Learning The Whole Recipe | Civil Eats

Learning The Whole Recipe

For my entire food love life, which is basically the number of years I have been alive, I have been plagued by conflict. Raised by one vegetarian parent, whose meal-making repertoire spanned the Whole Earth Catalogue, I was taught to consider carob chips as a very special treat. My other, carnivorous parent reveled in the rare opportunities to spoil me with “Home-Fried Taco Shell Night” and sly donut stops on the way to the dump. This devil and the angel phenomenon now haunts my kitchen time—one voice whispers to steam veggies and substitute stevia in my whole grain baking projects, while the other yells to go ahead and make that traditional coconut cream pie. I grapple constantly with being “healthy” or using the “real thing,” striving for purity of body or purity of original flavor. But in the end, can’t these two food philosophies converge?

Yes.  I think the solution lies in simply trusting in the nourishment of whole, fresh ingredients.  By now, the semantics of “eating local, organic food” are familiar to most. I would guess that most of our bookshelves hold many of the same titles and that Michael Pollan has eloquently won most of your hearts like he has mine.  But beyond these commonalities in food consciousness, our diverse and intimate day-to-day choices remain. No matter how strictly you adhere to brown rice and raw celery, there is bound to be an imbalance in your diet.  Even if a batch of gluten-free, Xylitol raw cocoa nib cookies has a very low glycemic index, I would not feel satisfied if I were to eat a dozen in one sitting. Most likely, I would spend my time craving one classic chocolate-chip cookie.

I know that there are a lot of people who have very real food allergies, and alternative ingredients and substitutions are a welcome dietary breath of fresh air. I am not arguing against this fact. I am merely presenting the idea that sometimes using real, whole foods—local and in season—can offer a holistic kind of nutrition, even in the form of one delicious slice of pie. A couple of butter-fried farm eggs or some responsibly raised bacon (if you eat meat), are okay to occasionally “indulge” in, in place of  a daily intake of highly processed tofurkey.

This past year I have gotten a lot of practice cooking for a Type 1 diabetic. My new glimpse at blood sugar control has brought more experience to my kitchen exploits.  I weigh the grams of everything going into a dish, shop for much more proteins and dairy, and fill my freezer with nuts. I am familiar with the research regarding Agave vs. Stevia, Xylitol vs. Splenda, and I have tested the use of all of them in baking.

In the end, when I watch my boyfriend savor that one rare bite of true chocolate pudding, as his eyes close in sheer bliss, I know that he has gotten so much more enjoyment out of that one bite than he would have with any number of diabetic-friendly products. As long as the pudding is not always around, he will stay healthy. As a cook, I find that my appreciation for the ingredients used in this recipe (my friends’ chickens laid the eggs, the bittersweet chocolate is fair trade and a local dairy produced the whole, cream-top milk), evens out my guilt for using a little bit of evaporated cane juice, a.k.a. sugar.  Moderation is key, no matter who we are, what we are stricken with, or what we believe. As Michael Pollan so succinctly says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Angel Pudding

(adapted from Mark Bittman’s Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding recipe)

¾ cup Xylitol

1 lb. silken tofu

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8 oz. high-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. chili powder, or more to taste

In a small pot, combine Xylitol with ¾ cup of water; bring to a boil and cook until dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

Put all ingredients in a blender and purée until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down its sides if necessary. Divide among 4 to 6 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes.

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Devil Pudding

2 cups whole organic milk or cream (or combination of both)

8 oz. high-quality fair trade bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 tbsp. Sugar

6 local egg yolks, at room temperature

Grated zest of one local orange

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In the top of a double boiler, combine milk/cream, chocolate and sugar and heat over boiling water until melted and just simmering.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks.  Gradually stir ½ cup of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, then transfer this back into the double boiler with remaining milk mixture.  Add the orange zest.

Continue to cook slowly, stirring until the custard is very thick and coats the back of a spoon.  Strain and pour into 8, 4 oz. ramekins. Cool uncovered until no longer steaming, then cover and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight.

Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to Civil Eats, various Edible magazines, and the San Jose Mercury News. Read more >

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  1. So true. Ultimately it's about balance, and appreciation. Occasional indulgence is a very good thing. When foods get watered down into Lite or diet versions, the pleasure you get from eating them gets watered down too. I'd much rather eat chocolate as a treat than carob whenever I want.
  2. I completely agree with this and think that the old adage "everything in moderation" definitely applies here. I myself try to eat lots of whole fruits and veggies and few processed foods (except for bread and my one weakness: breakfast cereal). HOWEVER, I do use quite a bit of butter, cheese, heavy cream, etc. I think that if you get enough exercise and stay away from the highly processed stuff and try to cook with whole foods from scratch, you'll be pretty okay.
  3. All I want to and can say about this post is this: So true.
  4. Carl
    this article is a little elitist in it's thinking. everything in moderation assumes you have the means to be excessive, and the access to multiple choices. From an environmental perspective it also assumes that the earth can sustain your standard of moderation. I LOVE food, but have begun seriously considering the concept of sacrifice in my choices. When it comes down to it, is one person's enjoyment reason enough for all the externalities?
  5. Anna
    Killer article Amber,thanks for the reminder that it's the constant balancing act between the angel and the devil that makes life worth eating...I mean living.
  6. so well put Amber. I think we need to get away from the concept of bad food and good food. As long as it's recognizably food! I think that whole paradigm just sets people up for guilt, feeling bad about themselves and binging more to feel better. Make conscious choices and enjoy them is my motto!

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