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Archive for the ‘Breakfast’ Category

Finally! Pancake perfection. They're gluten-free and dairy-free, too!

Pancakes are so very simple to make, yet to very easy to screw up. Bad memories, such as brunches ruined by stubborn flapjacks, burned pancakes, undercooked pancakes, tough pancakes, and just plain fugly pancakes kept my expectations low for my recent flapjack foray.

Try adding a gluten and dairy free caveat to the recipe requirement and the ante is upped. So I figured the best thing to do was relax.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes things turn out the best when you have zero expectations?

Closer, closer. See how fluffy they are?On a recent random workday, between teaching classes and a challenging workout, a serious pancake craving hit me. So I threw together the only pancake mix I had on hand, a gluten-free Bob’s Red Mill mix. Because I love sunflower seed butter and wanted to bump up the protein content of my cakes, I added approximately three tablespoons of that stuff. Good call! Instead of cow’s milk, I used some creamy coconut milk from Silk that I had on hand.

The resulting cakes were fluffy, tender, and oh-so-satisfying. Perhaps the best I’ve ever made, and quite possibly the best I’ve ever eaten. Not bad for someone with an uneasy relationship with pancakes!

Want to snag the gluten free flour and coconut oil at a steep discount? Roll on over to iherb and use my coupon code, TAV642, for $5 off of your first order. Orders of $40 or more ship FREE. Trust me, you can get tons of good stuff at iherb for $40: vitamins, supplements, protein powders, chia seeds, soaps, and tons of other cool stuff. Ok, now for the recipe:

Victorious Gluten Free Sun Butter Pancakes

Yield: approx 12 pancakes. I made 2 for myself and put the rest of the batter in the fridge to use throughout the week.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Pancake Mix
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used the new coco milk by Silk; it doesn’t taste coconutty to me at all, but IS creamy)
  • 1 large egg (for vegans, you could try your luck with a flax or chia seed egg or another egg stand-in. Look here for deets.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 Tablespoons Sunflower Seed Butter (I used Trader Joe’s brand; I’m sure any other nut butter would be great in here)
  • 2 or more Tablespoons coconut oil for greasing pan

1. I mixed all ingredients except for the coconut oil in my Vita-Mix. Because I’m crazy like that and really love any excuse to use the Vita. You can surely mix your ingredients by hand, as described on the pancake mix package directions. (Just remember to leave OUT the oil the package directions call for. Because you’re using more than enough oil by using nut butter; plus the nut butter adds an awesome flavor and protein to the mix).

2. Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a nonstick pan. Don’t skimp on the oil in this part of the recipe!  Use more if you need to. Trust me on this. Then dollop about 1/3 of a cup of batter in the pan. I did one pancake at a time. Depending on the size of your skillet, you could do 2-4 at a time.

3. When the pancakes are bubbly all over, gently and carefully flip them over and allow them to brown on the other side. Then wrap them in foil and place in a low heat oven or toaster oven to keep warm. Or just eat immediately.

Half-eaten and fully delicious!

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Spicy Winter Tea with cookies.Yes, tea served in a coffee mug. I have so much tea, I don't have space for actual tea sets. 😉 Plus a student gave me these mugs, and I happen to really like them.

Nothing warms my heart quite like a cup of hot tea and a plate of cookies on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Have I ever told you guys about my tea collection? No joke, I have about fifty, as in 5-0, different types of tea. taking up a fair amount of precious real estate in my kitchen. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that I’m rockin’ a cramped New York City Prewar galley kitchen that, outside of the appliances,  hasn’t seen an update since the Nixon administration.

Quality tea deserves quality cookies. I didn't make these. I let the experts at my fave Middle Eastern pastry shop, Laziza in Astoria, NY, do that.

Percentage wise, tea takes up a huge amount of my storage space, but I’ve no regrets. That’s because I’m the type of person who sometimes looks forward to the post-meal cup of tea more than to the meal itself.

Yes, Persians love their tea, and I’m no exception, as my dedication to my collection shows. My fam might consider my stash of all sorts of teas–from green jasmine, to chocolate mint, to Tiramisu–a bit weird. In Iran, the teas I remember were always black teas brewed to a beautiful dark amber, served with cubes of sugar and savored often.

