Friday, March 26, 2010

Mountain Comfort Food--Chocolate 'n' Peanut Butter

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

The world is going through mega growing pains and I'm feeling it. A lot. I wish I could give every politician and each person around the world comfort food to get through the chaos and social unrest. Homemade cookies and milk could work. At least we'd have golden silence for a few minutes...
Right now I'm watching Food Network; I've had a superb swim and hot tub (minus tourists); the pups are walked--it was cold outside but they didn't care. It sounds like I'm in a relaxing mode but the weekend promises to be a work-related one as long as "The Great Recession" and soaring health care costs are still in the works.
On the topic of health, I found the perfect recipe in my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate--still reviewed on MSN Health & Fitness homepage. After all, dark chocolate is a good food as is peanut butter (both contain good fat). And chocolate and peanut butter are not only good for you (in moderation) but they are old-time favorites. The other night I watched Parent Trap and the girls both liked eating Oreo cookies dipped in peanut butter. Perhaps that's why I have these two foods on the brain.
What's more, at Lake Tahoe we're still enduring the springtime "hump month" and it's chilly outdoors with NOAA reporting potential snow next week. Baking cookies seems like a comforting thing to do. And yes, the heat is on and the dogs are cuddled up. Baby it's cold outside (again)...It snowed last night but melted by afternoon. Cookie time!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies
* * *
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 teaspooon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Marsala Olive Oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup Hershey's chocolate chips
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped (if desired)
* * *
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets. In mixing bowl stir together peanut butter, flour, baking soda, sugar, olive oil, salt, and eggs. Add chocolate chips and peanuts. With moistened hands, roll 1 teaspoon at a time into balls. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake until cookies are golden and puffed, 12 to 14 minutes. Bake 5 more minutes on sheets; transfer onto cooling rack and cool completely. Serves 30-34.
So, as I, and countless others work or play this weekend, for pre-Easter holiday season, I recommend feel-good dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa content), all natural peanut butter, and/or these cookies to give you a bit of pleasure. The world's problems (much like Pandora's Box) will still be there on Monday. But as our mom's told us when we were kids: "This too shall pass."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The World Needs More Love Truffles

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

I woke up this morning with good intentions. Read: It's time to work on my new Healing Powers series book project. In between research I took a break and got a good swim, and walked the Brittany bunch. The latter two actions provide the same feel-good endorphins as good chocolate as I found in Love Truffles...
I remember during may hard working days while studying the benefits of quality chocolate that works for your body from head to toe, I received a box of Love Truffles. No doubt, these individual boxed chocolates are something to write home about and will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside and out. Gee, I'd love to send a box of these little gems to everyone around the globe.
Jim Walsh, the founder of Intentional Chocolate, aims to reintroduce the ancient wisdom of embedding conscious intention and love into food to deliver sustenance that nourishes both body and spirit and brings greater health and quality of life to all beings.
I cannot forget the Love Truffles--each one comes in its own little box--with tantalizing flavors such as Kona Coffee, Tahitian Vanilla and others that can transcend you to chocolate heaven.
And I am feeling Easter, which goes with chocolate, is on its way. Instead of putting together a sweet basket of mass market milk chocolates, I recommend taking the intentional route and treating you and yours to the good stuff like Intentional Chocolate, tagged by the New York Times as "the best chocolate in the world." What's more, once you taste the chocolate that is good for you and tastes good, too, I bet you'll be humming a feel-good song like the classic Beatles' tune... Yeah, Love Truffles are that good. "All you need is love..." and chocolate.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Helpings... Hey! My Bowl Is Empty

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet
As a health author for more than two decades, you'd think I'd be elated and jumping for joy today as I sit and read the CNN report on the new, improved health care reform. But I'm not really happy about this change. In fact, this morning breakfast doesn't seem all that appealing. Maybe I'll go on a hunger strike. I'm hardly alone...

ONE--My Bowl Is Empty: Not only do I write about how to get and stay healthy but I am a no nonsense health conscious baby boomer who has been paying high premiums for 20 years. Each year the rates are raised higher and higher. And the thing that irks me is that I'm in "Healthy Tier 1" but I don't get a rebate. I just keep working harder and harder to pay more and more. So, here I sit feeling like a furry gerbil on one of those little roller toys in a cage and moving it around and around so I can have my bowl filled a little bit with health perks if I continue to keep it spinning. Whew! So, when do I get a health insurance break?

