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On Life As A Picky Foodie

July 1st, 2012: What My Two-Year-Old Has Taught Me (amongst other things)

Posted by: Gabriela Garay

There are specific stages in the verbal development of a child.  First they babble, then they speak in such a way that only their parents and closest caregivers understand.  Lastly, the words they say are comprehensible to all.  

Vida Lev has started speaking.  First it was a word here and there.  Then it was short sentences explaining what she sees, needs, hears.  Most of it is factual.  "Arms." "Toes." "Goat." Then "Mama arms." "Blue toes." "Baah, goat."  

"Happy" is the only word she uses sparingly.  It is also the only word she has to describe a feeling.  For the rest, she relies on other modes of communication to explain what she is going through emotionally.  

"Vida, happy." she says.  

"Mamma, happy," she points at my tea.

"Pappa, root beer."

I feel like we spend so much time talking about emotions.  Our joys, our fears, our sadnesses, our triumphs.  When I look at my little girl, and all she feels without needing to explain it in words, it makes me wonder whether talking about it all has a bit of a dulling effect.

Vida Lev is happy.  She is sad.  She cries with her heart, she laughs with her soul.  DW and I?  We talk it out.  So many words, so many explanations, so many doubts and "rationalisations"

Where are the actual feelings?  

Maybe, just maybe, our little one is on to something...

Speaking of happiness, I have made these little squares about 25 times since I stumbled on the recipe a few weeks ago.  They simply can not stay put -- in fact the neighbour's babysitter (who has become a friend), plans playdates for the sole purpose of having her some...  

If you're looking for the easiest, most delicious sweet treat to share, look no further.  

Happy Summer!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

(adapted from Julie Morris' no-bake brownies*)

1 cup walnuts

1 cup pitted medjool dates

1/2 cup raw cacao powder (if you don't have access to raw, go for 100%, unsweetened cacao)

pinch salt (optional, add only if your peanut butter is unsalted)

3 Tablespooons natural crunchy peanut butter** -- lightly salted or unsalted 

Instructions:

Combine the walnuts, dates, cacao powder and salt, if using, in the food processor.  

Process until the mixture becomes smooth and almost oily.  Then pulse in the peanut butter.

Press down into a small cake pan and freeze for at least 40 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve.  Alternately, you can store these guys in an airtight container the freezer though I can't tell you for how long -- they seem to disappear quite quickly!     

*forgive me, other than having no time to update this site, I have even less time to come up with my own recipes from scratch.  Luckily the world-wide-web is full of amazing, interesting, inspiring ideas.   

** in keeping with general Picky Foodie guidelines, please stick to peanut butter that has only one ingredient: peanuts.


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May 20th, 2012: Been So Long, I Almost Forgot (and links to the recipes I promised some people today)

Posted by: Gabriela Garay

Well, not really.  Forget.  That is.  On the contrary, there is this niggling voice in the back of my head that keeps saying "Blog.  Blog.  You need to blog."  I go about my days and my evenings in the hopes of finding a little moment.  But it doesn't seem to appear.  

Today was my daughter's second birthday.  

Last night, when we asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she thought about it.  

"Umm," she said pressing her lips together, "puddles."

The sun was shining, so we have promised her puddles for another day.  Instead, we said, would she like a party. (luckily, she nodded at this proposal)

We decided to put her candles in some watermelon (or "avavava" as she calls it) instead of cake.  My cakes are different.  My cakes are funny.  They have no flour in them, no sugar, no eggs.  So I preferred to put them out with less ceremony in case the heat got to them before we remembered the candles.  Also, Vida Lev doesn't really like cake.  

Once in a while, she'll have "Pooding" -- awesome banana soft serve as per Choosing Raw (seriously, Gena wasn't kidding when she wrote "this post will change your life") -- and tons of fruit.  But that's about it when it comes to sweet things.  

DW and I discussed it and figured why start her early on a path she isn't the least bit interested in?  Which birthday Gods decreed that it shall henceforth be so?

However, when an eight-year-old friend saw this, he was quite taken aback.  "But you have to do it in the cake!" he cried.

"Why?" I asked

"Because."  He said.

I could write so much about that little tiny interaction.  But I won't.  Not tonight.  Tonight I will savour our wonderful afternoon in the sun with old friends and new friends in celebration of the most magical being I have ever encountered. 

The menu was, as one guest put it, "healthy."  I don't know, to me, it was just a picnic, filled with lovely things:

watermelon and grapes

Guacamole and blue corn chips

baby carrots and Faux Gras, kindly donated by Ms. Regal Vegan.

and a couple of Picky Foodie favourite sweet treats: raw carrot cake and Coconut Royals

And "Bonoons" (Balloons).  And "Wolly Pollies" (rolling down grassy hills).  And dancing just because we feel like it.    

As a sweet post script, I loved that we couldn't find anyone with matches to light the candles in the watermelon.  Because nobody smokes anymore, ha ha! (and if you remember my pack-and-a-half-a-day-habit, you've probably known me for close to a decade at this point) 

Happy Birthday, mi Vida. Thank you for blessing us every day.  

Comments
Móna Wise commented on 21-May-2012 07:25 AM
Happy birthday gorgeous Vida Lev. Sounds like you had a beautiful day and do not worry about the blog. These years with the little ones fly by so fast that there will be plenty of time to blog in a year or two x Treasure every second x

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September 27th, 2011: A Pop-Up Restaurant that is Picky Foodie friendly (and friendly in general)

Posted by: Gabriela Garay

For the past while, I’ve been reading (and drooling) about pop-up restaurants without being able to partake in this latest foodie fashion.  I cannot think of a less pleasant phone call to make than ringing a four-day passion project to ask whether they can do me a gluten-, dairy-, bla bla bla, everything-free version of whatever it is they have spent months agonizing over.  Not really my idea of a good time – not for them, not for me.

Until this week.  Thanks to the lovely Molly from The Particular Kitchen – my twitter friend who magically transformed into real-life bud – I found out about this place: Tolerance Restaurant 

Vegan and gluten-free – in London (England) -- huh?  Huh?  WHAAAAAT?

