Recipe: Cinnamon-Vanilla Rice Pudding

So I’ve been sharing some of my favourite not-too-sweet recipes, in response to my recent post on sugar (and why I’m glad natural sweeteners are expensive, because it keeps us from eating too much sugar). Anyway, here’s another recipe to add to the list — and for once, it’s not chocolate!

I am proud to say that I came up with this recipe all on my own. It’s inspired by risotto, if you want to know, adapted to create a sweet (but not too sweet) pudding.

I’d never made a satisfactory rice pudding before I came up with this one. It felt like I was just making runny pudding with rice floating around in it for no apparent reason. One day it dawned on me that I could achieve the same beautiful creaminess of risotto if I followed the same basic principles: start with arborio rice, sauteed in oil; then slowly add the liquid and stir, stir, stir until the rice releases all of its wonderful starch to create a rich, creamy pudding.

I played with the spices until I discovered perfection, in the form of a whole cinnamon stick and a half a vanilla bean. Oh my goodness, you guys. These two little flavour punches will knock your socks off. (Okay, they knocked my socks off. Maybe you don’t like perfection.) Plus, the sight of those beautiful black specks (i.e the vanilla bean seeds) will impress your friends and make you look like a real foodie.

Anyway, here’s the recipe I came up with. I’ve included substitutions if you don’t have a cinnamon stick and vanilla bean on hand. I’ve made it at least a dozen times, with or without the fancy spices.

Kathleen’s Cinnamon-Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding

You’ll be amazed how far four tablespoons of sweetener go in this super-flavourful pudding. I prefer the texture of Arborio rice, but I imagine regular white rice would work, too.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp coconut oil (preferably extra-virgin organic)

1 cup Arborio rice

4 cups milk

1/2 a vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)

2 tbsp organic cane sugar (or alternative)

2 tbsp honey (preferably local, raw)

rice pudding ingredients(I’m using a whole vanilla bean here, because I fished it out of my homemade vanilla extract and didn’t think the flavour would be strong enough with just a half)

Method:

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat; stir in rice to coat.

Stir in milk, sugar, vanilla bean (if using), and cinnamon stick; slowly bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring constantly (more or less — you can stop and do other things in the kitchen, but don’t wander too far), until most of the milk is absorbed and rice is tender. It should be nice and creamy.

Remove from stove and allow to cool for a few minutes. Fish out the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. (Be sure to scrape out all the delectable vanilla bean seeds with the tip of a sharp knife and stir them into the pudding.) Stir in raw honey and vanilla extract (if using). Pour into individual serving dishes and refrigerate until cool and firm, about an hour.

Serves 5-6.

cinnamon-vanilla rice pudding

Look at those beautiful vanilla bean seeds. They make this dish so rich and flavourful, and will impress your friends.

Have you tried anything similar? Again, do you have any not-too-sweet dessert recipes to share?

Recipe: Not-Too-Sweet Dark Chocolate Pudding

not-too-sweet dark chocolate pudding

Yesterday I started to share some of my favourite not-too-sweet treats. I decided to share these recipes in response to my post explaining why I’m glad natural sweeteners are expensive (i.e. because it prevents us from eating too much!)

Today, I’m continuing with another favourite:

Not-Too-Sweet Dark Chocolate Pudding

This is a very standard, simple chocolate pudding recipe, with the sugar cut down significantly. It doesn’t keep my almost-two-year-old daughter from loving it, though.

As ever, organic ingredients are preferred when possible. Our family makes this pudding using whole, raw milk from our aunt’s cow. Yum.

Ingredients:

  •  1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp granulated sugar (we typically use organic cane sugar. Other sweeteners would work well, too, especially maple syrup)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

1. Whisk together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt in a medium pot. While whisking, slowly pour in milk to incorporate with dry ingredients. The mixture will look like chocolate milk.

2. Set pot over medium heat. Stir continuously (a silicone spoon works best), being sure to scrape sides and corners of pan so you don’t get lumps, until the entire surface of the pudding bubbles, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir 1 more minute.

3. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Scrape into 4 individual-sized containers with lids (I like to use 4-oz mason jars, as in the photos). Let them cool a little before applying lids, so they don’t get all steamy and squishy inside – about 10 minutes. Refrigerate until firm — about an hour.

