Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fortune Cookies 'n' Custard Snagged You in 2009

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Today, on the last day of the decade, a special time of that magical, mystical must-remember Blue Moon (a rare New Year's Eve happening)--we're edging into a new period of 10 years. So, going down Memory Lane I was checking out some of the past fave blog posts on The Writing Gourmet. It seems that California Custard, the Ultimate Comfort Food offered comfort with a capital C. My review of Organic Pizza on the Cheap grabbed attention by Italians. And my Winter Wonderland Fresh Fruit Muffins made me (and Lake Tahoe locals) smile. But it's the chocolate fortune cookies that seemed to make me happy as well as other onlookers here and there around the Net. And who doesn't like to know what the future holds...

During December of '09, I rang up countless astrologers and psychics and asked the same question, over and over. It was always career/finances-related--not shakers or love. Flash Backward... I recall 15 years ago, I spent $2,000 one weekend for pricey dial-a-psychics to find out if my wayward ex was tom catting around. Gosh, in retrospect I can see clearly now that the money I spent could have been put towards a trip to The Big Island or a romantic Tuscany resort (my dream destination)--and I could have had my own amour!
Today, as an author-intuitive who dishes out forecasts in magazines and on radio programs, I can and do predict natural disasters, whether it be quakes or weather, and even read people 'n' pets. But note, when it comes to my financial stuff it's like trying to hear news on a bad telephone connection. Sometimes I believe if you're too close to something it's iffy to get a real read on what the future holds. So, that's where fortune cookies come into play... They cost less than psychics who charge, and they taste good, especially the ones dipped in chocolate--dark, milk, and white.
Here's a passage from one of my fortune cookie posts:
It's odd. I first thought that the fortune cookie maker took time out to cook up custom-tailored the fortunes for me. However, this was impossible because the cookies came to my home too soon after my request. So, maybe it was fate. Or not. But the fortunes uplifted my mind and spirit--a lot. Keep in mind, I have a new book THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE due to be released in a few weeks. Take a look at the fortunes I saved from last night; a group of lucky numbers are teamed with each fortune:
The world will soon be ready to receive your talents.
Your genuine talent will find its way to success.
You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you.
In the summer I savored chilled, dark chocolate dipped Fortune cookies. I didn't forget these creative gems. No way. Yep, I'm the one who opens the cookie and reads the fortune before the meal. And now, I have found a place to get festive fortune cookies for all occasions including this holiday season. This weekend I enjoyed a potpourri of beautifully decorated chocolate fortune cookies (dipped in dark, milk and white chocolate).
Not only are the fortunes fun to read but the cookies are a joy to look at and the creamy chocolate make these cute creations taste sweeter and special. Naturally, turning to these cookies are a shortcut to happiness and much easier to obtain (and uniform in size for perfectionists) than DIY fortune cookies (check out this link for a recipe and websites to help you create fortunes).
A Toast of Cookies & Custard to 2010
On the last day of 2009, I vow to whip up a batch of homemade fortune cookies in 2010. I'll create all financial-related fortunes. This way, when I get an itch to ring up a psychic (who charges $3.00 plus per minute) or drain my visionary friends around the nation, I'll just grab a fortune cookie teamed with an upbeat fortune I wrote and get a feel-good, inexpensive answer to my question. May I suggest you do the same and cook that Golden State creamy custard (use the recipe in the above link and add some festive, healthy extras like fresh fruit, nuts and cream) from time to time in 2010. That'll help you deal with your fears in a new year that promises the best and worst of times, with respect to Charles Dickens.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Snow Flurried Cranberry Scones

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

I'm having a fab fling with scones. Tonight seemed like the perfect time to bake a batch of fresh cranberry scones complete with a blanket of vanilla yogurt and a flurry of white chocolate chips. (Confectioner's sugar sprinkled on top amused me.) Yes, it's snowing (again) at Lake Tahoe. But just flurries, so far. The white powder and temperature drop inspired me to hit the kitchen and get in the mood. If I can't beat the Sierra snow, might as well get into it, one way or another...

My Earth Changes column--2010 Predictions--will be available in hard copy any day now, I predict. I did forecast that the Sierra would not get hit super hard with snowfall (some snow but not the year for getting snowbound) and rain for Northern California thanks to the warming trend of El Nino. I'm holding my ground on that prediction.
One more thing. Good news. Today, I received an email confirming that I will be penning a weekly foodie column in 2010 for the Tahoe Daily Tribune. I'm still smiling. At last, I have much more than a furry friend family to cook/bake for just as I wished for months ago. My mother would be surprised as well as my Home Economics teacher back in 7th grade.
And last but certainly not least, my baby--The Healing Powers of Chocolate--all 12 ounces was delivered today to and some other web sites. I feel like a mom, of sorts. By January 5th, the book will be available at other online web sites and your local bookstore. So, yes, December 29th is a good day. Here come the flurries and here's the flurried scones. The title of this recipe was a spinoff of the Ansels Adams framed print in my kitchen. It's titled: Snow Covered Apple Orchard.
* * *
Snow Flurried Cranberry Scones

3 1/2 cups 100% natural whole wheat flour (I live in high altitude)
1/2 cup sugar (granulated)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup European Style butter (I'll go back to olive oil in 2010)
1 cup low fat, all natural vanilla yogurt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 brown egg
1 tablespoon allspice
1 tablespoon fresh orange rind
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
a dash of Mediterranean Sea Salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
1-1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, whole
confectioner's sugar (optional)
sliced almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salts. Add chunks of butter (sliced in small squares). In another bowl combine yogurt, milk, and egg and stir till a dough-like mixture forms. (I used my hands.) Fold in cranberries, chips, and orange rind. Sprinkle with sugar and/or almonds. Drop large spoonfuls onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake till brown and crusty, about 12 to 14 minutes. Makes 12.

The first scone I tasted was sweeter and more moist than the spicy pumpkin scones. Warning: Let cool before removing from cookie sheet because they are gooey (blame it on the chocolate and cranberries). The tartness of the whole cranberries gives the sweetbread a nice balance--and you may like the crisp crunch on the edges. These dropped scones (I almost made the more challenging shapes) turned out larger than the pumpkin ones so I would eat one with juice or a salad and consider it a mini-meal not a small snack. Enjoy! Mine are going into the freezer for Old Man Wintery days ahead.

Here it is, The Healing Powers of Chocolate

By The Writing Gourmet


By Cal Orey
Kensington Trade Paperback, January 2010
ISBN: 0-7582-3820-7, $14.00/$17.50 (CAN)
Here it is, the brand new Chocolate book (part of the internationally popular Healing Powers series: The HEALING POWERS OF VINEGAR and THE HEALING POWERS OF OLIVE OIL). Announced in 2009 in blog posts, newspapers, and magazines, it is now available. You can purchase THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE right now at,,,,, or your favorite retailer.
“Decadent” and “sinful” are words commonly associated with chocolate, but they no longer apply. Approximately 4000 years ago, in Central America, the Mayan Indians considered cocoa beans “food of the gods” because of its medicinal benefits. Later, it got tagged as a “bad” fatty food. But by the end of the 20th century, a twist of fate turned chocolate back into a health food.

THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE traces the origin of chocolate, from bean to bar, from centuries ago to the present day. In creating this informative and fascinating book, renowned health expert and author Cal Orey (who lives near San Francisco, one of the nation’s chocolate hot spots) interviewed America’s top chocolate makers and chocolatiers, nutritionists, medical researchers, and chocolate lovers to find out how this ancient “food of the gods” can prevent and fight common ailments and diseases.

The result is a lively comprehensive guide to the wide world of quality chocolate, from 70% dark truffles to Italian biscotti baked with extra virgin olive oil, in America and around the globe. With proven data for eating dark chocolate containing cocoa flavanols to reduce heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and dozens of pesky ailments, this book—with a European twist—takes you on a magical chocolate tour, complete with wit, charm, and entertaining personal anecdotes from ancient folklore to the 20th and 21st century.

From Ancient Folk Medicine to Modern Health Wonder, Discover the Amazing Powers of Chocolate!
Discover the healing powers of dark chocolate and cocoa—now widely recognized as an accepted “health food” and “SuperFood”—versatile cure-all.
Find out how chocolate’s powers can lower the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and weight woes.
Learn how chocolate contains more antioxidants than green tea and red wine—without the alcohol.
Put dozens of chocolate home cures to work for treating acne, anxiety, brain fog, cabin fever, cough, depression, fatigue, and other ailments.
You’ll also find chocolate beauty and anti-aging treatment—from masks, manicures to bubble baths and body wraps—made from antioxidant-rich chocolate teamed with natural plant extracts.

Incorporating cutting-edge scientific research, plus Mediterranean-style heart-healthy chocolate recipes, from Sicilian Mole to Dark Chocolate Mousse, THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE is a well-rounded one-of-a-kind resource that will show you why savoring this no longer forbidden “food of the gods” is the 21st century trend.

* Editor's Fave book in Complete Woman magazine (Feb./March 2010 issue)

* The right kind, the right amount of chocolate may just save your life.
Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., author of New York Times bestseller The Fat Flush Plan

Cal Orey is an accomplished author and journalist specializing in topics such as health, nutrition, science, and pets. Her books include The Healing Powers of Vinegar, The Healing Powers of Olive Oil, 202 Pet Peeves, and Doctors’ Orders. She lives in northern California. Her website is and email address .

Sunday, December 27, 2009

European Style Pumpkin Scones

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet
The holiday season and 2009 is coming to an end. I feel it in the air, in my neighborhood, on the streets, and in my heart and spirit. We're coming into a new decade. My Earth Changes 2010 Predictions for Oracle 20-20 magazine will be published by January 1st. Ironically, while I can forecast global quakes and national health care reform continual craziness, when it comes to my own financial future (I flunked math) it's all fuzzy like a blizzard whiteout. So, I admit it. Recently, I did ring up a few friends-- visionaries, psychics, and astrologers. The outcome: I'm over read. I need to chill and let the wheel of fortune spin...
Speaking of a new decade and reading the future, I remember 1999--Y2K. In retrospect, I can laugh out loud. During that time, however, I spun out of control. I played into what everyone thought was going to happen: The end of the computer world as we knew it. I begged all my editors to pay me before 2000--so I could cash out just in case all of the bank computers failed. I rushed to Mr. Computer Doctor who was sleep deprived from all of his work but he upgraded my computer so it wouldn't fail. Ironically, fate worked against him and beating the ticking clock. It crashed.
I stuffed my pantry with canned food, bottled water, protein bars, crackers, and essential emergency foods galore. It was chock-full. I was ready in case the world was going to slide back in time to the pioneer days. On New Year's Eve, I went to bed early with my furry critters and turned on the TV. I thought I would see each country, one by one, go down. But nothing huge happened. I was relieved. I was embarrassed. Life went on...
On the topic of spinning out of control, are you dizzy from baking holiday candies, cakes, cookies, custards, muffins, and pies? I am taking a sweets vacation, sort of. In fact, that is my New Year's resolution. A little dark chocolate (it cuts cravings for unhealthy sweets) and I'm going to cook more than bake.
Pumpkin scones are a nice way to ease me and you into this New Year's promise. The scone is a popular British bread that is quick to make, served with tea, and also enjoyed in other countries around the world. A dropped scone is easier to make than other varieties and it tastes just as good. And the European touch I like to use comes from using European Style butter (creamy and rich), Mediterranean Sea Salt, dark chocolate, olive oil--and keeping the portion smaller than larger.
* * *
European Style Pumpkin Scones
3 1/2 cups 100% natural whole wheat flour (I live in high altitude)
3/4 cup sugar (I did use granulated)
1/4 cup European Style butter (I'll lose this phase in 2010)
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 brown egg
2 teaspoons allspice
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
a dash of Mediterranean Sea Salt
1/2 - 1 cup dark chocolate chips (60% cacao) optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salts. Add chunks of butter (sliced in small squares). In another bowl combine pumpkin, milk, and egg and stir till a dough-like mixture forms. (I used my hands.) Drop large spoonfuls onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sugar or Mediterranean Sea Salt or both (optional). Bake till brown and crusty, about 12 to 14 minutes. Makes 12.

The first scone I tasted was plain, warm, and had a refreshing texture--a change of flavor from all those sweets. Later, a bit of the chocolatey one caught me by surprise. I love dark chocolate but I prefer the plain scones. To enhance a warm scone for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, try herb butter (just a small amount). Mix a teaspoon with a dash of fresh basil and parsley. Or try drizzling the scone with a bit of herbal extra virgin olive oil--garlic or rosemary.
As the fire crackles in the fireplace, the four-leggers sleep, I'm glad I made these scones. They are a new beginning for me, and perhaps you, too, to bring in the New Year with good food, less sweets--except quality gourmet dark chocolate--and good vibes for another decade that promises the best and worst of times, with respect to Charles Dickens.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Feel-Berry Good Chocolate Book, Column & Cake

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

After about 20 years of marriage, I'm finally starting to scratch the surface of that one [what women want]. And I want think the answer lies somewhere between conversation and chocolate. -- Mel Gibson

Yesterday, I received a feel-good surprise gift. Columnist Debbie Ballard of the Seattle Psychic Examiner had interviewed me about my new book and her piece Visions of Sugarplums, Chocolate-Style was published. It is about the budding and coming of The Healing Powers of Chocolate. No doubt, the writer has got one heck of a handle on chocolate (it takes one chocolate lover to know one) and it shows in her chocolate sprinkled prose...
Chocolate cake. It's been on my brain all week long. Debbie had asked me if my chocolate book included a Chocolate-Raspberry Cake recipe and sure enough it does. You can use this recipe and put your own fun holiday spin on it, whether you choose to make a double layer cake, sheetcake, cupcakes, or a bundt cake--it's all good. I do love the healthful ingredients in this recipe.