The last time I got this excited about food in London, it was served on a bus and the view was of hookers. (long story)

DW and I had a date-night planned for Friday, and seeing as cinema times are not really geared towards co-sleeping attachment-parenting Ima and Pappa of a toddler, we decided to check the place out.

Let me start with a warning: there are no pictures of the food.  I wanted to enjoy, relax and eat without stressing out about whether I had a good enough shot. 

We called to ensure that I could, in fact, eat their food and got a resounding yes.  Even when I called again, early Friday morning – the day of said dinner – to make sure there was no dreaded agave, the friendly Natalie who was to be our waitress, patiently and kindly liased with the chef to assure me.  Raw avocado chocolate mousse it was then!

DW and I sauntered through the streets of North London, holding hands, feeling strangely free and yet as if we’d – as DW said – “left a part of our hearts back home.”  It’s difficult to leave Vida Lev.  And wonderful to be alone with my husband. 

Like good parents on a ticking clock, we arrived early and chatted to the two women in charge – one of whom was the lovely Natalie from earlier.  The other was her equally gorgeous sister.  They made us feel welcome and comfortable, a detail that always has huge ramifications on my dinner – the attitude of restaurant staff is more often than not, reflected in the food, don’t you think?  Their charm lasted throughout the meal.  Really, truly, I could have sat there for hours.  I loved the décor, the lighting, the whole ambiance was wonderful. 


And now to the food.  This is trickier.  Let me start by saying that I did very much enjoy it.  The ingredients were fresh, and clearly a lot of love and thought had gone into each dish. 

Simply put, I’d give the Chef a 10 for effort.  I could tell he worked his ass off to provide a range of options showcasing his different talents as well as catering to us “healthy” “vegan” types.  Each course offered both raw and cooked options -- earthy roots, refreshing salads, great grains and healthy fats. 

For all three – the starters, mains and desserts -- DW and I shared a cooked dish and a raw one.  The cooked dishes were without a doubt superior to the raw though I feel a little guilty saying this as I’m so grateful that there was raw food to begin with!

Our starters were a salad with mandolin-thin sliced sweet potato and olive and tomato tapenade – richly flavoured, a great combo of sweet and savoury.  I happen to be very partial to mixing things like olives with sweet roots and was very happy with the results in this particular salad.  It was satisfying without being heavy.  The raw nori rolls, on the other hand, were surprisingly unconvincing.  They tasted like many a raw mock tuna salad I have had in the past – something I’m not all that keen on anyway.  But based on the description on the menu, I had expected a lovely, mellow vegetable roll, not the intense taste I was confronted with.  It didn’t feel as well thought out, as nuanced as the cooked salad (which did contain raw spinach leaves). 

For mains, we had the quinoa cakes and the raw stir-fry (which obviously wasn’t fried) with pine nut “rice.” 

I’m going to interrupt myself here to mention a pet peeve that extends to most of these places: please don’t call something by a more widely known name if what you’re delivering is completely different.  Don’t say “pizza” when it has nothing to do with the famous dish, or “meatballs” when there isn’t any meat for miles, or “stir-fry” when it isn’t fried.  OK, I feel better now.  Thank you.

When DW had his first bite of the quinoa cake with cabbage sauce, he pronounced it “bland.”  But lo and behold, by the second, third, fourth, twentieth bite, we were both wanting more.  I want it for my vegan Thanksgiving; or for Sunday roast.  Every week.  It was a warming, comfort-food type dish – not immediately impressive -- but it crept up and discretely turned wonderful.  In fact, we requested a takeaway sample for Vida Lev, which the chef kindly sent us up on the house.  How sweet is that?

Unfortunately, however, though the raw “stir fry” and “rice” wasn’t bad, it also wasn’t fantastic.  Here’s the thing about raw food: getting gourmet raw food right is harder than it seems.  Almost anyone can make a decent salad, but what separates a bunch of lettuce leaves from actual uncooked greatness is the same thing that separates a chef from a passionate cook.  Once again, however, I would have to give Chef Cooper a 10 for effort.

For dessert, DW had the chocolate hazelnut cake, which I tried a tiny bit of (it contained soy so I stayed away for the most part).  I found it slightly dry – personally, I’m big on icing – but DW would happily have enjoyed a second piece had his stomach, budget and ego allowed him to.  My raw chocolate mousse was good.  The chef made me a special agave-free version for which I was grateful.

What a treat to be able to spoon food off DW’s plate, to allow him to taste mine without having to request additional cutlery -- to eat and enjoy without worrying and wondering. 

I know this guy is going to make waves in London.  At least I hope he will.  Because I could taste his passion in every bite.  He still has a ways to go, but I applaud him.  Bring on the healthy, gluten-free, vegan pop-ups!

We enjoyed our experience at Tolerance so much that DW and I decided to stop by Oliver’s Café, where the pop-up took place to check out their regular service.  Again, lovely people, lovely ambiance.

“Where has this place been all my [London] life?”  I wondered out loud.

We had to laugh – ain’t it always the way?  Like when you’re about to go to the hairdresser and your hair looks perfect for the first time in forever. But hey ho, we leave for New York in a week!

That being said, I was chatting to the owner and the guy behind the bar about vegan food and raw food and how different people react to it.  I’m of the opinion that anyone who cooks special diet meals should be focusing on making their food exciting and delicious for everyone, not just people who choose to or are forced to eat a specific way.  Whether it’s gluten-free, vegan, raw, or all of the above, it needs to knock your socks off, even if you eat ham and cheese baguette every other meal of your life.

For example, some of the diners at Tolerance were turned off by the fact that the chocolate mousse was made with avocado.  My theory is that had they not known the strange and unexpected ingredient to begin with, they probably would have enjoyed it more.  Case-in-point: my raw chocolate banana torte.  The name doesn’t give anything away, nor do I tell people about the tahini or the avocado (unless, of course, there’s an allergy or intolerance issue) until they’re licking their fingers and plates clean – and, believe me, they usually do.  This recipe appeared in the second Leon cookbook, Naturally Fast Food.