Makes 4 generous servings. (We don’t mess around with chocolate pudding around here).

Note: Although a lot of recipes say to do this, I don’t put plastic wrap onto the surface to prevent a “skin” from forming, because (a) that sounds ridiculously toxic, and (b) I don’t see a problem with a skin. Your call. (In the photos, the skin has already been unceremoniously gobbled up.)

Now for some close-ups. I don’t have a fancy camera or any photography skills whatsoever, but you get the idea.

Oops, look who’s interrupting the photo shoot to steal some food again . . .

. . . So I had to give her her own little bowl full. (Notice the chocolate on her nose . . . and shirt . . . I told you we don’t mess around with chocolate pudding around here.)

L eating pudding

How about you? What are your favourite not-so-sweet snacks and desserts?

My Favourite Not-Too-Sweet Treats (And a Recipe for Chocolate Date-Nut Energy Balls)

Not-Too-Sweet Treats (And a recipe for chocolate date-nut energy balls)The only thing too sweet in this photo is the little girl. Awww . . .

The other day I wrote how I’m glad natural sweeteners are expensive, because it naturally curbs the amount of sugar my family consumes. Since we’re committed to healthy eating, and try only to consume unprocessed sweeteners like organic cane sugar, honey, and maple syrup, we’re forced to limit our sugar intake. These sweeteners are costly, and we just can’t afford to eat much. So I’m forced to cut back on the sweetener I use in my recipes, and to limit sweet treats in general.

One of the great things about being forced to put less and less sweetener in our food is that we’ve slowly acquired a taste for less-sweet foods. My daughter only knows chocolate in its bittersweet form, and most store-bought sweets strike us as grotesquely sugary.

After reading my post, a friend asked me to share some of my favourite not-so-sweet snacks and desserts. I thought that was a great idea! So here’s a short list of some well-loved homemade treats. Throughout the week, I’ll share the recipes, and then link them up here. After the list (below), I’ll share one of my favourite sugar-free treats: chocolate date-nut energy balls. Yummo!

Just a side note: I work hard to keep lots of not-sweet snacks handy, that we can reach for when we’re feeling munchy — things like hard-boiled eggs, crispy chick peas, cheese, homemade crackers, chopped veggies and dip, etc. But we still enjoy plenty of sweet things, too. I personally believe that limited amounts of (natural) sugar is still an important part of a healthy diet.

You’ll notice the list is pretty chocolate-heavy, because my daughter and I are both huge chocolate fans. (The darker, the better, in my opinion). But I’ve tried to include some other flavours, too.

These are our go-to sweet snacks. They’re all in regular rotation around here. I’ve made them all at least a dozen times, and have perfected them to our tastes.

Kathleen’s Favourite Not-Too-Sweet Treats

And now, for the recipe:

Chocolate Date-Nut Energy Balls

Chocolate date-nut energy balls (no added sugar)

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of similar variations on Pinterest and the like. They’re similar to Larabars, only way cheaper and with no unnecessary packaging. This recipe is kind of a combination of several recipes I’ve tried. It’s gluten-free and contains no added sugars — just dates/prunes to sweeten.

They are magical. So simple and so delectable. Not to mention nutritious and filling. My daughter — who doesn’t care for food in general — adores them, and refers to them as chocolate balls (or cock-cock balls, but . . . yeah, that doesn’t sound quite right). Just throw the ingredients in a food processor, roll them into balls, and you’re good to go. They travel well in purses, lunch bags, or diaper bags.

Note: In my experience, a blender does not work for this recipe, nor does a wimpy food processor. It’s gotta be fairly big and tough. I have a Ninja Food Processor, and it works great.

As always, organic ingredients are preferred.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 2 cups dates
  • 1/2 cup raisins, prunes, or more dates
  • 4 Tbsp shredded coconut (optional)
  • 5 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil (or more as needed)

Method:

  1. Pulse walnuts and almonds into a fine meal in a food processor.
  2. Add dates and remaining dried fruit, a few at a time, and continue to pulse/process until it all clumps together into a big, sticky ball. Some (cheaper) dates may be quite hard and dry, and will give your food processor a hard time; if this is the case, just process one or two at a time until they’re all incorporated. Extra coconut oil and/or a teaspoon of water will help if it’s really dry.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until everything is thoroughly mixed.
  4. Pour mixture into a medium-sized bowl. Then shape into your preferred form. I prefer to roll them into little balls — they’re easier to serve to little folks this way, and I find the finished product tidier. You could also press the mixture into a rectangular glass pan, refrigerate to harden, and then cut into bars with a sharp knife.
  5. Store in refrigerator for best quality and to keep them nice and firm, but room temperature is fine, especially for shorter periods of time.