The way the cookie crumbles. . .when it crumbles in my tea, I love it. Love to drink up those little cookie bits. Ha!

A quality black tea, maybe an Earl Grey, is where it’s at when we’re chatting about Persian tea. P.G. Tipps brand works for me, but even good ol’ Lipton will do the trick.

About the only bad memory I have about tea is the time in Iran when I knocked over my uncle’s tea cup and got a blister on my foot. Whoops! That taught me a valuable lesson: awareness of hot beverages!

Today’s tea is super simple. You just brew the black tea of your choice, and add in a few chunks of fresh peeled ginger, a cinnamon stick or two, cardamom pods, and a shake of rose or orange blossom water. That’s it.

Afternoon delight!

If you’re hot where you are now and want a cool tea option, try my Persian Iced tea with a Rose Water and Cardamom Infusion, which was featured on Saveur Magazine’s “Best of the Web” a few months back. For now, the hot pot:

Warming Winter Spiced Tea

Brew black tea of your choice according to package instructions. For each cup of tea, add in the following:

  • A chunk of fresh, peeled ginger
  • A cinnamon stick
  • Up to 3 cardamom pods
  • A splash of either rose water or orange blossom water

Serve with cookies (or “biscuits”) of your choice, and enjoy.

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Vegan and gluten free granola bars are packed with taste and nutrition.

Sometimes I’m running around town with little time for a proper meal. At these moments, it’s key to have a nutritious, protein-packed, and not-too-sweet snack to keep me rockin’ (and posing, for that matter). Granola bars from the bodega are alright in a pinch, but I’ve become leery of the ingredient list of certain brands. Too many processed unpronounceables! Others bars  are too darn crispy for my taste. You see, I want something with a chewy, almost cookie-like texture, but a better nutritional profile. Not that I’m obsessing over fat grams here (hell no–these bars have plenty of good fat, I’ll admit). It’s just that sometimes I’d rather not spend my afternoon in the throes of a blood sugar crash. Dig? Okay, time to customize.

Today’s granola bars fit the bill. They’re gluten-free, vegan (if you make with something other than honey), and free of peanuts. They’re based on this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis. Of course, me being me, the recipe was only a jumping off point.  Serious tweakage ensued!

How much do you guys tweak recipes? Me, I do it all the time. Certain things I don’t tweak as much, like baked goods. Well, I guess technically these are baked goods, but I’m talking more along the lines of breads, cakes, etc.  Those I generally won’t tweak , at least the first time around 😉

Portable goodness.

In tweaking this recipe. . .I 86-ed the dairy (butter), replacing it with coconut oil. The egg got cut out; in its place? Ground flax paste. The peanut butter next got the boot; I used almond butter instead. I cut back a bit on the honey and in its place,  added in a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin butter to give the bars a hint of fall flavor. Instead of chocolate chips, I kept the fall motif going with cranberries and raisins. The result? Tasty, filling, not-to-sweet and definitely something you’ll want to portion out. Otherwise, you might eat more than just one bar!

Make a couple of batches of them on a Sunday night, and have them to snack on all week. The texture is somewhere between a chewy cookie and a traditional crunchy granola bar. Cut them into bar shapes, wrap them in foil or plastic, and you’re really to roll.

Vegan Granola Bars with a Hint of Pumpkin

Ingredients

  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 Tablespoon ground flax paste (ground flax seeds mixed with water to form a paste with a texture similar to a beaten egg).
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons honey ( for 100% vegan option, you could use molasses, agave, or maple syrup)
  • 2 Tablespoons pumpkin butter (I used Trader Joe’s brand; love that stuff!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats (If gluten free is a concern, make sure you purchase certified gluten free oats)
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Spray an 8 by 8-inch nonstick baking pan with vegetable cooking spray.

3. To a medium bowl, stir together flax paste, almond butter, brown sugar, pumpkin butter, and honey. Add the melted coconut oil, oats and almonds. Stir to combine, then add the raisins and cranberries

4.Spread mixture into the prepared baking pan, pressing lightly to form an even layer. Bake until the edge of the mixture begins to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 1 hour. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares and serve.