Raw Chocolate Banana Torte

A great one to make a day or two in advance as the extra time lets the flavours meld together.  Trust me, if you can get past the idea of avocado in dessert, you’ll love it.    

For the Base layer

¾ cups almonds

6 dates, pitted

¼ cup melted coconut oil

1/3 cup sunflower seeds

pinch salt

For the chocolate layer

2 avocados

2 T tahini

6 T cacao

½ t vanilla powder

2 t honey

4 T water

For the banana layers                       

4 ripe bananas

It is important to start by making the base layer so that it has time to set in the freezer:

For the base layer:

Combine the almonds, dates, sunflower seeds and salt in the food processor.  Melt the coconut oil in a Bain de Marie to avoid overheating.  Once the coconut oil has liquified, pour into the food processor while it’s working.  The mixture should end up as more or less one uniform ball. 

Divide into two parts, one larger (about 3/4), one smaller (about ¼) and put the smaller one aside.  Press the larger part into an 8 inch round cake pan with the base of your palm until it is about half a centimetre thick.  Put in the freezer to set while you prepare the other layers.

For the first banana layer:

Mash up two bananas.

For the second banana layer:

Chop the remaining two bananas into even slices.

For the chocolate layer:

(This can be done by hand or in the food processor – the key here is to make sure that it is extremely well-mixed: you don’t want little chunks of avocado ruining the party.)

Mash the avocado.  Mix the tahini in very well.  Add the cacao and vanilla powder followed by the honey and make sure everything is well blended – it should look like and have the consistency of chocolate pudding.  At the very end, dilute ever so slightly with water.  

To create the torte:

Pull the bottom layer out of the freezer. 

Cover with the mashed bananas.

At this point, roll out the second, smaller chunk of base layer dough until it is about as thick as a pancake or a tortilla and gently place on top of the mashed bananas

Gently arrange the chopped bananas over the entire surface

Cover with the chocolate layer.

Keep Refrigerated until serving.


Comments
molly commented on 28-Sep-2011 06:14 AM
Great review! Yes, that is "Sod's Law" as they say here... finding such a cute spot so close to your leaving date. But I'm glad you had a good experience there for dinner. I too had the quinoa cakes on Sunday night and loved them - great idea to incorporate
them into a Vegan Thanksgiving dinner! By the way, that raw chocolate banana torte from the Leon cookbook is how we became Twitter friends!!
Móna Wise commented on 28-Sep-2011 11:33 AM
What a lovely post. I can see you both strolling hand in hand around London, loving every minute and feeling lonesome at the same time. I always feel the same when the Chef & I head out on the town. I love your review of the restaurant Gabriela. No photos
needed at all. You described the ambiance and the people and the food perfectly and it is a shame, on so many levels, that you have just found this gem before you take off for the big city next week. Safe travels my friend xx

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September 9th, 2011: Being Unreasonable

Posted by: Gabriela Garay

The other day someone said it to me.  The subject was my daughter. 

My answer? 

Unreasonable?  Moi?  You bet!

Though it wasn’t meant as a compliment, I have come to the conclusion that being unreasonable is not a bad thing.  It’s simply a lack of reason.  And reason can be more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to matters of the heart – family, love.

The brain’s job is to solve problems, discover patterns, make rules.  Emotions and feelings exist in a completely separate realm where one plus one might equal a hula hoop instead of the famous t-w-o. 

The thing about using words like “unreasonable” isn’t just that it’s judgmental and condescending.  In my experience, people who talk about being reasonable are usually the same people who view emotions as a four-letter-word.  Eek, gloopy, uncontrollable, messy, unrestrained emotions – call the police!  Or the brain.    

Ever heard (or used) the expression “keeping busy”?  People constantly need to keep busy.  It’s a way of making sure our brains don’t nitpick our lives to death.  Because the problem with having to solve problems is that when there is a dearth of trouble, you bet the brain will do its utmost to create some. 

“Unreasonable” used to feel like an insult to me and yet somehow when I heard it the other day, I almost laughed.  For the first time, I owned up to the fact that I am, at times, very unreasonable.  And that’s just fine with me.

Six and three quarter ways to make sure you’re being unreasonable:

1.  Go for a walk in the rain.  When the skies open up and it’s pouring, head out.  Wander around those familiar streets and take a good look at a totally new part of the world without leaving your neighbourhood.

2.  Use Raspberries As Finger Hats.  They’re so much more delicious that way. Or better yet, use them as hats on the fingers of your beloved.

3.  Do what you love.  This is a new one for me.  I did the whole “choose a reasonable career that will pay the bills” thing.  It left me sick and depressed.  Then I procrastinated because I feared and I reasoned.  Now I’m ready. 

4.  Have Dessert For Breakfast. Raw chocolate smoothies have successfully converted many a night owl into morning people. (tweet twoo)

5.  Love The One You’re With.  Be it a friend, a partner, a pet, or your own wonderful company.

6.  Find Inspiration.  I love Julia Cameron’s concept of the Artist Date.  It’s awesome.  Best done during the day when you “should” be doing something else. 

And the three quarters?  Read Between the Lines.   


Unreasonable Drenched Brownies in Melted Icing

(Adapted from Meghan Telpner’s hot hot hot and spicy brownies)

Sweet potato, cayenne and apple sauce in brownies?  Sounds pretty unreasonable, doesn’t it?  Need more convincing about how wonderfully delectably delicious unreasonable can be?  Give these babies a try.

