Sprinkle with bacon pieces and bacon-infused bread croutons.  If you don’t eat meat, then I guess you’d better make a different salad.  I always like one with dried cranberries, chevre, and toasted pecans.  Or sliced pear, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts.

Drain beans and remove rosemary and garlic. Slice squash into 1” wide crescents. Serve the beans and squash with the salad.Bacon Croutons

Night Two:

Spicy Coconut Milk Squash Soup

Hopefully you have leftover squash and beans. For my family of three I would definitely have leftovers. You may need to adjust the amounts of the first night dinner when you are preparing it so that you do have leftovers.

Cooked butternut squash
White beans
Coconut-Almond milk beverage (or the more common light coconut milk in a can)
Green vegetable of your choice (I would probably do another salad)
Crusty bread (I make the famous no-knead bread that Jim Lahey invented and Mark Bittman published in the New York Times. If you haven’t made it, I highly recommend it. It is the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever seen and the best—how often does that happen?)

Peel squash and cut into chunks. Place squash, about 1 cup beans and 1 cup coconut milk beverage in a blender. Whirl until smooth. I like spiciness so I would also add a sprinkle of cayenne, but others may want to omit it. Add more coconut milk or vegetable broth to get a soupy consistency. Heat gently and serve with your vegetable and crusty bread.

Note on the Coconut-Almond Milk: Most of the time I use Almond Breeze.  However, I have tried Califia’s Coconut-Almond Milk and it is tastier.  I don’t buy it on a regular basis as it is pricier and not available in the shelf-stable boxes.  But it really is divine and is superior for making things like caramel sauce (yes, it is possible and it tastes great!)

Note: I have started cooking my own beans these days instead of using canned ones. I do this for a few reasons. First, because I am trying to avoid the BPAs used in most canning processes (some organic canned or boxed beans are BPA-free but they are dreadfully expensive). Second, I can control the consistency of the beans that way. Sometimes I want them firm, sometimes I want them squishy. Third, I can add flavor while cooking them and reduce the presence of the sugar in beans (oroligosaccharides) that causes gas. If you would like to try doing the same, see below:

Rinse dry beans in water and then set to soak in a pot with a couple of inches of water to cover. Let sit overnight. Drain and rinse beans. Return to pot, cover with water by a couple of inches, and add any seasonings you might like (e.g. rosemary sprigs, cloves of garlic) and a pinch of epazote (this is your magic herb that reduces gas!). Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so it simmers. Different beans take different lengths of time to cook. If they are older they will take longer. Usually 1 hour is a good bet. Drain, discard epazote, and the beans are ready to be served or used in some other recipe.

Note on epazote: I had a dickens of a time getting a hold of this. Once, my friend Katherine Kagel who owns Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe was coming to visit and she asked what she could bring. So I asked her if she could get me some epazote. She delivered! I thought she might be able to since she lives in bean-cooking country and she is a goddess. Now I know that you can get it at Spicely and probably lots of other places if you look on the internet, but I wanted to be sure to get the real deal as I wasn’t looking for it just for taste purposes, but also for its special “carminative” properties. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The Joys of Hang-Drying Laundry

Today we had a beautiful sunny day which made me think: time to do laundry! Isn’t that what everyone thinks when there are blue skies outside? For about 8 years I’ve been hang-drying almost all of our laundry. The exceptions I make are sheets and towels (because sheets are too big and I like my towels soft). Otherwise, on the drying racks they go! I started partly because my husband already owned a drying rack or two as his home lacked a dryer (but had a washing machine). Additionally, my son, who was a toddler at the time, thought it was great fun to “help” me. Also, because dryers are the appliance that most suck electricity, it seemed a great way to reduce our energy consumption.

Although we do not live in a climate that is warm all-year round, we are able to hang-dry our clothes all year. This is because we use drying racks instead of a clothes-line. The clothes take a little longer to dry in the winter, but I place them over heat vents and that speeds up the process. Also, I like to think that I enjoy the bonus of adding moisture to the air this way (forced air heat really dries out the air and my skin starts to resemble a crocodile’s). Then, in the summer, I can put the racks out on the deck and the clothes end up smelling great from all that fresh air.  2014_0407Laundry

I also like to think that the sun’s UV rays can kill some germs, but I haven’t seen any evidence that really backs this up. But hey, it’s 64°F today which is pretty toasty for the Pacific Northwest in April. And it is not raining, thank you very much, so I’m not complaining!

