So I have a thing about textures.
I love watching my baby girl explore them with as much relish as I do. With "gentle hands," she timidly runs her fingers along rose petals, the patterns of our green sofa, my skin. And so too with food.
In the beginning, I found it almost painful to feed her plain pieces of roasted sweet potato. How plain, how goopy, how dull. I want to scrape my tongue at the very thought. But Vida Lev is still learning about the vast expanse of flavors, textures and food experiences there are to be had and she loves her sweet potato as is. In fact, she is teaching me to simplify, enjoy, or at least taste things on their own before I add spices, herbs and other foods.
Textures and flavors - to me, both factors determine the quality of a dish. When something really stands out, it is because a balance has been obtained between them. Personally, I prefer stark contrasts – hot and cold, crunchy and chewy, sweet and savory, wet and dry. Like fleur de sel on a good praline. Or fruit in a salad.
Next time you’re hungry and can’t figure out what you’re truly wanting, try closing your eyes and asking yourself what texture you desire. Is it soft or hard? Doughy or bitty? Wet or dry?
When I was about thirteen, we spent a summer on Lake Muscoca up in Canada. And while I remember the trampoline and the rickety old diving board that felt as if it was going to topple every time one of us dared to scoot to the end of it, my most vivid memories have to do with food.
The popcorn my aunt would make, it's salty crunchiness that was unlike the kind we got at the movies back home (where they only sold it covered in sugar -- horrendous!). A few moments after the inevitable bellow of the fire alarm, she would present the warm bowl of crisp, white kernels. We would sit around grabbing handfuls as we looked up at the stars. Being a city girl, it was the first time I had seen such the night sky so clearly. And while I loved lying back on the recliner and calling out every time I glimpsed a shooting star, what I was most focused on was the popcorn in my mouth. I loved dousing it in fake butter and popping each kernel into my mouth where I could maneuver it into the perfect position, with my teeth sunk in the cavity just below the sharper, popped edges and my tongue running along the rounder bit.
I remember the bacon, the likes of which I had never tasted before. It was fresh, crispier than potato chips and crackled vigorously in my mouth.
For years, I associated Canada with bacon, popcorn and beer coolers, which we stole sips of when the adults weren’t looking.
By far my favorite discovery, however, was the locally made Rocky Road ice cream. The cottage my family had rented sat alone on a tiny island that was only accessible by boat. Whenever groceries were needed someone would have to go to the mainland.
Even then, way before I had any interest in cooking or health, I loved supermarkets. Especially that summer. Because tagging along with whomever's turn it was to shop meant a scoop of Rocky Road.
Growing up in Belgium meant that there was never a shortage of the highest quality sweet treats. But this ice cream beat even the most prestigious chocolatiers.
Looking back now, I realize that what seduced me wasn't the sweetness or even wonderfully artificial flavors. It was the balance of textures: crunchy nuts, gooey marshmallows, sticky caramel, creamy ice cream. Each one was present in just the right amount, and as a result, the flavors melded as if they weren’t meant to be enjoyed separately.
This past year, I really focused on nuts and seeds. Not because I love them (though I do), but rather because I craved their oily crunch. Almost everything I made involved Nuts.
Then, when I decided to follow the Naturopath's suggestion and remove them from my diet, I panicked. That very night, I made a warm salad... Sans nuts. And it wasn't half bad.
Within about three days, I felt better than I had in months. I didn't feel as deprived as I had feared. In fact, I didn't feel deprived at all. The only thing I missed was the texture, the added kick in my mouth that balanced out chewy, stringy, dry or wet. But that too faded as I focused on creating and discovering new nut-free dishes instead.
Textures have as much of an emotional component as flavours: like when I'm sad and crave doughy foods. I might want savoury - like bread - or sweet - like brownies. But really, it's the texture that I crave and find comfort in.
Way back when, before I could put words to these preferences, I sat on that dock many a time as the sun started to set, twirling my Tongue in my mouth like a dreamcatcher, angling for a taste of every sumtuous part of the magical combination. Every bite had potential, and while I didn't know it yet, I had already embarked on my journey -- in search of that elusive perfect bite.
Coconut Squares & Jam (a raw recipe)
(adapted from the very awesome bonzaiaphrodite.com)
Been on a bit of a dessert kick lately – like for the past 30-something years! When a couple of good friends had a baby this week, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to try these puppies out. Of course, I couldn’t not tinker with it and add my personal touches. As you can see from the name, however, in this house, food aside, we’ve got Dr. Seuss on the brain.
This recipe is simple, quick and child-friendly. Coconut oil is a thyroid booster, the dried fruit is sweet with a little tang. Feel free to use any dried fruit, but make sure to adjust the amount of sweetener accordingly.
For the crust:
2 cups coconut flour
1 cup coconut water
1/3 x2 cup coconut oil
½ cup maple syrup
1 t vanilla powder
1/2 t cinnamon
Melt the coconut oil in a bain de Marie. Sift the flour to remove any lumps. Add the cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Once the oil is melted, mix in along with the coconut water and maple syrup. Use your hands to really create a beautiful robust dough.
Line a cookie pan (8 ½ x 12 inch or 21.5 x 30 cm) with parchment paper. Flatten the dough evenly. Refrigerate.
For the jam topping:
2 cups dried, unsulphured apricots
1 cup dried sour cherries (unsweetened)
1/8 cup raisins
3+ cups water
juice of 1 orange
zest of 1 medium lemon
Combine the dried fruit in a bowl. Cover with just enough water. Allow to soak for as long as you have – fifteen minutes to make the crust, or overnight if you have the time.
Once soft, put the fruit in the food processor, keeping the soak water to add as necessary. Start with ½ cup of the water as well as the freshly squeezed orange juice and process until you’ve got the beginning of a jam-like texture. Then add the fresh lemon zest and process until relatively but not completely smooth.
To make the squares:
Spread the jam evenly over the crust. Refrigerate for a couple of hours at least. Then cut into squares.
Keep in an airtight container in the fridge.