"The researches of so many eminent scientific men have thrown so much darkness upon the subject that if they continue their researches we shall soon know nothing."

- Artemus Ward

“If you aren’t confused about health and nutrition, then you haven’t studied it long enough or deeply enough.”

- Matt Stone

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Plum Pudding

Okay, I confess I'm not good at creating recipes. Not that I can't create tasty things in the kitchen, but because I'm the sort who hates to measure stuff, and rarely measure anything when cooking. I'm definitely a "pinch of this and a blob of that" sort of cook and almost never make something the same way twice.

But I've been thinking a lot about Christmas dishes lately, and remembered how I used to love to make a steamed Christmas plum pudding every year. But it's been many years since I made one, and I no longer touch wheat or sucrose. Both of them do bad things to me and I can't see any reason to include them in my daily diet.

I do enjoy some "sweet" on occasion, and lately have used erythritrol or sometimes stevia as sweeteners, each as equally "natural" (or unnatural, LOL) as table sugar, but neither affect my blood sugar or cause dreadful cravings.

Erythritol is a naturally-derived sugar substitute that looks and tastes very much like sugar, yet has almost no calories. It comes in granulated and powdered forms…Erythritol is classified as a sugar alcohol….Sugar alcohols also occur naturally in plants. Erythritol is found naturally in small amounts in grapes, melons, mushrooms, and fermented foods such as wine, beer, cheese, and soy sauce…Erythritol is usually made from plant sugars. Sugar is mixed with water and then fermented with a natural culture into erythritol. It is then filtered, allowed to crystallize, and then dried.

A plant native to South America and Central America, stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) produces sweet leaves that have long been harvested to flavor foods and beverages. In recent years, a stevia extract called rebaudioside A has become increasingly popular as a natural sugar substitute.
though adds:

If you're seeking a new natural sweetener, you should also consider erythritol (a nearly calorie-free sugar alcohol extracted from plants).

So lately I have been using Truvia, a combo of both of the above, as it's commonly available in supermarkets. And lately I've been using a lot of coconut flour too, so wondered if I could use the two to make a plum pudding. Of course it would have to be a slightly different plum pudding, one without the typical raisins (which I hate) and currents (which I like) because the sugar hit would have been too much for me.

So I gave it a try the other day, and it actually came out pretty well! It seemed like a plum pudding. Alas it DID stick and fall apart a bit as I removed it from the bowl it was cooked in, you can see the top looking pretty lumpy in the photo above. But I made an attempt to measure things as I cooked - though much of it is weighed in the more classic European fashion, which tends to be much more accurate. Some of the amounts (such as the tallow, butter, etc) were just because that was the amount I had on hand, but it worked, so here we go:

Plum Pudding

170g beef tallow*
110g butter
140g chopped fresh cranberries (about 1 1/3 cups)
60g chopped pecans (1/2 cup)
60g chopped hazelnuts (1/2 cup)
60g sliced almonds (1/2 cup)
1 tsp grated lemon rind
100g Nevada Manna SF chocolate chips (1/2 cup) OPTIONAL
1/4 cup heavy cream
6 eggs
1/2 cup Truvia
1 tsp ground clove
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup Irish whiskey

* Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, processed from suet. It is solid at room temperature. Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for extended periods without the need for refrigeration to prevent decomposition, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation...Wikipedia says "Christmas pudding is a steamed pudding, heavy with dried fruit and nuts, and usually made with suet." I've never been able to find suet, but I can get tallow from my Amish farmer.

Melt tallow and butter in a large oven proof bowl, until softened but not liquid. Remove from oven and stir, adding in the cranberries, lemon rind, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds. Then add Truvia and the spices, then the heavy cream. It should be cool enough by now to add in the chocolate chips, if desired, without them all melting. Then add in the eggs and beat until everything is well blended.

At this point turn the whole concoction into a small well-greased metal bowl which will fit into your crockpot with some room to spare around the sides. Put about a cup of water into the crockpot and lower the bowl into it. Water should come up roughly 1/2-2/3 up the side of the bowl. If it's not high enough gently add more water, trying not to get any into the plum pudding mixture!

