Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chocolate Is A Sweet Friend for Life

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

I woke up late this morning with one warm and soft Brittany's snout snuggled on my neck and the other furry four-legged Brittany at my feet under the comforters. Dogs, like chocolate, are great companions for life, day or night. Dark chocolate, like dogs, helps release endorphins, the feel-good natural compounds in the body and act on the nervous system. After the snugglefest was over, I received other gifts throughout the day...
At noon, I was greeted with a box of chocolates. We're talking quality chocolate from a quality chocolatier--Michael Recchiuti. As I wrote in my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate:
These days, Recchiuti Confections is a standout company from the crowd of competitors because of its skill, as well as its sourcing of the best chocolate, herbs, spices, teas, nuts, and fruits. And putting it all together with classic French techniques provides an unforgettable product with class that is a cut above the others.
I chose this Green Box selection because I adore chocolate infused with fresh herbs and teas. In fact, I just got off the telephone with an interviewer for a women's online newspaper. She's writing a piece on the healing powers of chocolate to be published around Valentine's Day. The journalist asked me what my favorite chocolate is and this was a no brainer for me. When I wrote the chocolate book, I confess that I wasn't a very sophisticated chocolate lover. These days, I'm a chocolate snob. I told her that it has to be quality chocolate and infused with special ingredients, such as fruit, herbs and spices which make it absolutely perfect. Imagine: You are indulging in these sweet chocolates in the Green Box:

* Lavender Vanilla: An infusion of Provencale lavender buds and whole vanilla bean folded into seimi-sweet chocolate ganache. Enrobed in Venezuelan milk chocolate.

* Lemon Verbena: Lemon verbena steeped with whole cream, blended into extra bitter chocolate ganache and enrobed in bittersweet chocolate.

* Sur De Lago: A kiss of extra-bitter chocolate ganache topped with crushed Sur de Lago cacao nibs and enrobed in pure bittersweet chocolate.

These are just three pieces inside Recchiuti's Green Box. And yes, they are mine, one by one, to enjoy like a dear friend or my two extraordinary canines. What's more, today got better and chocolate made it sweeter. (The swimming pool and hot tub were empty; the black ice was nonexistent for the dogs' walk.) And last but not least, I discovered that The Healing Powers of Chocolate was picked up by The Good Cook Book Club. I am so pleased. After all, I share chocolatiers' recipes, like Michael's Chocolate Almond Beet Torte and Very Chocolate Muffins and dozens of delightful chocolatey breakfast dishes, breads, entrees, and desserts, from candy to cakes. But tonight, I'm content with the Green Box. It's one of life's little blessings to appreciate and be thankful for--and I am.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's a Molasses Cookies & Java Monday

I need something sweet today. I need to know that I can soothe my rocky ride in the big world of bigger rocky roads. That's where homemade molassess cookies and fresh brewed coffee come into play. The Break the Breakfast Rules pair this morning gave me a lift and a bit of attitude that if it feels right go ahead and do it...
Last night I made a batch of molasses cookies. This experience was one that awakened me a lot. I'm so used to purchasing those big frosted pricey molasses cookies (the cost of the dark stuff probably is to blame). When I realized I can make these easy to create treats and control the ingredients, taste and size, I was pleasantly surprised.

Molasses Cookies

* * *
1/2 cup European style butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 brown egg
2 1/2 cups all-natural whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
* * *
In a bowl, combine butter, sugars, egg, and molassess. Pour mixture into dry ingredients. Stir till forms a dough. Place onto parchment paper and cover. Shape into a snake-like form and put into fridge for about an hour. Cut into small slices, shape into small to medium sized balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. Makes 24 small-medium cookies. Hint: Top half of the cookies with a gourmet dark chocolate chip for a bittersweet touch.
* * *
The results: These spicy molasses cookies came out of the oven, one by one, like a perfect first born pup to the last. And yes, I've read disaster stories of bakeresses who said their batch of cookies spread in the oven and created one big cookie. Or, that they didn't get that beautiful crackly look. Not so with these puppies. I promise you. Warm or cold, these molassess cookies work. Better still, they didn't come out of a package that boasts a swirl cookie list of ingredients I can't pronounce. They are the real deal. What's more, teamed with a fresh cup of coffee splashed with organic low-fat milk made this Monday morning feel like it's going to be alright no matter what happens. That includes the slushy snow outdoors, the San Francisco Bay Area (my real home) Flood Advisory, 50-50 odds tourists may sabatoge the swimming pool to my Brittany Simon's ear woe. It's got to be the molasses. Good morning!
Monday's Foodie Motto: Go with the flow like s-l-o-w molasses.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How I Ate My Way Through Chocolate Land...And Savored It

