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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Orthorexia


A couple of weeks ago, I bumped into another mom from my children's school at the self-serve frozen yogurt store. She told me she thought that I would be the kind of person who wouldn't allow my kids to eat that stuff nor that I would eat it myself.
I must confess that, as I wrote before, when I see my kids piling up on sprinkles, gummy bears, and the rest of the fakeys (that would be everything flavored and colored synthetically) in the 5-gallon capacity bowl the store offers as their "small" cup version, I do feel like making a crazy scene in 16 handles, but instead, I just ask my son and daughter as nicely as I can (which usually is yelling) to please moderate themselves. And I join them in the treat eating experience, although I do tend to end up with a less colorful frozen dessert. 
I feel that in my own baking and cooking, I can never go back completely to the processed, super sweetened, impossible-to-find-in-nature ingredients without feeling I'm betraying a part of me. I always keep Michael Pollan's Food Rules   in mind, and I always want to be able to enjoy the food I eat (which Pollan actually encourages us to do). However, I would be lying if I said that it's always easy.
Eating well requires a very delicate emotional balance, some knowledge of ingredients, food preparation and nutrition (although too much knowledge might spoil the appetite too!), and above all, to eat in a healthy way, there should be lots of pleasure derived from enjoying each bite of delicious food, not worrying about eating more or less of it, but just getting the intense and conscious satisfaction of the bite that is been chewed at that exact moment.
Balance...it's very easy to say it but so hard to achieve.
We should care but not too much. How much is still healthy? Even trying to be the healthiest eater becomes unhealthy. Orthorexia, the obsession of eating only what are considered healthy foods is a controversial psychological diagnosis, that does affect many of us, and can become an eating disorder. Scientific research and food and drug marketing make it even more complicated by making new "discoveries" every year, trying to find the ultimate culprit for our unhealthy eating. The most dangerous food to eat today, might be the healthiest in the next decade, and we can never keep up. If we do, we risk becoming orthorexics...
Balance...Some days I feel I achieve it and some others I can't, but by letting my children eat sprinkles and candy once in a while (which is hard to define as well) I pretend to myself to be chill.
And I'm soooooo chilled, that my daughter asked me to have a Costco sheet cake with a rainbow for her birthday. My heart sank! First of all: how come she asks me, a professional baker to buy her a pre-made cake? (by the way, I've heard the cake is pretty yummy).
Then, why would she want what's in that mass produced cake full of.....stuff?
You might think that I rethought all my balance, anti-orthorexia theories and gave in buying her the Costco shortening yellow #5 and red #27 thing with her name on it just to keep her emotions in balance.
Well, no. I can't be insulted that way! I went ahead and baked her a cake and decorated it with shimmery things that are labeled as "non-toxic" but that aren't really considered "edible." I sprayed the sugar-laden fondant with cough-inducing edible paint in 6 colors. I went all the way!
However, the cake inside its fondant shell was made with whole spelt flower, organic sugar and flax seeds. She loved her cake, inside and out. I felt I had been "flexible" and "balanced" and just a bit pathetic.

However, I do hope that in the future, whenever she's looking for comfort for a broken heart, a bad grade or a difficult day, she comes to me and my cupcakes instead of going to Harlem and entering Costco to order a sheet cake with a bright rainbow on top. I don't want her to eat it all by herself on the Megastore's floor until she feels full of fake fulfillment. I want to think I could offer her that fulfillment with hugs, kisses, words of wisdom (accoring to me, of course), a bit of nagging, I-told-you-so-s and cupcakes! 

Here's my recipe for all-purpose cake or cupcakes (I would say "vanilla cake", but you don't really have to add any vanilla to it). It's a moist, simple, crowd pleasing and one-bowl recipe (if you use a kitchen scale!)