Turn crockpot to high and cook about 4 hours. Pudding is done when it is springy to the touch in the center. You can probably cook it on low also, for longer. I just happened to start it late in the day and wanted it to be done before I went to bed. :-)

When done remove bowl carefully from crockpot (I needed to use two sets of tongs). Allow to cool for a bit, then turn out onto a platter or bowl. Mine fell apart when I did this, but I just pulled out the rest and stuck it on top!

Gently spoon the Irish whiskey over the top, letting it absorb into the pudding. If the whiskey gets all the way down to the plate just spoon it up from there and keep adding to the top. It soaks up pretty well. Then place in fridge to cool.

This is sort of dense and rich, so makes about 12 servings. Nutritional info per serving:
Calories: 413, carbs: 14,2g, fiber: 10.4g (so net carbs = 3.8g), fat: 36g, sat fat: 15.4g, alcohol: 3.8g, protein: 4g.

I had to try it out once it had cooled, and did add a squirt of homemade whipped cream on top, and a small sprinkling of nuts "for pretty". It tasted quite good.

Of course if I made it again I would probably not do it exactly the same. I'd love to see how it came out using coconut oil instead of the beef tallow, for example. And I would probably add more clove and nutmeg, and maybe cinnamon. It was less spicy than I prefer. If I had some unsweetened dried blueberries (which I can get at Trader Joe's) I would probably add some of those too. I might add a tablespoonful of molasses. And I wonder how it would be with peanut flour? And if you don't want the whiskey you could probably use something like DaVinci sugar-free Irish Cream syrup. Decisions, decisions. And it's not as if I make Christmas plum pudding every day of the year!

I'm still feeling excellent, and looking forward to Christmas with my family. It's been cold here lately, but yesterday afternoon I did go out to the gym to do my Slow Burn workout, and had a swim, and since I was out I went up to Rifle Camp Park and Garrett Mountain to do some birding. Brrr, it was cold! 30-40 minutes was about all I could take.

But I did see a whole flock of these Ring-necked ducks, about 20 of them.

And in addition I saw this Mute Swan. They are plentiful enough in New Jersey, but I have never seen one at Garrett Mountain before, so that was an interesting find for me. It will add to my site Life List as kept by eBird.org.

But by then the sun was starting to sink low over the horizon. It was barely past 4 PM, but we are only days away from the Winter solstice after all. I can't wait for the light to begin returning though. But Garrett Mountain was lovely in the golden afternoon glow, so I had to take a picture of that as well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bird-Friendly coffee

This is a Cooper's Hawk I saw this morning in a 2-hour birdwalk through NJ's Hatfield Swamp, in 20-degree weather! There were 5 of us hardy souls and while I saw no new Life Birds it was fun to get dramatic close-ups of the Cooper's above and a Red-tailed Hawk, and also saw a brown creeper, great blue heron - 19 species in all. We did some checking for owls. Walk leader Dave Hall's son had put up a bunch of wood duck nest boxes in the Swamp for his Boy Scout Eagle project in 1999, and apparently some owls use the boxes in the winter. An owl would have been a life bird for me! But we didn't find any, alas. Oh well, I got *eight* new life birds on my 6-hour marathon birding session at Manasquan Inlet last Saturday, so I guess my average for the week is still pretty good. :-)

And while I love birding, and love reading about nutrition, I have not given much thought to places where they might coincide. But on Monday night I went to DeKorte Park to hear a talk on bird migration by Pulitzer Prize finalist Scott Weidensaul. They also had copies of his books for sale there, so of course I had to buy one - Of a Feather - and got him to autograph it for me. (it's a lot cheaper at amazon, but not autographed!).

But in his talk Scott gave a list of things that people could do - simple things - that could help with bird migration. I was happy to see I already did quite a few of them - planted bird-friendly native plants in my yard, use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers in my yard, buy organic as much as possible, keep my cats indoors. But I admit it never occurred to me to look for toilet paper made from recycled paper. Nor did I think to look for bird-friendly coffee.