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Hey guys, I’m so excited to have a spare moment to post. Things have been busy around here in Bria’s World. I’m getting deeper into planning mode for the upcoming Yoga Retreat I’m putting on in Upstate New York. (Click the link for more info).

Work continues, with 3 new Yoga classes on my roster, plus private clients and subbing gigs,  and I also have a special project I’m in the very early stages of thinking through/planning. I’ll keep you posted on all of that. So today’s post is just a quickie, to let you guys know I recently got my very own Vita-Mix blender, and to share a round-up of recent samples with you.

Faster smoothie-making via my new Vita-Mix blender gets me to this happy moment much faster. That can only be a good thing.

I’ve been wanting a Vita for AGES, and I recently found one at a great price, placed my order, and am now learning all about it. The very first green smoothie I made with it was rockin’! The texture was sooooo much better than what my regular blender was able to produce. And faster, too. What sometimes used to take me a good ten minutes to make on certain mornings now takes more like 3 minutes, tops. Talk about a way to ease the stress of mornings. I like getting up and getting to things, but I’m not always the most organized (or rational!) person in the morning. Ha ha! So just having the Vita cutting my smoothie prep time so dramatically really helps, silly as that might sound.

So my getting a Vita is good news for all of us, because it’s sparked my creativity, and I’ll be creating more recipes with it going forward. Of course, I’ll try to make sure the recipes are workable for non-Vita users as well.

I also got some really great samples that I’ve been making my way through. First up, tea from LeafSpa:

Organic, fair trade tea. Sign me up. Find this amazing stuff at LeafSpa.com

I haven’t yet made my way through all of the samples they sent me, but I can say with certainty that the Decaf Chai was divine. You can tell I’d be all up in the bag, not just from the tear on it, but from the water splash stain:

Loved this decaf chai by Leaf Spa.

Thanks, LeafSpa, for these excellent samples. Take a look at their site; they not only sell amazing teas, but natural spa products that I’m sure are sumptuous as well.

Moving on:

Lately I’ve been using this coconut oil from Tropical Traditions in a lot of my cooking. It has a lovely coconut scent when cooking, but the scent and flavor disappears seamlessly into the final product.  I’ll admit, I WAS worried that the gorgeous coconut scent would seep its way into certain recipes and clash with the other flavors. Happily, that didn’t happen at all. Thanks, Tropical Traditions, for the generous,  HUGE 32 ounce sample:

Tropical Traditions virgin coconut oil is working out quite well in my recipes.

So that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with a full report on my Vita. Have a great day, everybody!

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Green Herb Hummus made with Great Northern beans, fresh farmer's market basil and garlic, plus Celtic sea salt and olive oil.

Today’s recipe isn’t so much a recipe. It’s more of a template, that you can adjust and re-configure to your liking. Motivated by hunger but de-motivated by the heat to cook, I ended up making a really great hummus with what I had on hand, and figured I’d pass along my results to you. By the way, if hummus plus bread sounds too heavy, ditch the bread and dip raw veggie slices into this dip. That’s what I do and prefer.

If you’re bothered by the non-traditional ingredient list and the fact that I’m calling it hummus, feel free to rename it as a bean dip or whatever other moniker rocks your world.

Love this stuff! I like to dip raw sticks of summer squash, zucchini, carrots, and celery in it instead of the traditional pita bread dip.

Keep things flexible when making this. Since I didn’t have chickpeas handy (not to worry, I’m properly re-stocked now!), I used Great Northern beans, a white bean I happen to really like.  I was also fresh out of tahini, so I used olive oil as the fat instead. There was a small bunch of farmer’s market basil I needed to use, plus some fresh, pungent garlic picked up recently from that same market that had yet to be put to work. A couple of fat cloves of that garlic really took this dip up a level in my opinion, but if garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to leave it out.

Green Herb Hummus

Ingredients:

1 14-16 ounce can of Great Northern beans (or chickpeas or cannellinis) Basically, choose the light-colored bean of your choice

2 fat cloves of garlic

1 small bunch of fresh basil (or other herb of choice such as cilantro, parsley, sage)

1 Tablespoon (or less) of olive oil

Salt of choice to taste (I used Celtic sea salt. Full of minerals and has a robust flavor)

Water (if needed)

Directions:

1. Drain and rinse beans.

2. Add all ingredients except for basil and water to a blender or food processor and mix, starting on a low setting, gradually increasing to a higher speed.

