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Awake at the Whisk: October 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Date Cocoa-Nut Easy Candy Recipe

Date Cocoa-Nut Easy Candy Recipe
Looking for an alternative Halloween treat?

This date-based candy is super easy to make, healthy, and fun to play with! Find the details on Eating Rules, where I posted the recipe--and a spooky tale of magic and ghouls--as a guest blog.

You'll also find fun ideas for Halloween trick-or-treaters in this story.

Happy Halloween!

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Monday, October 18, 2010


Pineapple Guava Applesauce Recipe

Traditional applesauce recipe gets California twist

Applesauce colors my childhood memories. I picture the pale ruby sauce in large mason jars steadfastly lining the basement shelf. I never had to ask permission to reach a jar from that shelf, pop the lid off with a can opener, and dive spoon-first into the thick honeyed nectar.

Mom and Dad grew six apple trees on our two-and-a-half-acre yard in rural Illinois. I’m certain my blood is made up of apple juice. Those crisp rosy-skinned fruits taught me as many life lessons as my schoolbooks ever did. I learned discipline by regularly pulling my wagon around the base of the trees, loading rotten fruit for Dad to haul away later. I learned patience in the kitchen as I helped cut and core first one apple, then 50, then 100 for Dad to stew in a pot while Mom churned a wooden pestle round and round in a cone-shaped metal strainer. As her elbow cranked in a clockwise motion, thick cream the color of cherry blossoms would pour out from the holes: applesauce.

We were the only family in town who had pink applesauce. Mom left the skins on when she cooked the apples. She believed the skins were colorful because they were good for you.  I used to cringe whenever someone served me a pale, snotty-colored heap of store brand sauce. It lacked the vigor and life of my parents’ joyful sauce.

I miss those giant jars of fresh sauce. I remember its warmth, and the steam of the canning process filling the kitchen on a crisp fall day. As I worked methodically with my parents, we shared a quiet contentment made possible by those glorious fruits from our very own trees.

When my husband and I were selecting fruit trees to plant in our new home here in Sacramento, California, an apple tree was at the top of my list. I didn’t choose a variety based on its hand-to-mouth flavor. I chose one for its baking qualities. I imagine my future Californian life filled with a steaming kitchen and beautiful batches of pale pink applesauce.

Pineapple guavas: seasonal addition to applesauce
For now, my tree is too young to produce enough fruit for canning. I’ll have to wait a few years for that. But I do have a mature pineapple guava tree that’s dropping fruit by the bushels.

Pineapple guavas are a citrus fruit with an apple-like flavor and a creamy texture. Last year, not knowing what to do with so many of these, I made jam. My husband and I love jam, but don’t often find ourselves eating it. So my poor pineapple guava jam went unnoticed.

This year, as the air cooled with the crispness of fall, I yearned, as I do every Autumn, for applesauce. In a flash of creation, I pondered the notion of blending pineapple guavas with apples for a unique sauce. I used some green apples that a friend gave me, combined with cinnamon sticks and spices. And wouldn’t you know the combination worked! It’s a wonderfully bright sauce from the citrusy guavas, yet mellowed and soothing from the harvest spices and comforting apples.

Yet, my sauce doesn’t have that gorgeous crimson hue that Mom’s had. Next time I’ll have to buy red apples. But I did leave the skins on. You may wish to go the extra mile and peel your apples. I also don’t own a large strainer like Mom’s, so I left my sauce chunky.

Perhaps I have a new tradition for the California era of my life!

Pineapple Guava Applesauce Recipe
3 baking apples cut into chunks and cored
25 pineapple guavas cut in half and the fruit scooped out
½ cup organic cane sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean
4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods

Farmers' Market Ingredients: apples
Backyard Farm Ingredients: pineapple guavas
Supermarket Ingredients: sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, cardamom 

Pineapple Guava Applesauce Recipe
Combine all the ingredients in a 2 quart sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and continue to boil for about 10-15 minutes until fruit becomes soft. Use a potato masher to smash the fruit into a thick pulp. Leave some chunks of fruit for a rich, rustic texture. Turn the heat down and allow to cool. Remove the spices before serving.

My husband and I enjoyed this creation over sweet potato French toast (another creation I’ll have to write about in the near future) with maple syrup and chopped walnuts for a complete fall harvest! Enjoy it with oatmeal or dive in spoon-first like I did as a little girl in my Mom’s kitchen.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Surviving the Potluck Unprocessed?

Potluck: Unprocessed?
I blame it on the unlucky number 13 that marks today’s date. In the middle of my unprocessed October, I ate pie. I attended a potluck. And it did me in.

This is the trickery of the potluck. You just don’t know what you’re eating. There are no labels to turn over—just rows and rows of unmarked, Tupperware'd food.

Potlucks are always tricky for me to begin with. As a vegetarian, I never know what veggie-coated casserole has ground beef lurking beneath, or which rice was made from chicken stock. I often find myself loading my plate heavily with desserts at these affairs. Hey, at least I get some calories.

Recently, I attended a potluck at which iceberg lettuce and melted Velveeta were featured. These dishes were meant to have a Frito-dipped tongue-in-cheek reference to the horrific foods of our past. Thankfully, not everyone had a beer-battered past. Amid the homemade chicken nuggets and crumbled beef bake there was a clean spinach salad and freshly baked corn tortillas. A bit of pale eggplant poked its shiny skin through some noodles. The noodles might not have been whole wheat, but they were bobbing alongside a real vegetable.

