[A bowl of pudding, a cup of herbal tea, and forget about what ails ya.]
I don’t suppose that butterscotch pudding is the first food that comes to mind when one thinks of foods that can be eaten “for what ails ya.”
Then again, it might be. . . if, when you think of butterscotch pudding, you think of Jell-O instant puddings. And when you think of Jell-O pudding, that might lead you to think of Bill Cosby, their former spokesperson, talking about puddings and kids and fun in one of his many unforgettable commercials. And then, if you happen to continue to think of Bill Cosby, that would lead you to think of all the TV shows in which Mr. Cosby has featured, such as I Spy, Fat Albert, Kids Say the Darndest Things, and the exemplar of all family sitcoms, the eponymous The Cosby Show. And when you think of The Cosby Show, you might then think of the protagonist of the show, Cliff Huxtable. Who, when you think about it, was a doctor (albeit an obstetrician) on the show. And then, once you’re thinking about doctors, you might be thinking that a doctor is a person you’d need to see, say, if you felt ill. And if you’re thinking about feeling ill, well, you might think about what you’d eat. Bringing it all together, you’d go on to think about “what you’d eat + Dr. Huxtable + Bill Cosby + pudding” sort of all mushed together in one thought. So, in the end, “food to eat for what ails ya” could, indeed, bring you to “pudding.”
[Yes, it tastes as rich and creamy as it looks. And just as butterscotchy, too.]
In my own case, this pudding is a creation I came up with as a result of a specific health condition; I’m eating it as part of my treatment. (No, really.). And whether or not you’ve got something that ails you, well, this pudding will make you feel much better. It’s creamy, it’s light, it’s velvety, and it tastes like afternoon tea and reading in front of the fireplace and knitting in a rocking chair and maybe a silky camisole thrown in as well. . . .but it’s filled with heart-healthy, nutrient-dense ingredients, too. All at 90 calories per serving.
As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, my mom died fairly young (aged 62) from complications of diabetes and heart disease. In fact, she suffered her first heart attack at age 55. Because I’m a hypochondriac health conscious, every year at my annual physical, I ask my doctor to conduct all the necessary tests to ensure that my heart is in tip-top condition. I’ve had my cholesterol, triglycerides and homocysteine levels measured regularly (all are great, thankfully). I take a treadmill stress test every other year. I sometimes undergo an EKG at my physical. And in recent years, I’ve repeatedly requested a C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test in my blood work, since it’s a good marker of inflammation in the body. Normally, my doc’s response has been, “Not necessary. Everyone has some kind of inflammation, so it doesn’t really tell us very much.”
When I started seeing my new naturopath last year, though, she wrote to my allopathic doctor and asked her to include the CRP test based on my family history. Finally, she complied. . . . and guess what? Tests revealed that my levels are elevated–gasp! I must admit this result annoyed me more than anything else. . . I mean, I eat a plant-based diet! I exercise regularly! I drink green tea ever day! My dad is 91 and in perfect health!! Why did I have to inherit my mom’s genes in that area? Et cetera, et cetera.
At the same time, I do suffer from several conditions that cause chronic inflammation. . . . definitely part of the problem. Not to mention that stress is a crucial factor that can also increase CRP levels.
[Quick--grab a big spoonful of this and lower those stress levels!]
Of course, my naturopath’s first words about this situation were, “Now, don’t get all stressed about it [she's obviously gotten to know me a bit by now]–there is a lot we can do to combat the genetic component here.” Aside from the need for stress reduction (must. get. back. to. meditation. daily.) and increasing my exercise (my regimen has definitely suffered since I pulled a tendon in my foot and haven’t been up to walking as much), she suggested taking turmeric (for general artery health and anti-inflammatory effects) as well as using lecithin (ditto). Well, I can do that. (In fact, you may have noticed that I added lecithin to my Veggie-Full Sweet Smoothie a while back).
While lecithin is a major component of most cell membranes and a key factor in heart health, it’s important to note that not all lecithin is created equal. In fact, there seems to be a bit of controversy about it on the web, with proponents on both sides of the issue. Whether pro or con, everyone seems to agree that if you do use it, you must avoid GMO soy at all costs, and that the granular form is superior. I use NOW granules.
What lecithin does in prepared or packaged food is create a rich, creamy, emulsified texture (though that type of lecithin is usually genetically modified). I tried this pudding without, and while it’s still very tasty, the lecithin is what elevated the mixure from “puree” to “pudding.” I’d highly recommend giving it a try if you can. The pudding is also super-quick to make (in fact, I daresay it takes even less time to prepare than Mr. Cosby’s instant variety).
While I may need to be more careful about what I eat from now on, it doesn’t seem so bad when I can enjoy desserts like this one, with fiber, healthy fats and even a hit of protein in every serving.
Gee, I think I’m feeling better already.
How about you? Have any of you tried lecithin? Are you in the “yea” camp, or the “nay”?
You won’t believe how rich, creamy, and pudding-like this tastes; I suspect partly because of the lecithin granules. The roasted kabocha and walnut butter combination creates a surprisingly butterscotchy flavor, too.
1 cup (240 ml) kabocha squash puree, from a baked kabocha squash*
3/4 cup (180 ml) unsweetened coconut milk beverage, or plain or vanilla almond milk (you may need less milk if using almond)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) white chia seeds
1 Tbsp (15 ml) lecithin granules
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Walco-Nut Butter (or use almond, cashew, macadamia or sunflower seed butter)**
1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon
15-25 drops plain or vanilla pure stevia liquid, or 1/8 tsp (.5 ml) pure stevia powder
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
pinch fine sea salt
Blend all ingredients in a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix (a food processor is not suitable, as the lecithin granules won’t dissolve). May be eaten immediately, but best if refrigerated at least 4 hours until very cold. Top with coconut whipped cream before serving, if desired. Makes 4 servings. Will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for 3 days.
*Note 1: I baked my squash at 400F (200C) for about an hour, then scooped out the seeds and scraped the flesh out from the skin (some people eat the kabocha skin; I’m not a fan. Though The Girls love it.) You could try this recipe with other orange squashes such as Butternut, or even sweet potatoes, but I can’t guarantee the flavor will be comparable.
**Note 2: If you use another nut butter or a seed butter, add 1 tsp (5 ml) lucuma powder or 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) butterscotch extract to achieve the same flavor.