ALL-PURPOSE CAKE
  • Vegan, nut, dairy, egg, soy, wheat free
  • Super ingredients: whole spelt flour, flax meal

INGREDIENTS
11 ounces whole spelt flour
6 ounces organic sugar
1 tablespoon potato flour
1 tablespoon flax meal
2 1/2 teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
14 ounces unsweetened rice milk (or the milk of your choice if there aren't any allergies)
3 ounces mild extra virgin olive oil, plus more for pan

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 F.
If making cupcakes, place paper liners in a muffin tin. If making a cake, line the bottom of an 8, 9 or 10-inch round cake pan with parchment and oil the sides.

In a large bowl whisk flour, sugar, potato flour, flax meal, baking powder and salt. Add rice milk and oil whisking until it is all mixed, and only a few small lumps are visible. The batter will be loose. Don't overmix or the cake might be tough!


Pour or ladle (we use this very cool contraption) the batter into the prepared pan and bake cupcakes for about 20 minutes, check cakes after 30 minutes.


Baking time will depend on the size of the pan you are using. To test cake for doness, press lightly the cake in the center and if it springs back, it's ready. If it stays dented, it will need more time in the oven.

Let cook and enjoy with icing, jam or plain.
NOTE: if you want, you can add nuts, seeds or fruit pieces into the batter right after the liquid ingredients.
Enjoy!

Makes 1 cake or 12 to 15 cupcakes


Monday, November 21, 2011

Gerta's brother's birth announcement

I'm pleased to share with you, that our dear purple ice cream maker Gerta, just had a baby brother. At about 2 lbs, 13-inches and $40.00, Fred--our new popcorn air popper--has been keeping the family busy these days...

I never thought I would purchase a machine like those ever in my life. I'm not really a gadget girl. I'm very old fashioned when it comes to specialized cooking utensils. No egg slicers, mushroom cleaners or apple dividers in my kitchen drawers. No room.
But I have to admit that I'm very in to Gerta and Fred Cuisinart now--although there's still no room--and I have wonderful hopes for them in the future...
My kids adore Fred and my daughter feels incredibly proud of being able to make popcorn all by herself (don't call family services, I do keep an eye on her), and my husband and son LOVE eating it while watching Dinosaur Train for the 100th time.
We had been happily snacking on popcorn for the last couple of months. It's a relatively easy, healthy and friendly food to satisfy the snacking urge that for some reason is highly contagious in this Nation (I guess it's my kids' favorite "meal").
I would pop it myself from organic corn (there's a controversy about the health risks of eating GMO corn, so I just rather play it safe) and olive oil. It usually resulted in a burnt first batch of corn kernels, a lot of time spent in preparation, too much oil added and quite a mess. Or I would buy it already made, but wasn't happy with the kind of oil or the amount of salt used, and it's relatively expensive.
I'd also been developing new fall recipes for Three Tablespoons  and was inspired by my daughter's recent discovery and love-at-first-bite of Cracker Jacks. I thought there could definitely be some healthier versions of the baseball game classic and I've been working at it baking using batches and batches of popcorn every day. In summary, Fred has been busy at work.

Without a doubt, there's something fascinating about popcorn. The pop sound and the magic-trick effect of grains popping into white little flower-looking crunchy mild things is fun and a bit hypnotizing. My daughter says they look like little eggs hatching into tiny white birds. Curiously, in Mexico, we call popcorn "palomitas," which means "little doves." I guess she wasn't the first one to think that way! Another name for popcorn in Spanish is "rosetas de maiz," which means "corn rosettes," and I agree with the poetic comparison.

When air popped, popcorn is rich is fiber, low in fat, has some protein and is a whole grain that possesses a nice amount of polyphenols (antioxidants). It's gluten free and it's neutral flavor and fun consistency are great assets. It can go sweet, salty, spicy, hot, and/or sour with amazing versatility.

The following is a recipe to have around for Thanksgiving. It can be served with the hors d'oeuvres, during dessert or in small favor bags accompanying the guests back to their homes with a bit of Thanksgiving lingering in the spice mix.

