Part I: THE JUICE SEGMENT (feel free to skip to Part II)
We’re having some down time today at the DDD household, as today is the first-ever Family Day holiday in Ontario (I’ve always thought it only civilized to have a day off in February–the gap between New Year’s and Easter/Passover is just too long). Everything government-related is closed, as are many retail establishments, so the streets are quiet and still. Why, it’s the perfect atmosphere to reflect on my first entire day of WOCA (Week of Chocolate Asceticism)!
But since I know you’re likely more interested in the food than my self-imposed abstemiousness, I’ve decided not to dwell on my woe-is-me struggle to avoid chocolate during this time. Instead, I’ll provide an update each day at the end of the post–following the main attraction (a new recipe!). And one of the perfect ways to start off a shiny, new, ”clean” week of eating is a delicious, cleansing, freshly-squeezed vegetable juice.
What? Juice?? But where, you may ask, are all the desserts? Where are the cookies, the muffins, the pies, the cakes? Where are the yummy, creative vegan dishes? Where is the–CHOCOLATE?
Ah, yes. Now, now, let’s all take a deep breath, count to ten, and focus on the mantra kiss and make up reload the chamber try to calm down. No, no, we haven’t abandoned chocolate indefinitely! That sweet sepia beauty shall return; all in good time. In the meantime, however, I have a party to attend in less than 2 weeks, which means I need to get my ass in gear (no, I mean that literally–I have no gear big enough to fit my–well, you get the idea).
Despite having a well established and famous juice-bar-turned-restaurant here in Toronto, I first tasted a freshly squeezed vegetable juice in Ithaca, New York, at the famed Moosewood restaurant. The HH and I were on our way to visit my Boston cousins for a few days, and spent an evening exploring the university town. After reading so much about the Moosewood over the years (and coveting the Moosewood cookbooks I owned), I couldn’t wait to try their food. The juice was merely an afterthought–”Something to drink before your meal, Ma’am?”–so I ordered without really thinking about it (I was too fixated on having been called “Ma’am,” I guess). I had a carrot, beet, and ginger mix, and was immediately enamoured! The HH, not quite so infatuated, declined to even taste it (“I can smell the beets,” he pouted. “It smells like dirt.”).
A few years later, I learned more about fresh juices in nutrition school, and was so inspired I promptly went out and bought myself a ridiculously overpriced single-gear juicer. Freshly squeezed, juice is a detoxifyer, immune booster, and wealth of nutrition. (If you’re interested in learning more, there’s a quick and clear description of the power of raw juices in a book my friend PR Queen lent me, called Raw Food: Life Force Energy.)
As a result of that juicy inspiration, I peeled, chopped, pushed, propelled, squeezed, filtered and poured enthusiastically for the first year or so, before I grew weary of spending 15-20 minutes just to clean the mechanical monstrosity when it took me all of one minute to actually drink the beverage it prepared. You see, juicers tend to generate an abundance of both juice AND pulp; and the pulp has a tendency to cling obstinately inside the filter (which turns out to be a good thing for the juice per se, as you really don’t want to be lapping up strings of celery fiber from your glass). Nonetheless, juicing can be an onerous task.
One of my favorite juice combinations in the morning is carrots, apple, celery, beets, ginger, parsley and dark, leafy greens (usually kale), with a clove of garlic thrown in for good measure (and the anti-microbial properties in confers). Drink one of these concoctions first thing, and you’re basically buzzing until lunch (with complimentary protection against vampires included).
I did convince the HH to try my juice, just once. His response–emitted along with a fine spray of the green liquid itself–was: “Aaarrggghhhecchhh!! This tastes like A FIELD OF WET GRASS.” (Now, don’t ask me how he knows what a field of wet grass tastes like; but anyway.)
And so, rather than impose the selfsame green terror on all of you this fine winter’s day (I’ll save that for another fine winter’s day), I thought I’d start off this week with something nourishing, something sweet and crunchy, something to suit breaking the fast in the morning: homemade granola!