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet
One summer morning, I woke up and had chocolate on the brain. I did brew a cup of fresh Italian Roast coffee splashed with organic chocolate milk and paired it with a warm dark chocolate muffin. And then, my creative juices were in high-octane gear. I got a craving to e-mail a query to my book editor. I wanted to write a new book on the healing powers of chocolate. But I hesitated and thought, This is a crazy idea. Chocolate is a decadent food.
Later that day I pondered the topic like I would scrutinize a truffle. After all, I had gone to Vinegar World and Olive Land in my two books The Healing Powers of Vinegar and The Healing Powers of Olive Oil. Would my publisher really be interested in sending me to Chocolate Nirvana? Or was my idea just a sweet pipe dream of a self-professed chocoholic?
I decided I had nothing to lose, so I sat down in my study and wrote a quick query regarding writing a book on chocolate. A few hours later, I received a response from my editor. Within a couple of weeks, the idea was sealed into a chocolate book deal. At last, I was given the go-ahead to write the book I had wanted to pen for more than a decade.
Back in 1999, I pitched the idea to another editorial consultant when I was writing those mini mags sold at grocery store checkout stands. My editor showed interest, but my chocolate-book idea fizzled like hot chocolate gone cold.
Ironically, in both books on disease-fighting antioxidant-rich vinegar and olive oil, I did mention chocolate (also chock-full of disease- fighting antioxidants). And, as a health-conscious Californian and self-professed chocolate lover, I have touched on the once forbidden food in health articles. But I noted only chunks of its virtues, from how the good-for-you fatty food can boost your energy to how it can rev up your libido (maybe).
The amazing part is, I was assigned to write a book about my passion and this is how The Healing Powers of Chocolate became one of my favorite love affairs and was finally written by me, a health author who simply loves chocolate.
By being a San Francisco Bay Area native (a popular home of experienced chocolate makers and artisans), I was given the opportunity to share the real chocolate world through my research of famous chocolate makers.

Also, olive oil, vinegar, and chocolate are linked to the traditional European diet and lifestyle, which continue to make headlines in research and news articles, and which I practice and preach to anyone who is interested in staying healthy and living longer by teaming health and indulgence.
I immediately began my mission and set out in the real world and cyberspace to discover the past and present standout benefits of chocolate: heart health, weight loss, home cures, beauty uses, and so much more. And never did I imagine what a wealth of information is in the wide, wide world of chocolate.
I took the holistic route and confirmed my instincts that chocolate is good for the body, mind, and spirit. I delved deep into the cutting-edge health benefits, original and edgy home cures, and anecdotes from both famous and everyday people, past and present.
[Excerpt from The Healing Powers of Chocolate by Cal Orey (Kensington, 2010)]
P.S. In my book, I really do chat it up about truffles from Ireland, Lava Cake at a trendy restaurant, biscotti to get me through a quake swarm, and oh yeah, that decadent chocolate bubble bath at a luxury hotel. There are so many chocolatey stories...And no doubt, I still am in true love with chocolate.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Matchmaking Heart-Healthy Chocolate & Olive Oil

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

You have entered chocolate land--a place where you can savor chocolate paired with olive oil in dishes for breakfast, main entrees, and desserts. While I sprinkled dozens of tried-and-true recipes through The Healing Powers of Chocolate, I also used more than a baker's dozen of recipes from Italian creative cookbook author Gemma Sanita Sciabica. You'll taste a strong Mediterranean flavor with her delectable recipes that take you to Italy without leaving your warm and homey kitchen...
I've chatted on the phone many times with Gemma. And yes, I've learned a lot from the veteran cook. The last time we talked I confessed that I'm hooked on using European style butter in some of my dishes because of its rich and creamy taste. Uh oh, I shouldn't have said that. Gemma reminded me that butter is sky high in cholesterol--not good for the ticker. After all, she is part of Nick Sciabica & Sons--a well-known olive oil company in California. What's more, she just penned Cooking with California Olive Oil: Recipes from the Heart for the Heart.
So, right now I'm using both butter and oil. But I promise to lose my love for the "bad" fat (but Julia Child and Paula Deen did and do it) and turn to heart healthy olive oil for my heart's sake as I preach in my book The Healing Powers of Olive Oil. To get a start on my promise, I'm sharing a recipe straight from Gemma's new book--and I will whip this choco-olive oil recipe this weekend as I hope foodies in cyberworld will, too. Yes, this easy to bake cake with good foods like dark chocolate and olive oil--both chock-full of compounds that promise to help lower your risk of developing heart disease.

