The Teacup Chronicles

Month: February, 2012

Chocolate yogurt puddings with strawberries, bananas and cocoa nibs

Oh February. I think perhaps Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall sums up my feelings best when he says, “I hate February.”  Am I being a bit hard on this poor month? It’s just that, February is the point when winter really starts to lose its charm, when the seasonal motionlessness starts to make one feel, well,  just a wee bit  stagnant,  dare I say despondent even. It’s the month when I find myself feeling like a runner in the last few miles of a marathon – weary and worn to the bone, wanting nothing more than to stop and be seduced by the sensation of giving in – but for that small prospect of the other side – that voice that against all reason bids you to keep putting one foot in front of the other and finish the job, step by step.  Along with the inertia of busyness and movement, it’s that other side – that very faint glimpse of spring sunshine way up there in the distance, that keeps one from sinking down into that desperately dark winter abyss which lingers like death’s shadow throughout every day of February.

So I keep moving. I write to do lists (my planner will assert that February is the month I make more to-do lists than any other), I force myself to walk outside, close my eyes and thrust my face up towards the sun (which while not necessarily warm, still seems to hold the suggestion of warmth) and I consume copious quantities of chocolate and other such foods, full of starchy, fatty, gooey and other such qualities that seem to temporarily warm the soul and block out the wickedness of cold grey days. Yes, my pants might fit just a bit tighter by the end of the month, but it doesn’t matter so long as I get to the end of this month. I’ll do what I have to do. The warmer, longer days of March will help to ease the emotional and physical baggage that February has piled on, melting it away like the frozen crust of snow.

The other saving grace to endure the hardships of February, is a half-gallon jar filled with Strawberries picked this past June, that I hide in the very back unreachable shadows of the freezer expressly for the purpose of finding them this month. If I notice those little scarlet nuggets of June sweetness in, say November, I quickly turn away and pile another bag of frozen peas in front of them. They are my February life line. And for some reason, I tend to like to eat them with bananas in some form – which I think stems from a desire for something tropical and sweet, to vaguely fulfill my desire to go someplace tropical and sweet. Strawberries and bananas. A breath of sweetness into a dull grey day, if ever there were one. Especially when chocolate is thrown in too. It’s like someone picked me up and carried me a few days closer to spring.

Chocolate yogurt puddings with strawberries, bananas and cocoa nibs

If you don’t happen to have the luxury of a frozen mason jar of June strawberries – make note to do this for next year, and buy some frozen ones at the store, or in a pinch, thin out some strawberry jam in a pan with a little water and use this to drizzle over the top. Serves 2.

  • 1 cup Greek style yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup, or to taste + another tablespoon for the strawberries
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa nibs

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the yogurt with the cocoa powder, maple syrup and a very small pinch of salt. Depending on your sweetness threshold, you may with to add more or less of the maple syrup  – I like to add just a little glug at a time until it tastes just right.

Place the strawberries in a small saucepan with a drizzle of maple syrup and a teaspoon or two of water. Heat until the strawberries are completely thawed but still retaining some shape, and the sauce is just beginning to thicken in the pan – about 5 minutes. You may need to add a little more syrup depending on how sweet your strawberries are.

Divide the yogurt into two bowls. Slice the banana over the top, into thin rounds. Divide the strawberries between the two bowls and drizzle the sauce over the top, then finish with a sprinkling of cocoa nibs.

Chocolate covered crackers with peanut butter and cyrstalized ginger

Sometimes a sort of magical thing happens, where you look at a box of those Scandinavian style rye crackers (you know the ones) sitting on your kitchen counter, and think, “I wonder what would happen if I slathered those with peanut butter, dipped them in melted chocolate, and sprinkled delicious sorts of things over the top?” And of course, you don’t wonder about it for very long, because the answer becomes clear immediately.

What happens, in case chocolate doesn’t clarify things for you in the way it does for me, is that you end up with a very sophisticated sort of candy bar – the glitz and sparkle of crystallized ginger and sea salt – the au natural peanut butter with a kiss of honey and a touch of flax. But the magic comes from the crackers hidden within. The cracker gives it a delicious crunch, a sort of airy brittleness – but best of all, it makes the whole thing feel somehow wholesome and respectable – even if it is tarted up for a night on the town. It’s that nutty, fiber filled crunch that makes you believe that you are so near to having rye crackers and peanut butter, that there really isn’t any difference. You could have one for your afternoon snack and not even flinch. It’s like that Rolling Stone song, Down Home Girl – as though if the bars could talk they’d say –  “I know I look glitzy on the surface, darling, but really I’m just a dolled up rye cracker at heart.”

These are super easy to make, and with Valentine’s just around the corner, you can never have too many chocolate ensconced things lying around. And by the way, in honor of the great holiday (which I happen to like, thank you very much – all cynical comments aside) my posts will be entirely chocolate themed up until the big day.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Covered Crackers with Peanut Butter and Cyrstalized Ginger

Adapted by a recipe posted on Sprouted Kitchen.

