On sweets and such...

Nearly every day I eat something sweet. Whether it be homemade cookies, Newman’s oreos or ghirradelli 60% chocolate chips straight from the bag (mmmm so good) - I enjoy my sweets. Granted anyone that knows me knows I don’t eat birthday cake every time it’s offered. I’ve got a sweet tooth, but it’s a picky sweet tooth for sure. I like real dark chocolate, organic cookies and only certain desserts that I know can’t be missed - like my mom’s homemade hot fudge sundaes or cran-apple pie.

In college I was that weird girl who decided I would only eat sweets on certain days. It worked for a while, I stayed on track eating healthy throughout my week and getting plenty of sleep and looked forward to sugar-loaded weekends. But this odd habit certainly didn’t end well. Needless to say my ravenous cravings got the best of me. I kinda forgot what nourishment felt like cause I was so focused on keeping room for dessert. It was a ridiculous cycle, hopping from salads and bland meals to nightly snacks or basically a bowlful of sugar, that eventually did me in. Maybe it was just my own distorted view of health, but for some reason in our American culture depravity equals discipline (at least where food is concerned.) If it's bad for you, it must taste good. If it’s good for you, it must taste bad. While I can’t nail down why we correlate being healthy with being deprived it for sure messed with my head for many years.

For some time I considered myself disciplined. I was rigid and painfully structured in what I ate. This may sound contorted. That's because it was.  My self-inflicted deprivation soon became a downward spiral of hunger and overindulgence. Habits like veganism, sugar-free diets, or forgoing bread & dairy may all be lofty goals. If it's due to personal convictions that's commendable, but if it’s for the sake of weight-loss or perfection it just doesn't end well. I don’t condone healthy habits, I certainly have some that I stick with because otherwise I know I’ll feel like crap. But sometimes we become so rigid in these mindsets of “discipline” we think the more we deplete ourselves of the less we’ll struggle with. It’s funny to me how America tries to improve everything. All the enhanced, enriched and fortified foods in our groceries can be just as counterproductive as deprivation.

We all try way too hard. I didn’t understand this until after two enlightening moments concerning my health. The first I will completely changed my view of food. It was the summer after ending college I found a book called Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too by chef Melissa Kelly. The book came out shortly after Mireilli Guiliano’s French Women Don’t get Fat became a bestseller. Melissa Kelly, a naturally thin Italian chef (and a James Beard Foundation Award Winner) enlightened me with her sensible approach to food. This book awakened an unanticipated passion for cooking. It was my own food revolution. I fell in love with herbs and spices I didn’t even know existed. I discovered greek yogurt, realizing I never knew what real yogurt tasted like. Dishes like Caponata (a roasted vegetable dish) , seared salmon, bruschetta with fresh mozzarella and real fresh homemade hummus awakened my tasted buds. Real food. I didn’t know it could be so satisfying. Melissa Kelly’s idea of small meals throughout the day, savoring like a true european gave me a new perspective of mindful eating. I ran with the love for cooking and definitely have further developed an understanding of healthy eating since. Certainly I’ve stumbled off track here and there. Sometimes due to relationships, which consisted of frozen pizzas and late nights at Chili’s, that I’m happy to say are behind me. Now the world full of healthy foodies is an encouragement that I’m not the only weirdo who loves a cookie so nutritious you could eat it for breakfast. Melissa Kelly’s book is the first of many cookbooks I gawk over, yet some of her recipes remain staples in my kitchen. One that is a special recipe is her Almond biscotti that I make for my dad every Christmas, and for everyone else that steals them from the cookie jar. The holidays may be over but I’ll bake it for him anyhow. In my opinion my Dad deserves Christmas ever day.

Fig and Almond Biscotti

recipe adapted from chef Melissa Kelly
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
3 eggs
3 egg yolks (reserve egg whites)
1 teaspoon almond extract
7 ounces whole almonds
1/2 cup of  chopped dried figs
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and orange zest. In another  large bowl mix the eggs, egg yolks and almond extract together. Mix with a fork or whisk and then stir in the almonds and chopped figs.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Stir in with a wooden spoon until the dough forms. Make sure not to overmix.
On a large baking sheet for 2 loaves of dough, approximately 4 x 10 inches. Bake for 20 minutes or lightly golden on top. Let the loaves cool and then slice the loaves into 1/2 inch slices.
Bring the temperature down to 300 degrees F. Lay the slices with the sides up, back onto the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until crispy golden and dry. Or until it's as hard as a rock like I'll be baking them - how my dad prefers them.
Great for dipping in coffee.
Caution when biting - teeth may break. Good thing my Dad's teeth are hard as rocks.