The Memorable Not-So-Great Birthday

lk-articles-Kneipp-Techniques-658x437It was a birthday to remember. Our daughter turned 22 before Christmas 2006. We were overseas in Germany; she was in Colorado. There was no opportunity to bake a cake. Instead, I invited her on a mother/daughter adventure after the holidays. It would include some fasting and detoxifying, the Deutsch way. It was an opportunity to study foreign nutritional practices before completing her undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Food Science. She said okay because, after all, I was paying. As it turned out, she would have preferred the cake.

malteser-clinic-of-weckbecker_128_2_1280_720_5_1403698681A friend told me about the Malteaser Klinik in Bad Brückenau. She seemed to know a lot about it without having been there. Her details were factual rather than descriptive. A naturopathic German physician pioneered a treatment plan to maintain, or restore, optimal health. It included many detoxifying therapies. It was medically supervised. It was located next to a forest. It had spa-like attributes—indoor pool, gym, sauna, hiking trails. There was free time to bond and have fun. However, we were underprepared.

I registered us for a five-day “Therapeutic Fasting Classic”. It was their most popular package. Normally clients stayed for 7, 10 or 21 days, under doctor’s orders. The plan [translated from Deutsch] included:

  1. Fasting drinks, fasting broths, etc.
  2. Best medical attention: two physician contacts per week
  3. One supervised ergometer training
  4. Daily Kneipp therapy
  5. Daily colon therapy
  6. Daily Kartoffelsack or feucht-heisse leberpackung [hot-humid liver potato sack]

Even with a good dictionary, not everything was entirely clear. During check-in, it was explained that fasting is an optimal way to rest and restore the digestive organs from processing solid food. Animals do it naturally, as in hibernation. Undisciplined humans [like us] pay clinics [like this] to tell them how to do what animals do instinctively.

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dinner

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lunch

pineapple-and-carrot-juice-recipe

breakfast

That evening, in the communal dining room, places were already set with hot tea and one tablespoon of solid honey, served with a tiny spoon. It took the edge off since we had not eaten since that morning. Then we realized this was the entire meal. Nutritionist daughter said the honey was to give our brains some carbohydrate in order to function while fasting. Breakfast the next morning was a glass of fresh carrot juice. Lunch—a bowl of clear broth with freshly chopped herbs to sprinkle on top. Refills allowed, with extra herbs. Q4mU6.St.117Dinner was the same as the night before, except tea flavors changed daily. Between meals there were stations with unlimited water, tea or a faux coffee made from barley. Daughter suffered from abrupt caffeine withdrawal headache, not helped by sympathetic doctor’s brief temple massage and, “It will go away soon.” She looked at me crossly, but remained silent.

Each day was scheduled around “meal” times, morning therapy appointments, and an afternoon potato sack ritual. Kneipp therapy is designed to toughen the body by alternating hot and cold water to various parts of the anatomy. banner_image5After a timed soak in warm water, the targeted area is immersed in icy water for 30 seconds. Circulation is encouraged; the immune system and bodily functions are strengthened. The logic seemed sound. Reality was slightly more shocking. The first session was full body immersion in a tin bathtub filled with very warm water. Lovely. tin_bath_yorkExcept, shortly after you relaxed into the water, it was time to get out and be sprayed front and back with very cold water. Three times in the warm tub, three times out for an icy shower. kneippAfter the cold-water-hose-wielding Frau did her thing, a small lament surfaced, “WHY, exactly, are we doing this for my birthday?” Point taken, but we were already there. And we had no car.

Thankfully, daily Kartoffelsack liver detox had its’ high points. While we sipped broth at noon and tried to chew the fresh herbs, a hot, damp sack of cooked potatoes was being put into our beds. Back in the room, under the duvet, we placed the towel wrapped sack over the right side of the torso. Shortly afterwards, a dream-like state of semi-consciousness took over, with vivid imagery. It was strange and pleasant at the same time. After the first day we began to hurry through lunch, anticipating warmed bags of smashed potatoes to help our livers and fuel surreal dreams. As they cooled, we roused enough to push them to the floor. Then, without speaking, rolled over into a heavy, drug-like sleep. We did not know the principle behind this therapy, but it never disappointed. It was a good way to pass a few hours.