almond walnut cocoa balls hand

chocolate larabar almond walnut date

toddler hand sweet treat ball(I told you Lydia loves them. The little thief! I did not tell her she could have one . . . )

So what are some of your favourite sweet-but-not-too-sweet snacks? Or your favourite not-sweet snacks? Feel free to link up some of your own recipes! I’d love to get more ideas!!

Why I’m Glad Natural Sugars Are Expensive

organic sugar honey maple syrup

I ran out of sugar yesterday.  I decided last night that, then, that I’d replace my bag of organic, fair-trade sugar in the morning. The last one had lasted me several months, but I was down to my last half-cup.

First thing this morning, I walked to the local Ten Thousand Villages – where I always get my sugar — with Lydia in the jogging stroller and picked up a bag, grabbing some fair-trade cocoa while I was there.

As the lady was ringing it up, she pointed out that the price had gone up. I looked at the price tag for the first time. Six dollars! For two pounds of sugar! That was quite a jump – it had only been $4.75 the last time I’d bought it.

I decided I was going to have to be even more sparing with my sugar from now on.

I refuse to buy conventionally-produced sugar, which is highly processed, and, more importantly, often brought to us through highly exploitative practices. I want to be sure that the sugar my family consumes was bought at a fair price, helping small farmers earn a decent wage, and grown in a sustainable way. But at that price, I just can’t afford to use much.

I already don’t use granulated sugar often. Even the organic, less-refined kind is not great for your health. More often, I use either maple syrup or honey, which at least have various vitamins, nutrients, and (in the case of raw honey) beneficial enzymes. Lately, I’ve been making a lot of sweets using only dates, and no other sweetener whatsoever.

All of these sugars are expensive. Like, really, really expensive. A one-kilogram bag (2-pound) of organic, fair-trade sugar is now six dollars. A 500g (pint) jar of raw honey costs the same. The best price on maple syrup I’ve been able to find is $12 for a liter (quart). So I have to use them all very sparingly. We just cannot afford to eat much of any of them. When I use them in recipes, I try to cut back as much as possible. With granulated sugar, I usually cut the amount by quarter or half of what the recipe says.

Fresh fruit is another rather expensive source of natural sugar, and unavailable (if you live where I do) for a good chunk of the year. So we’re limited to small amounts throughout the year.

And that’s why I’m rather glad natural sweeteners are all so expensive: they make frequent sugar-snacking prohibitive. We can’t afford to eat a lot of sweets.

It turns out, only buying natural sweeteners is good for your health because not a lot of people can afford to use them much.

The high cost of natural sugars has also forced our family to be more resourceful. My parents took up bee-keeping last year, so they’ve kept us stocked with free raw honey. (We just have to help with the harvesting). And we’re religious about tapping our maple tree every year and boiling down the syrup. And when sweet fruits are plentiful in the summer, we work hard to preserve as much as we can through canning and freezing.

We’ve found some very economical ways to source natural sweeteners. However, these sources are limited, so we have to carefully ration it to last throughout the year.

Which works out quite nicely, considering the way our bodies were designed. The reason we humans crave and love sugar so much is because we were designed to gorge on and enjoy sweet fruits just a few times a year when they’re in season. We weren’t meant to stuff our bodies with sugar every day of our lives. Sugar is a precious commodity that we are meant to enjoy only occasionally.

Because the real stuff is a precious resource, it’s expensive to buy.

And I’ve decided I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m glad. It puts a natural cap on how much sugar we’re able to consume. So bring on the six-dollar bags of sugar. It’ll make sweets all the more precious.

Related Posts:

Why I Don’t Read Nutrition Facts

Why I Choose to Spend More Money on Groceries

 

Why I Don’t Read Nutrition Facts

nutrition label food reading

Disclaimer: I’m not a health and nutrition expert. I’m just a mom who loves to do research about health and nutrition, and I’m simply sharing some of my thoughts and opinions.