When we were kids, the CFO and I would rejoice if we woke up on a December morning to find that the street had been coated in a blanket of snow while we’d slept. We’d squeal with delight (after the high-fives) knowing that we’d most likely be snowed in for the day (and have a reprieve from school). Looking out at the the trees and bushes dredged in soft, white powder, our imaginations transformed the front yard into the setting for any number of outdoor games, from “Living-in-an-igloo” to “I’m-going-to-infiltrate-your-fort” to “My-snow-angel-is-prettier-than-your-snow-angel.” We couldn’t help but feel elated as we wriggled into our snowsuits, boots and mittens before our mother wrapped our heads, mummy-style, in multicolor striped scarves, smeared a swath of Vaseline across our cheeks and noses, then ushered us out the door into the cold.
While we perceived snow as a novel backdrop to hours of carefree games, my mother, I realize now, wasn’t so keen. To her, snow was another hurdle in an already-harried existence, one that added time and effort to her ten-block walk to the grocery store and back (she never did learn to drive a car): a cold, wet, unwelcome crystalline substance that, packed into balls at the hands of snotty little Peter Piacek next door, could be hurled in her direction as she attempted to maneuver her way home amid the snowdrifts that settled in the tops of her anke-high boots; the erratic ruts carved out along the sidewalks (threatening to topple her along with the grocery bags); or the slush that soaked through to her toes and left grey splotches on her pantyhose once she finally got back into the house.
This morning, I woke up to discover that our street had been entirely blanketed in snow while we slept. The white stuff floated gently from the heavens, settling like the dust after a skyscraper demolition on the sidewalks and driveway. No, I did not squeal with delight. No, there were no high-fives. I blinked a few times in disbelief before a little sob caught in my throat. I couldn’t deny it any longer: winter has arrived.
I need to move to a place that has no winter.
True, there was a cute little twitter exchange among a few of us in the GTA this morning about snow and how it is, indeed, very beautiful–for the first twenty minutes or so. After that, it’s simply a collosal pain.
When the weather turns frigid, white, and bone-chilling like this, I want to hunker down. I want to curl up and squeeze myself into a very small space. (“Actually, Mum, that’s rather relaxing–I think you’d like it! You should come join me under the bed once in a while.” ) I want to be anywhere but here.
And so, I seek out comfort. Sure, I could ask the HH for a hug (and sometimes, I do). And that would comfort me–for a few seconds, at least. Comfort food, on the other hand, will remain with you for hours after the fact (or, depending on where it eventually settles, years!). And rice pudding, my friends, is the ultimate comfort food.
My mother used to make a particular style of rice pudding in the winter. First, it was baked rather than cooked on the stovetop; and second, it contained eggs and milk, which, when baked, formed a custard layer on top of the rice. I suppose the custard was meant to be stirred into the grains to form a creamy coating that blended throughout the pudding; but in our house, my mom simply cut the dessert into big blocks and placed them on plates, like pieces of cake. I used to scrape off the custard and leave the densely packed rice behind (no, that didn’t go over too well with Mom. I think she was already in a foul mood because of those snowballs).
I decided to try my hand at a vegan version of Mom’s pudding. After all, I’d made custards with silken tofu before, right? I cooked up some rice, topped it with the blended custard mixture, and baked it. The result was almost identical to my mom’s pudding–well, the bottom, brick-hard layer, that is. Somehow, the tofu mixture dissolved into the rice, leaving no custard behind. Undaunted, I opted for custardless pudding instead. In fact, I went for a fairly non-creamy pudding entirely, switching from custard to fruit. Equally comforting, if not equally rich.
This pudding is similar to a baked oatmeal, using rice instead of oats. I grate the apple rather than cut it in chunks so that it becomes part of the pudding base, adding sweetness to the entire dish rather than offering small diced bits studded here and there. The result is a slightly less sweet, definitely less creamy version of a rice pudding, but one that is immensely comforting in its rustic wholesomeness. You’ll taste a hint of apple throughout, but I wouldn’t call this an apple-flavored pudding; rice is definitely the main attraction. I topped mine with some vegan whipped topping for richness and creaminess, which worked perfectly when stirred into the pudding base.
Earlier today, I stood before the window of my office and watched the snow continue to flutter from the sky as it filled our driveway with a thick, deep layer of silver that glimmered in the early afternoon light. It showed no sign of abating, and I knew I had perhaps an hour or more of heavy shovelling in my future if I wanted to get the car out of the driveway (or if the HH wanted to get his car back in after work).
But there was rice pudding in the refrigerator. I served up another bowlful and enjoyed it as the snow continued to accost the streets below. May as well build up my strength for the inevitable.
Because it’s not too sweet, this pudding also makes a great breakfast dish. If you wish to dress it up, add some creamy whipped topping and chopped macadamia nuts.
2 cups (480 ml) cooked brown rice (long grain or basmati are nice)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) organic cornstarch
2 cups plain or vanilla rice milk
1 large apple, peeled, cored and grated (I used golden delicious)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
20-30 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground ginger
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 325F. Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick spray or grease with coconut oil. Spread the rice evenly in the dish.
In a medium bowl, mix the cornstarch with about 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of the milk until smooth and there are no lumps. Slowly add the rest of the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine.
Pour the wet mixture over the rice in the casserole dish; cover the dish and bake 1-1/4 hours, removing the dish from the oven and stirring the pudding every 30 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is very soft. Allow to cool for 20 minutes or so before serving. Makes 4-6 servings. Will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days (I actually preferred it cold the next day).
Thanks, everyone, for your great comments on yesterday’s post! Honestly, I hadn’t thought that the “beeteroni” (thanks, Leah) was as far “out there” as it turned out to be, but am glad you liked the idea. This ACD really does spark some unusual culinary adventures!
[Quick housekeeping note before today's post: I've been working on updating the blog and finally added a "Press" page with links to the blog and cookbook, for those who are interested in such stuff (see Ricki keep interrupting the hosts on Rogers' daytime TV show!). I'll also be adding a candida-related page (with more info about my diet, treatments, resources, etc) in the next few weeks, and will be updating my blogroll. If I already read your blog and it's not on the list, or if you've got a blog that relates to one of the topics on my "Blogs I Read" page, please let me know with an email at dietdessertdogsATgmailDOTcom. Thanks!Okay, now on to the blog post. . .]
Do you love a challenge?