Banana Cake With Chocolate Streusel
* * *
2 tablespoons Sciabica's or Marsala Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped fine
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Stir above altogether in mixing bowl, set aside.
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Sciabica's or Marsala Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 egg
1-1/3 cup bananas, mashed (about 3)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon Danish pastry extract (Watkins)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Grease and flour an 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Stir chocolate chips, brown sugar, walnuts, olive oil and cinnamon in a small bowl until well mixed, set streusel aside.
In mixing bowl combine dry ingredients, make well in center. Pour in buttermilk, olive oil, banana, egg, and flavoring, stir until just blended.
Spread half of batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with1/2 streusel. Repeat with remaining batter and streusel.
Bake cake about 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean from center. Cool cake in pan or on rack.
This cake make a hit, everyone wanted the recipe.
* * *
I believe Gemma. She has made me memorable chocolatey Sicilian Fig Cookies to Chocolate Biscotti (both recipes are in The Healing Powers of Chocolate). Okay Gemma. I vow to start using 1/3 European style butter and 2/3 olive oil. I dedicate this blog post to keeping heart healthy with a little help from Gemma, and, of course, olive oil and dark chocolate go together (like honey and chocolate)--a sweet match and a great lifetime pair for your heart as shown in the photo above: Valentine's Gift Pack.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Was Charmed By A Chocolate Frog

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

Ever have one of those days where you just want to flee to somewhere calm, warm, and without any woes paired with a two-legger or two four-leggers that can make you feel good? Well, today I didn't get that fantasy until late in the afternoon. Yes, there are highlights in every day life if you look for them. Today, I found two gems of happiness. Walking the Brittany duo (that was fun) on fresh white powder (not too deep, the snow weather dudes were off the mark) made me and them smile. John Steinbeck said dogs smile. I believe him. Then, I did it. I turned to a new chocolate Valentine's gift from Lake Champlain Chocolates...

I received a Kiss Me Chocolate Frog. These novelty items are almost too cute to eat. The chocolate frog stood (past tense) 3-1/2 inches tall. My milk chocolate frog sat on a white chocolate lily pad. It was hand decorated with dark chocolate accents. It came to me in a clear gift bag tied with a colorful ribbon at the top. The chocolate? It was hollow. It was all-natural and gluten free (may have contained trace amounts).
Now after doing lots of research for The Healing Powers of Chocolate, I will tell you that many novelty items look handsome but the taste often isn't as great as the look. Not so this time. First, I savored the lily pad. And yes, white chocolate and milk chocolate do contain some nutritional benefits. And while dark chocolate is my thing, on occasion I will indulge in the other sweet stuff. I wasn't going to eat the frog--he was just too darling (look at his E.T.-like eyes above in the photo)--but I'm glad I did just that. The texture of the gourmet chocolate was creamy, not too rich or sweet and worked for me.
So, Lake Champlain Chocolates in Vermont comes through again (for me) with flying chocolate colors (of all kinds, forms, shapes, and sizes). In my chocolate book, I ranked this company as one of the 9 top notch chocolate companies in the nation. And they're still on top...
Meanwhile, as I'm sitting here solo before the most romantic day of the year, I'm thinking. There's a saying that goes "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince." In this case, I can do that. After all, Valentine's Day is on its way and this frog made me happy. Uh oh. Guilt is starting to set in. That Kiss Me Chocolate Frog is lingering in my mind and taste buds. Yes, today, I was swept off my feet in a sweet whirlwind chocolate romance. No, I didn't come near snagging that sweet animal-loving, vegan prince but tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Perfect Storm Chocolate Brownies

