Monthly Archives: April 2013

Raw date squares

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I absolutely adore dates. Date cookies, date cake, dates on ice cream, date paste, dates on their own. They are wonderfully sweet and I love their soft, sticky texture. Mejdool dates are the way to go. I discovered these beauties at the outdoor market. In Italy they are called datteri and since I wasn’t sure of the conversion, I let the lady give me as many dates as she wanted, which resulted in a lot of dates. After nabbing a date here and there from the jar during the week, I decided to make something with them. I didn’t want new, I didn’t want hard. I just wanted the simple, caramel-like flavor of dates in a different form. So I adapted, from who else but My New Roots. Sarah Britton’s recipe for raw date squares involves six simple ingredients and no baking required. Perfection.

IMG_3540Raw baking is what’s up. Seriously, it makes my taste buds do a little dance. Not only is raw baking easy, it allows you to reap the full benefits and nutrients of the food, which can be diminished from cooking. Dates are a staple in raw desserts because they are extremely sweet, rich, versatile, and their texture makes for moist, luscious, and luxurious treats. Plus, using dates means you can say the recipe is sugar-free. I totally ate mine for breakfast…and after lunch…and after dinner. Dates are my jam.

Dates are powerhouses. These wrinkly nuggets pack quite a nutrient, vitamin, and mineral punch. The fruit is rich in fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. They contain vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin K, and many antioxidants such as tannins. They are easily digestible and extremely energizing. Plus, they are a great alternative to those ugly fake sweeteners and refined sugars. Did I mention that I love dates?

IMG_3574During the making of this dessert, I spent a lot of time with my walnuts, or noci, in Italian. In Italy, it is normal to buy whole walnuts instead of the packaged kind [but definitely go for the packaged kind if you want].  It took me a while to crack and dismantle all those suckers [albeit, part of the time was spent marveling at the way the nuts are nestled in their shells] and it quickly turned into a walnut war zone in the kitchen. But that was all the fun of it.

There is something profoundly beautiful about becoming intimate with my food. I think of it as a reciprocal relationship. My food is definitely going to be getting intimate with my body so…I just get intimate with it first. People sometimes ask me why I take the more ‘tedious’ route. Why do I peel all my chickpea skins when making hummus? Why do I scrape the skins off my soaking almonds? It’s simple: I like to spend time with my food. Why? Because it’s meditative, intimate, personal, and rewarding. And when I cracked one walnut perfectly down the middle to discover a heart, boy, was it all worth it.

Now I leave you with some very sweet pictures and a fabulous raw recipe. How do you like your dates? I would love to hear from you!

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IMG_3650Recipe adapted from My New Roots

Raw Date Squares

Ingredients:
Filling
2 cups chopped, pitted Medjool dates
2 Tbsp. water
Juice of 1 large, unwaxed blood orange
Zest of 1 large, unwaxed blood orange

Crust

2 cups walnuts
1 cup raw oats ground in a food processor or oat flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp honey [use maple syrup for vegan version]

Directions:

1. Soak dates in water and orange juice for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring once or twice.
2. Coarsely grind nuts in a food processor. Add ground oats or oat flour and pulse to mix.
3. Add cinnamon first, then honey/maple syrup one tablespoon at a time until the mixture holds together.
4. Lightly oil a 9-inch square pan or round cake pan with coconut oil
5. Press a little over half of the nut mixture into the bottom of the pan, reserving the rest for later.
6. Puree the date and orange juice mixture until it reaches a desired consistency. I pureed mine until it was smooth but still had little bits of date speckled throughout. Mix in orange zest or use to sprinkle on top of squares.
7. Crumble the remaining half of the crust mixture over the dates; press lightly with your hands or a spoon.
8. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes and serve. Watch it disappear before your eyes.

As always, thank you Sarah B. for your knowledge, inspiration, and amazingly delicious recipes!

Happy dating,

Sarah D.

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Ginger me up

IMG_3773Sometimes a girl needs a break from bread. And bread. And more bread. Needless to say, I have been eating a lot of bread while in Italy. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a slice [or two] of warm, soft baguette. I even joked to my boyfriend that I am turning into a loaf of pane. But sometimes, white just ain’t right.