As a kid, I’d welcome almost any dare and embrace fresh challenges with gusto. Whenever the teacher solicited a volunteer to work out a problem on the blackboard (nerd alert! nerd alert!), I was the first to shoot my hand in the air. One time, my 3rd grade class was given a punishment to write a 200-word essay because two boys had been chattering incessantly at the back of the class (thanks, Norman and Sheldon). To eight year-old me, this presented a fun opportunity. I worked and re-worked my writing, counting articles and changing verb tenses until I achieved exactly 200 words. (Of course, my teacher didn’t notice, but at least it made the assignment more interesting). The next year, after my parents brought home a cocker spaniel, I spent every day after school with him for a month, a pile of dog biscuits by my side, enunciating an elongated “rrrrrroooolllllll” over and over ad nauseum until he finally picked up on the command (thanks, Sweeny).
Later on, once anxiety and insecurity hit in my teens and 20s, everything shifted. In those days, I preferred the anonymity of introversion, backing away from challenges as steadfastly as Salinger backed away from publicity. More than once, anxiety prevented me from accepting a promotion, leaping at an opportunity, or trying a new activity. Challenges passed me by like “Out of Service” subway trains gliding through the station.
And these days? Happily, I’ve settled somewhere between the two extremes (thanks, therapy).
So when I received an email from Elizabeth of Don’t White Sugar Coat It telling me about her (along with 4 other bloggers’) Super Breakfast Bowl Challenge, I knew I had to join in. The challenge asks you to use one of five atypical ingredients in a breakfast dish (and we all know how much I love atypical ingredients!), then send the recipe to the group as an entry for the event (and to possibly win some prizes). This week’s ingredient is avocado.
As it turned out, I’d just had a huge glass of a new apple-based smoothie I concocted this very morning! While most smoothies contain some variation on banana and/or berries, the only fruits I’m allowed to consume at the moment (thanks, ACD) are apples, pears and berries, and berries had featured prominently in one too many breakfast drink already. So–what the heck–I threw an apple into a smoothie. And some green stuff. And ended up with a green smoothie that tastes like apple!
This baby is what Angela at Oh She Glows would call a “Green Monster” (courtesy of leafy greens and avocado). Nothing monstrous in this glass, however. It’s very creamy–velvety, even–with a slight sweetness and pronounced apple-cinnamon flavor; the greens aren’t detectable. Apples provide soluble fiber (to keep those cholesterol levels healthy), avocado contributes heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, cinnamon stabilized blood sugar levels, pumpkin seeds offer immune-boosting zinc, and green leafys add, well, pretty much everything (but mostly some great minerals). With its additional boost of protein powder, this smoothie truly is a complete meal.
If you’d like to join the challenge, head on over to Elizabeth’s blog (or any of the four others). And I’d love to hear about your favorite smoothie combinations as well–please feel free to mention them in the comments.
Apple Pie Smoothie
The ingredients in this smoothie are very flexible–liquid, you might say–so feel free to substitute your own favorite fruit or greens for those in the recipe.
1 medium apple (I like Gala, Crispin, Pink Lady), cored and cut in chunks (no need to peel if you have a strong blender)
1/3 to 1/2 of one medium cucumber, peeled and cut in chunks
large handful of spinach, kale, lettuce, or other mild leafy green
1/2 medium avocado
2 Tbsp (30 ml) raw pumpkin seeds or walnuts
1-2 tsp (5-10 ml) cinnamon, to your taste (I like a lot of cinnamon)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground ginger
10-15 drops stevia liquid or 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) agave nectar or maple syrup
1 cup (240 ml) plain or vanilla soy, almond or rice milk, very cold
1 scoop of your favorite protein powder, plain or vanilla (I used SunWarrior)
Place all ingredients in a high powered blender and blend until perfectly smooth (you can use a regular blender, but will likely have to blend in batches, or else use a bit more liquid). The smoothie will be very thick (I like to eat it with a spoon as a pseudo “pudding”), but if you like it thinner, add more milk or water until desired consistency is reached. Consume immediately. Makes one massive or two regular servings. And it really tastes like apple!
Note: made this way, the smoothie isn’t extremely cold. If you prefer a chilled smoothie, ensure that your apple and cucumber are refrigerated before using, or add a few ice cubes to the mix when blending.
Okay, I guess that the chance to win something you like–especially if it involves food you like–never becomes stale (even if the aforementioned foodstuff does). Still, with 2010 barely upon us, I’ve decided it’s time to give the giveaways a break. I love being able to supply freebies to my readers, especially when it involves foods I already like–but I don’t want the whole ”leaveacommentclickheretweetmeFBmeRTmewhydoyouwantthisprizenowpickacommentatrandom” thing to become stale. So, for now I think, it’s time to get back to the core of this (or any food-related) blog: the food!
I must admit that 2009 was a strange year for me, food-wise. Like the wallflower at the prom or Brad’s ghost in his old living room, all I could do was watch from afar (or, actually, aclose) while others indulged in some of my favorite comestibles, from chocolate to wine (ah, Shiraz, how I miss thee!), to portobellos, to peanut butter, to champagne on New Year’s (ah, Segura Viudas, how I really miss thee!). Much of this blog before last March focused on just those ingredients.
And with there being no clear end-point to the whole ACD saga, I’ve decided to proceed as if I will be on the diet indefinitely. (Audible gasps! Sounds of tsk-tsks and sympathetic clucking! Tears of pity from compassionate readers!). In the end, I think it’s better this way.
When I began this anti-candida quest, I assumed it would be for only a few weeks. The universe, clearly, had other ideas. In a way, I am grateful: as long as I’m on this diet, I’m no longer overeating, I no longer binge on chocolate, and I no longer worry about my weight. (Seriously. The current tally is 43 pounds and holding steady; two more pounds lost, and I’ll be at my initial goal weight.) I know from my response to the recent chocolate truffles I concocted–in and of themselves, perfectly acceptable, totally innocuous and stevia-sweetened–that I still have not gained control over my sweets addiction, so I’m embracing any excuse to stay away from sweeteners that spike blood sugar (even if they’re all-natural, like maple syrup or Sucanat).
And in keeping with my lighter diet, I’ve decided that 2010 will be the year to lighten up. To wit:
1) Lighten Up My Weight.Although I’ve now almost reached my goal weight, a quick calculation of my BMI places my goal weight barely within the “normal” range for such things (at 23.7). Since I’m fairly small-boned, I’d prefer to settle smack-dab in the middle range, at around 22. This would necessitate another 10 pound loss. And while I’m still not willing to count points, count calories, count carbs or follow any other type of “diet” (after all, I want to be able to follow an eating plan that I can maintain for the rest of my life), I do plan to focus a bit more on raw foods, fruit and vegetables, and a bit less on fat in my diet for a while to see what happens.