PIE SPICE POPCORN
  • Vegan, dairy, egg, nut, gluten and soy free
  • Super ingredients: spices and organic corn
INGREDIENTS

   3 oz. (1/2 cup) organic popcorn, unpopped
   1.5 oz. (3 Tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
   3/4 teaspoon pure maple syrup
   1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
   1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
   1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
   1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
   1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
   1/8 teaspoon sea salt

METHOD
Pop the popcorn according to the directions in the package. Air popping it, if possible.

In a small bowl or cup mix the olive oil, maple syrup, vanilla and all the spices.


Drizzle spiced oil on popcorn and mix well but gently.

Enjoy!

Makes about 6 cups.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The fall of spices

Since I grew up in a place were it never snowed during the winter, and the heat was never unbearable in the summer, I also thought the beautiful shades of autumn only existed in books. And here I am now in New York City, right in the middle of November finding yellow, brown, orange, and red leaves all over the sidewalk, and when I look up, I see the trees balding. There's a crispy chill on the air, but the sun is still warming up our faces.
I feel like sipping spiced hot apple cider all day long.
When I lived in Mexico, I never found myself craving any specific foods due to the weather, and here, where the seasons are so clearly defined, so are the things I want to eat. I need sweets, chocolate, tea, molasses, sweet potatoes, soups, anything robust, steamy and fragrant, sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or ginger. 
There's something innately warming in those spices. Their flavors and their scents are very comforting. Just like a thick wool sweater, an old pair of slippers or a "bear" hug.

A spice is technically any seasoning derived from a bark, bud, fruit, root, seed or stem of a plant or tree (herbs are the ones obtained from the leaves).
Spices have been coveted since the beginning of history. They are often mentioned in the the Old Testament. They were used in antiquity to crown emperors, make perfumes, heal sickness, and to perform religious rituals. The spice trade was perhaps one of the first global activities in the world when the Arabs controlled the commercialization of those rare seasonings and brought them all the way from the Orient and India. In the Middle Ages they were such precious commodities, that they lead to the discovery of the New World.
Now, we can just buy them with a click of a button (some of my favorite sites are: http://wholespice.com/ , http://www.penzeys.com/ or http://kalustyans.com/**) and even if they are so easy to get, we still leave them abandoned and forgotten in an obscure corner of the kitchen counter. A tradition that we should avoid now for many reasons:
1. Food tastes much happier and interesting with them on.
2. Everything smells delicious when they are used.
3. They are versatile, intense and have no fat, cholesterol, sugar nor sodium.
4. The can be mixed and matched to taste
5. Despite not even being awarded the requirement of nutrition information labels from the FDA, spices are compressed forms of nutrients, think of them as the USB drives of the food world. They are highly concentrated in antioxidants and other chemicals that help fight disease and inflammation. Just as an example, cinnamon helps control blood sugar levels and turmeric is thought to help prevent cancer and depression. Many spices can help boost immunity and work as antiseptics, and can help protect ourselves against chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.Not convinced yet? Some act as aphrodisiacs!

A pinch goes a long way. From breakfast to dinner, throw some allspice, annato (awsome in poultry), cardamom, carob, celery seed, chile, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, hyssop, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, peppers, saffron, sumac, turmeric, vanilla, and/or wasabe onto any dish. It's worth experimenting!
Just a note: freshly ground spices are the best (that's why I love Wholespice.com), and if possible, keep them frozen to preserve of their nutritional properties for longer periods.

SPICED GRANOLA
This is a great breakfast or snack and is charged with healthy ingredients and lots of texture, fiber, protein, complex carbs, omegas and antioxidants. Of course, I'm recycling last week's post using those delicious green lentils. Add it to yogurt, the milk of your choice and/or fresh fruit or just much directly from the bowl.