Chocolate-Raspberry Cake
* * *
Chocolate and raspberry are meant to be together. For a rich and luscious layer of glaze that adds a lovely raspberry flavor to the chocolate, spoon raspberry preserves over the batter just before baking.

½ cup Trans-Fat Free Organic
Margarine, at room temperature
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups granulated organic sugar

1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs

1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/8 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Spectrum Naturals Canola Spray
½ cup raspberry preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a hand mixer, cream the Organic Margarine in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, until well blended, about a minute. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and continue to beat on medium speed about 30 seconds, until well blended. In a separate large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Spoon all of the creamed butter mixture onto the sifted dry ingredients. Pour the buttermilk over the top. Use a hand mixer on low speed; mix about 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl 2-3 times.

Spray a 10-up bundt pan with spectrum Canola Spray Oil. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, scraping the sides of the bowl. Smooth the batter. Using a teaspoon, arrange the raspberry preserves evenly over the batter. Bake in the center of the oven about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes, then invert onto a cake dish, being careful not to let the hot preserves ooze out and burn your skin. Allow to cool before serving. Serves 8.
(Source: Spectrum Organics online recipe collection, by Claire Criscuolo, [Source: The Healing Powers of Chocolate]
This recipe is festive and ideal for the holiday season, especially with nutritious red raspberries and dark chocolate. But note, don't be shy to use your own additions. I may use fresh blueberries and gourmet dark chocolate chips. It will be a feel-good chocolate gift to family and friends. Thank you Debbie, from one chocoholic to another. Yep, there is a Chocolate Heaven--I've been there, and am still doing that.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Grown-Up Gourmet Scrambled Eggs Surprise

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Last year this time I was writing my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate. I felt financially secure, whereas, friends, family, neighbors, and Lake Tahoe were feeling the scary effects of the Great Recession. Luxury chocolate surrounded me in my study, pantry, and fridge. I felt happy, safe and secure amid tough times. This year when all should be good--it's not. The R word has finally affected me. It could be worse...
I could have the swine flu. But catching the recession sickness isn't a piece of cake. Today, I called my health insurance company and asked, "How many days do I have left to pay up before we're over?" Gosh, I hadn't done that since the last recession when I lost my squeaky clean credit. I still miss my cards. But I survived. The nice young man (22) told me that despite me being categorized in Healthy Tier One (I pay an arm and a leg each month), that I should keep my insurance no matter what. Then, I shared my tale. "When I was your age, me and my dog Stonefox were hitching and hiking across America. I was penniless. I trekked with a sleeping bag and knapsack on my back." He laughed. But memories of those lean and carefree days are coming back to me fast.
So here I am, a baby boomer, a full-time dedicated author, wondering, "How bad will it get?" I hold a bachelor's and master's degree in English (Creative Writing). And I scrubbed toilets to put myself through grad school. I've been a book author for a decade; a magazine journalist for 20 years. Why in the world am I, like countless others around the globe, hit now (I paid my dues) by a 21st century Grapes of Wrath-type recession? It's not fair.
I sit and sulk next to my three-year-old bird dog. His soft, furry head is on my leg as he sleeps, cuddled next to me on the loveseat. Life could be worse. But I can't help feeling like the world as I once knew it has been whisked like in the making of scrambled eggs.

Grown-Up Gourmet Scrambled Eggs Surprise

2 brown eggs (at room temperature)
3/4 cup 2% organic low fat milk
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
2 roma tomatoes, sliced
Whisk eggs and milk. Pour into a nonstick frying pan. Cook on medium heat. Stir as needed till eggs are fluffy. Add tomatoes. Sprinkle pepper. Grate fresh cheese on top. Garnish with parsley. Serves two. Warning: Keep dogs out of the kitchen. My Brittany duo (think Marley) both snagged a tomato when I wasn't looking...
I enjoyed this for lunch (trying not to feel like the fluffy light eggs) and paired it with a Heavenly Mountain Blueberry Muffin and cup of chamomile tea. Eggs in moderation are good for you and are part of the Mediterranean diet. (And they are budget-friendly.)
That reminds me, 2010 was the year I was going to visit Italy. So, I sit here and I ponder living on a shoestring while watching Kerouac (he needs his pricey, special kidney diet kibble that's kept him healthy), my senior cat, groom himself by the space heater (I should make a fire). And like a kid, I wonder what's next on my empty plate that was full last year. But hey, the Grown-Up Gourmet Scrambled Eggs did make me feel better.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heavenly Mountain Blueberry Muffins

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

“A film is just like a muffin. You make it. You put it on the table. One person might say, 'Oh, I don't like it.' One might say, 'It's the best muffin ever made.' One might say, 'It's an awful muffin.' It's hard for me to say. It's for me to make the muffin."-- Denzel Washington

Hello Old Man Winter! Today is the first day of winter--my not so fave season of the year but I deal. Earlier in the day you wouldn't know it if you were at Lake Tahoe. After swimming (in the heated indoor pool not the lake) the air was warm, the way I like it. But as the afternoon grew into what's supposed to be the shortest night of the year, the temperature dropped. And now, it's dark outside and snowing. Actually, it's in between a light flurry and light snow. And, of course, it inspired me to bake a batch of muffins...

I love the creamy Winter Wonderland Fresh Fruit Muffins that I made a while ago. But over the weekend I purchased fresh blueberries to whip up scones. Instead, I chose muffins because muffins, including pumpkin and oatmeal, make me happy. They're not too big and they're not too small. They're a perfect size. These are not as sweet at the Fruit Muffins but they are moist. You can taste the juicy whole blueberries, one by one. Also, I added lemon extra virgin olive oil, orange zest, and pecans to give it a Northern Californian sunny twist despite that it's wintertime. (Californians are tagged "health nuts" and it pleases me to add ingredients like these.) The European Style butter is a phase I'm going through. It does make your baked goods creamy and sweet. And for those serious snow people, today I thought of Heavenly Mountain Resort where there is a growing amount of the fresh white powder (both manmade and natural)--a draw for tourists and local snow lovers. Me? Not so much. I prefer nice sprinkles of sugar.

Heavenly Mountain Blueberry Muffins
* * *
1 1/2 cups all natural whole wheat flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large brown egg
3/4 cup low fat buttermilk
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons lemon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup European Style butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon allspice
1- 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, whole
1 tablespoon orange rind
confectioner's or granulated sugar
pecans, chopped
Melt butter in a pan on low heat. In a bowl mix butter with beaten egg and sugar. Combine mixture with flour, powder, soda. Stir in milk and berries. Add spice and vanilla. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or till golden brown and muffin tops bounce back at a finger's touch. Cool for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle top with sugar (nuts optional). Makes 12 medium muffins.