3. Once ingredients are fairly well-mixed, add in basil leaves and a tiny bit of water if needed to help facilitate the mixing process. Blend until smooth and creamy. Check  and adjust seasoning and serve (or store, airtight, in the fridge.)

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Try this super easy and refreshing watermelon mint slushie. It will take the edge off of summer's heat for sure.

Today’s chill slushie is the perfect anecdote to hot and dehydrating summer days (and nights)! It’s refreshing and cooling to drink, and beautiful to look at. And one of my favorite ingredients–watermelon, is the base of the drink.

I just adore watermelon. For me, it brings back such happy memories. Some of them are kinda funny memories, too. More on those further down. . .

Watermelon always makes me think of my dad. Hmmmm, and this post is coming out a few days ahead of Father’s Day. Happy coincidence!

My dad and I would have a field day picking the best of the bunch! Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Anyways, I remember my dad going to the grocery store or farmer’s markets together and picking out the most beautiful, juiciest watermelons money could buy. He has a real talent for picking excellent produce. Oh, yes, that’s a deliberate plural on watermelons–my dad would rather buy extra melons than too few. After all, his reasoning goes, we can always share the extra fruit with others.

Our produce-buying missions were “our” thing as father and daughter–going to what my dad calls “fruit market” and picking out the best and best-priced veggies and fruits available. To this day, I say I learned just about all of the skills about how to pick good produce from my dad. And many of my cooking skills I learned from my mom. Both important parts of the equation–how to pick the best quality produce, and what to do with it once you get it home.

Frothy, delicious, and refreshing. I can't get enough of these lately!

As for the funny melon memories: the time my dad picked what he said was the most amazing watermelon ever–and left it in the shopping cart in the store parking lot of a Fiesta store (Texans know all about Fiesta 😉 ). Or the time we went to the farmer’s market in Houston. At this market, you can buy wholesale.  Why exactly we needed a few dozen watermelons, I’ll never know for sure. At any rate, one of the watermelon vendors quoted my dad one price before loading up the back of the pickup full of melons. Then he quoted him another price when it was time to pay, the truck fully loaded with probably at least two dozen melons. Sneaky jerk thought we’d not want to unload the melons and just pay the higher price.  He was holding us as fruit hostages. My dad was having none of this bait and switch nonsense. Every single melon went back to the display, and you can bet my dad made the guy help offload the heavy fruits.

Gorgeous watermelons are rich in vitamin C and super-hydrating. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

So what makes a good watermelon? My dad taught me that it should be:

  • Heavy for its size.
  • It should have a hollow sound when you thump on it.
  • The stripes should be very green.
  • The skin shouldn’t have any mushy or pitted spots.

If you happen to get a subpar melon, you can salvage it by making this cooler. Of course, a perfect melon would be absolutely delicious blended into this chillaxing drink as well.  Have fun with it and enjoy! Maybe while watching a World Cup match.

Watermelon Mint Cooler/Slushie

Ingredients (enough for at least 2 12 ounce coolers):

2 Cups watermelon, seeds removed

1 Cup almond milk (I prefer unsweetened; you could use rice or even coconut milk here)

Splash of vanilla extract

A few sprigs of mint, saving some for garnish

Ice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. Drink will be very pink and very cool. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

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Enjoying a green smoothie in the morning starts my day off on the right note.

I have a secret. I don’t eat breakfast most days. No, actually, I drink it. In the form of a green smoothie. Yes, it looks like green sludge. I actually like that it looks so off-putting, because it tastes amazing. Much more smooth, sweet, and flavorful than you’d ever imagine. Honestly, it’s as good as any smoothie that uses just fruits. Nutritionally, it’s better.

To say this drink has changed my life would almost be an understatement.  If you Google around green smoothies, you’ll find all sorts of recipes and lists of benefits. Some of the benefits I’ve personally noticed:

  • Higher, even energy levels.
  • Better moods.
  • A clean, light feeling because the smoothie is full of fiber and nutrients.
  • Better digestion.
  • Calmer, brighter skin.
  • Food cravings are noticeably reduced.
  • A feeling of accomplishment for having loads of veggies as the first meal of the day. (I think this is important–so much of balanced eating is psychological and emotional as well.)
  • I’ve noticed that the smoothie makes it easier to stick with healthier eating throughout the day.
  • Filling enough to power me through Yoga teaching and practice, without weighing me down.