Another bonus is that clothes that otherwise might require ironing, often don’t: score! We hang button down shirts and the like on clothes hangers and hang them wherever it suits us and they dry with fewer wrinkles. Ditto with our cloth napkins and placemats. I actually like ironing, but I am usually short on time so I’m willing to give it up (aren’t I the martyr?).

So, I suggest that you start doing the same. You don’t have to commit to hang-drying every load, just do what you can! We all need to do what we can to reduce our energy consumption so we don’t have so many mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, monsoons, earthquakes, etc. You know what I’m talking about here.

On a cheerier note, today I made my short-cut Mexican Soup. I love the real thing, but I don’t always have time to make it. Also, I often have a jar of half-eaten salsa in the fridge and I have learned that it doesn’t keep forever, like many other condiments, and I hate to waste food. So, here is my cheater’s recipe.

Short-Cut Mexican Soup
Salsa (at least one cup to make one serving)
Vegie broth
Assorted add-ins like:
Black beans
Frozen corn
Cheese, shredded or just sliced thinly
Avocado, diced
Cilantro, stemmed and chopped if you care
Broken tortilla chips from the bottom of a bag
Scallion, sliced

Heat the salsa, broth, beans, and corn (if using) until it reaches the temperature you want. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients on top and eat.

A Rant on Lunchboxes

A year and a half ago I bought a lunchbox for my son.  I spent considerable time researching to find one that fit my requirements: non-BPA plastic (if containers were plastic), a sort of bento style in that there were multiple containers that would fit well together into one lunchbox that hopefully was padded/insulated, and not too outrageously priced.  I finally settled on Litter Free’s lunch box.  It has the insulated box I was looking for, four containers that fit well together, and one water bottle that is not ginormous like so many of them.  Also, it was available at my local Co-op for $30.  That still seemed pricey to me, but I thought it would last.

Broken Zippers on Both
Broken Zippers on Both

Sadly, after less than 9 months the inside lining was tearing, the pull tabs on the zippers were breaking off, and the water bottle was so poorly designed that it always leaked.  I contacted the company and they sent me a new liner boxer and a new water bottle lid quite promptly and I was pleased with that outcome.  However, fast forward one year and here is my report: the new water bottle lid is the same as the old one and so it leaks rendering it useless.  (I had thought the old one was defective, but, no, the design was defective so it will always leak.)  One pull tab on the zipper has broken off (luckily there are two zipper pulls).  Again, the lining of the lunchbox is tearing.  Then, I see articles like this one, Scientists Condemn FDA , about how the new BPA-free plastic containers have other chemicals that are most likely just as bad as BPA, and maybe even worse.  Suffice to say, I will not buy another of these lunchboxes! I don’t blame this individual company though.

What I am tired of, and frustrated by, is the lack of government regulation to protect consumers.   Libertarians insist that we can make our own informed choices and therefore the market will weed out the bad products/companies and that government regulation stifles growth and just “gets in the way of innovation.”  But I think this is complete bulls**t.   Can consumers really test all products for safety?  No.  Are we supposed to have mini-laboratories at home?  I don’t think so.  How can I check all my meats for salmonella, E. coli, listeria, etc?  How the dickens can I study the long-term effects of endocrine disrupters on humans at home?  Perhaps they mean that consumers should research others’ research to find the answers.  But, I find it increasingly difficult to wade through all the information available to find the trustworthy answers.  Google any kind of questions like the ones above and invariably millions of hits come up.  And how do we know which ones are legit?  I wish I lived in a country that was guided by the precautionary principle: that the burden of proof regarding a product’s safety was upon the manufacturer.  Not that they could continue to market a product until there was proof that it caused harm.  What a revolutionary idea!