2) Lighten Up This Blog. Not to imply that I’ve been moribund or anything in this space, but I do feel as if the initially carefree, slightly irreverent posts of yore have been lacking lately. Maybe it’s my SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or remnants of the SAD (Standard American Diet) in general. Or maybe I’ve just been sad about the lingering candida. Whatever the case, it seems that humor wandered off a while ago, and must be enticed to return. And so, like Norman Cousins in his hospital bed, I’m vowoing to bring more laughter into my life. As my old high school chum John used to tell me, Don’t take take life seriously–after all, you’ll never get out alive.
Of course, illness is serious business, and I’m not suggesting that anyone be irresponsible (not a grain of sugar shall pass through my lips!)–but I’d like to learn to relax more and perhaps deal with stress and worry a bit more effectively. It makes sense that more laughter and less stress can only be a good thing, especially when study after study has demonstrated that stress itself contributes to disease. And if I haven’t earned a little whimsy at my age, when will I?
No more fretting over insignificant events for me! I mean, will the world end if the HH doesn’t mow the lawn when he says he will (or even within a week of when he says he will)? So what if our lawn resembles the “before” picture in Field of Dreams?The Girls surely won’t mind, as they enjoy gamboling and frolicking in tall grasses. Will my students evaporate if they don’t get their papers back within 3 days? (And at least I’ve never been as tardy as my former prof, Dr. E, who sometimes took six weeks to return essays to us–and when he did, they sported a single comment, sometimes only one word, at the top of the page: “Splendid!” or “Well done!” beside a letter grade. That averages out to approximately one word a day.) Similarly, will the universe implode if I’m stuck in traffic and can’t meet my friend Gemini I for lunch at precisely 12:15 PM, as agreed? Of course not (although traffic does sometimes feel like a black hole).
Wow. I feel lighter already.
3) Lighten Up Your Sweets. A more immediate way to lighten up is with this dessert. Does anyone out there remember Jello 1-2-3? Well, this mousse-like concoction reminds me of the top layer of that treat: exceptionally light and airy, yet sweet, rich, and fruity (even though it doesn’t contain any fruit to speak of, as you’ll see below). The color is vibrant and happy–light-hearted, even–and the flavor is a tantalizing combination of coconut, almond and vanilla, with an enigmatic source of sweetness blended in.
Like so many recipes on food blogs this time of year, this one possesses detoxifying properties as well, since one of its main ingredients is cooked beets (there–I’ve said it. But it doesn’t taste like beets, I promise!). Besides adding that brilliant fuchsia color and a mysterious sweetness to the dessert, beets are also great blood detoxifiers and liver toners. In addition, they’re a good source of fiber, contain cancer-fighting antioxidants, and help reduce inflammation in the body. What other dessert can boast such benefits?
So when you serve this mousse to your friends and family, don’t tell them the secret ingredient. Instead, just present them with a beautiful, fluffy, pillowy dessert. Then you can smile knowingly as you watch them gobble it up. And if they do balk at beets in a confection, well, just tell them to lighten up a little.
Boiling the beets helps to remove any trace of earthy flavor here; what remains is a vague sweetness and stunning hue. I’ve tried baking the beets instead, and while the color becomes even more intense in that case, so does the “beety” flavor; I wouldn’t advise it.
1 medium beet, peeled, diced and boiled until very soft (at least 30 minutes)
1/3 cup (55 g) raw cashews
1 cup (240 ml) full fat coconut milk
2 Tbsp (30 ml) whole chia seeds, measured first and then ground in a coffee grinder to a fine powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) pure almond extract
1/4 tsp (1 ml) coconut extract (optional)
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
15-25 drops stevia liquid, to taste (will depend on the brand)**
1 Tbsp (15 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
pinch fine sea salt
Once the beets are soft, drain them well (you can reserve the liquid for soup or other uses). Place the drained beets and remaining ingredients in a high speed blender* and blend until perfectly smooth, pushing the mousse down into the blades occasionally as necessary. Turn the mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight (refrigerating allows the cashews to absorb some of the liquid and the mousse to thicken). Spoon or pipe into serving dishes and top with coconut whipped cream, if desired. Makes 4 small or 3 large servings.
* I used a VitaMix, but I’m sure this would work in a regular blender, too, if you have patience. In a conventional blender, I’d do it this way: pour coconut milk and all other ingredients except beets and chia into the blender and blend until the mixture is smooth. Add beets and blend again until perfectly smooth; then add the chia and blend to combine. You may need to blend in smaller batches this way, and then stir the contents together in a bowl before refrigerating.
** You can use agave or maple syrup if you prefer, but make these changes: use 1/4 cup agave or maple syrup, remove about 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of the coconut milk and increase cashews to 1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp (70 g) before blending.
Although I consider myself a late bloomer in most areas of my life, there’s one event I experienced long before anyone else in my circle of family and friends: the mid-life crisis. In fact, I got mine over with in my early 20s.
I can remember many hours of beer-addled conversation with my beloved mentor in those days, asking the kinds of questions you’d expect from a jaded middle manager in his late 50s rather than a 20-something Master’s student: What is my true calling? Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life? Why are we even here? What is the sound of one hand clapping? And will I ever achieve thinner thighs?
As it turned out, dunno, no, who knows, nothing, and not likely.
Then, when I discovered holistic nutrition and began teaching it and offering cooking classes, I thought I’d solved the crisis. Until this round of the ACD, that is.
But wait! Before I continue, let me pause to issue a heartfelt “thank you” to all of you who read this blog. Thank you for tagging along on this bumpy anti-candida ride. Thank you for your supportive and helpful comments as I traverse the circuitous path toward better health. And thank you for sticking with me, even though this blog seems to have morphed from “Diet, Dessert and Dogs” to “ACD, Stevia and Dogs”–it really doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? (“Well, Mum, at least we are a consistent presence. We hate to break it to you, but most of them are actually here for us, anyway.“) I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you all.
The more I learn about candidiasis and the more I read about the condition, the more I am coming to accept that I will have to follow this diet for a much longer time than first anticipated–a year, at least, perhaps longer. While most people on the program see results and find relief within 3-6 months, there are a few of us who require longer-term dedication (I’m just lucky that way, I guess).
You see, I am what could be termed a “hard case.” A lifelong chocolate/ sugar addict, I am the gastronomic equivalent of a recidivist criminal, one requiring tough, long-term rehabilitation. A culinary kleptomaniac, a pathological liar in the larder, a cereal killer. Until I am better able to handle my confections, you need to lock up the chocolate and throw away the key.
Which brings me to my current mid-life crisis: Will I ever be able to bake again without worrying about consuming the entire recipe? Will I ever get permanent control of this horrid candida? Will I ever have thinner thighs?