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Today the weather is full of twists and turns for California. I just heard on CNN a Twister Warning report for Los Angeles. At Lake Tahoe we are waiting for our second snowstorm--a stronger one--part of a serial series. What's more, flooding advisories are in the works--even for the Sierra. And California, my native home, is getting wet, wet, wet (as I predicted in the my Earth Changes column in the December issue of Oracle 20/20 magazine) this year. During all this stormy weather, I was craving chocolate. After all, its feel good compounds, from endorphins, PEA (the love drug) to serotonin, make people feel good during rain or shine. So, it's time to bake a batch of brownies...
Some time ago, I did buy a gourmet chocolate brownie mix and used olive oil. So, I didn't feel guilty. Today, I'm going to share a homemade recipe from my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate. This recipe is created from one of my fave chocolate companies in the nation--Lake Champlain Chocolates. And yes, the walnuts and unsweetened chocolate--both boast monounsaturated fat--are part of the heart healthy Mediterranean diet and good for you in moderation. Ditto with eggs and coffee.
* * *
Chocolate Brownies

2 cups granulated sugar
5 ounces sweet butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant coffee
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
10 ounces chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chocolate and butter in double boiler over medium heat. Cover until melted, stirring occasionally with wire whisk. Stir in coffeee to dissolve. Remove from double oiler and allow to cool slightly, uncovered. In separate bowl, beat eggs and salt together until slightly fluffy. Gradually add in sugar, beating at medium-high speed for 15 minutes. Stir vanilla and almond extract into chocolate mixture. On low speed, add this mixture to the eggs. Beat just enough to blend. Next add flour, still beating just enough to blend ingredients. Fold in nuts; spread evenly in baking pan. Put in oven and reduce to 400 degrees. Bake 20 to 22 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool and cut.

Earlier this morning when I was looking at this recipe and the Chocolate Brownies caught my attention, I was thinking of this Vermont-based company. Lake Champlain Chocolates uses only the freshest natural ingredients. And about an hour ago, my intuition delivered on cue. I heard a knock on the front door. A surprise box of chocolate arrived on my doorstep. Next blog post, I will share the special gifts I received from Lake Champlain Chocolates. Till then, remember, quality chocolate is Mother Nature's "food of the gods"--a healing gift year round.

P.S. Pair a warm brownie with a cup of hot chocolate. You'll feel great whether it's raining or snowing.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Recipe for Making Chocolate Spiritual

By The Writing Gourmet

On Saturday I received a gift: Chocolate Raspberry Triangles from Intentional Chocolate. The presentation, taste, and orginality all rate a 10 on my personal Chocolate Ranking One to 10 Scale--10 being unforgettable and worth writing home about. Thank you Intentional Chocolate people. In return, I'd like to share an excerpt about you from my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate...

Chocolate is More Than Just Romantic--It's Spiritual

Sure, when you think of chocolate, special holidays and tasty food come to mind, right? Well, yes and no. Some chocolate-related companies, such as Intentional Chocolate, also offer clothing and accessories, gift boxes, gift certificates, greeting cards, and mugs--with the concept: "shifting the way humans relate to food by delivering sustenance that nourishes both body and spirit." All of Intentional Chocolate products depict the emblem of the spiritual Dalai Lama sitting cross-legged Lotus position, appropriate for the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan people.
As I sit cross-legged in my chair, here at my desk in my study, gazing out the window and appreciating the tall pine trees, with two sleeping Brittanys at my feet, I can appreciate the profound mission of this company and its intention to bring greater health, coherence, and the quality of life to all human beings.
Actually, I am clad in jeans and a chocolate brown T-shirt (100% organic cotton) which reads, "Intentional Chocolate Share the Love." And I am sipping a cup of chamomile tea in an Intentional Chocolate mug. And that's not all.
Intentionl Chocolate offers a wide variety of products, like these, all with positive messages that bring good things to people like you and me...There are plenty of chocolate-related novelty items around the world. But, Intentional Chocolate's products and philosophy are exraordinary and stood out to me--and I am grateful.

Meanwhile, last night I noticed that the delicious Chocolate Raspberry Triangles (100% Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate -- "among the best chocolate in the world" according to the New York Times. 68% cocoa mass dark chocolate, pure organic raspberry -- infused with well-being) were AWOL. The box was still intact but each one of the chocolates were gone with only the chocolate wrappers in sight. It hit me. My sibling (little brother) snagged 'em. It was a huge step in chocolate progress. Not only has he graduated to healthier chocolate but he deserved it for all he does for me, from sharing dog walks to being my swimming partner and devoted mountain pal during life's ups and downs. He is my dad and mom (they are in parent heaven). He is my best friend. He is my brother. Chocolate is a great way to show a little gratitude year round--not just on Valentine's Day--a romantic time. Thank you Intentional Chocolate.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sierra Storm Cranberry-Nut Rice Pudding