TWO--My Bowl Is Empty: Another glitch is that while this new health deal is in action, my health insurance company is most likely going to hike up premiums a whopping 39%. Note to self: Call today and find out if it's true. But, I'm sensing it is going to happen in May and that the phone will be busy all day and all week and all month. Now, I flunked math in grad school but I do know that's a lot of bucks that I'll be paying. So what's a health nut to do? I fall in the cracks like after an earthquake. (Read: I'm not rich, poor, sick, or old enough to be cradled by Uncle Sam).

THREE--My Bowl Is Empty: Part of me is thinking "I'll just work 24/7 and dish out close to $1000 each month." (Slight exaggeration.) And my deductible is nearly $8,000 before I'm covered for any "catastrophe"... But I've never had to use my insurance so maybe not all is lost--except cash.  I never have spent the night in a hospital (except when I was two when I had my tonsils out and my parents paid for that). And no diseases. Gosh, why am I working so hard to pay for so little? Why can't I have a rebate for maintaining healthy lifestyle habits?
It's back to self reliance for me. Now, where oh where is my copy of Henry Thoreau's works about how to survive and live the simple life in the woods? If I can hold out till 2014 (four more years) maybe my health insurance rates will go down a tad and I can afford a much needed vacation or a larger cage with a slower roller toy. -- Disgruntled Gerbil on a Roll to Keep Health Insurance

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Celebrating Spring with Fresh Coffee Cake

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Spring has sprung early at Lake Tahoe. I'm feeling it in the air. The snow is almost gone on my deck. And I even saw a real rabbit--yes a pre-Easter bunny--scamper across the front yard. Today's chores included raking pine needles, tossing out old pine cones, cleaning the pantry, pans and fridge, decluttering, and adding feng shui in the kitchen for the change of seasons. And there's more...
Surprise! A new project has been assigned to me this spring and is now in the works! I've penned The Healing Powers of Vinegar (now in second edition, 13th printing), Olive Oil, Chocolate--and last week I got the news that a super food I chose--and fresh book--is going to be included in the Healing Powers series. I'm excited to discover another healing food world.
I am getting ready to continue my working dog duties. That means it's time to start my researching both at home and out in the field. So to celebrate I want to have a nice, light, spring-ish breakfast tomorrow morning. What better way to do that than with a semi-homemade coffee cake, garnished with strawberries, and a cup of coffee.
This time I'm using a failproof store bought box mix for the cake part (sort of like my mom used when I was a kid). However, this is new, improved and with a 21st century update healthful spin to it, and some of my own natural ingredients, too.

Springtime Coffee Cake
* * *
2 cups wheat all purpose pancake and baking mix
2/3 cup 2% low-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup 2% low-fat organic milk
1 brown egg
2 tablespoons sugar

Streusel Topping
* * *
1/2 cup wheat all purpose pancake and baking mix
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons European style butter
1/8 cup each of walnuts and almonds, sliced

Combine dry ingredients. Mix streusel in another bowl. Spread batter in a 9" round cake pan. Top with streusel. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or till golden brown. Cool. Drizzle with a mixture of 1 to 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, 1/4 cup 2% low-fat organic milk, and 1/2 tsp. pure almond extract. (It adds a nice, sweet touch and taste.)
* * *
While I am an autumn girl at heart, I'm getting in the swing of spring. There are some pros, including no black ice, spring cleaning, a sense of renewal, wearing jeans 'n' T-shirts, it'll be off-season soon (less tourists, more town), and vivid images are playing in my mind of relocating to the outskirts of Reno for a warm, different change. The idea of a remote desert mountain environment with a ranch-style home paired with a gourmet kitchen sounds yummy.
BTW: I tried another coffee cake recipe last weekend. Two times it flopped. My dear friend and veteran baker-ess suggested I get it right. So I attempted whipping up an old-fashioned coffee cake with a grown-up twist and kept my fingers crossed. Third time is a charm, as they say. Mom does know best--even though I added a few touches of my own.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Confessions of My First Chocolate Bubble Bath