  • 4 Scandinavian style crackers (such as Ryvita or Ak-Mak) 
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter (I like Maranatha creamy style)
  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds, freshly ground
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1.5 cups dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1/8 cup peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons crystalized ginger, sliced into thin pieces
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Place the chocolate in a double broiler (make one yourself by placing a heat proof bowl over a pan of boiling water so that the bowl is not in contact with the water). Once the chocolate begins to melt, turn off the heat and stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted.

Meanwhile, mix together the peanut butter, flax seeds and honey in a small bowl, adding a little pinch of salt. Spread a generous amount onto each cracker, so that you have a nice thick layer of peanut butter on each one. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Once the chocolate has melted, submerge the crackers into the chocolate until they are completely covered on the top and sides. I found it easier to do this by cutting the crackers in half so that I could submerge them into the chocolate completely, but if you want to leave them whole then you can use a spoon to spread the chocolate over the cracker rather than trying to submerge it.  Return to the parchment lined baking tray.

While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle the crackers with a generous helping of the ginger, peanuts and sea salt. Place in a cool dry spot to let the chocolate completely harden, about an hour.

The secret and the sacred

I feel like I owe you an explanation. I’ve felt this way for awhile, but only now, after months of reflecting and trying to figure out my mind, do I think I might be ready to give it. For those of you who have been following the blog for a while now, you’ll probably have noticed that I’ve shifted my focus a bit. You’ll have noticed that instead of writing about this herb or that, about the health benefits of a certain food or the ways to approach various health concerns using herbs and nutrition – I’m now writing about little moments in my day, about things I’m noticing around me, and mostly, about food. As to anything particularly medicinal or therapeutic, I have been vague at best. My heading “Medicine” has perpetually remained a blank page, as if the “some day…” I’ve written there now is some sort of esoteric riddle for you to solve. If you’ve noticed these things, and I can bet that at least some of you have, I’m sure that  you have also wondered why.

If there is one rule I have always striven to live by, it is that my life should be an expression of the things I feel in the deepest and truest parts of my spirit, that I should always endeavor to flow with the nature of my self and never fight against it. And at some point, the idea of looking at each food and each plant under the microscope of health; the focus on disease rather than life; the idea that healing was a thing that came in a bottle or a jar whether filled with herbs or chemicals – became a thing that was no longer an expression of what felt true within me. And so, for a time, I had to stop writing about it. I had to step back and try to get some context, try to see the bigger picture and understand a little better how it is that I might fit into it.

During this time, I came across a line by John O’Donohue, the Irish poet and philosopher. “When the secret is not respected,” he said, “the sacred vanishes.” With this, I finally found an expression for the things I was feeling. I began to know why it was that I had lost the sense of magic and mystery that had at first attracted me to study the secrets of the plants and the art of healing. I understood why it was that I always cringed when people stopped me in the grocery store to ask me what herbs they should take for this or that condition, or why I felt so sad each time a client asked me how they would know what was working, when I recommended them more than one herb or  dietary suggestion. And I started to understand why I felt so disenchanted with and exhausted by trying to think about every food I ate from the this strange and esoteric concept of “health.” In my folly, in our culture’s folly, I had not respected the secret. I had tried to dissect it, to, “unriddle and control the unknown.” I had made the sacred vanish.

And so I am going to confess to you now, that such are the reasons why I no longer consider myself a herbalist in the way I did before, why I find myself unable to write about plants or health in the ways that I did previously. What I need in my own life, and what we as a culture truly need, is to stop looking at life, at health, at food, at medicine as a riddle that needs to be solved. Instead I want to step back, I want to invite the mystery, the magic, the sacred back in. I don’t want to try and fit things into boxes anymore, and I certainly don’t want to try to fit my life into one either, even if that box is the context of health. And strangely enough, I think science will support this. Already, we are beginning to understand that it isn’t any one nutrient, or the amount of any one nutrient that keeps us healthy – but the variety and diversity of nutrients in our diet that confers health. The more diverse and complex our diets are – the larger the variety of foods we expose ourselves to – the healthier we tend to be. Health lies in the unknowable complexity of the riddle, and not its solution.

Instead, I want to notice and celebrate those aspects of my daily life that make me feel alive and vibrant. I want to trust the wisdom of my ancestors, the wisdom of the Earth and my own instinct in the foods I choose to eat and know that is enough. I want to eat things that are wild, I want to let roots simmer in my soups and add bitter herbs to my salads – I want to make jams and syrups with the berries of the autumn and put flower petals into my bath – because I trust that all this is not just good for me, but enriches my experiences of life, connects me to the Earth, the season, to the great complexity and mystery of life. And I want this to be my medicine, rather than those miscellaneous bottles and jars collecting dust on the kitchen counter. As Michael Pollan points out, the more obsessed we’ve become about health and what is healthy, the less healthy we have become. So I’m done with that sort of thinking. I’m done looking at everything under the harsh flourescent lights, and instead I’m holding up a candle to life and looking at the way that shadows and mystery and the things we don’t know or understand are what make life so beautiful, so incredible. For it is then, I think, when we experience what it is we call health, that unknowable and undefinable sense of the sacred.