For some reason, I love drinking my green smoothies out of beer mugs. Never got into beer, so go figure. I do have a lot of random glasses and dishes around. Sometimes I add a drink umbrella for fun.

I’m forever indebted to my friend, clinical nutritionist, and fellow Yoga instructor, Kim Snyder, for blogging so extensively about the green smoothie. I’m so glad she got me into it. It’s made a huge difference in my life.

The smoothies I whip up aren’t exact replicas of any one recipe. The one pictured today was a tropically-inspired combo of frozen spinach, fresh pineapple chunks, banana, and shelled hemp seeds. The hemp seeds add a nice wallop of protein, fiber,  good fats, and zinc to the drink.

Pineapple Spinach Colada Green Smoothie

To serve 2-3

Combine the following in blender:

8 ounces (1 cup) frozen spinach

10 ounces filtered water (more if needed)

1 cup pineapple chunks

1 large banana or 2 small bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons shelled hemp seeds

Stevia or agave nectar (if needed, to adjust sweetness)

Whir up all ingredients except agave nectar or sweetener in blender . Test for sweetness, adding agave or stevia if needed.

Note: By using frozen spinach, you don’t have to bother with ice cubes. If room temp spinach is all you have on hand, though, by all means, use that and just add in some ice cubes.

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The Coco-Acai Smoothie--packed with coconut milk, avocado, and acai--gives me a perfect excuse to use cute little decorative umbrellas. Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

Hey guys. Another work week winds down. Where did the time go? Well, I say the weekend is a perfect time for a tropically inspired treat. Especially for my peeps who are in the dead of winter right now, sometimes it’s fun to take our tastebuds and our minds on  a mental vacation from the cold outside.

We’ve talked on here about how, even in the dead of winter, I sometimes enjoy cold treats. Yes, I know some people find that weird. Oh well, too bad. 😉 I’m just glad this quirk allows me to enjoy smoothies 12 months out of the year.

Just looking at coconuts makes me feel tropical! Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

Recently, I had an amazing smoothie from a place in Manhattan, Juice Generation. I often hit this spot after Yoga class. It was a coconut-acai based smoothie. Problem was, they used a soy-coconut milk blend. I didn’t realize this until it was too late. I still chugged it, and it was delicious. I resolved right then and there to reverse-engineer their recipe at home, and to make it without soy milk. Not only would this keep me from drinking soy milk, making the smoothie at home would be easier on my wallet as well.

(I avoid soy whenever possible, for many reasons. For one, it’s generally bloating. Yes, bloating. NO THANKS! Other reasons–Watch Food Inc., and you’ll get what I’m saying.)

As fortune would have it, my local health food store had frozen packets of Sambazon Acai on sale that week. So I bought some, along with some coconut milk that was on sale as well. Love it when the stuff I covet is on sale. It’s like the universe conspiring to help.

Sipping my Skin Smoothing Coconut Acai Smoothie. Pardon the almost no-makeup look. It was post-Yoga.

My very first attempt at reverse-engineering the recipe was, miraculously,  on point. I enjoyed the smoothie and mentally filed the recipe to drink and post another day. Then a few weeks later, my friend Kim Snyder featured a Skin Plumping Smoothie on her blog. It had very similar ingredients AND used avocado. (Funny story–Kim was filming a TV appearance and was asked to come up with a smoothie at the last minute. The Skin Plumping Smoothie is what she came up with. Brilliant!)

Do you guys ever find that you’re often on the same wavelength with family and friends, even if you haven’t spoken or communicated about specific things? For example, Kim and I were both thinking of combining similar ingredients in our respective smoothies. And with my Yoga crew, I often notice that we’re teaching or working on the same asana combinations and transitions, even without having consulted one another or even taken one another’s classes.