The jury is in. My sibling favored the Winter Wonderland wonders because of the Twinkie Effect (sweet cream cheese frosting). And he announced "I don't like orange flavored muffins or nuts." Me? I like these semi-healthy muffins (blueberries are rich in antioxidants like olive oil and dark chocolate). These friendly muffins are not too sweet but sweet enough. To me, they're a nice Californian-type muffin and ideal to team with a cup of chamomile or green tea --and stay indoors on a chilly winter day with a few inches of that white stuff on the ground.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Countdown to Unwrapping The Healing Powers of Chocolate

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Discover The Amazing Powers Of Chocolate!
Did you know?...

Chocolate is known as Mother Nature’s “food of the gods,” the medicinal benefits of chocolate were recognized as far back as 4000 years ago...

* Eating chocolate can help boost the immune system, lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes—even obesity!—and increase lifespan.

* A 1.5 ounce bar of quality chocolate has as much antioxidant power as a 5 ounce glass of wine—without the side effects of alcohol.

* Chocolate is chock-full of mood-enhancing ingredients, including phenylethylamine (the “love drug”) and serotonin.

* Chocolate can relieve a host of ailments, including depression, fatigue, pain and PMS, as well as rev up your sex drive!

Drawing on the latest scientific research as well as interviews with medical doctors and chocolatiers, this fascinating book reveals how to live longer and healthier while indulging in one of nature’s most decadent and versatile foods. Explore real chocolate (infused with fruits, herbs, and spices), Mediterranean-style, heart-healthy recipes, plus home remedies that combat everything from acne to anxiety. You’ll also discover rejuvenating beauty and anti-aging spa treatments—all made with antioxidant-rich chocolate! Did I mention recipes?
We're talking chocolate to die for dishes. Breakfast. Appetizers and Breads. Entrees. Desserts...Chocolate recipes created by professional chefs, high profile chocolatiers, book authors, and so much more...
Order now from your fave online bookseller, a discount will welcome you! A perfect holiday gift is chocolate--a super food to be savored year round. You can get a gift card for The Healing Powers of Chocolate to team with The Healing Powers of Vinegar and The Healing Powers of Olive Oil (all published by Kensington).

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Wanna Give the World Hot Chocolate for 2010

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

“Hot chocolate here is an intense chocolate indulgence." -- Barbara Fairchild

I love Sheryl Crow's song "Every day is a winding road..." Yesterday was a better day (for me) for a while. I woke up and wrote an article about how pets provide healing powers for humans. That piece made me feel good. A sprinkle of emails from editors requesting my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, due to be released on December 29) made me feel even better. Later, the resort pool/hot tub was all mine and the tempertures were perfect. It's still quiet at the Lake. The snow is melting, for the most part, and black ice isn't an issue (or so I thought). The dogs got a good walk and all was normal--almost...
In the afternoon my sibling announced that he put snowmelt on the ground surrounding the back house. Yikes! My mind began to race: "I walked back there!" "I must have brought in the toxic stuff all through the house." "Are the pooches licking their paws and ingesting that stuff?" "Will they get sick?" A call to the vet (the number is memorized). A quick online search to discover the dangers of icemelt to pets. It was a stressful hour--for me not the canine duo. But it turns out the type of icemelt used wasn't the "safer" kind but it wasn't the worst type either. In result, the dogs and I will survive.
Speaking of survival, winter is on its way, coming on December 21. It's the shortest day and longest night of the year. (Probably the perfect day to have a cuddly mate or two dogs.) So those seasonal blues are starting to kick in, sort of. I just read a short online article about feng shui for seasonal blues. Suggestions that I'm tweaking and putting into action asap this weekend: Cascading houseplants; grouping and hanging pots and pans; have something cooking on the stove/oven; make your cozy corner cozier: near a fireplace; a soft throw (or two); piles of books; turn on nature sounds or your fave music; and savor a cup of something hot and good for the body, mind, and soul. A cup of hot cocoa, anyone?
Do you know that quality dark chocolate can boost physical energy, enhance brainpower, and help you to destress during life's ups and downs? It's true, according to the sweet research sprinkled throughout my chocolate book. Last year this time I was researching chocolate like it was a frog in biology class. The way I see it, each chapter was similar to taking a class in college. And yes, I was eating chocolate, too. It helped me get through the challenge of digesting it all (not the truffles, the chocolate information about going from bean to bar).
This morning I'm craving a cup of good hot chocolate. And it's so easy to prepare for one, two or a group of people. This time around I'm trying a gourmet brand that I purchased and haven't tried. (The well-known brand is in the chocolate book, though. The company did send me a large box of chocolate bars last year. Ah, those were the days.)
Hot Chocolate
1-1/2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup 2% low fat organic milk
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon or a cinnamon stick
1 dollop whipped cream (without trans fats)
dark chocolate curls or shavings (optional)

Mix cocoa and sugar into a saucepan or a mug for convenience. Pour milk. Stir. Heat on stovetop or nuke it. Once hot but not scalded remove from stovetop or microwave. Sprinkle cinnamon and top with cream or a big marshmallow (these are fat free, low cal) and a dash of dark chocolate.
The end result? I've done Hershey's at home to an array of luxury brands of cocoa including MarieBelle (it boasts dark chocolate shavings) and even purchased thick, creamy European style cocoa at Starbucks. This one? It's nice. Not too rich. Not too sweet. It's a nice start for the day. Uh oh. Just read a new storm is coming around the mountain (80% probability) for Monday. Maybe it's a ploy to get the tourists here for the holiday. If not, I've got a whole container of cocoa powder to get me through the next week. A toast to hot chocolate and the challenges of 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blast a Bad Day with Nutty French Toast & Fruit

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet
“I went to a cafe that advertised breakfast anytime, so I ordered French Toast during the Rennasiance."--Stephen Wright

Ever have one of those bad days that you wish you could blast off and/or take a shuttle to another planet? Yeah, raising my hand here. Marking today on my calendar: December 17. Not my choice of fave days. At all. Sure, it could have been worse. But everything that could have gone wrong did. The highlight of the day was when a key came off my laptop computer and it took an hour to find it. That was fun. Imagine with a flashlight in hand, lifting the couch, loveseat, coffee table, treadmill, and looking at my youngest Brittany, Seth (he still holds that young, innocent look), to see if he pulled a Marley--and ate it. Nah, the little key was under the recliner chair. It didn't go far. But hey, the silver lining is that now I have a thoroughly cleaned living room. When I'm feeling down I'm not one to eat for comfort--but I am human and fueling up is part of life--bumps or no bumps. So, tonight I created a quick grown-up style comforting dish that can come to the rescue anytime...
Enter: French toast. (The recipe in the link gets a B-grade. But I use some other goodies that might make it a B or B+.) This time around I tried making it with earthy spices, fresh fruit, and chopped nuts. (Bananas are mood boosters and more.) Yes, it was just what I needed. So, if you ever feel stressed out or want some comfort food day or night, try this recipe.