By The Writing Gourmet

The New Moon has arrrived and Mecury Retrograde is over. It's time to celebrate, sort of. Living at Lake Tahoe has its perks such as snowstorms. Yes, I do love the oncoming of a storm. It's surreal. I can feel it in the air. And when the winds increase late at night with a promise of fresh snow it's an awesome feeling inside and outdoors--surrounded by Mother Nature's finest. It's also fun to wake up in the morning to peek outside to see how much snow is on the ground. That's the fun part...
So as locals and tourists anticipate the series of storms headed to the Sierra, I was in the mood to bake up a batch of healthy rice pudding complete with fresh cranberries and walnuts. Cranberries are a winter food and nuts--isn't that what squirrels gather before Old Man Winter comes knocking? Brown rice boasts more fiber than white rice, and the creamy texture of pudding offers comfort to ward off sensing these turbulent times.

Sierra Storm Cranberry-Nut Rice Pudding

* * *
3 cups whole grain cooked brown rice
2 cups low-fat 2% organic milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups fresh whole cranberries
3/4 cups walnuts, chopped
3 - 4 tablespoons premium maple syrup
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon and granulated sugar
2 tablespoons allspice

Mix cooked rice and milk in saucepan. Over medium heat bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium. Cook about 20 minutes, add syrup, stir frequently till creamy and before it will stick to the pan. Use the spices last not during to preserve its flavor. Add nuts and berries (rinse and mix with sugar to taste) when you take the pudding off the stovetop. Pour into round dishes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar for a snow powder effect. Let cool and and refrigerate. I suggest warming up when you indulge.

Okay. I did do the taste test. The combo of tart whole cranberries and crunchy walnuts is different. Do take the time to cook the pudding more than less for a smoother effect. Overall, this warm spicy custard-type rice pudding has a sweet warming touch that's worth the effort.
Tomorrow morning I'll wake up to a cup of coffee, a bowl of warm rice pudding, and fresh orange juice. After the feast, it's to the store to get prepared for the snow-rain series coming around the mountain. I don't like to eat canned food so stocking the pantry is not one of my fave tasks. More bottled water, dried fruit, nuts, granola, low-sodium soups, pastas are a few of the items that can do the job if there is a power outage.
And chocolate--like Intentional Chocolate--is calling my name. Remember, it's got mood-boosting compounds, such as serotonin and PEA "the love drug" and others. Ah, dark chocolate in all forms is a must-have during a storm. The rice pudding? It will be gone before we're buried in snow by mid week.

The Joy of Spiced Fruit Glazed Scones

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

It's no secret. I'm going through a Scones 101 phase. I've graduated from the easy to make and bake dropped scones to shaped scones. Cooking and baking can be a challenge. But once you try something new that seems difficult to do (the fear of unknown) and accomplish it with flying colors, it can be empowering and even builds confidence, especially for this former anti-bakeress. So, last night was exciting for me to take a mini break from the chaos in the world and enter the world of scones...

The Haiti earthquake is on the minds of people worldwide. As a quake sensitive and one who sensed the oncoming 7.1 deadly Loma Prieta aka World Series temblor that rumbled throughout the San Francisco Bay Area--flashbacks of the disaster are returning. I've been interviewed on the radio (another program tonight) and newspapers to discuss some of the similarities of the two catastrophes: the collapsed buildings, countless aftershocks, chaos, fear, trapped victims, and question of "What's next?" for the victims and survivors. My heart aches for all affected by this great disaster. I get it.

Last evening was the first time I took time out to visit the kitchen since the quake hit Haiti on Tuesday. Cooking and baking can be like exercise (something you do to calm the spirit during lifes' tragedies). Yes, swimming and walking the Brittanys are next. And a photo to be taken at the local newspaper this afternoon for a new food column. (There goes the swimmer's endorphin high.)

* * *
Spiced Fruit Glazed Scones

3 1/2 cups 100% natural whole wheat flour

3/4 cup sugar (granulated)

1/4 cup European Style butter

1 cup low fat, all-natural vanilla yogurt

3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

2 tablespoons allspice

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

a dash of Mediterranean Sea Salt

1-1 1/2 cup fresh apples, chopped
(or substitute blueberries)

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, and milk, and stir till a dough-like mixture forms. Fold in apples. Form into a round ball (knead several times) and place on floured board or cookie sheet. Shape into a large circle. Cut in half. Then cut in half again and again for mini triangle shapes. Brush tops with a mixture of one brown egg and two tablespoons milk (2% low-fat). Use a spatula and place triangle shaped dough pieces onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. (Keep in fridge as you bake each batch.) Bake till brown and crusty, about 15 minutes. Cool and drizzle with a glaze (1 cup of confectioner's sugar mixed with 2% low-fat milk). Makes 16 to 32 (mini scones).