This past weekend I took a trip to Sestriere, a ski village just miles from the border of France. While my host family skied I set out on a walk, which turned into a three hour trek in the snow. It was quite a workout, to say the least. But more importantly, it was a glorious adventure. I spent those hours marveling at how I could be snowshoeing on three feet of snow and at the same time sweating in a tank top. I took a cat nap in the snow, in awe of how close I was to the shining sun, how grateful I am to have seen this part of the world.  And I was savoring. Savoring the majestic mountains around me with all their pristine and profound silence.

IMG_3804My days have been filled with a language I find incredibly beautiful but still hard to understand. There have been moments of frustration, when the language barrier makes it difficult to express myself exactly how I would like. Luckily, these moments are few. Most moments involve me sitting back and happily listening to those double r’s and rolling words.

But that walk was just what I needed. Alone in the snowy mountains, 7000 feet high, I was able to connect back to a language that is so clear to me, a language that wraps me in that wonderful balance of feeling so small yet part of something so grand and divine. This language reminds me of the connection to myself, to a space where my own beauty and light are realized and celebrated. Oh, the beautiful language of silence. I am reminded in times like these, surrounded by nature and all of its mysteriousness, that silence is truly a gift.

I came back from the mountains feeling reinvigorated and inspired, which usually means my brain is dancing with yoga poses and food ideas. I also came back more in touch with my body, with its needs and its language. My body was asking me for nourishment and groundedness. I listened. The result? A luscious morning yoga practice, a walk along the lake, and a craving for ginger.

I start my mornings with ginger and lemon tea. Simply cut up some ginger and drop into a tea cup, squeeze lemon juice over it, and add boiling water. Voilà. A simple way to flush out your digestive system, stimulate the livers and kidneys, and alkalize the body. Drink before your morning coffee and breakfast for best detoxifying benefits.

IMG_4138Ginger is soothing for the stomach, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, contains anti-cancer properties, and has been found to relieve pain and muscle aches. Ginger contains loads of antioxidants, which are especially great as summer rolls around [YAY!] because they help prevent free radical damage caused by sun exposure. Plus the zesty nature of ginger will give you that ZING! you’re looking for in the morning. Feeling gingery yet?

Flavor profile: aromatic, spicy, pungent, zingy, invigorating.

IMG_3889And then lunch rolls around with a grand appearance by farro, an old Italian favorite. I love farro for its nourishing and comforting nature. Farro has been used in Italy since Roman times and is mostly grown in Lazio, Umbria, and Abruzzo. A cup of farro contains about 8 grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein, vegetarians rejoice! Farro also contains magnesium, which relieves tension and menstrual cramps. It is a complex carb which means it breaks down slowly, keeping your energy levels stable. This versatile grain can be used to make a cheesy risotto, sprinkled over salads, tossed with grilled veggies, used in desserts, or made into a breakfast porridge [which is what I did with my leftover farro].

Flavor profile: slightly nutty, toothsome, earthy, undertones of oats, versatile.

And from ginger and farro was born this flavorful, hearty, nourishing lunch. Just what the doctor ordered.

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Farro with a Gingered Vegetable Medley

Ingredients:

1/2 cup farro

1 1/4 cup water

eggplant & zucchini, cut into cubes (however much you desire)

4-6 cherry tomatoes, halved

sliced avocado for topping

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup raisins

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tsp paprika

3 tbsp. olive oil for marinating

Directions:

1. Coat eggplant and zucchini in olive oil and toss with curry powder and paprika. Set in the fridge and let marinate for at least one hour.

2. Rinse farro. Combine farro and water in a pot and set on high. When it starts to boil turn to low heat, add a pinch of salt, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. If you like your farro on the chewier side, simmer for around 15 minutes. If you like it more tender, simmer for longer until you achieve your desired texture.

3. Set a pan over medium heat. Coat with 1 tbsp. olive oil or coconut oil and add the marinated eggplant and zucchini. Cook until soft (mine took about 5-7 minutes) then add the tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, garlic and ginger. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and stir occasionally so the garlic and ginger don’t burn.