Seam Coming Undone
Seam Coming Undone

So, now I am back to square one.  I’d like to be able to pack my son a lunch with some variety that is not dependent on prepackaged foods (I make almost everything from scratch that goes into his lunch), utilize a reusable container so I’m not producing excess garbage, and do it without poisoning him!  One option is the Planet Lunchbox.  One family I know has them.  They are very pricey, but they are stainless steel so they ought to last.  I just gulp when I have to shell out $50 for a lunch box.  Ack.

Here is a picture of a typical lunch I prepare.  Although usually there is one less fruit or vegetable and yogurt is substituted.  The sandwich and the 2 sides are for lunch and the big box is for snack.  Included in the snack is what I like to call an Energy Ball.  My mom made up the idea for them and I’ve started making them the past few years as they are handy for when kids need some healthy fats and calories and are short on time.  I really don’t think adults need “energy bars” and all that crap unless they are athletes in training.  We aren’t that active!  Also, why we need to provide our kids with snacks all the time is beyond me.  But I’ll address those topics another day as I have lots of opinions on those subjects too!  Below is the recipe for my Energy Balls.

Schoolday  Lunch
Typical School day Lunch

Peanut Butter Energy Balls

½ c. peanut butter or other nut butter
3 T. honey, maple syrup, or agave
½ c. crushed cereal (I like shredded wheat or the dregs leftover at the bottom of a box of cereal)
30 raisins
4 dried apricots, chopped
3 dried dates, chopped
2 T. walnuts, chopped
2 T. almonds, chopped
2 T. sunflower seeds
1 oz chocolate chips (about 50)

Put everything in a bowl and stir until combined.  If using maple syrup or agave it may require more crushed cereal as they are more viscous.  Chill in fridge.  Roll into balls a little smaller than a ping pong ball.  Return to fridge until ready to eat.  It should make about 16.

Note: The nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate chips combined should equal about 1 cup if you just want to use some trail mix.

Evolving Tastes

Last week there was an interesting article in the New York Times ( A Taste you Hate? Just Wait ) about how our preferences can evolve over time. I’ve had experiences similar to those the author described.  For the longest time, I never cared for lentil soup.  Then, one day, while having lunch with my mom at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner , I felt a craving for lentil soup.  So I ordered it, and loved it.  Now I make various lentil soups fairly regularly.  Usually with some vegies.  Sometimes with a ham hock.  Sometimes it is a dal. But I love them all!  The same thing also happened for me with tomato soup, winter squash, zucchini, lasagna, ham and some other foods.  I now eat most anything (that I’m not allergic to).  The one category that still yucks me out is meat with unusual textures, e.g. gristly.

Sadly, many of us Americans have had our food tastes “dumbed” down.  Processed food is engineered to appeal to our most elementary taste buds.  This is described in the excellent book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  The author really nails it.  It is difficult not to like the products made with these ingredients since we have evolved to seek them out.  Not to mention when we are bombarded with advertising telling us how we will be happier, have more time, earn love from our families/friends, etc. if we only buy these products.  And they seem to cost relatively little compared to “real” food.

After my son was born, child-rearing books that I read recommended introducing the same foods to one’s child multiple times.  Apparently, it can take a dozen tries with one food before a child will “like” it.  This has been reinforced by books I’ve read more recently like French Kids Eat Everything and Bringing Up Bebe.  I wish I had been able to read both of them when my son was a baby.  Still, we try to encourage him to be adventurous with new foods and he does eat a very varied diet (thank goodness he likes salad. I so won out there).  My husband eats anything so that’s not a problem!  Also, I try to model by regularly trying things that I haven’t liked so far and I talk about it.  Maybe I’ve changed!  Maybe cooking something a different way will be more appealing.  There are people who are “super-tasters” for whom foods simply taste stronger and they have a hard time with bitter flavors, for example.  But I suspect there are not as many as people think (similar to people who claim to have “low metabolisms.”  The variation is infinitesimal and not worth even mentioning).  I remember after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area from the Midwest and I was not familiar with sushi.  However, I had friends who liked it so I would get dragged to sushi restaurants.  After about one year, I woke up one morning and thought, “I feel like having sushi today.”  Granted it was sushi like California rolls and Ebi Tempura rolls, but still, it was progress.

