Monday, November 22, 2010

News Flash: Hot Cocoa Beats SAD

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

It's still fall but we got our first significant snowstorm at Lake Tahoe...and it's not over. More of that white stuff is going to dump outside tonight. Sure, I like the storm part--before and during. After it's all done, not so much. Tourists and some locals like to play in the white powder but if you live here it's not fun to shovel the deck, keep the wood clean and dry (more shoveling), and walk the pooches in three feet of snow and walk like a penguin on icy asphalt. (Snow removal service doesn't do these tasks.) And that's where sweet dark chocolate and/or cocoa comes in...
So I'm a fall gal, and I find myself facing Old Man Winter. It's a time when I feel irritable, and fed up with the shorter days, colder nights, and lack of sunshine and warmth. It's enough to make a person feel blue and out of whack. Welcome to the world of seasonal affective disorder. But don't despair. Hot chocolate comes to the rescue.
When your serotonin level is low, you may feel down. The happy fact is, dark chocolate contains serotonin. This is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that can make you feel happier and improve brain power and memory. It is a compound in chocolate that can also provide a calming effect. Also, tryptophan, the essential amino acid in chocolate may react like mood-boosting, calming serotonin, helping to alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress.
The bottom line: While light therapy and exercise can and do ease SAD, nutritional experts belive that happy foods--like dark chocolate and cocoa--are important, too. A bonus: Grab the best, such as Lake Champlain Chocolates to Ghirardelli Chocolate. To get a comprehensive Resource List of my fave chocolatiers and premium chocolate, grab a copy of my book, The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, 2010), available at online bookstores or have your local bookstore order it for you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Comfort of Chamomile-Honey Tea, the Dove & Olive Branch

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

Last night I watched the film "Milk" and it brought me back to my days and life in San Francisco--a place of love, hope, diversity and change. I was touched by the acting, true story, one which had a bittersweet ending of tragic loss and earned triumph--which brings me to present-day full of life's ups and downs...
As an intuitive who works often as a phone psychic advisor, you'd think I'd have a built-in wall by now since I deal with peoples' woes from around the globe. Like a cool, calm, collected personality of a healing Indian doctor, I have fine-tuned my emotions, but it's sipping plenty of hot and sweet chamomile-honey that helps me get through the calls and help people feel better and more balanced.

Speaking of loss, today, I finally made the phone call to Gemma Sciabica, my dear cook-bakeress mentor and friend. It was time for me to acknowledge the passing of her beloved husband, Joseph. I could feel her pain and it saddens me. A lot. Meanwhile, I sit her next to her cookbooks and my HEALING POWERS books and see stories and pictures about the late Joseph, who lived to 95 years young. Joseph was an olive oil maker since 1936. His father, Nicola, and he began with grassroots of olive oil production, which he learned in Sicily, Italy, as a young man. In Waterbury, Connecticut, in the 1940s, it was common for Joseph to deliver a load of wine grapes and olive oil to an Italian family in the city. In fact, Nick Sciabica & Sons sold olive oil directly to Italian families from 1936 to 1968.
Fast forward to the 21st century. As I penned in my book, The Healing Powers of Olive Oil (Kensington), Joseph followed the traditional Mediteranean diet--the foods found in each and every one of Gemma's cookbooks--progressive gems that show how olive oil is the primary fat of choice for good health and longevity. I'm also talking fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, nuts, and, of course, olive oil. Joseph also had one glass of homemade red wine with his dinner each night. And yes, chocolate played a role in his life, too. He did eat chocolate almonds in moderation.
As I sit here I am sad that we lost a fine man, just shy five years of 100. Joseph was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and icon in the olive oil world. I keep hearing Gemma's words she shared with me today about looking at the olive trees and thinking of her dear Joseph, a goodhearted man who always treated her like a lady. Joseph led a happy, complete life with a loving wife and family. As a romantic, I am deeply sorry to see an old-fashioned couple (who were together almost 70 years) be separated.
May God watch over these two eternal lovebirds and provide peace of the symbolic dove and olive branch to each of them--and anyone else who endures the bridge over trouble water.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sweet November, Sweet Chocolate Fondue

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

It's November at Lake Tahoe. The pine cones are still dropping onto the ground which is covered with pine needles not white powder. Today, the temperature was in the high 60s--like Indian summer. And I still haven't made a fire. It's too warm except late, late at night or early in the morning...
Still, chocolate fondue seems like a perfect treat at night. How decadent and healthy can chocolate and good for you tidbits be? Imagine dipping your fave fresh fall fruits into warm dark chocolate? It's ideal for a party, a couple, or even just one for the thrill of it all. And in my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, 2010), I include the perfect recipe (on page 180), straight from Lake Champlain Chocolates.
My brain is on honeycrisp apples (these are available now, pricey but worth every penny). And strawberries are still available at our stores. Marshmallows are low cal and a fun sweet; homemade brownies (made with extra virgin olive oil and 70 percent cocoa) dipped in this fondue may be the winner in this house. Sure, it would be 100 percent ideal if I waited till our first snowfall. But sometimes, doing what feels good is worth it.
And yes, I do love the unforgettable tearjerker film "Sweet November" based in San Francisco--my home. It's a place that I remember for my umpteen experiences in my post-Haight Ashbury days to artsy friends' flats, my everlasting link to SFSU, its diverse people from around the globe, a potpourri of restaurants and cafes in North Beach, culture with a capital "C" -- and the winning Giants!

Chocolate Fondue

* * *

1/2 cup half-and-half
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or pistoles
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped or pistoles
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
marshmallows, pound cake, or brownies, peppermint sticks,
strawberries, bananas, raspberries, or apricots

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!