On a normal day, these dishes would have made an adequate lunch. But this was a potluck! The entire point of these affairs is to dine on a wide variety of your fellow diners’ dishes. It’s the focal point of potluck conversation: “Oh, this pasta salad is delicious! Who made it? What do you use in your dressing?” Then a story ensues, and eaters learn about Great Aunt Mable’s famous sponge cake. Perhaps even a recipe or two is shared. Potlucks are about sharing and interaction—not a large helping of salad and a side of bread.

So, as with most potlucks, I found myself easing my way down to the dessert end of the buffet table. Cookies oozing jelly filings, swirly-topped cheesecakes, and pudgy brownies. I tried to resist. I really did! I thought of my dear readers fighting courageously to back away from the donut in the deli and turn a blind eye to the bright orange bag of chips at the checkout counter. And as I dutifully passed by the cakes and cookies, I saw a glowing halo of meringue glistening in the fluorescent lights.

Delicious meringue? Or processed sugar?
I love meringue.

At the age of 16, I lived in Denmark for a year. My host brother and I would whip egg whites and sugar until it fluffed and pillowed. Then we would gobble it up by the spoonfuls while listening to The Beatles and giggling.

Delicious meringue!

I could not resist. We all have our weaknesses. 

During a month of unprocessed, it is easy to walk quickly through the pastry aisle of the supermarket, or avoid entering the restaurants where you know you can’t win. It’s easy to replace your bag of white flour with a bag of whole wheat flour in your home kitchen.

But attend a potluck and stand in front of the dessert table, and suddenly you find your free will slipping. I have commitment of steel. Normally, if I make a decision, I stick to it. When I gave up meat at the age of 16, I quit cold turkey and never looked back. When I decided to ban baking mixes from my life in my 20’s and make every dessert from scratch, it stuck. I have never since visited the pre-baked shelves of any grocery store. In the last 13 days, I have pulled my hand back when I saw it reaching for a mini chocolate bar on my co-worker’s desk. Strong as nails.

But today, the meringue did me in. I sliced into that pillowy top with my plastic potluck knife, and I plunked a luscious slice of gooey processed-sugary lemony evil right onto my plate. I felt my pulse rise in anticipation, and my mouth willingly participated in the pie's sweet consumption.

It’s funny how sugar works. For nearly two weeks, I have been dining healthfully on soups and salads for lunch. Light. Fresh. Clean. I have felt fully awake and productive. Yet, when that yellow pie hit my veins, it actually didn’t feel good. I crawled back to my desk and tried to focus on work. I was distracted. I tried to explain something to my colleague. I forgot my train of thought. And then I got very sleepy.

Evil meringue!

Thankfully, this pie incident has reaffirmed my commitment to eating unprocessed. I have no interest in repeating that sugar-crash feeling.

Just as I suspected, this experiment is waking me up. On most days, I believe I am a healthy eater. Yet, I’ve never resisted a delicious sugar high. Sugar is happiness, right? Well, boy was I wrong.

I promise! I’m back on the unprocessed wagon. I’m back to my local honey and coconut sugar. I have a feeling I won’t be falling off again.

How has your month of unprocessed gone so far? Any trigger foods that have done you in? Any social affairs that are making an unprocessed life more difficult? Do tell!

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Sunday, October 3, 2010


Roasted Heirloom Tomato Freezer Sauce

Heirloom Tomatoes to be Roasted for Freezer Sauce

Here in Sacramento, we’re still pulling in ripe tomatoes from our gardens. In fact, this weekend I picked 30 pounds! With this many tomatoes, there’s only one thing to do: process them for winter enjoyment. The least time-consuming option is to turn them in to a quick sauce and freeze. In fact, just 5 heirloom tomatoes will make ½ gallon of sauce.

I love to roast my tomatoes. It pulls out the robust depth of flavor trapped beneath that thin skin. And unlike canning, you don’t have to peel your tomatoes. Simply cut them into large chunks, roast in the oven while you read a good book, and then blend in your food processor. The hardest part of the whole procedure is picking the tomatoes.

If you check the ingredient label on a jar of tomato sauce, you’ll likely find unwanted items like sugar, water, added preservatives, and extra salt. With homemade sauce, you control exactly what goes in.

Depending on what ingredients I have on hand, I will often throw additional vegetables in the oven to roast with the tomatoes and blend into the sauce. I have used onions, bell peppers, garlic, and zucchini. Experiment with the flavors you like best. No matter what you use, I can guarantee you’ll like it more than that jar from the supermarket, and it will be healthier for you, too.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Freezer Sauce
5 large heirloom tomatoes or twice as many small hybrid tomatoes, cored and cut in large chunks
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 teaspoon Italian herbs
1 Tablespoon fresh basil leaves chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano leaves chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on how spicy you like it)
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
Salt to taste

Garden fresh ingredients: tomatoes, basil, oregano, fennel seeds
Farmers' market ingredients: olive oil, garlic, onion
Grocery store ingredients: spices

Place the cut tomatoes in a deep casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until skins begin to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Place roasted tomatoes and juice in a food processor with the tomato paste and remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth.

Allow sauce to cool to room temperature. Pour into a freezer container and place in fridge. This should keep for a few months. Or, use it right away on pizza, pasta, lasagna, anything your heart desires.

Yield: about ½ gallon sauce

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