For now, I suppose, it’s a moot point, as I am steadfastly following the diet as long as I still exhibit any symptoms. But it’s clear that my love for baking and desserts hasn’t abated in the least; I still crave sweets, even after all this time; and after baking up a batch of this blueberry oatmeal breakfast pudding, I was tempted to eat the entire thing in one sitting.
This is a luxuriously creamy, rich-tasting pudding, the warm berries inside baked to near-bursting. Not too sweet, it fits perfectly at the breakfast table, and would be wonderful topped with some Coconut Whipped Cream or a splash of maple syrup for dessert. Even the HH, who can eat chocolate and sugar with impunity, thoroughly enjoyed two servings after dinner the other night.
As to the Quest for Control Over Sweets, I suppose I’ll just have to keep working on it and hope that, with time, I can grow indifferent to (or, at least, in control of) sugary foods and resolve this crisis as well. For now, I’ll keep seeking healthier desserts and bake as much as I can within the restrictions of the ACD.
Oh, and keep listening for that sound of one oven mitt, clapping against the rack as it removes a hot pan of Blueberry Oatmeal Breakfast Pudding from the oven.
Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Breakfast Pudding
This dish is the result of my playing with Celine’s amazing Baked Apple Pudding recipe, which I made a couple of times and enjoyed immensely. I decided to take Celine’s suggestion and experiment with variations; because I like a slightly lighter, less dense pudding, I added more milk, subbed hazelnuts and cashews for the walnuts and threw in some blueberries.
1/2 cup (75 g) lightly toasted hazelnuts (filberts), with skin
1/2 cup (75 g) lightly toasted cashews
1/2 cup (60 g) old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
3/4 cup (180 ml) unsweetened applesauce
2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp (30 ml) agave nectar or maple syrup; or 10 drops stevia liquid
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) unsweetened, plain or vanilla soy or almond milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh or frozen blueberries (do not thaw first if frozen)
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a 4-6 cup (1-1.5 L) casserole dish.
In the bowl of a high-speed blender*, place the nuts, oats, applesauce, vanilla, agave, cinnamon and salt. Pour the milk over all and blend for about a minute, until perfectly smooth and creamy. Pour mixture into the casserole dish, then gently fold in the blueberries (scatter a few extra blueberries over the top if you like, as they won’t sink).
Bake in preheated oven for 40-50 minutes, rotating the casserole about halfway through, until the edges begin to puff and crack and the top appears dry. Allow to cool somewhat before serving; may be served warm or cold. Makes 4-6 servings. Store, covered, up to 4 days in the refrigerator. May be frozen.
*To make with a regular blender: Pour in the milk first, then add the remaining ingredients (except blueberries). You may need to blend in batches to achieve an equally smooth consistency.
Most of us are familiar with George Bernard Shaw’s dictum, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Well, of course I realized that saying was just a bunch of bunk. . . until I hit 40, that is. At that point, I realized, “Oh, woe, why did I waste my youth on being young??”
There’s no denying we live in a youth-obsessed culture, one in which the elderly are given little if any respect or recognition (though I bet that will all change once Baby Boomers reach their 70s and 80s. . . they do tend to take over everything, don’t they?).
It’s a truism to say that when a woman reaches her 40s (unless she’s a Cougar like Courtney Cox-Arquette), she becomes more or less invisible to the opposite sex. (Seriously. I’ve walked across the street from a bevy of construction workers in shorts and a T-shirt, with nary a glance. The Girls got more flirting than I did!). And why do we stuff the elderly into homes with only each other, like a clothing store full of only black socks–and no other varieties? (When I was last in Montreal, The CFO and I visited a retirement residence into which my dad is considering moving. While the place was modern, clean and provided roomy apartments, good food, and weekly entertainment, his first comment upon leaving the building was, “It’s okay. . . but they’re all so old.” This from a guy who’s 88! Truly, if I inherit even half of my dad’s health and longevity genes, I’ll be a lucky woman, indeed.)
I suppose it’s inevitable that “old” becomes synonymous with “useless” in a culture that builds obsolescence into most inventions. Last week I heard a radio interview by Jian Ghomeshi of CBC’s Q (Jian, you know that I have a massive crush on you, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was fourteen, right? And that I’m dying to be interviewed on your show, right? I’d be a terrific guest, really. I’ll even bake brownies.).
Jian interviewd Anna Jane Grossman, author of Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By. Her focus (and she’s barely reached the tail end of her twenties) was items that have already become outdated within our lifetimes. Think eight-track tapes (and, bringing up a close second, video casettes); think cursive writing (and the poor profs who have to mark hand-written exams they can’t decipher); think corner phone booths (sorry, Superman, you’ll just have to stay on Krypton, because over here, you’re out of a change room); think Mix Tapes (and the recurring pleasure you experience from seeing a friend’s handwriting on the song list–well, if you can decipher it); and, perhaps most alarming, think “looking old” (how about Melanie Griffith, Madonna, Mary Tyler Moore or Mickey Rourke? They may not look old, but they don’t exactly look human, either). In our culture, many inventions are superannuated even before some of us can learn to use them (yes, I admit, I still don’t text message).
Well, the recipe for this kugel (really a savory bread pudding) is old. Really old. And, frankly, I still adore it. It was my mom’s recipe, which she got from her mom, who got it from her mom. . . and so on.
This kugel doesn’t include any modern ingredients or preparation methods. You won’t find wasabi paste, matcha green tea powder, or pink sea salt in this baby. You won’t need a hand blender, food processor, or VitaMix to make it. It’s entirely an old-fashioned recipe.
Given my ancestors’ humble Russian beginnings, the ingredients are more reflective of what one might find in a cold-climate farm at the outset of autumn: root vegetables, bread, eggs (which I’ve omitted, of course). And yet, even without flashy ingredients, even without any spiciness or too many seasonings (except fresh dill), this kugel is delicious and remains a long-standing favorite in my home.
The pudding is moist and flavorful, firm in the middle, with low-key flecks of grated carrot, chopped celery and yellow onion. The exterior browns up to a crisp, bronzed crust (in fact, my sisters and I used to wait until Mom placed the platter of kugel on the table, hefty slices piled high, then all pounce at once to be the first to grab a corner piece, as those attained the greatest crust-to-filling ratio after baking).
The dish is quick, easy, and comforting. Great for a holiday (such as the just-passed Rosh Hashanah or the upcoming Thanksgiving) or simply a quiet meal at home. And unlike some other aspect of modern life, the final result will never go out of style.