My days of buying pre-made adorable Starbucks scones may be over. It's fun to do at home and they taste light, fresh and fruity, crispy, and are pretty. These apple sweeties are going into the freezer so I won't be tempted to eat more than one at a time. They are a sweet treat for breakfast, brunch or afternoon snack with cup of healing chamomile or green tea. No, sweet scones cannot heal woes linked to the aftermath of an unforgettable quake. But making and savoring this spicy sweetbread can help to soothe the mind, body and spirit during troubled times-- like now.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Golden State Creme Brulee 'N' California Fruit

Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

After three-and-a-half years it finally happened. California, the Golden State, my native home was hit by a 6.5 Offshore Northern California. As an author-intuitive I admit that yes, I did predict this shaker and was a mere 33 miles off from Eureka--where I said it would occur. This prediction of the "Eureka Quake" was made and documented in many places, from the popular Coast to Coast radio program, Oracle 20-20 magazine, "2010 Predictions" (page 32), on my website, noting the CA 6.0 quake wager with geologist Jim Berkland. He chose SoCal, me NorCal (Offshore Eureka/Petrolia as potential epis)...
After the shaker hit, it hit me that yes, I did get an accurate forecast. Yes, there were some reports of injuries, damage, power outages, and frazzled nerves. But all in all, Californians escaped what could have been a deadly quake at such a strong magnitude.
Where does food come into play? Before and after such an event, my appetite is AWOL. Yesterday two hours before it happened (both I and my pets were dealing with pre-quake jitters as quake sensitives and seismically sensitive pets do) I purchased dark chocolate at the store. I had a huge craving for chocolate (my new, improved quake chiller instead of popcorn). When I came home and logged onto my computer, going to the USGS map my eyes saw a large red square. It happened as I had predicted.
Today, I treated myself to baking an easy, creamy semi-healthful comfort food: a Creme Brulee (without carmelizing it) topped with fresh fruit. Here's the quick recipe and if you live in California/Oregon/Nevada or on shaky ground, try it. It works like a charm to calm you, almost as good as swimming laps. That's on tomorrow's agenda.

Golden State Brulee

1 cup 2% low-fat whole evaporated milk

1 cup 2% low-fat organic milk

1/2 cup sweet condensed milk

3 large brown eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup premium maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine milk in a saucepan and heat till scalded, but do not boil. Mix eggs and sugar. Add syrup, and vanilla. Pour into two large custard dishes or four small ones. Sprinkle earthy nutmeg on top. I used more than less to give it a carmelized look and cooked the custard till it was crispy on the edges giving it a Brulee appearance. 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 six servings.
I put a small serving on a white plate and topped it with sliced Honeycrisp apples, cranberries (sprinkled with sugar), and oranges. The condensed milk gives this light and fresh custard a creamy edge paired with a dollop of whipped cream. Meanwhile, the dogs are sleeping, my cat is calm. The fire is toasty. The Golden State survived the earthquake. Life goes on. Now, I just have to write my article due yesterday about the myth of California falling into the Pacific Ocean. Chamomile tea is calling my name. And my Creme Brulee is a welcome comfort food after sensing this temblor and empathizing with the people who endured this ordeal in my home state. We are Californians living in Earthquake Country. We know the drill.

Northern California Coastal Tuna Pasta Bake

By Cal Orey,

The Writing Gourmet

Since Saturday afternoon I've been consumed with the Offshore Northern California 6.5 earthquake. Not only did I predict it, (and it was noticed and felt by fellow quake sensitives) I felt I had an inside edge with the sea lions who I believe also sensed the oncoming quake. To chill last night I put together an old fashioned favorite--Tuna Casserole--and I gave it a healthier, Italian spin to it...
When events unfold in our lives it's important to eat nutrient-dense foods, and this casserole includes vegetables, whole grains, and fish--essentials of the Mediterranean diet. It doesn't stop there. Getting a move on (yes, I got my swim today) helps keep my mind, body, and spirit nourished during challenging times. Read: To feel balanced I crave healthy food and exercise. And yes, this tuna casserole, served hot, boasts a nice earthy flavor, creamy and crunchy (it's the chips) texture, and here, take a look.

