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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nordic Diet course

As some of you know, I've been fascinated with the Scandinavian approach to food ever since visiting the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis and its outstanding FIKA cafe. I wanted more, which back in Traverse City meant I would need to learn to make it myself.

So far, my experiments in Scandinavian cuisine have been guided by chef Trina Hahnemann's book, The Nordic Diet, which describes a healthy approach to eating featuring foods native to the Scandinavian countries and provides 75 recipes.

As of yesterday, I'm ramping up my education and practice in this cuisine by starting a 4-week class on Coursera from the University of Copenhagen, The New Nordic Diet: from Gastronomy to Health. The lectures so far are a little dry, but the course comes with recipes and I'll be trying those. If any of you want to join me in the class, it's free! 

Aside from the deliciousness being achieved by creative chefs reinventing this traditional and long-overlooked cuisine (remember, Noma in Copenhagen is considered the top restaurant in the world), the Nordic diet offers a guideline for those of us in northern latitudes who want to improve our health, but not at the expense of the environment.

Often my dietary plans have conflicted with the contents of the CSA box or the offerings at the farmer's market. For about half of the year, beginning now, root vegetables are the local produce most available, so a low-carb diet isn't a great fit for a northern locavore. I've also often been frustrated by some seasonal cookbooks by chefs who live in places where asparagus and tomatoes apparently appear in the market at the same time.

The Nordic Diet approach helps me merge my locavore goals with my health goals. The primary difficulty is that fish and shellfish are not as available to me as they are to the Scandinavians. Sure, I have fish from Lake Michigan, but concerns about mercury pollution prevent me from making it a significant part of my diet.

I'll be reporting back over the next few weeks with the most helpful things I learn. I hope you like beets!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Saving room for dessert

Because sometimes it's your daughter's birthday.

At the last dinner support group meeting, I served celery root soup and crostini. This is, in my opinion, an ideal light dinner. But I rarely restrain myself from offering abundant food to guests (even when it's light and healthy), so I knew my friends would be wondering why they were only getting a cup of soup and a piece of toast.

We were saving room for dessert.

A few days earlier, my husband came home with a bag of apples, noted it was October, and asked me to make his favorite apple cake, a tradition of the season. This cake is delicious, but I don't even dare to run it through a calorie calculator. The recipe is on my knitting-books-film blog, for those interested.

I don't believe deprivation is sustainable as a strategy for weight loss, fitness, health or much of anything else. Obviously, abstaining totally from some substances is crucial; a recovering alcoholic doesn't allow himself "just one drink," and a kid with a life-threatening peanut allergy doesn't take a bite of a Snickers bar. But for most people, including those trying to get in shape, arbitrarily eliminating an entire food group isn't necessary and could backfire into binge eating.

So saving room for the occasional dessert need not be the first step on a path to obesity. If sugar is a challenge or trigger food for you (it is for me, and many others), enjoy that slice of birthday cake, and then send it away for a few days or a couple of weeks (the deep freeze, maybe).

The apple cake, followed by my daughter's birthday, was a little too much sweetness for my system, so today I begin a 21-day "no sweets" challenge supported by the Lift app to check my tendency to sugar addiction before it gets entrenched again. I'm not swearing off sugar for life, but I want to get it back to an occasional indulgence rather than a biscotti-with-morning-coffee routine that turns into an afternoon "where's the chocolate?" craving.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Good morning to all of you who said over the weekend, "I'll start [that good habit] on Monday."

It's Monday!

You should be more excited.

What will you be starting today?

I've been slacking about tracking my food intake, so I'm resolved to log every single bite in MyFitnessPal app. 

And, after watching Anthony Bourdain hang out foraging, fermenting and cooking with best-restaurant-in-the-world chef RenĂ© Redzepi last night, I'm once again inspired to get some healthy Nordic cuisine going in my kitchen (as well as research Danish immigration policies). This is good timing because the New Nordic Diet course on Coursera starts in two weeks! And I need to finish Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, an excellent novel partially set in Minnesota, the Scandinavian center of the U.S. Isn't it amazing how sometimes the universe seems to be sending a message? The message I'm getting is either, "start that rye bread sourdough," or "move to Copenhagen." Well, one of those things I can do today.

Delicious Scandinavian cuisine from FIKA at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. This was a light, healthy, fabulous day-after-Thanksgiving lunch last year.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


An easy and time-saving way to pack lots of flavor into simple vegetable dishes is make a batch of a delicious sauce once a week and use it profusely.

As I had a large supply of red bell peppers from the CSA box this week, I made nearly a quart of romesco sauce yesterday, and that became the flavoring agent for the main dish at last night's fitness support dinner.

I adapted Deborah Madison's recipe in Vegetable Literacy (again, I can't stop recommending this book), using what I had on hand. I roasted the peppers by putting them directly on a low flame on my gas stovetop burner, turning them with tongs until mostly charred all around, then letting them sit in a Pyrex bowl with cover on for 15 minutes or so before peeling. I'm not very good at roasting peppers and chilies, and I don't like doing it on the stovetop, but the good news is it doesn't have to be perfect.

The recipe:

Romesco Sauce

Romesco sauce (left); roasted veggies and lentils (right)
1 slice of good bread, preferably sourdough, toasted in 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or a combination
3 or 4 cloves of peeled garlic
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
4 roasted Roma tomatoes, or 1 can of Muir Glen diced roasted tomatoes with chilies
handful of parsley
few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
salt to taste

In a food processor, pulse the nuts, bread and garlic until finely minced. Add the peppers, tomatoes, parsley, thyme, paprika and a teaspoon or so of salt and blend. With the motor running, drizzle in the vinegar, then the olive oil. Taste and adjust as necessary.

Last night, the sauce was a terrific addition to a dish of French lentils and roasted veggies. Today, I'm thinking I'll make some hummus and use it in place of some of the olive oil.

Romesco is an extremely delicious and versatile sauce, but roasting peppers isn't fast, so you may want to plan this one on the weekend. For an instant "secret sauce" that can be used as a dressing on a tossed salad or added to cooked vegetables, grains and legumes, I give you my 30-second vinaigrette:

Honey-Mustard Balsamic Dressing

1 tbsp honey mustard
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt

Add all ingredients to a small jar and shake. It's that easy. I never measure the ingredients when I'm making it, so this is approximate. Scale it up if you need more.

If you live in northern Michigan or like to order online, I implore you to buy Food for Thought's cherry honey mustard for this dressing. I use this mustard in almost every recipe calling for mustard, and I also use it to make mayonnaise.