“Mum, don’t feel bad about that lack of whistles now that you’re. . . um. . . older. I’m sure that if you walked around sans clothing like Elsie and I do, you’d get lots of attention, too.”
My Mother’s Vegetable Bread Kugel
A versatile dish that serves as a wonderful side dish, or can be wrapped and toted along for lunch the next day, eaten at room temperature.
3 Tbsp (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 large carrots, grated
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups (480 ml) vegetable broth or stock, divided
1/3-1/2 cup (80-120 ml, to your taste) fresh dill, chopped
6-8 slices heavy, dense bread of choice, preferably a bit stale (I used a quinoa/millet loaf)
1 pkg (12 ounces or 375 g) Mori-Nu firm or extra firm silken tofu (or use regular silken tofu and decrease the broth by about 1/2 cup or 120 ml)
1/4 cup (60 ml) lightly toasted cashews, or cashew butter
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely ground flax seeds
Pepper, to taste (add more salt if the broth wasn’t salty enough)
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line an 8 x 8″ (20 cm) square pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a large, heavy frypan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery and onion and sauté until onion is translucent, 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add 1 cup (240 ml) broth and the dill; cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the vegetables have taken on a golden sheen.
Meanwhile, either cut the bread into cubes or crumble in to a large bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the tofu, cashews, flax and remaining 1 cup (240 ml) broth, until very smooth and no traces of nuts are visible.
Turn the tofu mixture, along with the cooked vegetable mixture, into the bowl and stir until everything is well combined and all the bread is coated with the mixture. Smooth the top.
Bake in preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, turning once about halfway through, until edges are deep brown and crispy, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean but moist. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting into squares. Makes 9-12 servings. May be frozen.
[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).]
I had hoped to post recipes for both Easter and Passover (occurring only one day apart this year), as a way to help celebrate each. Well, even the best laid plans, as they say. . .
My attempts to perfect the Eggy Soufflé I mentioned earlier were to no avail, yielding truly abysmal results: the interior was too soggy, the crust was too hard, and the poor thing sank like the spirits of a toddler who just learned there’s no Easter Bunny. It does look good, however, so I’m going to keep at it. For the time being, though, scratch that one.
No fear, thought I, there’s still the feast of Passover–and Mock Chopped Liver!
When I was a child, my mom used to make a mock chopped liver from cooked green beans (the canned variety, which were called “French Style Green Beans,” for some reason–did they trill their Rs, or something? Grrrrrrrrrreen beans!). When I found a similar recipe featuring eggplant, I was certain I’d hit upon my holiday jackpot. I roasted the eggplant, scooped the flesh, sautéed the onion, blended the whole mess in the food processor. . . and wound up with a serviceable, if not overly flavorful, eggplant dip. No, not exactly holiday fare. And so, scratch that one, too.
While contemplating dressing The Girls in bunny ears for an Easter shot (definitely scratch that one), I suddenly remembered this magical, ridiculously easy recipe–a Flash in the Pan that I’d actually intended to blog about almost a year ago (complete with original photo). I call this “Chia Tapioca,” and it’s one of my favorite quick desserts. I could eat this pudding almost every day and never tire of it–even when I’m not on the ACD. I like it that much!
If you’re a fan of tapioca pudding, you will adore this dessert. Essentially, all you do is add a liquid to whole chia seeds, allow the mix to sit for 20-30 minutes (or more), then gobble up with a spoon. Because the chia absorbs up to five times its volume, the seeds plump and soften, creating a slightly gel-like pudding base around them. The longer the mixture sits before you eat it, the larger and softer the chia “pearls” become.
You can switch up the flavors by choosing different juices or alternative milks. For instance, the HH prefers his pudding with chocolate almond milk, while my all-time favorite variation is made with strawberry soymilk (which I’m sorely missing at the moment, as it contains sugar).
As a bonus, chia seeds provide an incredible source of Omega 3 fatty acids (as I’ve mentioned before, they’ve overtaken flax as the star in that area), they’re high in protein, and they contain a host of antioxidants. So you can preserve your heart health, decrease inflammation, promote bowel regularity and feed your brain–all while enjoying a delicious, decadent-tasting dessert!
And because chia is a gluten-free seed, it’s also acceptable for Passover. Beauty!
To everyone who’s celebrating this weekend, whether Easter, Passover, or both–enjoy your holiday!
“Elsie, did you see this pudding? I’d dress up in bunny ears for a taste of that. . .”
“Zip it, Chaser, do you want a repeat of our Christmas embarrassment? Just whine a little and look sad, and Mum will give you the pudding anyway.”
Almost Instant Chia “Tapioca” Pudding
This recipe offers the most basic version of this pudding, but variations are endless–add whipped topping, puréed pumpkin or squash, melted chocolate or chocolate chips, shredded coconut, chopped fresh fruit. . . it’s all good!
Place chia in a small bowl and add the liquid. Stir well to try to submerge most of the seeds. Allow to sit 20-30 minutes, stirring once after about 5 minutes to prevent clumping. Stir again before serving. Makes one serving.
Note: you can also mix the chia and liquid, cover and refrigerate overnight for a lovely, soft breakfast pudding the next morning.
Anti-Candida Variation: Use unsweetened almond or soy milk with 5-7 drops of stevia for sweetness.
A few of you asked for the Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe about which I posted yesterday. Since I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the pumpkin bread on its own, and I was most assuredly dissatisfied with the sweetened condensed milk (the base for the caramel sauce) on its own, I hadn’t intended to post the recipe.
But you know what they say about the sum of individual parts. . . despite the haphazard way the dish came together, it ended up being a winner, so I’ll try to reconstruct the recipe here. It was a huge hit and would make a spectacular New Year’s Eve dessert served in wine or martini glasses.
[BIG caveat: I didn't take notes while making this, so you may have to play with proportions a bit, particularly with the caramel sauce. Results may vary.]
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Warm Caramel Sauce (GF option)
With pumpkin in both the bread and the “custard” in which it bakes, this pudding is definitely rich in pumpkin. Lightly spiced, this moist bread pudding is highlighted with a rum-infused caramel sauce.
For the Bread Pudding:
1 pre-baked pumpkin quick bread, such as the one in Simple Treatsor this or this (for GF) or this (not vegan) or this (I didn’t add raisins or nuts to mine, however)
1/4 cup (60 ml.) old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick or instant)
1/2 cup (120 ml.) packed pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
1 tsp. (5 ml.) pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml.) agave nectar, light or dark
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) organic cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt
For the Caramel Sauce:
1 recipe of condensed milk (I used agave instead of sugar and almond milk instead of soy)**
about 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
about 1/4 cup coconut oil
2-4 Tbsp. (30-60 ml.) rum, if desired
pinch fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Lightly grease a nonreactive (glass or ceramic) 9-inch (22.5 cm.) square pan or soufflé dish.