Nutty French Toast
* * *
2 slices whole wheat sourdough bread
1 brown egg
1/2 -3/4 cup 2% organic low-fat milk
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
confectioner's sugar
1/2 banana
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons premium gourmet maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter (or extra virgin olive oil)

Combine milk and egg into a bowl. Add spices. Dip two large pieces of bread into the mixture. Keep dogs away. Put into a hot skillet on medium heat. Use butter or EVOO. Turn over a couple of times till crispy brown. Place on dish and cut in two triangles. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Top with sliced bananas and pecans. Drizzle syrup on French toast. Serves two. (Pair it with orange juice; vitamin C is a great for stress, right?)
This easy does it recipe can be whipped up anytime and takes less than five minutes to prepare and doesn't break the bank. But it hits the spots--body and spirit. It was light, sweet, and friendly. Banana, eggs, milk, nuts, whole wheat bread are all good for you foods. Plus the different textures are a nice mix. I needed the crunch to destress. And the gourmet syrup soothed those frazzled nerves.
Actually, I feel frizzled frazzled because I'm waiting for my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington) to be released in about two weeks. I guess it's kind of like being 8 1/2 months pregnant. "Will my baby be healthy?" Or, it could be similar to watching and waiting for the film 8 1/2 Weeks to end. "Will she get a hint?" Either way, I'm as nervous as a cat. Ironically, my kitty is laid-back in his catnapper. Tomorrow I think I will go live at the swimming pool, underwater--before the tourists invade the town next week. But hey, in the morning--a brand new day full of more twists and turns--I can wake up to the other piece of French toast. This time around it will be more gourmet-ish, different fruit and hold the nuts.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spicey Petit Peanut Butter Cookies

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

“It's like peanut butter and chocolate. Each is great, but they're better together." -- Richard Whitehead

I simply adore peanut butter. As the story goes, when I was just a kid after my mom returned from a trip to Europe she was smitten by dishing out gourmet food. She used me and my siblings as lab rats and tried her fancy fare on us. More times than not I, a picky eater, refused to oblige. Then she'd announce to us that it would be a peanut butter sandwiches night if we wouldn't try her new, improved dinner dishes. That was fine with me...
Peanut butter is like an old reliable friend. As a struggling grad student, I lived on it teamed with honey and whole wheat bread. And now, in the recent years after or before my swim I'd purchase one of those giant peanut butter cookies at Starbucks. Tonight, however, I created a European style petite peanut butter cookie with European Style butter (it's richer and creamier), winter-warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, Mediterranean Sea Salt for a mix of sweet 'n' salty and light crunch--and dark chocolate.

Back to the past, my mom did bake a super peanut butter cookie. I recall that she allowed me to make the criss cross imprints on the cookie dough. I love that look and tonight I felt my mother's presence in the kitchen while forming the ball, one by one. It was an awesome and unforgettable experience, sort of like ghostbaking.

Spicey Petit Peanut Butter Cookies

2 1/2 cups all natural whole wheat flour
(I added an extra 1/4 cup because of the altitude)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dark brown granulated sugar
1/3 cup European Style butter
1 cup all natural peanut butter, chunky
1 brown egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1 /2 teaspoons (each) ground ginger and cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mediterranean sea salt
dark chocolate curls

Preheat ovent to 450 degrees. In a bowl mix flour, soda, and salt. Melt butter and peanut butter in the microwave (I like to do it that way) and mix together egg, oil, sugars, and vanilla. Form cookie dough into a snake-like roll and wrap in parchment paper. (I saw this tip on Food Network and it works like a charm.) Chill for an hour. Slice dough into 1/4 inch slices, roll into petite balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place criss cross marks (see photo above) with fork on top of balls. Bake for about 8-10 minutes. Once out of the oven sprinkle half the cookies with Mediterranean sea salt and the other half with dark chocolate curls (wait till the cookies cool unless you like the melted effect). This way you won't have to wish you'll have both of best worlds. Makes about two and a half dozen.

It's a challenge to bake good cookies in the high altitude. You've got to get a grasp on the right mix of sugars and flour for a chewy texture. And baking requires a higher temperature. I think I've got it down now after a decade of living here in the Sierras. Tonight it worked.
Actually, I froze the cookies so I wouldn't be tempted to overindulge. The ginger gives the cookie a nice bite paired with the peanut butter flavor. The salt provides a fun crunch. And the dark chocolate curls? These are my favorite--peanut butter and chocolate are "better together." Or, you can enjoy the plain ones and make a cup of quality dark hot chocolate.

So, it seems like some things stay the same over time but you can create some tweaks to make it a tad different providing more spice to life. Uh oh, I think I inherited my mom's knack for cooking up American food with an European kick.

Budget-Smart Chinese Feast is the Cat's Meow

The Writing Gourmet
“As long as there's pasta and Chinese food in the world, I'm okay."
Michael Chang
Thanks to the warm snowstorm it's super slush outdoors here in the Sierras. Question: Do I like to walk the dogs in the slippery white stuff? Answer: Not so much. I'd rather stay indoors and whip up hot and spicey Chinese food. No kidding. I remember paying $25 for Chinese--enough rice, veggies, fried shrimp, and two fortune cookies for two. But last night after walking like a penguin on the snow covered ground, I cooked up a meal that's enough for four humans and a taste of shrimp for one fish-loving senior cat, Kerouac. (The Brittanys, a sporting breed--wannabe snowdogs--were are whooped and already ate.) The best part, homemade Chinese food costs less, and you can healthy it all up which is grr-eat...

Shrimp Stirfry
* * *
1 cup brown rice
1 1/2 cups cruciferous vegetables mix, pre-cut
jumbo shrimp, pre-cooked (about 3-4 shrimp per person; warning high in cholesterol)
orange extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 teaspoon ginger (optional)
garlic, chopped (optional)
pepper as desired

Simply follow the cooking rice instructions on the package. Sautee veggies in oil. Repeat with shrimp (no more than two minutes on medium heat). Fold in al dente vegetables and fish with rice. Serves four or makes four meals for one.

But don't stop there! Include antioxidant, immune boosting green tea. And for dessert serve chocolate dipped fortune cookies. This tasty and easy to cook meal cuts the price a lot. Rice is budget-friendly. A large bag of cruciferous vegetables is less than five dollars. The shrimp (low in saturated fat, a good protein, vitamin B12 and iron source)? I got more than less for five dollars. I always have green tea, olive oil, ginger, and pepper. Not to forget no MSG. The vegetables aren't tainted with a meat sauce. And the orange flavored EVOO gives the dish a nice light citrus flavor.
And the cookies? (Check out Chocolate Fortunes--the blog post before this one tells you all about these gems.) And chocolate fortune cookies--the traditional or festive ones--are frosting on a flavorful and healthy homemade Chinese meal.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Festive Fortune Cookies Will Bring Holiday Success!