I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a new young mom, and this is the terrain of young moms, but it seems like everybody is calorie-counting these days. Everyone is flipping over their cellophane-wrapped granola bars or tilting their cartons of yogurt to read aloud (in alarmed or disgusted tones) the fat and sugar content.

“Wow, look at that! Ten grams of fat!”

“These are supposed to be healthy, but they still have eight grams of sugar!”

I always have a hard time knowing how to respond to these kinds of remarks. I hate to be the nerd pushing up her glasses and stammering, “Well, I dunno, I think it’s actually more complicated than that . . .”

See, I don’t read nutrition facts. I don’t think they actually tell us anything very useful.

My Guiding Questions About Food

When I make food decisions, I try to answer two major questions:

(1) Is it nourishing?

(2) Does my consumption of this food contribute to the flourishing or the degradation of our environment?

And neither of these questions can be answered by looking at the nutrition facts.

The Trouble with Nutrition Facts Labels:

They don’t really give us enough useful information to judge whether something is nourishing to our bodies.

Consider sugars, for example. We all know that too much sugar is a bad thing. But some sugar is necessary in our diets.

However, nutrition facts lump all sugars together, as if they’re all the same. But the truth is, there’s a huge difference in the ways our bodies metabolize sucrose, fructose, and lactose (And a huge proportion of our species can’t tolerate lactose at all). Our bodies also handle these sugars differently depending on what else is in the food, particularly fiber and fat. (Fiber and fat slow down the absorption of sugars. That’s why I believe it’s always good to eat fruit in their whole state, and accompanied by some kind of fat. Strawberries and whipped cream, anyone?)

The nutrition facts will tell you, for example, that a serving of plain, whole-milk yogurt has about as much sugar in it as three Oreo cookies. What they don’t tell you is that your body will treat these two kinds of sugars totally differently, because one is made (hopefully) with natural ingredients, and the other is made (definitely) with industrial ingredients.

And then there’s fat. You already know that I’m all about the saturated fats. I think they’re essential for growth and development. But the nutrition facts still don’t give me the most important details about the fats in the food. The important question, for me, is where that saturated fat came from. Does it come from a natural source, like butter, lard, tallow, or coconut oil? Or is it from an industrial source, like corn oil?

And that’s just the start.

Most nutrition facts labels these days give you a “% Daily Value” rating, which is based on the ludicrous assumption that everyone’s nutrition needs are the same – as if the needs of an adolescent schoolgirl, an athlete, and a nursing mother are all comparable. Ridiculous. Our needs vary tremendously depending on our sex, our age, our stage in life/the reproductive cycle, and our activity level. So I find those number almost meaningless.

And research is increasingly showing us that calories are not all made equal. As this article puts it, “The effect of a calorie in sugar is different from the effect of a calorie in lean grass-fed beef.”

Therefore, I believe the calorie count – along with the sugar and fat count — are pretty much the least valuable, relevant, or meaningful ways to measure the quality and merit of a food.

The nutrition facts don’t come close to addressing the real questions: is this food nourishing to our bodies? Is this food contributing to the degradation of our planet (i.e. the source of all future foods?)

In Search of Good Food

Some of the deeper questions, related to the above, which I also try to consider, are as follows:

  • Was this food grown locally? If not, is there justification in having it shipped here for me? Is this the most ecologically-sound source of nourishment I can find?
  • Were poisons (which are harmful to me as the consumer, the farmers working with the crop, and the land and water in which it grows) used in its production?
  • Is this food close to its original form/state, or has it been significantly altered, in ways my body wasn’t designed to accommodate?
  • Were the farmers fairly compensated?
  • Were the animals treated well, living decent, healthy lives?
  • Is it overly-packaged, creating unnecessary waste?

Again, none of these questions can be answered by reading the nutrition facts. (In fact, if it has a nutrition facts label, chances are, it’s overly-packaged!)

I prefer, in general, to eat foods that come without labels (by which I mean, foods I either helped harvest myself or foods I got from someone else who did – preferably a small, local farmer). But of course I still eat a certain number of foods from the grocery store.