I had a similar experience with kale.  I had never really cared for it (if I was served it, I would eat it, but I wouldn’t make it at home and this was before it was on every restaurant menu).  Then, I tried kale chips at a friend’s house and ended up practically inhaling them.  That got me started on kale.  It was a gateway preparation for me.  What’s not to like when it is covered in oil and salted?  Next, I started steaming it and we all liked that.  A few years ago I grew it in my vegetable garden and when I was picking it to make it into chips or steamed, I would snack on it.  I thought, if I can eat it raw in the garden, why not at the dinner table?  So we did!  I’ve since learned that I prefer certain kinds of kale for certain preparations.  The curly kind for chips, the flatter kind (like Redbor) for salad and either when cooked.  I still find that I’m not so fond of the lacinto kale.  Mostly, it seems like more work to get it off the stalk.  Below is my favorite recipe for cooked kale.

Kale, Bacon, Beans, and Dates

4 slices bacon

1 bunch kale, striped off stalks and chopped

1 c. beans (I like navy or garbanzo)

a handful of dates, chopped

½ lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Cut bacon into a few pieces, place in a large heavy pot and cook over medium until crispy.  Remove and let drain on some paper towels.  When cool, crumble bacon.  Meanwhile, add damp kale to pot, cover, and let the kale cook down a bit.  Add the beans and dates and toss a little and let them heat up.  Remove from heat.  Squeeze the lemon juice over the kale mixture and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle bacon on top of kale mixture and serve.

Oops–I screw up and poison a guest

So, yesterday we had a family of five over for brunch and the mom and one of the kids can’t eat gluten.  I thought I had made it clear that my gluten cooking was not the best and asked if she could bring a muffin type thing that was gluten-free, so when we were serving ourselves (buffet-style), I did not mention that my scones contained gluten.  Usually, I would have and I have no idea why I didn’t.  Maybe because there were a bunch of kiddos around and it felt a bit chaotic (trying to beverage everyone etc).  We’re all eating the last few tidbits on our plates and an animated conversation and I notice that the mom has a half-eaten scone on her plate.  I say, I hope you didn’t eat that?  And that’s when I learn that she didn’t know it contained gluten and, of course, had taken one and had already eaten half of it.  I feel terrible!  I’ve always had this secret worry that I would somehow poison someone inadvertently.  We have people over for meals fairly often and I’m always super careful and, as far as I know, it has never happened (till now!).  As an aside, I once had a soy-based whipped cream that was on a pie when a guest brought it and I was up all night horribly sick to my stomach so I know how uncomfortable it can be.  So, I have certainly learned my lesson about alerting guests about what is okay and what is not okay to eat if they have something they need to avoid.

Otherwise, I think it went well.  The family has 3 boys and the eldest seems intellectually precocious.  And the younger ones are nice kids and everyone seemed to play well together.

If you like scones, and can eat gluten, here’s the recipe.  It is pretty easy and tasty too.

2014_0217Scones

Scones:

2 c. flour (can use half whole wheat pastry and half all-purpose)

3 T. sugar (sometimes I sub part xylitol)

1 T. baking powder

½ c. butter or margarine (I use Earth Balance because I’m allergic to cow dairy and goat butter costs an arm and a leg and isn’t always available)

1 c. dried fruit (good choices are currants, dried cranberries, golden raisins, chopped dried apricots)

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ c. milk (I use a mixture of goat milk and almond milk.  If I’m using dried cranberries, I might use half orange juice for my liquid or a Tablespoon of orange juice concentrate)

1 t. vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare a baking sheet by either lightly greasing it or place a silicone may on it.  I use a Silpat.

Whisk together flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl.  With a fork or pastry cutter, cut in butter until it resembles coarse meal. Add dried fruit.

Combine milk, egg and vanilla in a measuring cup.  Pour into bowl with dry ingredients and stir until just moistened and still pretty lumpy.  This is important.  If you stir too much, the scones will be tough.  I have a hard time with this, but I have learned.

With a large spoon, scoop out large lumps of dough and place them on the baking sheet with at least one inch between them.  I usually get about 9.  If loose bits are falling off, just push them back on their pile.  They will stick together once they are baked.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, till bottoms are starting to brown, lightly.  Let cool on a rack.  They are best eaten on the day made so I freeze leftovers.