Northern California Coastal Tuna Casserole

2 to 3 cups whole grain pasta
1 six ounce can white albcore tuna
1 cup organic mozzarella and/or Monterey Jack, shredded
1/2 cup 2% low-fat evaporated milk
1/2 cup organic 2% low-fat milk
1- 1/2 cups fresh cruciferous vegetables, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, chopped

Mediterranean sea salt, nutmeg, pepper to taste
Vinegar and Sea Salt potato chips, all natural

Boil pasta al dente. Drain. In a mixing bowl combine cheeses. Add pepper and nutmeg. Mix well. In a rustic Earthenware casserole dish I layered ingredients: pasta, veggies, cheese. The top layer will be topped with cheese and chips. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Serve with hot garlic bread made with whole grain French bread, butter, fresh garlic and parsley. And a spinach salad drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar is optional.

So there you go. It's easy. It's fast. It's a dish that will make you feel good inside and out. One more thing, while we're on the topic of tuna. I feel I was a mermaid in a past life. After today's swim (the pool, all mine), I took Seth, my three-year-old Brittany to the vet (maintenance stuff), and at the pet food store (to pick up the pooches' California Natural dog food with chicken and rice), I ended up snagging a few new fish friends. For some reason, I have a deep bond with sea lions, water, and fish.

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's Chocolate Dipping Time with Wintertime Fruits

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

Are we having fun yet? I'm literally counting the days for this Mecury Retrograde curse to go AWOL and am looking forward to the New Moon. I haven't baked for more than a week due to life's ups and downs; and a San Francisco Bay Area earthquake felt widely in Northern California ruffled my feathers as well as thousands of residents. (Yes, I predicted it. And the shaker(s) may not be over.) My kitchen must be cold and lonely. Have you noticed the weather and people are out of whack, too? But don't despair. I have the perfect and healthful cure that'll soothe frazzled nerves (for my Golden State friends and East Coast/Midwesterners who are bearing the big chill) and comfort your heart and soul during shaky times...
Chocolate Fondue and fresh wintertime fruits. I'm thinking crisp apples, good for you bananas, tart cranberries, sweet grapes, juicy oranges, and pears like savored in my fave film City of Angels. During colder month infamous for flus and colds, it's a time to pamper yourself with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and dark chocolate. This recipe spells comfort, decadence, and healthy. It's perfect for one, two or a party.

Chocolate Fondue
* * *
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or pistoles
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped or pistoles
marshmallows, pound cake, or brownies, strawberries, bananas
In a saucepan, bring cream to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted. Stir in vanilla until smooth. Pour fondue into a serving bowl or individual cups. Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed. Dip the goodies! (Source: Lake Champlain Chocolates)
[Excerpted from The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, January 2010).

Now that we have the book on the table, I've been getting some good news and good reviews regarding my newest baby, of sorts. A represenative from Xocai (enhanced Healthy chocolate) called me this a.m., to tell me he loves the book. Like a proud mom, I was pleased. What's more, I discovered that it's now available at physical Barnes and Noble bookstores--not just online bookstores. That made me smile. And I 've been touching base with my chocolatier friends who are doing well and getting busy for the upcoming Valentine's month. If you love chocolate (or know someone who does), consider pairing a copy of my book with chocolate--a gift that is a must-have year round. Happy dipping!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Sweet Recipe for Winter Blues