Slice the bread into thick slices, about 2 inches (5 cm.) thick. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes on each side to dry out the bread somewhat (alternately, if you’ve already got stale bread–great!). Cool the bread and break it into bite-sized chunks; place in a large bowl.
In a blender, grind the oats until they are the consistency of a coarse meal. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture over the bread in the bowl, pushing the bread down with the back of a spoon so that all pieces are submerged. Allow to sit 20-30 minutes, pressing the bread back down occasionally, until the bread is completely soaked through (there may still be liquid left in the bottom of the bowl; this is fine).
When the bread is all soaked, spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, and smooth the top as best you can.
Bake in preheated oven 40-50 minutes, until puffed and browned on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out wet but clean. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm with caramel sauce, at room temperature, or cold. Makes 8-12 servings.
Follow directions for sweetened condensed milk, cooking until the milk is reduced to 1 cup. Add remaining ingredients and heat over medium-low heat until the mixture starts to bubble; then continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes until the sauce is thick and has darkened. To test if it’s ready, pour about a teaspoon of the sauce into a small, chilled bowl. If it thickens to the desired consistency, it’s ready; if it’s still too thin, cook and stir another 5-10 minutes. Pour over warm pumpkin bread pudding.
**Note: I used the condensed milk as the base for caramel sauce because I’d already made it for another purpose, and wasn’t happy with the result for that recipe. . . so decided to turn it into caramel sauce. Of course, you could just use ready-made sauce, or any other recipe for caramel sauce if you prefer. [UPDATE, November 2011: it appears that the original recipe I linked to is no longer available, so I've linked to a recent recipe I found on the internet. Worth a try!].
Both our dogs contain a generous sprinkling of Border Collie, a breed known for its patience. As a working breed, BCs were meant to guard sheep all day; and since sheep are not exactly what you’d call wild and crazy guys, the BCs must be willing to sit still for a very long time. Moreover, they exhibit what’s known as the ”Border Collie Stare”–that steely gaze that bores right through you and makes even the most obstreperous mutton acquiesce to their wishes.
I’ve been the object of that stare, more times than I can tell you. You see, the house we live in is an ”open concept” design, so the living room opens on to the kitchen, which opens on to the rest of the house. After many hours of sweat (mine) and a lot of practise (theirs), I’ve trained The Girls to ”stay out of the kitchen” on command. Basically, this means they are not allowed to put paws to tile (but wood or carpet–the floor coverings of the living room–are acceptable) while I’m cooking.
Chaser learned fairly quickly by emulating Elsie that, if Mum’s cooking, it’s time to “take up the position.” Situated at the border between living room and kitchen, they are willing to lie for hours–literally–until I finally finish my culinary experiments and reward them with a morsel of whatever I’m cooking, or a treat, depending on what’s in my pot or pan (no chocolate or onions, obviously, for them). Now, that’s what I call patience.
And what has all this talk of breeds and patience to do with food? Well, when I started my Week of Chocolate Asceticism, I knew it would take no time before I craved something sweet and soothing. And since I’ve also vowed to avoid added sweeteners–or pretty much anything baked or sweet–my options are severely limited. But then I remembered: Raw Pudding! Cashews and carob and dates–oh, my!! And for this recipe, despite its matchless simplicity (only 3 ingredients), patience is definitely required. The Girls, however, never mind waiting for this one. (“Oooh, Mum, is this that date and carob thing you make?? We love that thing!! Can we have some?? When will it be ready? Now? WHEN???”)
Even though my One True Love will always be chocolate, I am a big fan of carob as well. And I have nothing but admiration for fellow bloggers like Deb at Altered Plates and Veggie Girl, who regularly choose to bake with carob instead of chocolate. In fact, carob even made a chance appearance this week over at another blog, Have Cake, Will Travel. So I felt it only fitting that I grace the blog with Raw Carob Cashew Pudding. (“Oh, it IS that carob-date thing you make! Is it ready yet, Mum? Can we have some? When??”).
I was first introduced to carob years ago when I was a Teaching Assistant, at a university English Department party. Another one of the TAs, a quintessential Child of the ’60s, brought along two hippy-dippy dishes, quinoa salad and brownies made with carob. She was one of those graceful, ethereal women who seems to glide effortlessly just above the ground as she moves, skirts undulating softly behind her (quite a feat, actually, since she was wearing a miniskirt, as I recall).
Ms. Flower Child also spoke with the lilting, velvety voice of FM radio, the kind of voice that causes you to crane your neck and focus intently on her lips so you won’t have to repeat, ”Pardon?” after every sentence she utters. So when I asked about the recipe for the brownies, and what was in them, I never quite caught the entire answer. All I knew was that they tasted good, and I liked this newfangled ingredient, and I’d be using it again.
I ate quite a bit of carob over a two-year span several years ago, when I followed an ultra-strict, sweetener and fruit-restricted diet. I discovered that carob is naturally sweet (it’s also low in fat and surprisingly high in calcium). At a local organic grocery store, I happened upon whole, dried carob pods. Resembling brown pea pods, they conceal diamond-hard (inedible) carob seeds inside. But if you gently warm the whole pods in the oven for about 5 minutes, they soften, become pliant and chewy, almost like fruit leather. Delicious!
So, back to the pudding (see, I told you you’d need patience for this recipe). This is actually a variation on a simple cashew cream, a vegan cream substitute that’s perfect over pies, cookies, fruit, or other sweets. I’ve taken the concept just a step further, using raw cashews (which produce a creamier product) as well as dates for sweetness, carob, and optional vanilla. Three main ingredients–four if you add the vanilla–and the result is so rich and creamy, you’d swear it took hours to make. (Oh, wait. It sort of does take hours to make–but only the soaking part).
Oh, and The Girls like it, too. (“Okay, so does that mean we can have some now? Can we? How about now? MUM??”)
Raw Carob-Cashew Pudding or Mousse
The hardest part of this recipe is having enough patience to blend the mixture thoroughly, until it’s sufficiently smooth and creamy. When I’m feel that gnawing impulse for something sweet, I’m tempted to dig in early, but I’m always sorry if I do. So don’t skimp on the blender time with this recipe–you’ll be rewarded with a truly rich and celestial pudding.