When I do eat food from a package, I do generally examine one thing: the ingredients list. There, I can at least get some idea of what’s inside. I can look for whole, natural ingredients, and be alerted against sneaky fake foods. That store-bought, organic, plain yogurt might be high in sugar and fat according to the label, but I can see in the ingredients list that it doesn’t have anything unnatural in it – just milk, cream, and bacterial cultures.

I also check the labels for answers to my other questions: I check to see if it was grown in my home province, or else a neighbouring state or province. I look for organic certification. I look to see if it’s fair-trade. I also try to look for free-rang/cage-free, though these labels are less meaningful than I’d like. These all help me to decide whether it’s nourishing, and whether its production is contributing to the flourishing or degradation of the planet.

And I admit: I do sometimes look at the nutrition facts, but mostly the bottom portion which examines vitamins and minerals. For example, I was delighted to notice on my package of dried black beans the other day that it contains sky-high levels of folate and magnesium. Excellent. And I was encouraged to note that the organic extra-dark chocolate I sometimes give Lydia has large amounts of iron and fibre (as well as low sugar).

But this information doesn’t guide my decisions to the extent that other factors do.

* * *

I have personally concluded that the best foods are the ones that don’t come in packages and thus come without nutrition facts. And they’re best prepared in traditional ways.

I want my food to keep me healthy. Just like anyone else, I want my food to keep me slim and energized. But I also want it to keep my planet healthy, too. And I just don’t think nutrition facts will help me achieve those goals.

I believe that if I commit to eating a variety of real, locally-grown, unprocessed (or minimally-processed) foods, and if I live an active lifestyle, I don’t have to worry about fat and calories. I’ll be healthy and fit. My food will be nutrient-rich and satisfying.

What do you think? Do you believe there’s merit in reading the nutrition facts?

carrot photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon.

Stovetop Popcorn: A Video Tutorial and Three Fun Recipes

stovetop popcorn

Did you know you can easily make popcorn on your stove top, without any kind of special equipment whatsoever? You totally can!

[Quick interjection: I’ve been meaning and desiring to write some more contemplative posts — on such subjects as Christian anarchism, fertility awareness and gentle parenting — but my congested 18-month old has been sucking up most of my brain-power lately. And also my milk. But don’t even get me started on the latter. So for now, I offer another, funner post. Reflective stuff is brewing.]

This video is more of an experiment, as I figure out how to use the technology and how to create an interesting, informative video. It was fun to put together, and I thought it would be fun to share it with you!

So without further ado, here’s my video tutorial on how to make popcorn on your stove top. I also talk about why you’d want to do it this way, and how we like it best! Additional recipes below!

To Review:

  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup popping corn (preferable organic, to avoid GMO’s)
  • optional: 4-6 Tbsp (half to 3/4 of a stick) butter (See below for our other favourite toppings)

Heat coconut oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Throw in a couple of kernels to alert you of when the oil is hot. Meanwhile, start melting butter (or preparing other topping) over low heat in a separate saucepan.

When the kernels start to pop, throw in the rest of the corn. Cover, keeping the lid slightly ajar to let out steam. Continue to heat corn over medium heat, occasionally shaking the saucepan to prevent burning. When the popping slows down, remove from heat and carefully pour into a large bowl, removing any unpopped kernels.

Drizzle on butter (or other topping), stirring with a rubber spatula to coat.

Serves 2.

Notes:

  • Yes, all of our technology is outdated and of poor quality. No, I don’t know how to edit videos. You mean you didn’t want to watch me talk about popcorn for 7 minutes straight?
  • Yes, I’m aware that I blink my eyes like an idiot. I’m very self-conscious about it. One of my earliest memories is of my mom making fun of the way I blink. I was probably two. My two best friends in elementary school also mocked me on a regular basis. I try to tell myself that it’s an endearing idiosyncrasy and NOT AT ALL the reason boys wouldn’t date me in high school.

Our Favourite Popcorn Topping Recipes

Buffalo Parmesan Popcorn

Adapted from Bake Your Day

  • 1 batch popped popcorn, as above (about 4-6 cups), in a big bowl
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. your favourite hot sauce (we like Frank’s Red Hot)
  • 1/4 tsp. Cajun seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter over low heat. Add hot sauce, seasoning, and salt. Combine and remove from heat. We prefer to sprinkle the Parmesan directly onto the hot popcorn first to let it melt, and then add the sauce, stirring to combine. Eat immediately, because it gets soggy quickly. Tastes incredible with a nice, cold beer.