INGREDIENTS
  • Vegan (if made with maple syrup)
  • Dairy, gluten free (if made with gf rolled oats), soy, nut (if only seeds are used), and egg free
  • Super ingredients: Oats, green lentils, buckwheat, chia, cinnamon, mesquite flour, turmeric, dried berries, seeds and/or nuts

1 cup rolled oats (gf if needed)
3/4 cup green lentils, cooked
1/4 cup creamy buckwheat or quinoa flakes
1/4 cup pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds, or sliced almonds or pecans
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
2 tablespoons puffed amaranth or puffed millet
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons mesquite flour
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup dried fruit (I used cranberries and cherries, but dates, apricots, raisins pair nicely too)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl mix oats, cooked lentils, buckwheat, seeds, nuts (if using), amaranth, olive oil, maple syrup, amaranth, cinnamon, mesquite, turmeric, and sea salt. Stir well, making sure everything is well combined. Spread mix in an even layer all over the cookie sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes, until oats are lightly colored. Remove from oven and let cool a couple of minutes. Add the dried fruits and mix.
Serve or store in an airtight container.




**If you are concerned about kosher certification, wholespice.com's products are under supervision, and here's a link to a list of dried spices that don't need official certification: http://www.crcweb.org/spice_list.php

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My new favorite fast food

The iron-y of it all is that at the end of last week I went to get my annual physical and when the lab results came, I found out that even though I'm not anemic, I do have iron deficiency. Well... at least I still have some iron bark from last week's post in the freezer!
It's funny how life works and I wonder if we somehow invoke things to happen or if it's just chance.
I came up with the bark recipe, because a friend of mine mentioned that she and her kids tend to be anemic, and without knowing then, I was working on something that I would also need.
Have you ever thought of a person and a bit later you bump into him/her?
You say someone's name and the phone rings and it's that person calling you?
Does the most random thing happen to you twice in the same week? I guess this bark/iron thing was one of those...

So I've been thinking of more ways to incorporate iron into my diet that are quick and easy to make, tasty and healthy.

The other morning at Fairway market (that's definitely not one of those random things that happen to me twice in the same week, but something that happens to me every day, as basically, since the store opened, I turned into part of my daily routine to pay a visit!) I found these packages of organic sprouted green lentils.

I became a fan after the 5 minutes it took me to make them and the 5 minutes it took my kids to eat them (well, yes, I told my son that they were Batman's favorite food, but they might as well be!). They are rich in protein, fiber, iron and phytonutrients, while they are very low in fat.
Sprouting, which is the process of germination of seeds, grains or legumes by soaking, rinsing and draining; activates enzymes naturally present in those seeds or grains. These enzymes pre-digest or breakdown complex compounds, also present in those seeds, into a more simple form, that is easier for us consuming the sprouted beans, to absorb. Basically, sprouting makes the nutrients present, more available.
A downside to sprouting is that it takes a couple of days and involves some commitment (it's kind of like taking care of a pet) and since time is such a precious commodity, I'm a natural plant killer and don't do well with pets,I firmly believe that this truRoots brand makes the best ever fast food on the Planet (no endorsement deals here, although I wish there were....).

IRON-Y SALAD
I'll try to eat this for lunch as often as I can. The amounts of everything are basically to taste and feel free to add dried fruit, a tiny bit of honey, some nuts, pomegranate seeds or anything you want. But please do use the citrus in the recipe, as again, just as I mentioned in last post, vitamin C makes iron from vegetables sources easier to absorb, and the herbes de Provence are loaded with iron, so don't skip those either. The recipe can be doubled or tripled.
  • Vegan
  • Gluten, nut, dairy, egg, soy, free
  • Super ingredients: sprouted green lentils, spinach, clementines, lemon, dried herbs

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup (3 ounces) raw sprouted green lentils
2 cups (2 1/2 ounces) baby spinach (I used pre-washed)
2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
fresh juice of 2 clementines or 1 Mandarin orange
fresh juice of half lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A quick splash of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD
In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and let sit for 2 more minutes. Drain and let cool while you assemble the rest of the salad.
Plate the spinach with the seeds. Squeeze lemon and clementine juice, sprinkle herbes de Provence, season with salt and pepper. Add lentils, olive oil and vinegar. Mix so the whole salad is dressed and enjoy.
Tah-dah!!!

Serves 1
Takes less than 10 minutes to make!