By the second day, caffeine headache was gone, attitudes readjusted, and therapies were at least tolerated. Open communication was important because it was necessary to do some “inner work” as well as support each other through the nonstop, aching hunger. After the potato sack nap, afternoons and evenings were a long stretch of time to fill. I brought the book Perfume by Patrick Süskind. perfumeIt’s a dark sort of story set in France in the 1700s, dealing with murder and the sense of smell. It proved to be highly entertaining, even humorous when read aloud. We played endless rounds of Scrabble, Backgammon and card games. We listened to music. I watched German game shows on TV, answering questions for the contestants. We walked to the village in late afternoon dusk to be distracted by the shops. We worked out daily in the gym before tea/honey suppertime. Comedy proved to be one of the best diversions. First season television episodes of the American version of “The Office” provided such laugh out loud pleasure that we savored two, or more, each day. By the third day, adaptation set in. Appetite diminished. We were genuinely full after bowls of broth or tea. We had more energy after “rest hour” with the potatoes.

On Friday evening we were ushered to an area of the dining room screened off from the fasting crowd. A table for two was set with linens and candles. The Clinic Director lit the candles and made a little speech congratulating us on completing the fast. We were cautioned to re-enter the food world carefully in the upcoming days. They served us soup, slightly thickened with lentils, onions, carrots and savory herbs. There was a plain piece of toasted bread. Taste buds reawakened. Every flavor was discernible. There was joy in feeling texture in the mouth. We chewed and swallowed slowly. The next morning we breakfasted on a kind of warm, nourishing gruel with a glass of apple juice before being picked up.

That evening, back in the home village, we went out for a restaurant meal and talked about the experience. We had gone there knowing next to nothing about the German approach to health. That was definitely the adventure part. The not-so-great birthday part was simply that it was not an ideal choice for a healthy 22 year-old. At the time, I thought any adventure, even an “unusual” one, would be more meaningful than something tangible. It was certainly memorable, but understandably forgettable as a gift. Since then, with our far-reaching geography, family birthdays are special when we can simply be together. With cake. Without broth.

 

WALDORF RED CAKE–Especially for Birthdays

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  • ½ C. butter
  • 1 ½ C. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz. red food color
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. cocoa
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. white vinegar
  • 2 C. + 2 T. flour

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add cocoa and food coloring. Add buttermilk alternately with dry ingredients. Stir in vanilla and vinegar well. Pour into 2 greased 9 inch round cake pans. Bake 350F. [180C.] until done~30 minutes. Cool on racks before frosting.

FROSTING

  • 3 T. flour
  • 1 C. milk
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 C. butter

Cook flour and milk over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy. Blend creamed ingredients into the cooled flour mixture. An electric mixer works best. Spread frosting on bottom layer of cake. Cover with top layer and complete frosting. Enjoy with loved ones.dscn0537wald-red-sm

Fabio Meets Brownies Cocaine

French baking ingredients, except vanilla extract from USA

Baking can be a handy skill. There are several things to like about it. It’s mental because you measure and time things accurately. It’s physical because it involves beating, stirring, or folding ingredients together. It’s meditative because while things are in the oven you might as well read or mull something over in your mind. Or, just get busy and clean up the mess, which goes back to being physical. There are important sensory and emotional elements too. Whatever is in the oven smells great, creates memories, and tastes better than anything from the store.

My reasons for enjoying baking evolved over time. In the beginning, it satisfied a rabid teen-aged sweet tooth. At 16, I was baking cookies regularly, convinced it was “healthier” than Coca Cola and candy bars. Later, it was an expression of love for a growing family. There were no appetizing sweets when we lived in Asia. Imported Oreos or Chips Ahoy were available in the form of stale crumbs. Fig Newtons were an occasional purchase, but only after surreptitiously squeezing the package to make sure they were fresh. I kept the family in homemade cookies, muffins, and coffee cakes for years. Baking was also useful for saying thank you to friends for a kindness or favor.

51p4erpkBvLWhen our children were very small, there was a storybook called Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy. I’m not sure they even remember it. It was really for mothers, which is why I remember it. An elephant named Mrs. Large tries to claim five minutes of peace from her three rambunctious offspring. Of course she never does. They always want to see what she is doing. They follow her into the bathroom while she is bathing, into the kitchen while she tries to read the newspaper or drink a cup of tea. She never claims a full five minutes by herself because they want her undivided attention. At one time or another most mothers of young children fantasize about a bit of quiet solitude away from family routines.