Ingredients

For the brownies:

-  100 gr. 100% cacao chocolate bar

-  1 T coconut oil

-  ½ cup sweet potato puree (steamed and then mashed/pureed)

-  1/8 cup honey

-  ½ cup coconut sugar

-  ½ cup Valrhona cacao powder

-  2 t vanilla extract (gluten free)

-  ¾ cup apple sauce

-  ½ cup coconut flour

-   ½ t baking powder

-   sprinkle salt

-  ½ T cinnamon

-  ¼ t cayenne

-  1/16 t green stevia powder

-  1 banana, mashed

-  ¼ c cashew milk (blend 1/8 c cashews and 1 cup water – use the rest for the melted icing)

-  ¼ cup water (or more)

For the Melted Icing:

-  1 cup cashew milk

-  1 T coconut oil

-  1 T coconut butter

-  1/8 cup Valrhona cacao powder

- 1 T honey

Directions:

For the Brownies:

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit (176 Centigrade)

Melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a double boiler / bain de Marie.

In the mean time, combine the wet ingredients and process with the S blade in the food processor.  Transfer to a large bowl and fold in the melted chocolate and coconut oil. 

Pour into oiled baking pan and bake for 60 minutes (check after 30 and then every 10 minutes with a toothpick)

Allow to cool fully before attempting anything.

For the Melted Icing:

Blend 1 cup or the leftover cashew milk with the coconut oil (can be room temperature, shouldn’t be too firm), coconut butter, cacao powder and honey.  Should be like pancake batter – not too creamy, this is unreasonable icing after all!  Store in the refrigerator until the brownies are fully cooled. 

Then drench and allow to set in the fridge for at least five hours.

Note: coconut flour does not a crumbly brownie make.  These are too gooey to be cake, and too cakey to be mousse.  But if you allow them to set (see below*), they’ll reward you with fudge.

Comments
Móna Wise commented on 10-Sep-2011 08:58 AM
These brownies look divine. I am sure that the sweet potato adds to the moist rich gooeyness. I am rather unreasonable too. I am happy to be unreasonable. It does make a girl stick to her guns on the right things......and keep a girl headed in the right
direction. I want to read your 'moving' book for Vida. Will you share?
Amanda @ EasyPeasyOrganic commented on 21-Sep-2011 12:28 AM
I love your list. It's perfect, in all it's 6 and three-quartersness. I'll be writing it down in my planner just so I don't forget :) PS> these brownies look YUM!

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August 19th, 2011: Another Draft

Posted by: Gabriela Garay



Somewhere along the way, I lost my sense of direction.  The map I had drawn got washed along with my favourite flea market jeans.  I was sixteen and couldn’t remember where I was supposed to turn to get where I wanted to go.

The first time I revealed to someone I loved and trusted that I wanted to be a writer, I took what was, for me, a huge leap of faith.  It was a deep and scary revelation that took all of my courage.  Their response broke my heart:

“Why would you want to do that?” they said with a chuckle that felt like a smack across my cheek, “you can’t make a living at it, and besides, who would be interested in anything YOU have to say?”

Though I am no longer in contact with this person, their words shut me down for years.  Unable to get past the question about who my audience would be, I froze – I didn’t have the answer and couldn’t muster the guts to find out.  Because what if they were right and nobody read my words?  I couldn’t bear the thought of pouring my soul onto the page and having it be rejected.  

Though I was able to get that person out of my life, their words continued to haunt me.  To this day, when I’m struggling with my writing, I can hear that familiar voice telling me I’m not good enough.  With time, I have learned to recognize it for what it is.  And now, after years of hiding and procrastinating, I have finally decided to take that leap once more. 

The kitchen is my sanctuary.  It’s where I go when I’m sad or angry or frustrated.  It’s my safe place.  Somehow, I seem to have more courage in the kitchen.  Because here’s the thing: I am a terrible baker.  My cakes, gluten-free and vegan, come out crumbly or hard, too gummy or not sweet enough.  Sometimes – believe it or not – my cakes come out all of the above, and it takes a certain talent to make a cake that is both crumbly and gummy!

I guess with cake as with fiction, it’s about accepting that your first draft will probably be terrible.  In fact, it’s supposed to be terrible.  Not that that’s easy to admit to yourself or pleasant to hear or acknowledge.  But only by doing something over and over, by ripping it to shreds and really analysing what needs to be improved can you get good.  Like writing.  Or baking.

Recently I have been spending a lot of time on Jennifer Perillo’s blog.  When I saw this cake, although, as I say, my baking leaves a lot to be desired, I decided I had to attempt it -- Picky Foodie style of course.

The result? 

I’m pretty sure I will bake better cakes in the future.  But I’ve definitely done worse.  It wasn’t too gummy or too crumbly and it wasn’t too hard.  Amazingly, it stayed together quite well in that you can pick up a piece and comfortably take a bite without losing half of it along the way.  It could possibly have been a little sweeter -- the kind of cake you could have for breakfast or for dessert -- and I suspect it will complement DW’s afternoon tea really well.

Best of all?  I love the feeling of having another draft under my belt and my baking seems to have really improved in that my raspberry cake was at least edible.  I’m going to make this one again, try for better, keep working towards that elusive perfect Picky Foodie cake.

Calorie-wise, at least, I think writing will be easier than baking.  So there’s another reason to give this fiction thing another shot.  In the mean time, however, I think I’ll go brew some rosehip and hibiscus tea and cut myself another little piece.  

Raspberry Cake
(adapted from Jennifer Perillo’s Raspberry Olive Oil Cake)

Makes one 10-inch cake

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten free All Purpose flour
¼ cup coconut sugar
1 T maple syrup
2 t baking powder
¼ t coarse salt
2 T ground flax seeds briefly soaked in 2 T water
1 T melted coconut oil (and a little more to grease the pan)
2 t vanilla extract
½ cup coconut milk
2 c frozen raspberries
1 mashed banana

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit / 175 Centigrade

Sift together the dry ingredients.

Whisk together the wet ingredients, leaving out the raspberries.

Combine the two and then fold in the raspberries.

Grease a 10 inch round cake pan with a little coconut oil and then pour in the batter.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and then remove the cake from within the cake pan but keep the bottom. 

Once the cake has cooled down completely, indulge in a piece and wait for the muse to find you.