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in room-temperature water overnight (if soaking for more than 10 hours, place in the refrigerator)
12-14 dried dates, soaked in room temperature water overnight (if soaking for more than 10 hours, place in the refrigerator)
2 tsp. carob powder
water or soymilk, as needed
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, optional
After the nuts and dates have soaked for at least 6 hours, drain the nuts but not the dates. Pour the cashews, dates and soaking water, and carob into a blender. Blend over low speed until combined.
If the mixture seems too thick to blend, you can either blend smaller batches or add more liquid, a small amount at a time, to encourage the mixture to whirl round. Stop every few seconds and scrape down the sides, then blend again, continuing to blend at progressively higher speeds, until you have a perfectly smooth and creamy pudding. This may take 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately, a food processor isn’t going to get the mixture quite smooth enough, so you’re just going to have to wait.
Once smooth, add vanilla if desired and whir just to blend. Makes 2-4 servings, depending on your self restraint. Any leftovers can keep, refrigerated, up to 3 days (it will thicken more once kept in the fridge).
[The Girls, finally rewarded for their patience.]
WOCA Update: Well, it appears the crisis has passed, and I am happy to say that I haven’t succumbed to the chocolate cravings. Despite my (attempt at a ) humorous spin on this issue, I’d like to clarify: I truly believe that chocolate addiction can be just as tenacious as addiction to cigarettes or heroin (actually, I once read that cigarettes are MORE addictive than heroin!–but that has nothing to do with chocolate). So even though I joke about it, I really do consider this to be a very serious problem, and one that far too many people have trouble dealing with.
That said, I want to send out a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who left words of support or encouragement here–it really does help! And knowing that I’ll have to write about it on the blog (well, okay, technically I don’t HAVE to, but I would) if I slip has actually kept me on the WOCA straight and narrow these past few days. Bloggers are awesome!
Somewhere around the first week of December (either that or the 3rd day there’s snow on the ground, whichever comes first), I decide I’ve had enough of winter. Bah! Who needs lawns covered in a glistening, pristine blanket of white? Who needs billowy undulations of snow-covered hills along the roadside? Who needs that dainty spray of unique, lacy flakes as they gently descend from the heavens? Not I!
Despite all its awe-inspiring beauty, winter also brings with it a whole host of evils: treacherous patches of “black ice” concealed beneath a thin veneer of fresh white powder; knee-high snowdrifts that are agony to traverse in my ponderous, barely-warm-enough galoshes; wooly scarves pulled high over the nose (must protect my delicate proboscis from all that cold air whipping around, after all), causing impaired vision as my glasses fog up from the vapour of my heaving breath; and The Ordeal of the Walk, with its multiple layers of clothing, toque pulled low on the forehead, aforementioned scarf, earmuffs, double-layered gloves, and two wacky canines, each hauling on a leash in an attempt to leap and gambol, totally oblivious to the fact that my being upright is only a temporary state in this dreadful weather.
Right. For me, winter is hellish. The only things that make it even barely tolerable are two major comforts: number one, my friend Gemini I’s country “cottage,” (a palatial residence that offers far more amenities and techno-toys than the city abode in which I normally dwell), and number two, comfort food.
Like most people, when I think ”comfort foods,” what comes to mind are those dishes that populated my childhood as well as those I currently seek out when feeling blue. These fall into two basic categories as well: sweet, and savory. In addition, my favored comfort foods tend to be both soft and warm. The squishier, the better. And if they can be cooked twice as long as the recipe suggests, well, we’ve hit the jackpot.
Many of the savory dishes I used to eat are no longer welcome in my diet, but they are nonetheless ones that conjure fond memories (and ones my mother used to cook regularly): salmon patties doused in ketchup; thick and hearty potato soup with corn kernels; baked beans (the canned variety), occasionally gussied up with maple syrup or hotdogs; or overcooked hamburgers alongside mashed potatoes and green beans.
Of course, the “sweet”category still reigns during the frigid winter months: slow cooked, (or better yet, baked) oatmeal and raisins (though I now consume the steel-cut variety instead of the instant packets we had back then); warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies; sticky, just-out-of-the-oven, tender and delicate cinnamon rolls; and the Mother of All Comfort Foods: rice pudding.
When my sisters and I were kids, the rice pudding my mother made most often was a baked version poured raw into a casserole dish and left in the oven for an hour. What was supposed to end up as a homogenous mixture of custard and grains inevitably turned out as a hardened mass of uncooked rice settled below a thicker layer of eggy custard, which my sisters and I would scrape off without touching the grains. Our preferred rice pudding in those days was the canned variety, an overly sweet concoction of nearly-disintegrated rice in a suspension of various chemical compounds that approximated a pudding-like consistency. Yum.
These days, when I think of rice pudding, I aim for something a little more sophisticated; and I no longer eat polished white rice in any case. So imagine my delight when I discovered a recipe for Brown Basmati Pudding, uniting brown basmati rice, fragrant spices and coconut milk, in Audrey Alsterberg and Wanda Urbanowicz’s ReBar: Modern Food Cook Book. The perfect combination of urbanity and unpretentious comfort, this pudding seemed the ideal contribution to the Monthly Mingle hosted by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey?. The theme this month? Comfort Foods.
The final product was, after all, divine, and very grown-up. With a smooth, creamy base cradling tender yet solid grains of rice, mingled with plump, juicy raisins, the pudding was warmed throughout by the subtle interweaving of cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Rich, sweet, soothing–warm or cold, this rice pudding is the perfect antidote to winter. In fact, it almost makes the ice and snow bearable.
Brown Basmati Pudding with Coconut, Cardamom and Ginger (from ReBar Modern Food Cook Book)
Although I followed the recipe fairly closely, I did substitute ground spices for the cardamom and cinnamon, because I like my spices cooked right into my pudding. I used 1/8-1/4 tsp. cardamom and about 2 tsp. cinnamon.
1 cup (240 ml.) brown basmati rice
2 cups (480 ml.) water
1 cup (240 ml.) soy or rice milk (I used rice)
1/2 tsp. salt
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cardamom pods, crushed
3-inch long cinnamon stick
2 oz. (60 g.) brown sugar (I used maple syrup)
1 can coconut milk
Rinse the basmati and place in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add water, rice milk, salt, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and cover, then simmer for 45 minutes.
Stir in the sweetener and coconut milk and continue to simmer the rice without a lid over low heat. Cook until the liquid evaporates and the pudding thickens (about 30 minutes). Remove the ginger slices, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
The pudding thickens up even more as it cools, so you can stop cooking just before you think it’s thick enough.