Dark Chocolate Popcorn

dark chocolate popcorn

  • 1 batch popped popcorn, as above (about 4-6 cups), in a big bowl
  • 3 oz extra-dark chocolate (I prefer 85% cacao)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Melt chocolate in a double-boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely-simmering water, stirring until smooth.

Drizzle chocolate over popcorn, stirring with a rubber spatula to combine. Sprinkle with salt. Cool until hardened, breaking any large clumps if needed. (Sometimes I pop mine in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to hurry the process). Can be stored for up to a week in a sealed container, if for some bizarre reason you don’t eat it before that.

Honey-Caramel Popcorn

caramel popcorn

  • 1 batch popcorn, as above
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • optional: a few shakes of cinnamon

While popcorn is popping, preheat oven to 350.

Melt butter and honey over low heat in a small saucepan. Stir in optional cinnamon. Drizzle over popcorn, stirring to coat. Sprinkle with salt.

Spread coated popcorn over a baking sheet and bake for about 5 min until slightly crispy. Will continue to crisp up as it cools.

What’s your favourite way to eat popcorn?

Shared at Your Green Resource.

Image Source

Why I’ll Eat Anything You Serve Me

Years ago, I was with a group of friends, talking about healthy eating, when one woman, Sarah, boasted that she’d been able to go a whole evening without touching her mother-in-law’s chocolate cake. She was proud of her strength and resolution.

Interestingly, a few days later, I was with that woman’s sister-in-law. She, too, recounted a few details of that night.

“Yeah . . . mom made this delicious cake for us, and Sarah and her husband both refused to eat it. You could tell it was very hurtful to mom, who’d gone out of her way to make her favourite.”

It was interesting to hear the same story from different perspectives: from the one, the refusal to eat the cake was an act of fortitude against temptation. From the other, it was rude and selfish. Sarah wasn’t willing to sacrifice her weight-loss goals to show appreciation for her mother-in-law’s generosity.

Now, I have pretty strong dietary convictions myself. I try to eat only whole foods, and cook almost exclusively with organic, local or fair-trade ingredients. I strictly limit my sugar intake, restricting myself to honey, maple syrup, and fruit as much as possible (with an occasional indulgence in organic evaporated cane sugar). I don’t let anything with artificial food colouring or high-fructose corn syrup enter my house. I won’t buy corn, canola, or vegetable oil. I restrict my meat consumption to two or three servings a week, and generally avoid any meat except that which my parents have raised themselves and I’ve had a hand in butchering.

Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry — you don’t have to remember any of it.

I’ll eat just about anything you serve me.

After that conversation with my friend, I decided that none of my personal dietary restrictions were more important than my relationships. I decided that basically all my rules were null and void when in someone else’s home.

(I’ll make an exception if the food being served is obscenely unhealthy and also store-bought, especially if the event in question is a casual gathering. I don’t think most people will feel too broken up if I don’t take a doughnut from the box they picked up from the Tim Horton’s drive-thru for an impromptu get-together. That’s different from rejecting the chocolate cake you specially baked from scratch for me. Or even made from a box. I’m not that snooty.)

Sharing food is a powerful human experience. Humans have always, across cultures, used feasts to celebrate important events. Eating together binds us together like few other social practices. That’s why Scripture often describes heaven as a feast, and why Jesus commands us to remember him by sharing bread and wine. Eating together connects us. It reminds us of what we share in common. It equalizes us, and reminds us that we are bound to each other and to the earth. In eating together, we let our guard down and make ourselves vulnerable.

Moreover, to reject a person’s offering of food is (in most cases) to reject them and their generosity. I know how hurt I feel when I bring food to a potluck and much of it is left over. I even feel kind of injured when Ben gently informs me I don’t need to repeat a certain menu. I don’t know why it’s such a sensitive issue.

Conversely, it warms my heart when my dessert is the first one to go at a gathering. I am filled with joy when my friends enthusiastically devour what I’ve set on the table and ask for the recipe. It is an act of kindness to accept my food.

The Dying Practice of Hospitality and the Individualized Diet

I passionately believe our culture needs to resurrect the lost art of hospitality. I won’t get into it here (although this article might be a good place to start, if you’re interested in the subject), but I believe we live in a culture that breeds inhospitality on many levels.