Part II: THE GRANOLA SEGMENT
Over the past few years (ever since I studied holistic nutrition) I’ve had colleagues and friends occasionally remark as I wax poetic about tofu or kale, “Now, don’t go all crunchy granola on me, Ric.” But I’d never take offense at the comment; I could never comprehend why that phrase should be flung pejoratively. What is wrong with crunchy granola, anyway?
As far as breakfast cereals go, granola (a real, whole-foods kind, not sugar- and fat-laden varieties you find in wax-lined boxes) is one of the best. A flavorful potpourri of whole grains with their generous mineral and fiber content, gem-like dried fruits with theIr chewy sweetness and tang (and even more of those necessary minerals), and the occasional flake of coconut or morsel of toasted nut (both providing healthy fats)–well, what’s not to love?
Although I’m not a regular consumer of cold breakfast cereals (though I do love me some baked oatmeal once in a while), granola is one cold cereal I do fancy. I love the mix of textures from crumbly to crunchy to chewy, all bathed in opaque milky sweetness (whichever type you choose).
This recipe is loosely based on the one in Becoming Vegetarian by Melina Vesanto, and I’ve adapted it liberally. I’ve added more of the liquids to bind the granola into clusters, and adapted the fruits to suit my tastes (also adding a bit more than the original recipe suggests). Here’s the mix of dried cranberries, unsweetened cherries, raisins, goji berries I used this time round. The array of dark reds and brilliant coral of the gojis nestled on top the grains creates quite a tantalizing mosaic of color.
Homemade Crunchy Granola
You won’t miss the usual wheat in this satisfying, healthy granola. It is slightly less dense than store-bought, and contains less fat. This holds up well in milk and is equally good as a snack on its own. For a gluten-free version, simply use oats, buckwheat, or quinoa flakes.
4 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1 cup rye, barley, or soy flakes, or a combination (I used buckwheat and barley flakes)
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I like almonds, cashews, and pecans)
1/3 cup dried coconut (unsweetened)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cardamom (optional)
1/2 cup sesame butter (tahini)
1/4 cup maple syrup or agave nectar, or a combination
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup puffed brown rice cereal (I use Erewhon)
1/4 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds (I used both)
1-1/2 cups dried fruit (I like raisins, chopped apricots, chopped dates, dried cherries, dried apple, dried cranberries, or a combination)
Preheat oven to 325F. Spray a large roasting pan with nonstick coating. In a large bowl, mix the oats, rye (or other flakes), nuts, coconut, and cinnamon. (If using raw seeds, add these now as well).
In a smaller bowl, mix together the tahini, water, liquid sweetener and vanilla, blending well. Pour this over the dry ingredients and mix well to coat most of the flakes.
Pour the granola into the prepared pan, spread evenly, and roast for 40-50 minutes , mixing every 20 minutes or so (be sure to move the mixture at the edges toward the centre to avoid burning, and move the mixture in the centre out to the edges).
Remove from oven and cool completely. Then add the fruits, puffed rice cereal and pre-roasted seeds (if using) and mix well. Store in jars or airtight plastic containers. Makes about 8 cups.
WOCA Update: The first day of my chocolate abstinence was pretty much as I expected it would be–very difficult. One thing I’ve learned in the past (like, the 75 or so other times I’ve gone through this cycle) is that, if I truly wish to avoid eating the sweet stuff, I should allow myself as much as I like of anything else that’s whole, healthy, or naturally sweetened (such as fresh fruits)–at least for the first few days. So today I ate more nuts than I would have liked, and snacked on more leftovers from our V-Day dinner than I would have liked (though not the pie, evidemment), but I managed to go 24 hours without consuming anything chocolate or anything containing added sweeteners; one hurdle passed!
(“We knew something was up, Mum, when you forgot to give us our Kongs this afternoon. . . hurry up and get over this, okay, Mum?”)