Comments
Dkb commented on 19-Aug-2011 11:56 AM
I think writers write for themselves alone. Because they can't NOT write. It's what makes you, you. It's how you make sense of yourself. If another person does happen to want to read it, great. Awesome. But I think, at the end of the day, the real reason
we write is to get our words out there on that paper. To liberate the story that has been flapping it's wings inside our gut, scratching us raw from within...because they're wings, they HAVE to fly. And you're a writer, you HAVE to write. Not for anyone else
to read it, but for you to breathe. For you to see your work on your desk, typed, printed and then to submerge yourself in the pride you feel for yourself. Let that be the ONLY reason you write. Anything else is a welcome bonus. and believe me, once you've
done this, the reader will come.
Pig in the Kitchen commented on 22-Aug-2011 11:40 AM
How mean! But totally relate to the writer's insecurity problem...sometimes even I get bored of my own voice (but not often ;-) Cake looks fab, keep trying, cake is ALWAYS the answer! Pig x

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August 5th, 2011: When Life Gets Complicated, Bake Cookies

Posted by: Gabriela Garay



I meant to post the pineapple picture for a week.  We were leaving to Israel and –is this weird? – I don’t like to advertise when we’re going away.  DW calls me a “a healthy mix between constructive paranoid and psycho.”  Possibly… 

So I put up the photograph, and finished packing our bags.

It was supposed to be a relatively simple, fun family-reunion.

But then it all went pear-shaped.

First there was a family emergency.  Five days of hell, while we waited for tests results and all kinds of levels to rise, fall and generally even out. 

Then there was the aftermath when we all looked at one another in a state of shock and tried to enjoy what was left of the ummm holiday (?).  However, nobody told Vida Lev that sleeping in was an option, so we remained exhausted even after three days at the beach.   

I will say this: it wasn’t all bad.  Vida swam in the ocean for the first time.  She tried all kinds of interesting and fun things: petting her grandmother’s cat, watermelon, proper Middle Eastern hummus. Our little girl also took her first steps.


And in the middle of it all, I baked cookies.

There was something wonderfully soothing about mixing together the ingredients, sticking them in the oven, waiting for them to cool and then enjoying them.  The mundane amidst the chaos reminds us that somewhere out there, life is still going on as normal. 

Originally these cookies were intended so that Vida Lev would have something to nosh on when she got hungry in her pram.  But when my grandmother tasted one and promptly requested that I show my mother how to make them, I thought I might be on to something.  The deal was sealed when my brother – who hates raisins – happily polished them off.

Everyday Cookies

Preheat the oven to 175 Centigrade / 350 Fahrenheit

In a large mixing bowl, combine the following ingredients:
-  1 ½ - 2 cups ground almonds (less makes for a softer cookie, more makes for a heartier one)
-  2 t vanilla (I use pure vanilla bean powder)
-  ¼ cup melted coconut oil
-  ½ cup raisins
-  ¼ cup maple syrup

Once those are well-combined, add
-  1 egg*

Using an ice cream scoop, drop the cookie batter on a non-stick baking sheet in even mounds.  Flatten lightly with a wet fork (optional). 
Bake for 9-11 minutes, depending on your oven.  The cookies should come out of the oven slightly browned around the edges but still soft. 
Allow to cool completely before serving.

* Note: a friend of mine made these without the egg (I simply forgot to mention it on the ingredients’ list).  In her words: “These cookies are going to be a problem…  We made them, licked the bowl clean and ate five between us.” 
So I’m going to try this (vegan) version next time.
To my friend, I would like to say: Dearest, after the month that just passed, believe me, those should be our problems :)

UPDATE
I have now made these cookies without the egg -- so completely vegan.  In fact, I even omitted the vanilla by accident (15 minutes to baby's bed time, empty fridge, food needed for tomorrow's outing -- you do the math).  DW agreed to be the taster.  He proclaimed them "Oh My God" and "better than with the egg," saying they tasted "buttery," and "like shortbread."  I'll take that as a yes.  
Without the egg, I baked the cookies as instructed above for 11 minutes.  Then I turned the tray around, switched off the oven and left them in for another 10 or so.  

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DKB commented on 19-Aug-2011 12:05 PM
Can I just say: these cookies are AAAAAWSOME!!!!!?

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It was seven years ago today...

Posted by: Gabriela Garay

Seven years ago today, the man I had just broken up with drove me down the PCH and dropped me off at the home of the man who is now my husband.

We didn’t know it then.  In fact, we had met two weeks earlier and knew very little about one another, seven years ago today.  We certainly didn’t know we were in love.

Seven years on, and we know so much more.  We know what we love deeper and what drives us mad, what makes the other who they are and what they wish they could change.

Seven years ago today, I sat on his couch and he said “I don’t know if you have plans for this afternoon, but I’m going to go look at some apartments on the beach.”

And I thought do I have plans???  I want to spend every second getting to know you better because if you’re as amazing as every cell in my body is telling me you are, then maybe you’re the man I want to be with.

Later on, we shared a salmon salad and walked along the ocean.  He pointed out where Dudley Moore used to live to impress me.  And in the evening, we had our first kiss and then he made up the sofa bed.

After seven years, I know he’s not perfect and he’s seen my flaws.  But we make it work in our own way most of the time.

Someone launched a fun idea recently: make July 5th Pie Day.  So here is mine. 

It’s really a testament to my relationship with the man whom I eventually married.  Seven years ago today, the butterflies in my stomach told me he was someone special.

Of course, we have had to make our compromises.  This banoffee pie is a really great metaphor for ours.    

Like my husband, like marmite, like tea, banoffee pie is extremely English.  But seeing as I am intolerant to pretty much everything in it – sugar, butter, condensed milk, biscuits (gluten) – I made a version I could enjoy as well.

Raw, vegan, gluten-free, no refined sugar. 