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

Last week at Tahoe when the tourists landed like Stephen King's Langoliers, I turned into a bear-like human in hibernation. At first, it was okay but as the days passed without swimming (the pool was off limits for sanity's sake) I grew restless. Cabin fever? Oh yeah. One week without zero endless laps and a soothing hot bubbly tub was like a horror film. I survived but it wasn't my fave week of the year. Now I know how much regular exercise means to me. I missed those feel-good endolphins. (I think I was a mermaid in a past life.) And that's not all...
While the snow is almost nonexistent at lake level it still sits on yards and streets. Picture slushy, dirty white stuff. It's January--a month to feel fed up with shorter days, colder nights, and lack of sunshine and warmth. Even my kitty doesn't like the cold. The dogs? They are always upbeat if they get their romp. I'm sure folks in the Northeast and Florida are feeling out of whack, too with the big chill. Welcome to the world of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a name coined by Dr. Norman Rosenthal. (I interviewed him many times and when he first experienced it--it wasn't a picnic.) It is a real condition that cases low moods, and anxiety--especially in the winter months. But don't despair. Hot cocoa and salad come to the rescue.
What Chocolate Rx to Use: Try a cup of hot chocolate. I recommend the dark 70 percent cocoa content Amercian style or European (it's a thicker texture) with 1 to 2 percent low-fat calcium rich milk. If you can afford the calories, savor two cups a day. It doesn't stop there. Each day, for lunch or dinner, drizzle extra virgin olive oil--which contains good for you monounsaturated fat--and red wine vinegar on an Italian type dark, leafy green salad with plenty of vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, and crucifers) and chunks of tuna (in water). It will fill you up, and you'll be less likely to fill out. What's more people, like me, who may feel down can be lacking levels of serotonin have a sweet option. This mood enhancing compound is found in chocolate.
More Secrets to Help Cheer You Up
While most people with mild winter doldrums need not escape to a tropical island, a change of environment can certainly lift your mood. (That's probably one reason why I love going to the pool. It's open, airy, and exotic.) 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, using electric blankets, drinking herbal teas, 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.
One more thing. The New Moon on the 15th promises to bring happier days for the rest of this month. I don't know about you, but this Mecury Retrograde the astrologers warned us about (a time of confusion and delays) has indeed rocked my world. It's time for a steaming cup of hot cocoa. Cheers.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cal's Chillin' Chocolate Earthquake Cake

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

Last night I was a guest--the quake sensitive--on Coast to Coast (since then I've been doing News Segments), a popular radio program. The show was chock-full of pyschic types and it was our job to dish out 2010 Predictions. When the introduction music played Carole King's I FEEL THE EARTH MOVE--I was feeling kind of seasick, as another song's lyrics go. After all, I was tuning into potential earthquakes in both my Golden State and around the globe. If I had been thinking (and eating) chocolate, not shakers, I think it would have helped me deal with those chilling vivid images of future Earth cracks since it's a proven fact by researchers: Dark chocolate can help you to chill out...
In my new book THE HEALING POWERS OF CHOCOLATE, I do discuss how my good friend dark chocolate helped me sail through the 2008 earthquake swarm just 50 miles from my home. And yep, it was crunchy chocolate biscotti (made with extra virgin olive oil), baked by cookbook author Gemma Sciabica--not popcorn, a quake sensitives' fave--that helped me cope with the hundreds of tremors with an unknown cause. And the biscotti soothed my frazzled nerves as my seismically sensitive critters' anxiety soared (a vocal and pacing kitty; two clingy Velcro Brittanys) till a 5.0 hit home and woke me up close to midnight on April 25.
So, if you live on shaky ground, consider stocking up on dark chocolate (bars have a long shelf life); if you're sensing an oncoming quake, why not bake up this cake. (Gemma created this treat just for me and I'm sharing it with you.)
*Note: There is a recipe that calls for a store bought cake mix so the cake will fall apart easier but I chose for a more California-natural type of recipe for health's sake.
Cal's Earthquake Cake
2 cups white whole wheat flour [a bit more if you live in high altitude]
2 eggs
2/3 cup dark cocoa (Dutch)
1/2 teaspoon Danish pastry extract (Watkins)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup raspberry-creme filled dark chocolate chips [or plain dark chocolate 60-70% cacao]
1 large banana
Cheese Filling
3/4 cup ricotta, low fat
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease well or use cooking spray in a 10-inch bundt tube pan. In mixing bowl, sift dry ingredients together; make well incenter. Pour in buttermilk, olive oil, eggs, and flavorings. Stir and smooth. Add chocolate chips. Pour half the cake batter into prepared pan. Spoon the filling mixture evenly over the layer of batter. Carefully pur second half of batter over the filling. Bake 55 or 60 minutes until cake springs back when lightly touched in center (or when cake tester comes out clean from center). Cool cake on wire rack for about 20 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely before glazing. Glaze as desired [chocolate may be nice], or, may be sprinkled with confectioners' sugar. Clearly a glass of milk is needed.

1/4 cup toasted coconut
1/4 cup pecans (or nuts of your choice) chopped small or ground

Before batter is poured in, sprinkle about 1/2 cup sliced almonds on bottom of prepared pan. Serves 12.