Wishing I were here. Oh well, a good smoothie is like a mini-vacay in and of itself! Photo: Stock.XCHNG.com

This sort of cosmic connection shows how together we can be stronger and even more creative. So I took inspiration from Kim, and added avocado to my Coco Acai smoothie the next time I made it. It was even better. By the way, I love how avocado is so versatile–the way it has its own distinct flavor but can also meld seamlessly into other dishes.

Ok, so real quick, why is this skin so nourishing, smoothing, and yes, plumping to the skin? The info that follows is quoted from Kim:

  1. Frozen Acai: (Found the in frozen section of health food stores big and small). This stuff is loaded with antioxidants and Omega fatty acids that plump and nourish the skin, as well as fiber.
  2. Coconut Water: Coconut water is one of the best hydrators because it has the same electrolyte balance as human blood. Some countries even use it for plasma transfusions. It is also full of potassium, which facilitates cellular cleansing.
  3. Fresh Avocado: Raw beauty fat that digests easily, and is full of beauty minerals and fiber.

So let’s put these nutritional powerhouses, plus a few more ingredients, together for a tropical treat that’s healthy, nourishing, and beautifying. Not bad for something you can garnish with a cocktail umbrella!

Smooth Your Skin Coconut Acai Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 Cup coconut water

1 Cup coconut milk (I used unsweetened So Delicious brand; find in the milk section of your health food store or perhaps the regular grocery store)

1 banana

1/2  avocado

1 100 gram packet frozen acai (I used Sambazon brand)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: powdered stevia (to taste)

4-8 Ice cubes

Directions:

1. Combine ice cubes, frozen acai, and half of the liquids and blend. Add in the rest of the (non liquid) ingredients and blend again. Slowly add in the rest of the liquid to achieve the desired thickness of your smoothie and blend again. Taste for sweetness. Add in vanilla extract, more liquid if desired, and Stevia (if using) and give it one final blend to incorporate all ingredients.

2. Garnish with a decorative drink umbrella (optional) and enjoy!

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In my memories, halva looked like this, and tasted amazing--like a milder, drier peanut butter with a warm sweetness. I've since learned that there are many flavors and styles of halva. All delicious, I'm sure! Photo courtesy of http://de.academic.ru

One of my Yoga students and I were talking recently about found objects. He was rocking a sweater that he’d lost for two years. He’d come across it recently, buried deep in a closet. He was slightly thrilled to have pulled it from the abyss. It was there waiting for him all along, it seemed, even though he’d long ago written it off as lost.

“Finding something like that is kind of like finding an old friend, isn’t it?,” I asked. He agreed.

The same concept can certainly apply to food, I think. One of my most precious lost-then-found foods? Halva.

Years ago, as a kid visiting family in Iran, I remember eating this pasty, thick, energizing treat with breakfast. As a kid with not too many culinary points of reference, I remember it reminded me of a mild peanut butter, with a drier texture. One of the many things I liked about it, even then, is the way it was sweet, but not too sweet.

Turns out I was right–it was indeed a nut butter, and one that was sweetened, but not aggressively so. Well, technically, the one I remember was a seed butter. Of sesame seeds in particular. . .But let me not get ahead of myself.

The type of halva I remember from childhood was made from a sesame see base. In Arabic, it's called halawa. It's all based on an Arabic root word, halwa, that means sweet.

Many years passed, and I sometimes was reminded of that amazing food, but never thought to ask anyone what it was, or even where I could find it. I’d only had it a few times, but I’d find myself missing it from time to time. But halva was somehow locked away in a time warp, a part of my past I’d allowed to slip away.

More time passed, and one day, after moving to New York, a friend casually shared some with me. At first, I didn’t think it could possibly be the treat I’d enjoyed so many years ago at my aunt and uncle’s house, eating a breakfast spread out on a tablecloth on the floor, surrounded by cups of steaming tea and chattering  family and love.

But it was. “What is this stuff called?,” I asked. Because you see, I’d never known its name.

Halva,” he replied.

Pistachios are one of many types of nuts that can dress up halva.

Memory has a funny way of distorting things. It’s easy to idealize or demonize the past. In the many times I’d wondered about  halva, I’d also thought, in the very next moment, that there was no way it could possibly be  as delectable as I remembered.

I was so, so wrong. It was even better than I remembered.