Coffee of course is a controversial subject. You can find statements like this:
A German experiment from November 2008 discovered that caffeine appears to play a role in endothelial repair. Other investigations have reported that, if anything, regular coffee use tends to reduce risk markers relating to endothelial health (E-selectin) and systemic inflammation (C-reactive protein) which have both been associated with cardiovascular disease. The research that demonstrates positive effects for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee could possibly be explained by other health promoting phytochemicals such as kahweol which is found in all forms of coffee.

A recent examination by the Center for American Indian Health Research at the University of Oklahoma looked for a correlation between coffee use and type-2 diabetes in a group of 1,141 men and women. The study volunteers were followed for an average of 7.6 years. Their ages ranged from 45-74 years old. The participants who drank the largest amount of coffee (a whopping 12 cups or more) demonstrated a 67% reduced risk of developing diabetes during the follow-up period. The authors of the investigation concluded that “a high level of coffee consumption was associated with a reduced risk of deterioration of glucose metabolism”.

And you can find contradictory evidence like:
Daily consumption of caffeine in coffee, tea or soft drinks increases blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes and may undermine efforts to control their disease, say scientists at Duke University Medical Center...The findings, appearing in the February issue of Diabetes Care, add more weight to a growing body of research suggesting that eliminating caffeine from the diet might be a good way to manage blood sugar levels.

Or you can find statements like this:
Daily use of coffee results in the secretion of more cortisol which increases the production of lactate. Studies so far suggest that high level of cortisol shrivel the division of the brain that is responsible for memory. High volume of this hormone affects your immune system and decreases your body’s power to resist infections. If you take more than 3 cups of coffee daily then it will result in the depletion of your adrenals. If the adrenal gland is over stimulated, it may result in fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, depression and a weakened immune system. Usually, caffeine stays in people’s system for about eight to thirty hours. The presence of caffeine in the system leads to the release of more glucose in to the blood stream followed by a stern fall in blood sugar. Coffee also provides more stress on your kidneys.

From everything I've read about adrenal fatigue and the adrenals, the two biggest drainers are excess sugar consumption and excess stress. Now, yes coffee is a stress, and the body does recognize all the stress the same (doesn't matter whether you're being chased by a lion, or you just got a divorce).

The fastest way to burn out the adrenals through stress is the emotional/mental stress. Because that can go on forever, or at-least long periods of time and in unlimited amounts.

With coffee, a certain amount of cortisol is released with the normal half-life. But with emotional/mental stress, you can consistently release large amounts of stress.

So if you really want to avoid adrenal fatigue, head in the direction of a positive mind-set, and get the sugar under control.
Wherever you go you can find pros and cons. Many of them. I've had stages of my life where I drank 3-4 cups of coffee a day. I've also gone for months where I eliminated coffee entirely. I certainly didn't feel any different in any of the cases. I never got "caffeine jitters" from drinking coffee. I never felt tired and unable to get going when I didn't have coffee. I enjoy the *taste* of coffee. I usually have one cup every morning. And I do it because I like the taste and I agree with some of the pros of coffee drinking. But I don't *need* it. I went on my 2-hour birdwalk in the freezing cold this morning without having had any coffee, or experiencing any need for coffee.

But I also listen to the cons, so do limit myself to that one cup daily. But now I have to think about making it be "bird friendly" coffee! To understand what this means go here. I have to look for shade-grown coffee.

Not only better for birds, but better for people, and for the biosphere in general:

In its natural environment, coffee most often grows in the shade. However, most cultivated coffee is produced on full-sun,monocropping plantations, as are most commercial crops, to maximize production per unit of land. This practice is, however, detrimental to the natural environment, since the natural habitats which existed prior to the establishment of the plantations are destroyed, and all non-Coffea flora and fauna are suppressed - often with chemical pesticides and herbicides.... In addition, shade-grown coffee is considered by some to be of higher quality than sun-grown varieties, as the cherries produced by the Coffea plants in the shade are not as large as commercial varieties; some believe this smaller cherry concentrates the flavors of the cherry into the seed (bean) itself.

Keep that in mind if you are a coffee drinker.