Tag Archives: baking

Taking a Dose from the Culinary Pharmacy

“Did you remember to pack my medication?” I ask Ron.medicine

We are sitting in our dining room, eating breakfast before taking off on a trip to the Black Hills.

“I did,” he says, swallowing the last bite of his omelet. “Do you need any right now?”

“Maybe just a small dose.”

Ron dashes upstairs to his secret cache of very important stuff and extracts the vital substance. He returns and hands me a small chunk of rich dark chocolate. This is my self- prescribed treatment for many of life’s challenges, both at home and on the road, including craving sweets, sour stomach, homesickness, and worry.

chocolateFor years, I’ve felt dark chocolate is important. But I didn’t understand how vital it really is until my brother Dan generously sent us a copy of Rebecca Katz’s new creation, The Healthy Mind Cookbook.  Rebecca is an accomplished chef, author, national speaker, and director of the Healing Kitchens Institute.  In this intriguing cookbook, she includes a glorious piece of prose she titles The Culinary Pharmacy, where she cites brain boosting foods and their healthy properties. The triumphant sounds of the Hallelujah Chorus seem to envelope me as I read the words “Dark chocolate” in her healing list. Avocadoes, cashews, mint, lemon, peaches, and strawberries, are among the other fabulous foods that boost our brains while managing to taste delicious. I am so impressed with the Culinary Pharmacy and with Rebecca’s friendly recipes that I reach out to her, to see what simple tips she has for busy care partners.

Though she is in the middle of a book tour, training a new puppy, and meeting a book deadline (her newest book on Soups is coming out in 2017), she graciously agrees to talk to me. Her father lived with dementia and the topics of brain healthy eating and using foods to engage with people are very dear to her.

First I give her a short quiz, which she aces.

“Guess what section of your book I read first?” I ask.

She ponders for about two seconds, then says, “The Sweet Bites section.”

Chocolate Cherry Walnut Truffles“I earmarked the Chocolate Cherry Walnut Truffles,” I confess.

“I took these truffles with me when I testified in front of a White House committee on dementia and food,” she says. “I wanted people to understand that we all need to experience healthy and flavorful foods.”

She tells me how preparing and cooking interesting foods together can help care partners stay engaged and connected. (For more details on that interview, please wait patiently until October 2016, when my new book on dementia and creative arts emerges. I’ll feature experts on cooking, music, gardening, storytelling, arts, and more!)

After a heartfelt conversation, Rebecca makes a very sweet gesture. She invites me to include the famed Chocolate Cherry Walnut Truffle recipe. She also gives me a tip for instant gratification.

“Instead of cooling the chocolate mixture for two hours before roll  them into truffles, you can stick them into the freezer for 15 minutes.  (After they are rolled and ready to eat you can store leftovers in the freezer)” Which is just what Ron and I do. And they are absolutely so healing and mouthwatering that I am considering adding them to my emergency “medications” list.

Here is the recipe from Rebecca’s book:healthy mind cookbook

CHOCOLATE CHERRY WALNUT TRUFFLES

MAKES ABOUT 20 TRUFFLES • PREP TIME: 15 minutes • COOK TIME: 21/4 hours or 15 minutes if you place the chocolate mixture in the freezer.

My dad, Jay, had this delightful habit; whenever you told him something that struck his fancy, he’d

roar, “That’s FANTASTIC!” and gleefully clap his hands for emphasis. This was doubly true if you

told him he was getting chocolate for dessert. Jay never met a piece of chocolate he didn’t like, and

I have a feeling that just hearing what’s in these truffles—dates, cherries, and walnuts, smothered

in chocolate, rolled in coconut and curry—would’ve given him cause to offer up a standing ovation.

Studies suggest walnuts may boost memory, while chocolate, as we all know, is the ultimate mood boosting

agent. One bite of this dessert and you’d be hard-pressed to feel any stress.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons boiling water

2 ounces dark chocolate

(64 to 72% cacao content),very finely chopped

1/2 cup walnuts

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup pitted and halved Medjool dates

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sea salt

1/4 cup finely diced dried cherries

2 tablespoons shredded coconut

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

Stir the boiling water into the chopped chocolate and let it stand for 30 seconds. Using a small whisk, stir until the chocolate is completely melted and glossy. Coarsely grind the walnuts in a food processor, then add the cocoa powder, dates, vanilla, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and process for a minute. Then add the chocolate mixture and process until smooth, another minute. Transfer to a bowl and stir the cherries into the chocolate mixture.

Cover and chill for approximately 2 hours, in the refrigerator or 20 minutes in the freezer until firm. On a plate, mix the coconut, curry powder, and a pinch of salt. Scoop up approximately 2 teaspoons of the chilled chocolate mixture and roll it into a smooth ball between your palms, then roll it in the curried coconuts to coat. Repeat with the remaining mixture, then place the truffles in an airtight container and chill thoroughly before serving.

COOK’S NOTE: If you want to give the truffles a golden hue, toast the coconut in a 300°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.  For a more distinctive taste, add another ¼ teaspoon of curry powder.

