Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Spiced Surprise for Spring Fever and Inflation

 By Cal Orey

The word is, food prices are soaring (again) due to inflation and the oil crisis thanks to the Ukraine-Russia Conflict. Worse, the R word points to another Recession by 2023. Read food insecurity.

Some Spicy Good News: Since the ongoing pandemic, home-cooking is more popular and spices are in big demand, according to McCormick. Not only do herbs and spices flavor up your dishes – they contain antioxidants to keep your immune system strong and heart healthy! Not to ignore controlling the sugar, fat, and sodium content which means you can drop those unwanted winter pounds this season...

Flashback to 2008, the Great Recession. As a journalist living on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, I was affected big-time. I recall losing regular contributing editor positions in five magazines within one month! Tough times. So, did I starve? Nah. I went back to living like I did in my lean graduate school days in San Francisco. Students struggled. I ate lots of seeds, fresh oranges and apples, whole grain pasta, marinara sauce, vegetables and brown rice, and picked berries in the hills or backyards.

Now, more than a decades later, it's books and novels for me. But a warning of skyrocketing prices for food (again). No worries. I, like you, too, can still eat healthy with flavorful home-cooking on the cheap. You just have to remember to buy the staples for tasty dishes (i.e.,  rice, dried fruit, nuts) and include herbs and spices.

So, inspired by higher food costs and spring-summer hot and cold days and nights, I cooked you all up a yummy dish. Recently, when I was interviewed by Huffington Post about bay leaves (I am now considered an “herb expert” thanks to my book on herbs and spices), the journalist asked me about using bay leaves for a baked rice pudding. We both agreed. It’s worth of go!

Spiced Rice Pudding

1 ¼ cups cooked brown rice

1 large or 2 small bay leaves (dried, Turkish variety)

2 eggs, beaten

2 ½ cups organic half-and-half

½ cup organic low-fat milk

¼ cup granulated white sugar

2 teaspoons honey (local to fight springtime allergies)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup golden raisins

2 tablespoons cinnamon, ground

¼ teaspoon cardamom. ground

European style butter (to grease baking dish)

Nutmeg, ground for sprinkling on top

Berries, fresh or orange slices

Cinnamon sticks, fresh mint or basil for garnish

In a pan, cook rice according to the directions. Add the bay leaves to the water and remember to toss out when the rice is cooked. Set aside. In a bowl, combine rice, eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, honey, vanilla, raisins, and spices.  Lightly grease small baking dishes or an 8 x 8 baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees in a pan of water (2 or 3 inches if using ramekins) for approximately 1 hour or until firm and golden brown. Top with nutmeg. Serve warm or cold. Garnish with fresh berries or orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and your favorite mint or basil springs. Serves 6-8. Pair with hot or iced tea (depending on our weather for the day).

Keep in mind, dried spices have a long shelf life and add plenty of flavor for your sweet and savory dishes such as this one. As long as you keep a stocked pantry with healthful staples including brown rice, plenty of dried spices (check out the expiration date) and now is the time to put some herbal plants in your window sill – we’ll be fine.

-- Cal Orey, M.A. Is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee, Tea, Superfoods, Essential Oils, Herbs and Spices) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is

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