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Once, an artist friend in Cyprus gave me such a gift. We lived in Nicosia for three years in the early 1990s. Most of that time, Fabio lived in an ancient stone house in a small Greek village. His lifestyle inspired him to paint oil canvases of Cypriot village life, or the countryside, or the sea. He was a good Italian cook and loved to talk about food, but he did not bake. He had quirky rules about portion sizes, particularly sweets. He always took “a bite” of sweet while drinking his strong Italian coffee. One bite. No more. I enjoyed strong coffee, with or without a bite of something on the side, so we got along fine. He knew I had a young family with the usual busy demands. He also understood I enjoyed being on my own. One time when he planned to be in the city for the week, he asked if I would like to stay in the village for a couple of days. “Yes!” was the only possible response. I planned an overnight getaway for five minutes of peace.

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The house was built in old-Cypriot style. A high stonewall with a wooden door opened onto an uncovered cobblestoned courtyard. The rooms of the house were not connected to each other. Instead, they opened directly onto the courtyard. On one side was the kitchen and living room. On the other side was the bathroom and two bedrooms, one atop the other. An open stone staircase led to the upper bedroom. Olive trees, cactus, succulents, herbs and flowers were in clay pots or scattered about in earthy plots of garden.

village house courtyard

courtyard as outdoor living room

The house walls were at least two feet thick. The wide stone windowsill in the kitchen held ripened tomatoes, drying herbs and smooth rocks that looked like  eggs. There were decorations in the form of blue glass “eye” amulets to ward off bad spirits. I settled in and went exploring.

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foraged baskets turn into home decor

The house nearby begged for archeological excavating. It had crumbled into abandoned ruins long before. Minor foraging produced two mud-encrusted baskets with holes in the bottom. They cleaned up nicely. I fixed a simple meal in the primitive kitchen: eggs with fresh tomatoes and herbs, village bread and wine. Before falling asleep, I stared at the stars from my bed under an open window.

Driving back to Nicosia the next day, I considered the gift of restorative time Fabio had unknowingly bestowed. In an old fashioned house in a dusty village, I had a quietly rejuvenating adventure. SONY DSCA baking thank-you was in order. Something to challenge Fabio’s portion control principles. There are brownie recipes and then there are BROWNIE recipes. BROWNIES COCAINE can sideswipe almost anyone with its dark chocolate-y decadent deliciousness.

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brownies cocaine

A day or so later, I brewed some strong coffee and placed six squares of Brownies Cocaine on a small serving plate. Fabio listened as I told about grooming the courtyard garden, re-arranging windowsills, scavenging the rubble next door. He silently ate one, two, three, four bites–until, the plate was empty. This recipe became a rule breaker that day. Fabio returned to the stony village with extra brownies for other coffee mornings.

And I returned to family life with fond memories of a quaint old courtyard that offered a whole lot more than five minutes’ peace.

BROWNIES COCAINE

  • 3/4 C. butter
  • 1 1/8 C. unsweetened cocoa [A good European brand is optimal.]
  • 2 T. oil
  • Melt these ingredients together slowly, over low heat, stirring continuously. Set aside to cool.
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 3 C. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract [Good vanilla is key to great baking. Spend money on this.]
  • Beat the eggs, salt, sugar and vanilla together.
  • Stir in cooled chocolate quickly using only a few strokes.
  • 1 1/2 C. flour
  • Add flour by folding in.
  • Bake 350F. [180C.] 25 minutes in greased 9×13 pan. Cool before cutting.
  • Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.
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out of the oven

 

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au natural

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with confectioner’s sugar

 

 

 

 

The Unexpected in Normandy

A small disclaimer. This article touches only on the FRANCO-AMERICAN aspects of D-Day, 70 years ago.  Other members of the Allied Expeditionary Forces landed in Normandy at the same time, assuring the success of the invasion. 