To learn more about Rebecca, her books, speaking, and to get great tips on healthy foods, please visit her website at Rebeccakatz.com

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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The Ways the Cookies Crumble

cookie invitationI set my briefcase on my gritty kitchen counter and traced the raised gold lettering on the thick ivory card. “You are Invited to a Holiday Cookie Party,” the note read. The invitation was from a fascinating, creative, high–powered executive I had met several months ago. I was surprised and thrilled that she had invited me to such a gathering.

Each woman would bring a batch of home-baked cookies, she wrote. We would then get to sample all the cookies and bring a bag of treats home to our families. I adored the idea of getting to bring my teenage daughters such an array of home-baked sweets. I envisioned a room filled with charming baskets of star-shaped sugar cookies, generously topped with red or green frosting. I imagined a jolly basket of Santa cookies and a fragrant ginger-scented array of reindeer cookies. I fantasized about thumbprint cookies, shaped like snowflakes and gooey with jam, and about silky buttery sandies melting in my mouth. And…

cookiesThen I realized the implication; these holiday cookies would not only need to be beautiful, creative, and delicious, they would need to be presented in festive and unusual ways. I had never really made anything other than the occasional clumpy chocolate chip, peanut butter, or oatmeal cookie. Why hadn’t my mother been a more glamorous baker, I fretted, as I rummaged in the refrigerator for something to make for dinner. She only made the plainest of cookies—date crumbs, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. As I boiled water for pasta and heated up the jar of marinara sauce, a number floated into my head and I dialed it.

“If I go to this party, will you help me with a recipe and a cute idea for presenting the cookies?” I asked my friend Judith, who was graced with five-star baking abilities.

“Of course,” she said. Judith’s aplomb would fit right in at such a gathering. Briefly, I wondered if she could attend in my place and just deliver my treats to me.

I told my daughters the good news—in several weeks we would have our own private holiday cookie festival. Since our sweets were usually made by some giant corporate entity, they were ultra-excited.

A week later, I received a thick packet in the mail. Judith had selected a number of “easy” recipes for me. I smiled as I looked over the pictures of adorable cookies with a cute holiday twist.cookies 2 I frowned as I read through the baking instructions; each cookie demanded its own specialized pan, gourmet tool, thermometer, or esoteric ingredient.

As the day of the cookie party neared, I had no recipe, no cookies, no plan, and nothing good to wear.

That night at dinner, I said, “I don’t think I can go to the party.”

“Why not?” Sarah said sharply. She was thirteen and took promises and plans very seriously. Plus, she had a highly sophisticated taste for sweets and was looking forward to expanding her repertoire.

“I can’t just walk in carrying a paltry tray of blobby looking chocolate chip cookies.” My throat constricted and I wished I were a mother who could whip up a butterscotch soufflé from ingredients that just happened to be in my kitchen cabinets.

“Why not?” my older daughter Jessica said. Even during the holiday season, she kept to her black-themed wardrobe. She looked Gothic and serious as she said, “Everyone else will be all silver bells and fancy sprinkles. You will represent the good old- fashioned approach to the holidays; your simplicity will be refreshing.”

I took a breath and considered her words. If worse came to worse, I could always pretend I never saw those cookies before in my life.

That evening, my daughters and I made chocolate chip cookies and put them in a tin lined with aluminum foil. In honor of the season, I unearthed a shiny red bow to top the tin.

Walking into the party was like walking into a fairyland. Christmas lights lined the windows and a sparkling tree spread its branches into the living room. The dining room table looked like the December cover of Gourmet magazine. Stars, hearts, Christmas trees, snowmen, all the icons of the season were glowing with icing and sprinkles. cookies 3Some cookies were nestled in hand-made wreathes. Others shone from star-shaped or tree shaped boxes. A miniature set of reindeer surrounded a bejeweled fruitcake. A galaxy of colorful star-shaped cookies decorated a tiered silver-server. I admired each display while looking for a quiet corner where I could tuck in my tin of chocolate chips. I finally settled them between candy cane cookies and gingerbread Santa’s.

cookies 5cookies 4

My hostess offered me champagne and the conversation flowed. Then she announced, “It’s time to gather the cookies.” She had a large silver gift sack for each of us and encouraged us to take several of each cookie. As I toured the table, I sneaked a look at my humble confection. What if no one took any? What if I had to bring the whole batch home? What if… The doubts daunted me as I filled my sack with delectables.

“Who made the chocolate chip cookies?” someone asked. The room quieted and my breath quickened. As the silence spread, I finally said, “I did.”

“What an interesting idea,” someone said.

“I never would have thought of it. It’s comforting. These cookies remind me of my mother and home.”

I smiled as I put three Santas in my sack and headed for the reindeer.

That evening my daughters and I had a magnificent holiday feast, consisting of cookies, cookies, and cookies.

“Here’s the strange thing, Mom,” Jessica said, as she leaned back, sated. “Your cookies are really just as good as any of them. Not as cute, but just as delicious.”

“More delicious,” Sarah said.

I smiled, thinking that about my mom’s cookies when I was growing up. Maybe there was something about the plain old recipes offered in the plain old way, so sturdy, so unglamorous, and yet so deliciously like coming home.

cookies 6

Here’s to a sweet holiday season!

Deborah

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

 

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