It was hard work: I dehydrated the crust for 48 hours.  The Banana part took a few tries as did the toffee because the ingredients I use are so unlike what makes a classic banoffee pie in both taste and texture.  In fact I'm still tweaking, which is why I am not posting the recipe. (what can I say, it's all a work in progress)

The final product was, possibly comparable, possibly completely different.  Regardless, it was rich and decadent, much like its original inspiration.  Most importantly, it was delicious. 

Seven years ago today, if you’d told me that this would be my life – living in London, married to DW, mother of an amazing little girl, writing this blog, making raw vegan pie -- I wouldn’t have believed you.  And yet, we make it work, each one of us in the way that makes life as palatable and tasty as we possibly can.

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Andres commented on 06-Jul-2011 05:10 PM
Congratulations on 7 years of a beautiful work in progress. I hope to try the banoffee pie one day.

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June 3rd, 2011: Memories of Textures Past and Another Dessert Recipe

Posted by: Gabriela Garay



So I have a thing about textures.

I love watching my baby girl explore them with as much relish as I do. With "gentle hands," she timidly runs her fingers along rose petals, the patterns of our green sofa, my skin.  And so too with food.

In the beginning, I found it almost painful to feed her plain pieces of roasted sweet potato.  How plain, how goopy, how dull.  I want to scrape my tongue at the very thought.  But Vida Lev is still learning about the vast expanse of flavors, textures and food experiences there are to be had and she loves her sweet potato as is.  In fact, she is teaching me to simplify, enjoy, or at least taste things on their own before I add spices, herbs and other foods.

Textures and flavors - to me, both factors determine the quality of a dish.  When something really stands out, it is because a balance has been obtained between them.  Personally, I prefer stark contrasts – hot and cold, crunchy and chewy, sweet and savory, wet and dry.  Like fleur de sel on a good praline.  Or fruit in a salad.  

Next time you’re hungry and can’t figure out what you’re truly wanting, try closing your eyes and asking yourself what texture you desire.  Is it soft or hard?  Doughy or bitty?  Wet or dry?

When I was about thirteen, we spent a summer on Lake Muscoca up in Canada. And while I remember the trampoline and the rickety old diving board that felt as if it was going to topple every time one of us dared to scoot to the end of it, my most vivid memories have to do with food.

The popcorn my aunt would make, it's salty crunchiness that was unlike the kind we got at the movies back home (where they only sold it covered in sugar -- horrendous!).  A few moments after the inevitable bellow of the fire alarm, she would present the warm bowl of crisp, white kernels.  We would sit around grabbing handfuls as we looked up at the stars.  Being a city girl, it was the first time I had seen such the night sky so clearly.  And while I loved lying back on the recliner and calling out every time I glimpsed a shooting star, what I was most focused on was the popcorn in my mouth.  I loved dousing it in fake butter and popping each kernel into my mouth where I could maneuver it into the perfect position, with my teeth sunk in the cavity just below the sharper, popped edges and my tongue running along the rounder bit.

I remember the bacon, the likes of which I had never tasted before. It was fresh, crispier than potato chips and crackled vigorously in my mouth.

For years, I associated Canada with bacon, popcorn and beer coolers, which we stole sips of when the adults weren’t looking.

By far my favorite discovery, however, was the locally made Rocky Road ice cream.  The cottage my family had rented sat alone on a tiny island that was only accessible by boat.  Whenever groceries were needed someone would have to go to the mainland.

Even then, way before I had any interest in cooking or health, I loved supermarkets.  Especially that summer. Because tagging along with whomever's turn it was to shop meant a scoop of Rocky Road.

Growing up in Belgium meant that there was never a shortage of the highest quality sweet treats.  But this ice cream beat even the most prestigious chocolatiers.

Looking back now, I realize that what seduced me wasn't the sweetness or even wonderfully artificial flavors. It was the balance of textures: crunchy nuts, gooey marshmallows, sticky caramel, creamy ice cream.  Each one was present in just the right amount, and as a result, the flavors melded as if they weren’t meant to be enjoyed separately.

This past year, I really focused on nuts and seeds. Not because I love them (though I do), but rather because I craved their oily crunch.  Almost everything I made involved Nuts.

Then, when I decided to follow the Naturopath's suggestion and remove them from my diet, I panicked. That very night, I made a warm salad... Sans nuts. And it wasn't half bad.

Within about three days, I felt better than I had in months. I didn't feel as deprived as I had feared. In fact, I didn't feel deprived at all. The only thing I missed was the texture, the added kick in my mouth that balanced out chewy, stringy, dry or wet. But that too faded as I focused on creating and discovering new nut-free dishes instead. 

Textures have as much of an emotional component as flavours: like when I'm sad and crave doughy foods. I might want savoury - like bread - or sweet - like brownies. But really, it's the texture that I crave and find comfort in.

Way back when, before I could put words to these preferences, I sat on that dock many a time as the sun started to set, twirling my Tongue in my mouth like a dreamcatcher, angling for a taste of every sumtuous part of the magical combination.  Every bite had potential, and while I didn't know it yet, I had already embarked on my journey -- in search of that elusive perfect bite.

Coconut Squares & Jam (a raw recipe)
(adapted from the very awesome bonzaiaphrodite.com)

Been on a bit of a dessert kick lately – like for the past 30-something years!  When a couple of good friends had a baby this week, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to try these puppies out.  Of course, I couldn’t not tinker with it and add my personal touches.  As you can see from the name, however, in this house, food aside, we’ve got Dr. Seuss on the brain.   

This recipe is simple, quick and child-friendly.  Coconut oil is a thyroid booster, the dried fruit is sweet with a little tang.  Feel free to use any dried fruit, but make sure to adjust the amount of sweetener accordingly.

For the crust:
2 cups coconut flour
1 cup coconut water
1/3 x2 cup coconut oil
½   cup maple syrup
1 t vanilla powder
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch salt

Melt the coconut oil in a bain de Marie.  Sift the flour to remove any lumps.  Add the cinnamon, salt and vanilla.  Once the oil is melted, mix in along with the coconut water and maple syrup.  Use your hands to really create a beautiful robust dough. 