4. Spoon the veggie medley over a bowl of farro and top with sliced avocado. Enjoy!

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Butta la pasta!

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Five days ago I arrived in Arona, Italy, greeted by the Italian family I will be living with for the next two months. Though I have only been here five days I feel as though I have already been here a month. My host mother and brother, along with their friends and extended family, have been gentilissimo [so kind] and accogliente [welcoming]. And what comes along with Italian hospitality? Lots of amazing food.

On my very first night here, my host mother cooked a traditional Ligurian dish of salted & baked fish with roasted tomatoes, pine nuts, & raisins. She roasted the tomatoes, pine nuts, and raisins in Beck’s beer until the nuts were toasty and the raisins and tomatoes were warm and plump.

On the second day for pranzo [lunch] she made pasta with steamed broccoli, garlic, and anchovies. A very simple dish but full of flavor. Before arriving in Europe almost a month ago, I had practically no gusto [taste] for anchovies. But since being here, and eating more anchovies than I have in the totality of my life, I’ve started to love how they compliment a dish with the perfect amount of salt and fishy flavor. I have had anchovies in salads, sandwiches, grilled and salted on their own, and in pasta. A little goes a long way.

For cena [dinner] the same day my mother made Torta Pascualina [Easter cake], a dish traditionally served on Easter. It looks similar to a quiche but is made differently. You mix thawed frozen spinach with raw eggs, lots of fresh ricotta cheese, and fresh parmigiano then pour the mixture into a pre-made pie crust. Then you tuck artichoke hearts into the filling and set in the oven for about an hour until you are left with a beautifully baked torta.

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The third day I made lunch for myself, inspired by the first night’s Ligurian meal. I sauteed zucchini with tomatoes, pine nuts, and raisins in olive oil and had it with a homemade pesto lasagna my host mother’s friend made. And when I say homemade I mean everything- the pasta, the ricotta, and the pesto. It was the silkiest, creamiest, tastiest lasagna I’ve ever had. Divine.

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But by far, the best night was last night, not only because my host mother made homemade risotto but because she busted out her RECIPE BOOK!

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I was giddy, to say the least. As my host mother began the risotto process, I tried to translate the recipe for riso zucca e gorgonzola [pumpkin and gorgonzola risotto]. I noticed that there were no measurements or times on any of the recipes, just pages written as simply as a love note . My host mother used her mezzaluna [half moon] tool to chop the onions very fine. “The key to good risotto is lots of onions” she told me, gripping the two handles with her manicured hands.

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She toasted the risotto in the browning butter and onions, then added white wine. When the rice began to soak all of it up, she started to add in–ladle by ladle– boiling water with dado [stock cube]. This part is crucial for good risotto. You ladle the flavored water in little by little, watching the risotto attentively as it soaks up the liquid. As steam wafted through the kitchen and my host mother kept her eye on the pot, stirring rhythmically, I realized why there were no times or measurements in the recipe book. The recipes are like love notes, heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, traditional recipes that are always good not because they change, but because they remain the same. Italian cooking is intuitive, historical, artful; it is simple but flavorful. I could sense that my host mother cooked with feeling, that she could sense when the time was right to add more water or add in little globs of gorgonzola and pieces of roasted pumpkin.  For a busy lawyer who works 12-hour days, a single mother raising a son, I was amazed at how when it came to the kitchen, everything stopped for her. Work is work. Home is home. When she is home she truly leaves her work behind, focusing on the pleasure of making and sharing a home-cooked meal. My host mother didn’t say pronto! [it’s ready] until 9:30 but it was well worth the wait.

Today was spent enjoying tea and sweets at a friend’s house, soaking up Italian language, and  looking out to all the sailboats on Lake Maggiore during an aperitivo. Bliss.

If the first five days are an indication of the next two months, there will be lots of beautiful conversation, new discoveries, and amazingly rich food.

Buon appetito,

Sarah D.

P.s- butta la pasta! is a common Italian expression that means “toss in the pasta!”

[Photos: An Italian kitchen//Sarah Diedrick]

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Fresh ideas

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[Photos: Plant bulbs//Palacio de Viana in Cordoba, Spain]

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