Ok guys, don’t laugh. I have to admit that tears sprang to my eyes when I ate that first bite of halva after so many years. It was like being reunited with a long lost friend. With a past that still lives in my heart and with the family I haven’t seen in so very long. With my childhood memories. Unbelievable.

The fact that I could walk down memory lane via halva? Kinda crazy, I know. That I can walk to a nearby store and actually buy this stuff still boggles my mind. For that reason, I don’t eat it all the time. It seems too precious for that, somehow. So I buy it occasionally, and really savor every rich, dreamy bite.

I suppose I could learn how to make it, but I haven’ t yet bothered. I’ve since learned that one could have an entire department store devoted to halva. The kind I had was only one of many versions. There are flour and semolina-based versions. There are halvas based on lentils and even vegetables like pumpkin.  Every country and region and probably even province from Greece to Afghanistan seems to have its own take on halva, with the spelling variations to match 😉 . Which is wonderful, and I hope to try as many as possible.

For now, though, I’m content with the minor miracle of having halva back in my life in the first place. And yes, I sometimes even still tear up a bit at that first bite. Which I suppose is somehow appropriate–Only as an adult did I learn that halva is a traditional food at funerals in Iran. Passing into the next life with something sweet, nourishing, and light for those left behind to enjoy? There could be worse things, I suppose.

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Cranberry Bliss Detox Smoothie. A tasty and cleansing drink to kick off the new year, or to enjoy any day! Photo by Stacey Young.

Happy New Year, everyone! I seriously can’t believe it’s 2010. Incredible!

I figured we’d start the New Year off right with a detox smoothie that incorporates some seasonal fruits and also some spices of the Middle East that are extremely beneficial to the health.

I’ve been a smoothie junkie since my teens. What’s not to love?  They’re refreshing, filling, and flavorful. Growing up, my mom was cool enough to let me play around a lot in the kitchen. Sometimes I even came up with something worthwhile 😉 Like a great smoothie.

Over the years, I’ve made many different types of smoothies, but this one has to be one of my favorites. It’s simple, fresh, and effective at cleaning out the body and helping to reduce bloat and/or fluid retention. It’s full of nutrients, antioxidants,  and is super-hydrating, so if any of you are bellying up to this blog after a night of bellying up to the bar, read on. . .

Fresh farmers' market cranberries inspired the Cranberry Bliss Detox smoothie.

Fresh cranberries at the farmers’ market inspired this smoothie. The cranberries help reduce bloat. The turmeric has may beneficial properties. It’s a popular spice in Middle Eastern food and in many other cuisines as well (Indian comes to mind). It has anti-inflammatory properties, is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, and a liver detoxifier.

Pumpkin pie spice is added in for more flavor and fun, but if you don’t have a pumpkin pie spice blend on hand, you could simplify and just add in some ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg.

This smoothie has a tartness to it, thanks in no small part to the cranberries and the fresh lemon, so don’t expect it to be super sweet. Whenever possible, use organic ingredients to really start the new year off right 😉

Lemons provide plenty of vitamin C and aid digestion.For the best cleansing results, have today's smoothie on either an empty stomach, or 45 minutes to an hour after drinking a glass or warm water and lemon.

Cranberry Bliss Detox Smoothie

For 2 smoothies, 12-16 ounces each:

2 apples, sliced, peel left on

2 pears, sliced, peel left on

1 lemon, peeled, cut in quarters, seeds removed

1 cup fresh cranberries

2 cups of filtered water (keep extra handy if needed)

Sweetener of choice (my picks would be stevia, agave, or honey, in that order of preference)

4-6 Ice cubes (if you want a cooler smoothie)

1 Tablespoon turmeric

2 Teaspoons pumkin pie spice blend (optional) OR 2 teaspoons of cinnamon or 1 teaspoon of nutmeg

Directions:

1. Blend ice, if using, and 1 cup of the  filtered water together. Then add the spice powders and blend again. Add in all fruits and blend until smooth, adding water as necessary. Check the taste and adjust seasoning to taste. If it seems too thick, add more filtered water and re-blend.

2. Pour into festive glasses of your choice, and enjoy. I like to drink mine with a straw. You can store the smoothie, covered,  in the fridge for two days, or freeze any leftover smoothie and enjoy another day.

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