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower and members of the 101st Airborne, June 1944

Throughout military history, the most well constructed plans sometimes result in unexpected outcomes. It happened on D-Day, June 6, 1944. In the pre-dawn hours, American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were scattered all over the Norman countryside. Most of them had completely missed their drop zones. As they reached the coast of France, heavy incoming anti-aircraft fire caused C-47 pilots to turn on jump lights too quickly. Soldiers landed far from designated assembly areas, sometimes losing weapons and equipment in the hasty exit. In the Band of Brothers episode, “Day of Days”, Captain Richard Winters and a nervous private were walking through the darkness looking for orienting landmarks. The private asked, “Do you have any idea where we are, sir?” “Some,” came the answer. The soldier mused, “I wonder if the rest of them are as lost as we are.” To which Captain Winters replied, “We’re not lost, private. We’re in Normandy.” 

And so were we. Unexpectedly. Seventy years later, June 6, 2014.

Only three days earlier, the U.S. Embassy had issued an invitation for a small group from the American School Paris to attend the Franco-American D-Day Ceremony in Colleville-sur-Mer. Presidents François Hollande and Barack Obama would speak to guests and returning veterans at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. For many soldiers it would be their last trip to the site where the tide of World War II turned. And, perhaps, their last time to honor fallen comrades. D-Day invitation

DSC_1256The embassy established a strict timetable. Our bus had to pass inspection in Caen at 6:30AM. The engine number was even registered in advance for security purposes. It was another hour’s drive to the memorial site and a second security checkpoint. We were to be seated by 9:30AM. Traffic between Paris and the Norman coast would be heavy, so an early start was scheduled. But, unexpected things happen.

We left school at 3:00AM. Students retreated to the back of the bus and immediately fell asleep. The three adults chatted quietly for the first two hours. I dozed off briefly, but was awakened by loud engine noises and a bad smell. The bus was not moving. Clearly the mechanical problem was serious and unfixable. It was 5:30AM. A replacement bus would arrive from Paris, in two or three hours. There was no chance of making the security inspection on time, nor would engine numbers match the original paperwork. Students woke up, but remained quiet. The possibility of missing the ceremony was unspoken and on everyone’s mind.

Around 6:15AM, a Secret Service convoy pulled up next to us. We explained our situation to the lead driver who told us that he was chauffeuring Mary Eisenhower, Dwight’s granddaughter from his son, John. Everyone perked up at the “celebrity” citing. Unfortunately, agents nixed the idea of our group hitching a ride with the VIPs. They pulled out and drove on.

One student mentioned that his father was leading President Obama’s embassy detail in Paris. We called to tell him about the broken down bus and the ruptured schedule. Awhile later, two French “Gendarmerie” [state police troopers] arrived on motorcycles.

gendarmerie escorts

The boy’s father had arranged for a personal police escort to speed us through the inspection checkpoint and on to the Cemetery! By 8:15AM, we were back on the road with “Our Gendarmes” leading the way. Moods shifted to a higher gear.

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leading the way to inspection point

At the first traffic jam, our escort turned on flashing lights and sirens and led us down the wrong side of the road. We skirted a long lineup of vehicles waiting to enter the inspection area. By 9:00AM, dogs had sniffed the bus, forms were stamped, and window stickers applied. Landing at Omaha Beach was next. Closely following the motorcycle brigade, we swerved around roadblocks and through roundabouts, literally holding onto our seats. Local residents lined the streets to watch the parade into the Memorial area.DSC_1229

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merci beaucoup les gendarmes!

Arrival…10:00AM! After thanking the Gendarmes, we inched forward with the crowd waiting to pass through security scanners. Overhead, President Obama arrived on Marine One with four accompanying Osprey helicopters.

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the stunning backdrop

At the Memorial area, chairs overflowed with 15,000 people stretching down the grassy field between the white marble markers. More than 200 American veterans from D-Day 1944 were seated on the stage. Small French and American flags decorated each of the 9,387 grave sites. The sky and the sea, both deep lapis blue, created a stunning backdrop.

The Ceremony opened officially with the posting of the colors, French and American. The two national anthems were played, followed by a prayer. French President Hollande spoke first. He commemorated the day, 70 years before, using beautiful, descriptive language. He spoke of France’s gratefulness to the American Allies. He thanked the United States for both her help and the ultimate sacrifice made by young men. On the first day of the invasion, 4,000 American soldiers died. The Battle of Normandy lasted three months, until Paris was liberated at the end of August. The total cost was 20,838 American lives.