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

"Happiness can be achieved by using your patience." -- Chocolate Fortunes

I admit it. I like astrology. I like psychics. I like fortune cookies. In fact, often I use my own intuition to guide me about the future but if you are too emotional about a topic it can make your read fuzzy like a snowstorm whiteout. So, this weekend I also turned to a gifted astrologer with keen insight, a professional psychic (or two), and colorful fortune cookies with feel good fortunes that tickled my fancy during the crazy change of seasons...

It's odd. I first thought that the fortune cookie maker took time out to cook up custom-tailored the fortunes for me. However, this was impossible because the cookies came to my home too soon after my request. So, maybe it was fate. Or not. But the fortunes uplifted my mind and spirit--a lot. Keep in mind, I have a new book THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE due to be released in a few weeks. Take a look at the fortunes I saved from last night; a group of lucky numbers are teamed with each fortune:
"The world will soon be ready to receive your talents."
"Your genuine talent will find its way to success."
"You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you."
During the summer I savored dark chocolate dipped Fortune cookies. I didn't forget these creative gems. No way. Yep, I'm the one who opens the cookie and reads the fortune before the meal. And now, I have found a place to get festive fortune cookies for all occasions including this holiday season. This weekend I enjoyed a potpourri of beautifully decorated chocolate fortune cookies (dipped in dark, milk and white chocolate). And yes, they are sprinkled with traditional winter holiday colors of red, green and white. (These are perfect for holiday stocking stuffers, gifts, and more.)

Not only are the fortunes fun to read but the cookies are a joy to look at and the creamy chocolate make these cute creations taste sweeter and special. Naturally, turning to these cookies are a shortcut to happiness and much easier to obtain (and uniform in size for perfectionists) than DIY fortune cookies (check out this link for a recipe and websites to help you create fortunes). Homemade fortune cookies made with olive oil and your choice of chocolate will be fun to do one day--but not in near future for me. Meanwhile, I'm savoring these upbeat Pollyanna-type cookies (yeah, the fortunes have got me hooked) throughout the hectic holiday season. The flavor and fortune pair helps make me feel warm, and fuzzy inside and out. And that's not all...

I predict one night in the near future that if you serve yourself, family and/or friends a different dinner, trying a healthful Asian cuisine meal complete with chocolate fortune cookies it will make you a big success. In my next blog post I'll show how I did exactly that--along with whole grains, veggies, fish, and herbal tea. Happy Holidays! from Chocolate Fortunes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Healthy Holiday Giveaway: The Healing Powers of Olive Oil & Vinegar

By Cal Orey, The Writing Goumet

'Tis the season for creative gift giving. But wait, times are tough and finding time and/or the funds to buy good for you presents is a challenge. Vinegar and olive oil come to the rescue...

I will send a signed copy of The Healing Powers of Vinegar or The Healing Powers of Olive Oil (mass market format) to the first ten people who log onto The Writing Gourmet--click on the Follow gizmo (beneath The Foodie BlogRoll and yummy chocolate slideshow)--and leave a comment on one of the recent posts. That's it. These two books will make a great gift for you, a family member or friend. (Self-gifting is healthy for the body, mind, and spirit.)
Both books provide timeless information, including:
* Health Benefits * Home Cures * Eco-Friendly Tips * Natural Pet Care
* Super Beauty Concoctions * Great Recipes Created by Pro Chefs
One more thing: You can get another Healing Powers book--The Healing Powers of Chocolate--by pre-ordering (a discount). A book on chocolate is a year round gift just as is vinegar and olive oil. Pair it with real chocolate and you'll put a smile on any chocolate lover's face.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Room Service Pancakes with Honeycrisp Apples

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet
“The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.” -- W. C. Fields

I'm a self-professed night owl. Sure, it's my fantasy to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and go straight to the kitchen and whip up a creative gourmet breakfast. But in real life I'd rather dial for room service and get yummy pancakes in a flash. Since I'm not at a hotel with a menu in my hand, I'm going to Plan B. I just made an experimental breakfast and wow. So, here I sit thinking hot pancakes--drizzled with premium gourmet maple syrup--(like the one I just devoured) is the way to go for a pre-wintery Saturday morning...
Tomorrow I'm going to warm up the low-fat oat bran pancakes that I just made. It's so easy: Complete Mix--just add water. Use a nonstick pan and no fuss or muss. These pancakes contain no trans fat, are a good source of protein, calcium, and iron. And they really taste good--light and fluffy.
Plus, I wanted to add something special. Those delicious crunchy Honeycrisp apples are still hanging around Lake Tahoe. A bit more pricey than a month ago, but they are worth every bite. This time, I chopped up one and sauteed it in a small bit of butter, cinnamon and sprinkled it with brown sugar. Several minutes later I knew this special touch was going to work--fresh, warm, sweet, tart and spicy--and give me quickie gourmet pancakes in a flash.
Yeah, I have done the pancakes from scratch thing. But mix pancakes with some essential nutrients is so easy if you're not in the mood to cook in the a.m. and have other things planned. Read: Shovel snow, walk dogs in snow, shovel snow... (Plus, the post office is on the agenda for getting out advance copies of my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate.)
News Flash: I just read the NOAA report. Two inches of the white power per hour? Fun. Fun. Fun. On the upside, no pancake boo boos from the first one to the last. That is a first. You know how the first pancake is sometimes imperfect? Not so this time. I put each perfect pancake into a container next to the apples. So, in the morning I'll have gourmet-style Oat Bran Pancakes with my fave apples and syrup to die for--in less than a minute. That's sweet, especially when you're getting buried in the white stuff.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Scent of Pumpkin Nutty Muffins is Sweet & Spicy

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet
"Sugar and spice and all things nice. That's what little girls are made of!"-- Mother Goose

I like pumpkin. A lot. I love pumpkin bread, pumpkin ice cream, and pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is a popular tradition during the fall and pre-winter days especially for pre-winter days and through Christmas. The pumpkin—an orange fruit from the gourd family--is symbolic of autumn harvest. And it's a feel-good food, too. Last year, in the fall after swimming and hot tubbing at one of our Stateline resorts, I purchased a tasty and large pumpkin muffin at Starbucks. But now I know I can also bake my own and spike them with quality dark chocolate or nuts of my choice, control the size and ingredients, and keep a stash in the freezer. And that’s not all…
Pumpkin is low in cholesterol and sodium. It’s also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A plus other essential nutrients. This fall fruit is a good for you food. Teamed with heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil and dark chocolate, I’ve created a scrumptious pumpkin recipe that’ll warm you up on those chilly, winter days ahead.
All week long I've been preparing myself to bake up a batch of sweet and spicy pumpkin chocolatey chip muffins with a Mediterranean taste. But this time around I'm leaving out the chocolate (I can pair the muffin with a cup of hot cocoa) and using nuts, nuts, nuts. I'll use orange extra virgin olive oil, European Style butter, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a mix of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts and pecans)--a super food with mononunsaturated fats, like dark, chocolate that does your body, mind, and spirit good.