Line a cookie pan (8 ½ x 12 inch or 21.5 x 30 cm) with parchment paper.  Flatten the dough evenly.  Refrigerate.

For the jam topping:
2 cups dried, unsulphured apricots
1 cup dried sour cherries (unsweetened)
1/8 cup raisins
3+ cups water
juice of 1 orange
zest of 1 medium lemon

Combine the dried fruit in a bowl.  Cover with just enough water.  Allow to soak for as long as you have – fifteen minutes to make the crust, or overnight if you have the time. 

Once soft, put the fruit in the food processor, keeping the soak water to add as necessary.  Start with ½ cup of the water as well as the freshly squeezed orange juice and process until you’ve got the beginning of a jam-like texture.  Then add the fresh lemon zest and process until relatively but not completely smooth.

To make the squares:
Spread the jam evenly over the crust.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours at least.  Then cut into squares. 

Keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

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May 27th, 2011: Sweet Treats

Posted by: Gabriela Garay



This has been the year of the baby.   Everyone I know, it seems – including me – has had one.  Or maybe it’s because I was attending crazy things like preggo yoga, that suddenly my life was filled with bulging bellies and talk about sleep positions and cravings.

Anyhoo, that isn’t my point.  My point is cake. 

All of these babies are marking milestones, having birthdays, and generally celebrating; as are their parents.  I have attended many a little party this year with sproglets who are barely walking wearing funny hats, doing funny dances, looking surprised as everyone around them bursts into song.  And eating cake.  Store bought cake, home made cake, improvised cake, pre-ordered cake.  Cake. 

This past weekend was my own baby’s birthday.  It was a weekend I’ll never forget.  We went to the zoo so she could see all the animals we read about.  We had a picnic with friends of all ages – and little Vida Lev made out like a bandit from all their generous gifts.

But again, I digress.  The subject is cake. 

We mark milestones with cake.   We eat cake on birthdays.  We celebrate with cake.

And although these little people still have developing taste buds, we feed them cake and start them down the path of cake.  Cake for “well done.”  Cake for “congratulations.” Cake for “s/he’s a jolly good fellow.”  Why?  Why are foods that aren’t healthy, don’t fortify or nutrify us considered “treats”?  It would be one thing if we felt great after indulging but, more often than not, we feel guilty, or worse. 

Why do we do it to ourselves and why do we do it to our children? 

Vida Lev is one year old.  She would celebrate with avocado if that was on offer.  Or a great afternoon at the zoo.   In Vida’s world, food doesn’t yet come into the equation as a way of celebrating.

For her party, I felt stuck in a little bit of a catch 22: do I make a cake and start her down that path – a path she has no idea exists – or do I resist the urge and feel like I’m depriving her?

One thing I’ve noticed about motherhood is that there is rarely a blatantly “right” answer.  I’m constantly wondering whether I am scarring her for life J.

But we were talking about cake…

In the end, I did make cake.  Raw, vegan, carrot cake sweetened with dates and a touch of coconut nectar.  And raw vegan chocolate chip cookies.  So yes, it could have been worse.  But still, when I think of how Vida’s first taste of a sugary food took place on the day we celebrated her arrival into the world, I cringe a little.

(by the way, if you’re still wondering whether sugar really is THAT bad, take a look at this New York Times article)

In my better moments, I savour the knowledge that she loved her day, and loved that people kept singing to her, and her cookies and cake.  In moments of doubt, I remember that she was a little more hyper that day (could have been as a result of all the presents and attention, could also have been the sugar, could have been both) and a little grumpier the next. 

Mostly, I wonder over and over why we enjoy making ourselves feel bad, or worse, causing actual harm to our health when we’re supposed to be celebrating?

That cake question, by the way, easily translates to alcohol.  Adults often mark occasions and celebrations by getting extremely drunk.  The next day, they complain bitterly, but there seems, to me, to be an underlying sense of pride.  I got shitfaced, how great am I?  How, I ask myself, does that say hip hip hooray to the greatness of life?     

Why doesn’t a green smoothie serve the same purpose?  It’s sweet, it’s intoxicating (in the broader sense of the term), and it does a body good.  I know … it doesn’t do it for me either… (I blame the media – or maybe the Pope)

But this isn’t a post about alcohol.  Or even green smoothies.  It’s a post about cake.  I made cake.  So here are the recipes for the cake and cookies I made on Vida Lev’s birthday.

Please note that these are not my original but rather great recipes ones that I found and adapted.  The internet is a new mother’s best friend after all!

Vida Lev’s first birthday treats

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cookies
(makes about 50 silver dollar-sized cookies)
(adapted from www.ohsheglows.com)

For the cookie dough:
1 ¾ cups raw cashews
1 ½ cups raw oats
¼ cup coconut nectar
2 t vanilla powder
¼ cup melted coconut oil

For the chocolate chips:
1/8 cup melted coconut oil
¼ cup melted cacao butter
½ cup cacao powder (unsweetened)
1 ½ T carob liquid (unsweetened)
2 t vanilla powder
3/4t lucuma (optional)
2 T coconut nectar

To make the chocolate chips:  Melt the coconut oil and cacao butter in a bain de marie.  Once it’s completely liquid, stir in the cacao powder followed by the carob, vanilla, lucuma and coconut nectar.  Spread onto a teflex sheet or some greaseproof paper, making sure the thick, sticky mixture is relatively uniform and no thicker than about half an inch.  Put in the fridge (if you have more time) or freezer to set.

To make the dough:  Grind the nuts and oats in the food processor until you get a powder.  Then add the other ingredients and process until a sticky ball forms.  Refrigerate until you can make the cookies (when the chocolate is ready).

For the cookies:  When the chocolate has set, chop into small pieces (or chips, if you will).  With you hands, fold into the dough – this is when the refrigeration is helpful as the chips won’t melt as quickly though you do have to be relatively fast.

You can use a small ice cream scoop to create relatively uniformly sized cookies.  Press down with a fork.  Keep refrigerated until they’re ready to serve.