During President Obama’s speech there were two standing ovations for the veterans seated behind him. He said, “We are here on this Earth for only a moment in time. And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago. So we have to tell their stories for them. We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for. We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy today.” The President reminded us: “Whenever the world makes you cynical…stop. And think of these men. Whenever you lose hope…stop. And think of these men.”

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missing man formation

Together, the two presidents laid a wreath for fallen soldiers, followed by a moment of silence. Three cannons poised on top of the cliff above Omaha Beach boomed a 21-gun salute. A trumpet played “Taps”. Finally, four F-15 jets flew over the cemetery in “Missing Man” formation, remembering those who didn’t return home.

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D-Day veteran interview

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ASP students and teacher with Normandy veteran

Of all the unexpected events that had happened so far, the most meaningful one took place when the ceremony was over. After the dignitaries departed, we approached the stage where some of the sturdier veterans lingered. We were able to listen to stories from the men themselves. I overheard an interview with a soldier, 93 years old. His hand stayed cupped by his ear to hear the questions, but he answered each one clearly and humbly.

We shook hands with veterans in wheel chairs and on walkers, thanking them. The students listened intently to stories of the heroism of comrades who did not survive. Respects were paid to the men now resting in the serenity of the cemetery. Row upon row of white marble crosses stretch across the grass, each etched with a name, rank, company, hometown, and the day of death. They stand in perfect formation, like the soldiers themselves once did.

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like soldiers standing at attention

On June 6, 1944, the unexpected happened. That same day in 2014, none of us expected to feel such intense emotion and awe as we mingled with surviving veterans. But we did. Every one of these men had been there on those bloody beaches or scattered across the countryside 70 years ago. What they accomplished changed the course of history for all of us. It is an impossible debt to repay. Sharing this special anniversary with American veterans from D-Day 1944 was an honor and a lifetime memory for everyone in our group. As the older voices continue to fade, it is up to us to keep telling the stories for them, so that the next generation and the next…will never forget the legacy they left.

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93 year old 101st Airborne veteran parachutes into Normandy, June 2014

Libby’s Lessons in Lauzerte

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Lauzerte, France

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central square, Lauzerte

Libby is my renaissance friend. She lives in a small medieval village located on top of a hill in the French countryside. Founded in the 12th century, Lauzerte was designated as one of 100 “Most Beautiful Villages in France” in 1990.

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libby paints sheep

Although Libby is talented in painting, writing, decorating, and starting successful businesses, she inspires me most with what comes out of her kitchen. I learn something memorable about food every time I see her. She and her husband left the hectic world of U.S. finance to retire early and bought a farm in France. Before long, they opened a “Luxury Boot Camp” in a ten-bedroom stone mansion, half a block from the central square. It’s a place where you go to exercise [a lot!], receive daily massages and eat three well-proportioned meals a day, including dessert and wine. The result is to lose weight and inches and discover hidden muscles. “Camp” is the kind of place to jump-start the way to a fitter, leaner, healthier you. But it’s not for the faint of heart.

Around Easter time in April 2009, I went to see what boot camp and luxury had in common. Advertising had put them on the map, but I was the solo guest for two weeks. At 6:30AM the day began with a glass of hot lemon water and 30 minutes of abdominal exercises followed by an hour of yoga. Then came breakfast, which was always a bowl of Libby’s homemade granola with sheep’s yogurt and freshly cut up fruit, coffee or tea. After eating, it was out the door to hike the rocky, hilly pilgrimage trails of southern France for the next three to four hours. Lunch was served at 1:00PM, in three courses, with a brief rest afterwards. Back to the exercise room at 3:00 for one hour of weight training and aerobics followed by an hour of Pilates mat exercises.

countryside around Lauzerte

At 5:00PM came the blessed massage and a post-exercise swoon. Afterwards, a soaking bath with aromatic soaps and oils, a shower, and dressing for dinner almost completed the day. The first week, I made my way to the dining room by holding onto BOTH the wall and the ancient banister, negotiating one step at a time. Pausing halfway down to admire candles on the landing gave ache-y muscles a tiny rest.