Pumpkin Nutty Mountain Muffins
* * *
3 cups all natural whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup golden brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon (each) cinnamon, nutmeg
4 large brown eggs
1 cup European Style butter, melted
2 teaspoons orange extra virgin olive oil
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup (each) pecans and almonds
Mediterranean sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, measure the flour, powder, and spices. In a separate bowl, whisk together until well blended the eggs, oil, pumpkin, and vanilla. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and mix. Stir in nuts. Spoon the batter evenly into a muffin tin. Use the rest of the batter in a small sized bread pan (unless you want larger-sized muffins) and lightly grease with orange olive oil. Yes, it works. Drop nuts on top of muffins (and bread). Bake for about 20 minutes (it takes a bit longer in higher altitude) till a firm golden brown (or until a knife inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean). Sprinkle granulated sugar or sea salt on top of muffins. Makes 12 medium-sized muffins and one small-sized bread.

The scent in the kitchen, dining room and living room will smell like fresh baked spicy and sweet pumpkin. Last time I baked these muffins, the flavor of one of these warm and moist creations sweetened with the chunks of melted chocolatey chips was so good and something to write home about. But the crunch of the mixed nuts and saltiness of Mediterranean sea salt (like what is used on gourmet dark chocolate caramels) this time around is also a perfect Italian-style combo. If you don’t want to overindulge--put some muffins into the freezer.
So, while the past pumpkin chocolate baking experience was fun (I used gourmet dark chocolate chips) and a treat to taste the season of the pumpkin. It was the next best thing to whisking away to a town by the Mediterranean Sea. Ah, but to warm up one of these feel-good pumpkin nut muffins in the microwave tomorrow morning and savor a fresh brewed cup of bold java will be heaven amid the pine trees (hopefully without snow) at Tahoe.
Psst! The word is, there may be an upcoming shortage of canned pumpkin after Thanksgiving. Blame it on Midwest weather woes. But note, you still can find pumpkin delights: Cheesecake, Loaf Cake, Mini-Muffins, Pie (at major grocery stores); Bagels, Bread, Muffins, Specialty Drinks (at coffee shops); Canned Pumpkin, Cheesecake, Ice Cream, Pie (at major grocery stores). And today, yep, I'm going to stock up on plenty of canned pumpkin. It'll help get me through the winter storms ahead. OMG: I'm sensing a craving for homemade pumpkin fudge.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sweet Survival Secrets to Pre-Winter Blues

by Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

“One reason a dog can be such a comfort when you're feeling blue is that he doesn't try to find out why." -- Anonymous

Imagine: It’s snow one day, sunny skies the next, and slush or black ice are lurking outdoors morning and night. It’s pre-winter at Lake Tahoe and around the nation, and you may find yourself with unwanted winter body fat, irritable, and fed up with the upcoming zero temperatures. It’s enough to make a person feel blue and out of whack, but you don’t have to be miserable during the change of seasons with its shorter days and longer, colder nights...

Welcome to the World of SAD

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a pesky condition that causes those nasty blues, packing on pounds, and anxiety—especially in the pre winter months and can wreak havoc on your mind and body. Here's some quickie sweet tips that can give you a jumpstart for surviving the change. These tried and true remedies come to the rescue and may help you, and me, to lighten up during the "hump month" before Old Man Winter arrives.

* Eat a Happy Diet
While light therapy may ease pre-spring discontent, nutritional experts believe that happy foods are important, too. Dietitians believe people with depression often have low levels of serotonin—a neurotransmitter believed to be involved in modulating mood and appetite. By eating tryptophan-rich foods we can naturally boost levels of serotonin. Low-fat milk and cottage cheese are good but so is the Mediterranean diet, which includes plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and more monounsaturated fats—like olive oil and nuts. And dark chocolate, which contains the compound serotonin, can help to boost your mood. Baking with dark chocolate and all natural products--including olive oil--can warm you up, too.

* Try Olive Oil

Speaking of oil, cozy up with extra virgin olive oil—a healthful monounsaturated fat. It's not the cure-all for SAD, but it can help you become energized again if you team it with a dark, leafy green salad with plenty of fresh vegetables. If you eat lots of veggies teamed with vinegar and olive oil (in moderation), which can fill you up, you’ll be less likely to fill out. And don't forget, yes you can cook and bake with EVOO. Plus, flavored oils, warming herbs and spices paired with all natural whole grain flour, pastas, and breads can make your holiday dishes healthier and you happier.

* Get a Move On
Like light therapy, exercise is another mood enhancer and way to dump extra pounds during the seasonal change. Feel-good endorphins are one of the ways exercise is beneficial. To stay clear of black ice and falls, walking or running on a treadmill indoors is a good alternative. And swimming in a heated indoor or outdoor pool is a great way to keep physical during colder months.

* Change Your Environment

While most people with winter doldrums need not escape to a tropical island, a change of environment can certainly lift your mood. Sure, taking a trip out of town with a warmer climate is tempting, but even going to a place in town with a different environment (i.e., an exotic-type indoor swimming pool, theater, walk in the woods or downtown) can give you a mini vacation and uplift your spirit.

* Warm Up, Cheer Up

Try enhancing light levels at home or in your workplace by installing more lights on the ceiling or placing more lamps in the room. For some, warming up may help, too. Warmth strategies to try include turning up the thermostat, enjoying a crackling fire with real firewood, using electric blankets (or a toasty waterbed which is like a giant heating pad), drinking flavored herbal teas--infuse coffee or hot chocolate--and layering on more clothing.

And sometimes, ancient remedies are best. Live in rooms full of light; indulge in cheerful conversation and amusements; and listen to music. And don't forget chocolate--in cooking (think a warming, spicy mole over pasta), solo, and cocoa--can be the perfect Rx to surviving the winter blahs.

For more tips on how to ease into wintertime, grab a copy of the new self-help health books, The Healing Powers of Olive Oil, The Healing Powers of Vinegar (trade cover and 2009 mass market format), and The Healing Powers of Chocolate (published by Kensington) by Cal Orey. Available on online booksellers' websites.

Monday, December 7, 2009

California Custard, the Ultimate Comfort Food

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

“You eat in dreams, the custard of the day."-- Alexander Pope

It is zero degrees outside. Lake Tahoe got its storm. It got its snow. And it's great to look at, play in, and super for a tourist town. But if you live here and do not ski or snowboard the snow thing is another job. Shoveling and walking the pooches on black ice is a challenge. On the upside, folks in the midwest and northeast tell me tales about the wind chill so I guess it could be colder. Plus, visits to the indoor resort pool/hot tub spa allows me to pretend that I'm living in a Mediterranean climate...
So, this whining session is leading into a treat that I've been craving all day long. Comfort food. Custard. Warm, creamy and rich egg custard with nutmeg. This dish can be served for dessert, breakfast, or even a light lunch with a salad. It's so easy to make and bake.