Note: If you don’t have ingredients like coconut nectar, I’m sure you can replace this with maple syrup, date syrup or honey.  The lucuma is optional, as if the carob though I love the extra depth it lends to the chocolate.  And if you don’t have cacao butter handy, I would play around with the quantities of coconut oil and cacao powder.

Raw Carrot Cake with Vanilla Macadamia frosting
(adapted from Twobluelemons.com)

For the cake:
 4 cups shredded carrots (about 1.5 lbs)
1 cup pitted dates (about 16)
¾ cup dried, unsulphered apricots
1 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup raisins
1 t vanilla (the original recipe calls for cinnamon, but Vida has had a bad reaction to it)
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t allspice

For the frosting:
¾ cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
¾ cup raw macadamias, soaked overnight
1.5 T coconut nectar
1 T melted coconut oil
3 T water

To Make the cake:
Grate the carrots using the grater attachment in the food processor.  Then transfer to a large mixing bowl. 
In the food processor, using the blade attachment, combine the dates, apricots until combined.  Mix in with the shredded carrots (best done by hand)
Once again, using the food processor, combine ½ cup coconut with the raisins and pulse until they are broken into little bits. Add the spices and pulse until well mixed then combine in the mixing bowl with the carrot, etc.
Kneed well with your hands until it’s all mixed and sticks together well.  Then spread onto an 8 ½ x 12 inch (21.5 x 30 cm) baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and refrigerate.

To Make the frosting:
Soak the cashews and macadamias overnight. Drain and rinse.  Process with 3 T water until a thick paste forms (this could take a while – keep scraping down the sides).   Meanwhile melt the coconut oil in a Bain de Marie.  Once the nuts are fully smooth, add the other ingredients and process briefly.

Spread the frosting over the cake and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Comments
Lisa commented on 09-Aug-2011 11:34 PM
You know, there's plenty of sugar in carrots and dried fruit - diabetics limit their intake of both. If you're trying to be pure, or make your kid be pure, stick with the avocado.

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April 8th, 2011: Here We Go Again

Posted by: Gabriela Garay



This might sound a bit bananas.  Because by the time you’ve removed gluten, dairy, refined sugars and most nightshades from your diet, the last thing you want to hear is that there are more foods to take out of the rotation.  A couple of weeks ago, however, that is exactly what happened to me. 

Let me explain.  For the past few years, I have been successfully managing a hypo-thyroid condition with food and herbs.  During pregnancy and breastfeeding, however, many of the herbs I had been using were contraindicated and so off-limits.  Few people are aware that pregnancy often exacerbates pre-existing thyroid conditions, which is what recently happened to me.

After running the requisite blood tests, the doctor prescribed thyroid medication.  And why wouldn’t he?  For a moment, I got scared enough to consider taking it.  After all, what has worked for me in the past is not viable at the moment.  To be honest, I was also frustrated: I thought with all I do for my health, why is this happening to me? 

But I got over my self-pity and I gave my fear a good talking to.  Then I made an appointment with a Naturopath.  The way I see it, if the alternative method doesn’t work, I still have the option of medication.   But once I’m taking the pills, it’s much harder to wean myself off them.

The naturopath really seemed to know her stuff.  There was just one problem: she was asking me to radically change my diet. 

What qualifies me to do what I do are my studies in holistic health but also – or so I thought – the fact that I myself have been through a serious food makeover.  And it was hard.  But oh, how quickly we forget. 

When the Naturopath told me what I needed to remove from my diet, I asked her the same question I get asked by so many of my clients: What am I going to eat?

But I’ve lived to tell the tale and am feeling great.  So in addition to eating gluten-, diary-, refined carbohydrate- and sugar-free, I am not having beans, pulses, grains, nuts or seeds (except coconut and the occasional macadamia or cashew), or vegetable oils (though a little olive oil is OK).

What I am eating are a lot of vegetables, fruit and some animal protein.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it is.  And it’s forced me to go back to the drawing board and start getting creative in the kitchen again.  We’ve enjoyed curried veggie burgers and energizing smoothies, colourful salads and satisfying soups.

The Internet and its many food bloggers have been a wonderful resource, for which I am insanely grateful.  Some days you simply need a helping hand and a dollop of inspiration from others on similar journeys. 

Still, I waited to post this until I had a proper dessert.

People somehow assume that my desserts are healthy.  And while they are made entirely of whole, nutritious foods, they are still dessert – so to be enjoyed in moderation. 

But life’s too short to give up pudding.


Coconut Royals -- no oven necessary
(adapted from ohsheglows.com)

*  For the bottom layer:
-  1 ½ cup macadamia nuts
-  1 ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (I use gluten-free)
-  1.5 t salt
-  8 large medjool dates
-   ¼ cup coconut oil

*  For the filling:
-  17 large medjool dates
-  ½ cup water

* For the crumble:
-  ¾ cup crust mix
-  ½ cup shredded coconut
-  ¼ cup old-fashioned rolled oats

*  For the bonus layer:
-  a bar of 100% cacao chocolate (90 grams)

Line your baking tray with parchment paper (I used a 13.5 x 9.5 inch baking tray).

To make the bottom layer, process the macadamia nuts, 1 ½ cups oats and salt in the food processor until fine.  Then add the 8 medjool dates and process again.  Melt the coconut oil on a low flame and then add to the mixture and process until it becomes a more or less cohesive mass. 

Put ¾ cup aside and press the rest down with your hand on the lined baking tray until uniform and flat. 

Then process the 17 dates and the water until a paste forms.  Scoop and spread it over the crust layer using a flat spatula.

Finally, pulse the ¾ cup leftover crust mixture, the coconut and the ¼ cup of oats.  This needs to remain relatively crumbly.  Sprinkle over the top. 

And then we go over the top!  Melt the chocolate bar in a bain de Marie.  Drizzle over the mixture. 

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.  Cut into small (or large) squares) and serve straight from the refrigerator. 

  

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