Dinner was always a fine reward.  A table set with antique linens and good china, a candlelit chandelier and a wood burning fire created warmth and ambience. Locally produced wine accompanied another three-course meal. No bread was ever served. Each meal was based on nourishing food in reasonable portions without the contents of a basket of bread to nosh on between courses. Instead, “carbs” were consumed in small glasses of wine, which was fine by me. Somehow, I kept my part of the conversation going until I could excuse myself and navigate up the stairs for the night. Over the course of fourteen lunches and dinners the three of us covered a lot of conversational territory. Libby and I became friends.

Now I sometimes go back to Lauzerte to help with organizational projects in the big stone house. A couple of years later, after reading THE CHINA STUDY by Campbell & Campbell, Libby embraced vegan cuisine and the menus at Camp changed overnight.IMG_1626 She took charge of the kitchen, planning and preparing all meals. It was nearly impossible to find a French vegan chef in the countryside. The food was still amazing and few guests complained. Online reviews rave about the meals and the hard-earned body changes that are typical after a week’s stay.

In early March of this year, I went back to help with a spring cleanout before the guest season began. Eating was informal and mostly unscheduled. We prepared a couple of delicious veggie soups, but a food epiphany was born in the middle of a sandwich. The bread spread Libby made called “Cashew Ricotta” was anything but a nutty cheese. Vegan it is and ricotta only in name. It’s inherent creaminess and spread-ability came from very soft tofu blended with raw cashews, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and basil. The first taste was transformative. Giving up sea-salted butter on my toast for the week? Not a problem. Liberally spread, Cashew Ricotta on the morning baguette fueled energy for vacuuming cobwebs, dead bugs and dust bunnies, wiping out cupboards and shelves, hauling firewood, and carting wheelbarrow loads to the garbage and recycling bins. I sneaked restorative breaks by dipping into the container of this sensational “sandwich spread” with carrots, cucumbers, bread and occasionally a finger when nothing else was available. An addiction was born.

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cashew ricotta and sandwich ingredients

With a few ingredients and a food processor, Cashew Ricotta can be made in a flash. It’s a satisfyingly delicious alternative to hummus since it is also vegetable protein. As well as on sandwiches and toast, it can be used as a dip for crudités, breadsticks, crackers, as a topping on baked or boiled potatoes, even hardboiled eggs. It’s probably pretty incredible on French fries but I haven’t tried that, yet. Good-bye forever, Hellman’s Mayo and Miracle Whip! This spread could easily be mass marketed, but the best way to enjoy it is to make your own, à la Libby.

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ingredients

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tofu, cashews, lemon, garlic, olive oil, salt, basil

CASHEW RICOTTA– Sandwich Spread

  • ½ cup RAW cashews [4oz.]
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves [or less, depending on your love of garlic!] [can be roasted too]
  • 1 lb. very soft tofu, drained [the softest and creamiest you can find]
  • 1 ½ t. dried basil [can use fresh in larger amount, but equally delicious with dried]
  • 1 ½ t. salt

In food processor blend cashews, basil, lemon juice, garlic. Then add tofu, oil and salt. [If using fresh basil, add with the second batch of ingredients. Use as much as you want until you like the color.]

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C.R. comes to life

 

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as a dip extraordinaire

 

The Lowly Leek: from Boring to Sublime

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foie gras and toast with Monbazillac wine

This post was originally published on March 18, 2014 as a guest blog on my daughter, Lara’s, website:  www.gotonutrition.co 

It was also the catalyst for starting my own blog, with much encouragement from my family.

Because I currently live in France and am an unabashed Francophile, things that are an inherent part of French food culture are often adopted to my eating habits. Some food and drink customs have been more adoptable than others. For example, I’ve learned to eat [and adore] foie gras, accompanied by a glass of Monbazillac wine. The sweetness of this wine melds perfectly with a slice of foie gras liberally sprinkled with crystals of sea salt. A bite of foie gras spread thinly on toast followed by a sip of this wine transports me to a close-your-eyes-and-enjoy-life kind of moment.