California Custard
* * *
1 1/2 cup whole evaporated milk
1 cup 2% low-fat organic milk
3 large brown eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup premium maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut

Combine milk in a saucepan and heat till scalded, but do not boil. Mix eggs and sugar. Add syrup, vanilla, and coconut. Pour into two large custard dishes or four small ones. Sprinkle nutmeg on top. Place dish in a pan of water in the oven. Bake at 400 degrees (I live in a high altitude so it may be different, a bit lower for you) for about 45 minutes until firm. Cool. Top with fresh fruit and/or real whipped cream (without artery clogging hydrogentated fats). Makes four servings.

I admit it. My California Custard hit the spot. I indulged in a few bites and will save for tomorrow. But it worked. The whole milk is worth it for the taste. The chewy coconut is a nice touch. And the earthy flavor of nutmeg is heaven. After all the swimming, shoveling, walking the dogs--the calories/fat/cholesterol counts are fine. You can enjoy dishes, like this, if you do it in moderation--and keep your portions in check. (Another version of the Golden State custard that I created is Sierra-Style Baked Custard 'n' Dark Chocolate. Both are worth the effort.)

Of course, this native San Francisco Bay Area native would rather be in the balmy city (I'm homesick) or Hawaii for real comfort. But now that the house is warm and toasty, the fire is crackling, doggies/kitty are sleeping, and the snow is shoveled--no worries. I almost feel like a die-hard local. Sort of. Well, I'm good till the next snowstorm--which may hit at the end of this week.

P.S. Surprise! I was approved to be one more devoted foodie blogger on The Foodie BlogRoll! (You can see The Writing Gourmet listed on the right column of this blog.) And oh yes, that news was comforting like the custard.

P.P.S. Want French Recipes? Click That Petitchef Link!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter Wonderland Fresh Fruit Muffins

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet
“People get so in the habit of worry that if you save them from drowning and put them on a bank to dry in the sun with hot chocolate and muffins they wonder whether they are catching cold."-- John Jay Chapman

At last. It's snowing. The weather forecast got it spot on. Last night I sensed the colder weather, grey skies--change in the air. The storm was on its way. So, I got in the spirit and made a pre-winter gourmet muffin complete with fresh late autumn fruits and coconut--for a snowflake effect. And I added another surprise that surprised me!...
When I frosted these banana-cranberry muffins with a cream cheese frosting--I didn't let them cool long enough. Later, I was pleasantly surprised. I accidentally created the Twinkie Effect. The creamy frosting trickled into a well for each muffin. It was meant to be. I guess it was another sign that snow and slush was on its way.

Fresh Fruit Muffins
1 1/2 cups all natural whole wheat flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large brown egg
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup European Style butter
1/2 cup butter, unsalted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon allspice
3/4 cup fresh cranberries, whole
2 ripe bananas

Melt butter in a pan on low heat. In a bowl mix butter with beaten egg and sugar. Combine mixture with flour, powder, soda. Stir in mashed bananas and cranberries. Add spice and vanilla. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or till golden brown and muffin tops bounce back at a finger's touch. Cool for about 20 minutes. (Unless you want the Twinkie Effect.)

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup European Style butter
1/2 cup whipped cream cheese
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
coconut, shredded

Melt butter. Stir in cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Frost tops and sprinkle with fresh coconut. Eat warm and top with a few fresh strawberries. Note: If you're trying to lose weight, dust the muffins with confectioner's sugar, lose the frosting.

Yes, I love these muffins. This morning I warmed up one in the microwave and teamed it with a cup of hot chamomile tea. The tartness of fresh cranberries complement the sweetness of the bananas. And the creamy texture of the frosting that I love on carrot cake paired with coconut flakes? Ah, sweetness. Plus, I found fresh strawberries (on sale) at the store. What a wonderful pre-winter delight.

But now, the wild winds of this morning have calmed, sort of. The snowflakes are falling onto the ground. I brought in kindling, more wood--Mountain Woman NOT! Alas, I must go put on my winter garb and walk the pooches on slushy snow. News Flash: Our supermarket is down--blackout. Not so sweet. After our winter wonderland romp another muffin with a cup of hot chocolate and a fire may be just the trick to make this human wag her tail.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Olive Oil--Soothe Pre-Winter-Holiday Aches & Pains...

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

This weekend I made a promise to myself to do a lot of pre-winter chores--not just holiday preparations. That means, cleaning the fireplace, raking the pine needles before our next storm hits Lake Tahoe (and it may this time, according to NOAA), bathing the pooches, hanging the new shower curtain, dusting the dust bunnies, and more. By the end of the day I'm sure a scented olive oil-based massage will make me feel relaxed before I sit in front of a fire and chill....

But before I get to work, I want to share with you a few words about how olive oil, an ancient remedy, can help you year round and this season to celebrate and take care of you and yours. In my book The Healing Powers of Olive Oil you can discover easy ways to lose weight, lower cholesterol and blood presure...Prevent heart disease and cancer...Live longer...and so much more!
Discover the amazing powers of olive oil. From ancinet times to present-day olive oil has been used for everything from health ailments to beauty and the home and so much more. Evidence continues to show that a diet based on olive oil--the primary fat--can add years to your life and may even prevent some diseases. I consulted top doctors, nutritionists, olive oil producers, and chefs, getting the most up-to-date information on the many perks of olive oil, such as:

Health Improvements:
* Relieving arthritis aches
* Inhibiting breast and colon cancer
* Prevent diabetes
* Reducing pain

Home Cures:
* Cleaning your house, naturally
* Giving your hair a silky touch
* Zapping ticks and conditioning your pet's coat
* Soothing tight muscles

During pre-winter housecleaning and getting prepared for the holiday season or even exercising more than less, your muscles may ache after a hard day's work and play. Here, take a look at my tried and true massage oil. Use it solo if you don't have that special someone in your life to give you a massage. Either way, it can work wonders. And don't forget...After you're achy muscles are feeling relaxed, treat yourself to a warming cup of hot cocoa! You'll feel comfy, cozy, and good to go for the next day (whatever your age).
Callie's Reviving Massage Oil
This activating eucalyptus massage oil is effective for sore and aching muscles. Combine the following essential oils in a container of your choice:
20 drops eucalyptus
20 drops lavender
20 drops rosewood
5 drops chamomile
5 drops peppermint
Add 36 drops of this blend to 3 ounces of olive oil. (Note: You can substitute your fave essential oils if you don't have all of these on hand. No worries. It's all good, as they say.) Then, shake it up briefly, and simply massage a small amount into tired, achy muscles and joints. For more info, on massage techniques and oil, how exactly olive oil can help stave off arthritis to aches and pains, and so much more-- pick up a copy of The Healing Powers of Olive Oil.
P.S. This feel-good, pampering oil paired with the book (a budget-friendly mass market edition is available, too) can make a healthful holiday gift for you, your family and friends. Also, the Resource List provides a comprehensive list of places to order ready-made olive oil beauty products, such as fab soaps and shampoos.