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

Flashback: By 10:00 A.M., both Seth and Simon, my Brittanys, are dropped off at my vet-kennel for the day while Mom gets to enjoy a four-star, all day chocolate birthday treat. My sibling and I are driving from South Lake Tahoe (there aren't any chocolate spa treatments around the lake) to Reno--a chocolate lover's haven...
First stop: Siena Hotel Spa Casino. Adverstised as "The Magic of Tuscany," the Mediterranean-style hotel is modeled after its Italian name. Next to the Truckee River, Siena is meant to mimic the Tuscany countryside, complete with a full-service day spa. I have no clue as to what this chocolate bath and chocolate manicure will be like, but I am both anxious and excited.
One hour later: Spa director Jamie Bell is waiting for me--and immediately I feel like royalty. I am led inside a cozy private room. Ah, the chocolate aroma. As Jamie opens the door I am greeted by an oversized bear claw Jacuzzi-style bathtub of bubblling water (140 jets!), with organic Bella Lucce Chocolate Silk Bath Bubbles with a chocolate scent. I am here for the Chocolate Silk Bath Hyerotherapy Bath. The lights are dim (the way I like it, since I am light sensitive). Scented chocolate candles perfume the air. Soft New Age music permeates the air as I'm shown chilled towels, bottled water, and two handmade truffles by the hotel's chef. I am given a white robe, thongs, and told to enjoy for 30 minutes. Yes, there is a chocolate heaven.
Like an excited kid I dip my foot into the warm, swirling water and am elated by the ambiance of it all. I inch my body into the chocolate bath and am flooded with images of famous bathtub scenes (complete with lit candles) like in my favorite romantic movies, including City of Angels (Meg Ryan). I cannot believe I am soaking in a bubbly tub (the white bubbles literally overflowing onto the floor) with a chocolate smell that seems to be making my skin feel soft, silky, and alive. I eat one truffle, and the other--light and chocolatey. I never want to leave this place of chocolate bliss...
Excerpt from The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, 2010).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Forward With Berry Good Chocolate Cookies

By Cal Orey,

The Writing Gourmet

Spring is in the air. The sierra nights are growing lighter and longer. The buds on the trees are showing their true colors. The snow is melting faster. I'm feeling the "hump month" is on its way to an end. This is a time that reminds me to eat healthier and get a move on--even more than usual--so when spring has sprung I can enjoy my burst of spring fever and do all I want to do...

But note, baking doesn't have to be just a winter thing. A recipe in my Healing Powers series (The Healing Powers of Chocolate) has a super chocolate chip cookie recipe that spells spring. I love all the healthful organic ingredients. However, when I whip up these chocolate chunk cookies with fruit I'll use some of Callie's fave organic staples: whole wheat flour, brown eggs, extra virgin olive oil, fresh cranberries, an earthy spice or two, 60%-70% cocoa content for chocolate, and parchment paper. Either way, I predict you'll be happy with both--and don't hesitate to put your own spin on this recipe created by Claire Criscuolo...

Cherry and Chunk Chocolate Cookies

* * *
4 cups organic unbleached flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup granulated organic cane sugar
2 organic eggs or equivalent substitute
1 cup organic soy milk or dairy milk
1/2 cup Spectrum Naturals Canola Oil
1/4 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
2 teaspoons pure organic vanilla extract
1 cup dried cherries or cranberries
4 ounces organic semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into
bite-sized pieces, about 1 cup
1/2 cup walnuts or hazelnuts, finely chopped
Spectrum Naturals Canola Spray

Preheat the ovent to 375 degrees. Measure the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a bowl. Sift this into another bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk, Spectrum Canola Oil, orange juice, and vanilla. Whisk to blend well. Pour over the dry ingredients, using a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in the cherries, chocolate chunks, and walnuts, mixing to combine. The batter will be thick. Spray 2-3 cookie sheets with Spectrum Spray Oil. Drop heaping teaspoons of batter onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 1/2 inches between them. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until just golden brown. Transfer the cookies onto a platter. Cook before storing in a covered container for up to a week--if they last that long! Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

As spring--the season of new fruits and vegetables--moves on into Lake Tahoe and our Golden State, I vow not to stop baking. But I'll include plenty of fresh fruits, spices, herbs, and chocolates in my dishes--as I hope you'll do the same. Funny, spring isn't my fave season but I do love the late spring splash of bright, colorful flowers, warmer climate, off season (the resort pool has my name on it) and spring cleaning. It's a time of change. Sure, change is challenging but good things sprout from a different scenery.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Lost Weekend with Christopher Norman Chocolates