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champagne apéro

For breakfast I slice baguette “cereale”, full of seeds and nutty grains, into segments and then in half lengthwise. Hot from the toaster and smeared with butter from Brittany with chunks of sea salt in it, I’m content and nourished with a pot of strong French press coffee on the side. My dietician daughter says I have a salt dependency, but I truly love the crunch and burst of flavor when I bite into a crystal of buttery salt on good toasted bread. Another local custom, which I took to quite naturally, is enjoying a glass of Champagne as an aperitif and wine with meals.

Then there were less successful adaptations. I eat oysters and escargots only occasionally, and beef “tartare” never. In France, raw oysters are served with a sprinkling of high quality wine vinegar and finely diced onions. They are eaten year round, not just in months with an “r” in them. Escargots drowned in garlicky butter and mopped up with torn off pieces of fresh baguette can be pretty delicious, but only when the mood is right. Although many people in restaurants enjoy plates of seasoned raw beef with crispy pommes frites alongside, I can’t get my mind around what the mushy texture might feel like in my mouth. I’ll have my pommes frites with an omelet and salad, thank you.There have been some unexpected surprises. Which brings me to the subject of the leek. Leeks are prominently displayed in every indoor and outdoor market, with thick green tops and shiny scrubbed white stalks. They are eaten in a myriad of ways here; cooked and marinated as an appetizer, in soups and salads. Leeks are well represented and utilized as a vegetable, but I had never bought or prepared one before we lived in Paris.

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leek display in french market

I was seduced into trying leeks in a rather offbeat way.  While reading the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, I diligently copied the secret recipe that supposedly every French woman turns to when her waistband begins to feel snug, but before things get radically out of control.  According to author, Mireille Guiliano, French women know to slice up leeks, boil them into broth, sip the soup, and eat boiled leek salad for two days. Thereafter, order is restored to the waistline.

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boiling in veggie bouillon

On a day when it took several attempts to close the button on my jeans it was clearly time to give this recipe a try. I prepared two pounds of leeks by cutting off the green parts, slicing into one inch pieces and placing them into a large pot of water to which I added some powdered veggie bouillon. [The French recipe does not add anything.] They simmered until soft which didn’t take very long, 15-20 minutes. The cooked leeks were separated from the reserved liquid. The plan was to drink broth every two to three hours and eat the remaining leeks drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper for the next two days. I can do anything for two days.

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the french woman diet plan

Throughout the day, whenever I was hungry I sipped leek broth from a mug. It was warm and nourishing in a leek-y, onion-y kind of way and the bouillon gave it a little salt kick. While my husband ate his normal dinner that evening with a glass of wine, I happily consumed cold boiled leeks with lemon juice, salt and pepper and a glass of water just like French women do when their clothes are too tight.

By the next morning, I was over it. Looking at the refrigerated leftovers was so grossly unappetizing that yesterday’s waist reducing efforts stayed covered, ignored, and soon to be forgotten. There was little hope except tossing things out when they began to smell.

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a few added ingredients

A solution surfaced, as it often does, rather serendipitously. Later in the week while weeding out [a favorite family activity] some old papers and magazines, I came across this:  30- minute recipe for Potato-Leek Soup with Chives. Maybe redemption was possible, with a few added ingredients.

I simmered three thinly sliced potatoes in the veggie leek broth until tender, sprinkled grated nutmeg over the cooked leeks and pureed everything in the blender. The result, with very little effort, was a velvety textured, fragrant, soulfully nourishing soup, that when garnished with freshly snipped chives and ground pepper was simply and satisfyingly delicious!

That night my husband ate three bowls full.

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leeks reinvented

And I learned not to judge food by first encounter because the seemingly boring leek can become oh-so-sublime.

POTATO-LEEK SOUP WITH CHIVES

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, light green and white parts thinly sliced [2 cups] [or more]
  • ¼ t. grated nutmeg
  • 1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes [3 medium] peeled and thinly sliced [any potato will do]
  • 3 3/4 C. vegetable broth [can use low sodium]
  • finely chopped chives

Heat oil in large pot over med-low heat. Add leeks, cover and cook 5 min. Add nutmeg and cook 1 min. more. Stir in potatoes and broth. Bring to a simmer. Partially cover, reduce heat and cook 10 min. or until potatoes are tender. Purée with an immersion blender. [Or a regular blender]. Serve hot or chilled, sprinkled with chives. Serves 4. Velvety and golden.