There are many factors involved in our culture of inhospitality. But one major impediment to a renewal of hospitality in our society is the exploding multiplicity of individualized diets. We’ve got low-fat, low-calorie, low-carb, nut-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, and traditional-foods diets, just to name a few.

(I won’t even get into general pickiness and food snobbery — that is, guests declining food just because they don’t like one of the ingredients or it’s too low-class for them. I have no patience or sympathy for this. Sorry.)

For the most part, individuals themselves aren’t to blame. Food allergies and intolerances are on the rise in North America, meaning that millions of people can’t eat major staples like wheat or nuts or dairy. I personally can’t consume corn without getting a stomach ache. And some people feel strong convictions against eating animals and animal byproducts.

I’m definitely not trying to minimize the seriousness of such dietary restrictions. I certainly don’t expect someone who will suffer severely from eating certain foods, or someone who must compromise their deeply-held religious, moral, or ethical convictions, to wave these aside for the sake of hospitality.

But I’m not one of these people. I can eat just about anything without serious, immediate repercussions. (Except for corn, like I mentioned. I can have a teeny bit, though). And though I try to limit my meat intake for moral reasons, I don’t feel compelled to reject it if someone else offers it to me in their home (even if it was factory-farmed. The animal’s already dead, I figure).

So while others must turn down delicious offerings due to food sensitivities, religious obligations, or other reasons, I’ve made a personal commitment to gratefully accept anything you offer me. If you’re generous enough to have me in your home, I’d like to honour that by enjoying it fully. I don’t want you to have to worry about whether it’s healthy or organic enough for me. It’s my small way of trying to help bring back the dying art of hospitality.

P.S. I also love pretty much ALL FOOD. In case you’re thinking about having me over. I will love anything you make me. Vegetables, meats, dairy, grains, seafood, sweets, savoury dishes, exotic or Old-World . . . I’ll relish it. Trust me. And I’m particularly fond of cream cheese. Just sayin’.

Image courtesy of Dennis Wong.

Why I Cook From Scratch: The Selfish Reasons

rolling pin bread

Every once in a while, when I’m washing dishes for the fourteenth time that day, I wonder why I put SO MUCH WORK into food prep.

(I do love to cook, but I’m not always jolly about it).

I spend hours in the kitchen every day — wiping counters, washing dishes, toasting granola, kneading bread, whipping up dressing, slow-cooking meats, soaking beans, chopping vegetables, putting leftovers into single-serving containers, freezing broth. . . . It’s unbelievable how much time a person can spend in the kitchen preparing food for three people.

Sometimes, it’s friggin’ tiresome.

I can offer myself all kinds of highfalutin reasons for cooking from scratch. I can remind myself that it saves our family money so that we can afford to buy high-quality ingredients, and that eating whole foods improves health, it’s better for the planet, it’s an act of resistance against evil corporations, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The trouble is, when my body aches from wearing my baby on my back for hours while I chop and clean and wipe and knead, those abstract, distant-sounding reasons don’t sound very compelling. Sure, eating healthy might prevent cancer and heart disease in some distant future, but I’m tired now. I’m bored with all this tedious work today, and I just want to sit down and watch some New Girl with my husband already. Why don’t I just buy some hot dogs?

In these moments, I have to remind myself that I cook from scratch for selfish reasons, too.

The truth is, when I eat food that I’ve made from scratch, I feel a helluva lot better. The effects are immediate and enduring.

When I eat homemade, healthy foods, I have more energy. My mood is better: my outlook on life is more optimistic. I feel strong and capable. I don’t easily get sick. My skin is clearer. I have less body odour.

Ever since I started cooking from scratch, I suffer from less depression, bloating, and acne.  And when I remember to do my yoga routine, I swear I’m more limber and balanced when I’ve been eating well.

When I’m grumpy about having to do all that monotonous kitchen work, I have to remind myself that if I forgo all the slicing and mixing and fermenting and just order takeout, I will experience an immediate drop in energy, cheerfulness, and bowel efficiency.

I’m pretty sure all this work is good for my baby and husband, too, which also makes my life more pleasant.

When I look at it that way, all the extra time in the kitchen is totally worth it, just for me.

How about you? Have you experienced personal benefits from spending more time in the kitchen?

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