By Cal Orey,

The Writing Gourmet

This weekend was chock-full of work, sort of. I dished out my April Earth Changes and What's Cookin' at Callie's Cabin columns. And then, it was back to my secret intuitive job. Since I didn't have a pool to turn to (it's tourist time during the weekends) I turned to walking my beloved Brittany duo and Christopher Norman Chocolates to provide me with those feel-good endorphins and super brain power...
In my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate, Christopher Norman Chocolates (check out more of their awesome treasures) is listed as one of my chosen few--9 Top-Notch U.S. Chocolatiers. Flashback to during the research of this bible on chocolate, two boxes of chocolates arrived from John Down and Joe Guiliano--two trendsetters in the chocolate industry...
Yes, it was an outstanding gift that will always stand out in my mind. On the web site the unique round box of wild Italian cherries called Amarene Cherries attracted me. And I wasn't disappointed. The Amarene cherries are small (not like the inexpensive ones you can buy at the drugstore). They are both sweet and tart and oh-so fruite but different from any dark chocolate-covered cherry I have ever tasted. These juicy gems are coated by hand with at least 70 percent cocoa content chcolate.
The second box: Hand Made Truffles Made with Spices and Herbs--one of my favoriest of all the chocolates I've encountered during my chocolate affair. These are dark chocolate truffles, including Rosemary Walnut and Australian Ginger. I was amazed when I consumed each and every one that I could taste the herbal and spicy notes and know what they were without looking at the ingredients list. And the chocolate, too, was dintinct without overlap. The best part: A perfect taste lingered in my mouth like after a perfect first kiss.

So this time around I was greeted by Christopher Norman's Signature Ballotin Collection--and a collection it is. The presentation of the box is so pretty and was a hint that springtime is on its way at Lake Tahoe. A mix of hand made truffles included Manhattan Dark, Passion Fruit, Wild Berry, Granduja Heart (my favorite for its look and exotic taste), Caramel Hearts (my favorite for its look and unique texture), Toasted Almond (my favorite for its unforgettable light crunch), and Strawberry Truffles.
Indeed, it was a wonderul lost weekend of work and pleasure. I had the pleasure again of savoring these chocolates, one by one, in front of a warm crackling fire while watching the annual academy awards, in the kitchen while I whipped up a meal for the Tahoe Daily Tribune piece, and after a brisk dog walk in a snow flurry. Thank you Christopher Norman. You made my weekend work work for me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Shake and Bake Chocolate-Nut Granola

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Last week seems like a surreal nightmare. Flashback: Two days before the Full Moon, I was on the phone with Visionary Clarisa Bernhardt. Our energy levels were high. After our two hour conversation, I logged onto the computer and clicked my mouse instinctively to the USGS map. There it was. An 8.8 quake with a large square near Chile--a bit smaller than the 9.5 that hit back in 1960. Would history repeat itself? Then, it was to CNN on the tube and talk of tsunami followed. I dreamed of white waters hitting shore(s). And when I woke up I, like so many people around the globe, watched with horror on Saturady how 53 nations were at risk of a tsunami--the entire Pacific region.
Today, six days later, I am still awestruck. Sure, as a quake sensitive I was a guest on Captain Jack, Lan's A.M. Talk Show, and will be writing my monthly Earth Changes column for Oracle 20/20 magazine. After all, I did predict a 7.0 Japan quake and tsunami would hit in 2010--and that it did. Yes, I believe this quake spawned the Great Chile Quake and perhaps yesterday's 6.4 in Taiwan.
So what does granola have to do with all this seismic activity? Well, quake sensitives often crave crunchy food before earthquakes. And I have all the ingredients to whip up a batch of homestyle granola that mixed with fresh fruit and organic milk is a great breakfast or snack. And honestly, while bad luck runs in threes, so they say...I'm sensing another quake may be on its way sooner than later for the West Coast. In the meantime, here's the quick and easy recipe and it's a little crunchier than my sweet granola recipe.

Shake and Bake Chocolate-Nut Granola

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup nuts (almonds and walnuts)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup coconut (optional)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Mediterranean sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg (it's earthy)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (60% cocoa content)
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts, and coconut. In another bowl mix honey, oil, and salt. Mix well. Stir occassionally. Bake about an hour till crispy and in little balls. Store in tight container.

So there you go. Pre-quake food for sensitives. As a native Californian who has survived a strong 6.2 in Morgan Hill and a major 7.1--the World Series Quake that rumbled through the San Francisco Bay Area--my home--I get it. I know what it's like to feel the Earth move and deal with the aftershocks and wonder "When Will the Big One Hit?" After all, the Great 1906 San Francisco quake shook in the 20th century (including the Ghirardelli building) and the Bay Area will shake again (we did have a widely felt 3.4 minor shaker yesterday) in the 21st century. Mother Nature's moves can wreak havoc on the nerves from head to toe. It's time for feel-good chocolate with its mood enhancing compounds and crunchy good for you nuts in my Chocolate-Nut Granola. Gosh, my Golden State hippie chick roots are showing, huh?