Category Archives: Not-So-Guilty Pleasures

I Can’t Live Without Butter

It’s true. Just this morning I put butter on two small slices of Miche to eat along with my soft boiled egg. There is something so magical about eggs, butter, bread and black tea that makes my morning that much better.

I realize that despite fat (good fat) actually being crucial to the functioning of the nervous system and your brain, many people believe that “fat is the enemy” and butter is part of the evil army. That’s true to an extent if you’re talking about saturated fats and trans fats – you know, the stuff in the fast food you’re eating for lunch. Basically, these types of fats are solid at room temperature. They also make your pork roast delicious and should be consumed in moderation – but then again, what shouldn’t be consumed in moderation?

Then there are the “good” fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Think of these guys as coming from veggies, nuts and fish.

To be perfectly honest, I am not fat-phobic. In fact, when I predominantly consume veggies, proteins and fats, I feel terrific. Also, although I avoid trans fats like the plague, particularly those that are created as a by-product of food processing, saturated fats don’t scare me as much. And this is where butter comes in.

Butter is delicious. That is a fact. It makes everything better, adding flavor and creaminess and oh, the calories! However, it is full of milk solids and it oxidizes really easily, on top of increasing cholesterol. So, I can give myself permission to have butter on bread, but what about cooking?

This is where ghee comes in. What the heck is ghee? It is essentially clarified butter – butter fat without the milk solids and water. If you take butter, and heat it, eventually the solids froth at the top. If you take those away, you are left with ghee. Middle Eastern and Indian communities have been using it for centuries because it is incredibly stable, delicious, and can be stored without refrigeration without spoiling for weeks in an airtight container.

This is the Ghee I use, I normally purchase it from Whole Foods.

It has a very yummy, toasty, butter-like flavor, but it is significantly better for you. First off, it has a high smoke point. Much higher than most vegetable oils. You know when you mix olive oil and butter to prevent the butter form burning? You don’t have to do that with ghee .

Also, it’s short chain fatty acids are easily metabolized by the body, and  lab studies have show that it reduces serum and intestinal cholesterol by triggering the release of biliary lipids. It is good for eye pressure, healthy for nerves and brain (think memory retention), and particularly beneficial for glaucoma patients. It is also responsible for increasing the secretion of stomach acids that help in digestion. Butter, and lots of other oils, slow down this process – this is why, after a restaurant meal, you often feel bloated and heavy. Restaurants often use the cheapest, and hence worst for you, cooking fats. Hello canola oil!

As a butter lover, ghee is my saving grace. I get to enjoy butter’s wonderful flavors without its worst qualities. After all, food should be delicious and tasty, and ghee makes that happen.



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Not So Guilty Pleasures: Puff Pastry

But not just any puff pastry. I am talking about the Trader Joe’s brand, which is perfectly simple, delicious and easy to use. Apologies to those without a TJ’s near them.

It's actually easier than pie to make a tart out of a frozen puff pastry shell and any fruit you have lying around.

I know from experience that most puff pastries you can pick up at a store have shortening in them, and that just won’t do. You see, puff pasty is layer upon layer of dough and butter. As the dough heats, the butter creates air pockets inside, creating the fluff we all love. TJ’s brand has only five ingredients: Flour, Butter, Sugar, Salt and Water. It can’t get any simpler than that.

That’s only partially the reason it’s a not-so-guilty-pleasure, though.

The second part is that it is super easy to use. For instance, last night I needed to make a dessert. I defrosted a sheet of puff pastry, and a bag of frozen blueberries. I mixed the blueberries with a tablespoon of cornstarch and some sugar (although they probably don’t need any) and put them in the middle of the pastry, rolled up the edges to form a make-shift tart shell, and baked at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. I then topped it off with a little fresh whipped cream.  Yum.

A few weeks back, I paid $6 for a pork tenderloin, also at TJ’s, stuffed it with dried apples, then coated the inside of the puff pastry with herbs and mustard, warpped it all up, and baked it to make a tasty Pork Wellington a la Alton Brown.

Both of these things looked like they took a sizable amount of time and effort. But they didn’t. Had I made the puff pastry myself (I really don’t recommend trying this, unless you enjoy failure or are a trained pastry chef) then it might have been more complicated.

The beauty is, you can pretty much do anything your heart desires. If you search for puff pasty on the Interwebs, you will find countless ideas and recipes, most of them ridiculously easy. I keep a few packages in my freezer at all times to facilitate the making of deliciousness.

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Not-So-Guilty Pleasures: Tarts

I know you’re thinking I’ve lost my mind. Actually, I’ve just found a way to avoid the dessert-related guilt, and am quite sane, thank you.

Summer is one of my favorite months specifically because of the fruit. My parents have several fruit trees, and when those suckers are ready to go, there’s no stopping them. So I run amok trying to make buckets of apricots and peaches useful. Jams, tarts, pies, cobblers, muffins, and bags of fruit sent off with whoever is standing close to me at the moment. Since ripe goodness is pretty much on display everywhere, and it’s absolutely too delicious (and bountiful) to just be eaten raw, I must bake.

But the baking comes with several qualifiers. First, I use organic, sprouted Spelt flour.  Spelt is an ancient grain that has come back into common use among the healthy-set for it’s nutty flavor, whole grain goodness, and similarity to white flour. It’s already good, but sprouting it makes it even better. By sprouting a grain, you lower the amount of phytic acid in it, thus making it’s nutrients more easily absorbed. Mix in a dash of agave nectar and some fat, and you have yourself a tart shell.

Next, the fruit. Depending on what type of tart you’re making you can either put in a little agave syrup (I use a 1/3 of a cup for apricots) or none at all for peaches and other sweet fruits. A dash or two will help their juices solidify at the bottom. With very little sugar, fresh fruit, and whole grain goodness as a cussion, dessert was never better for you. I found the specific recipe here and made a few changes, but it is divine. Plopping on some fresh whipped cream or creme fraiche really adds something to the apricot tart, but I suspect that a peach one would be just fine on it’s own.

With a whole lot less sugar, a sprouted whole grain, and some ripe apricots there’s literally no room for guilt. Unless you end up eating the whole tart by yourself. In that case, at least you can say you’ve met your daily requirement of vitamin C and B 6 for the day, right?

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Diarrhea, Bleeding of the Retina, and Death

Those are just a few of the lovely side effects a recent drug commercial spokesperson warned me about in their calm, trust worthy voice. I mean, I’ve never bled out of my retina, so I can’t truly make a value judgment on how bad that really is, but I would say death is a pretty terrible side effect. I will not be taking that drug, or really any other traditional prescription “active” site medications. Luckily, I don’t have to. But a new class of drugs that are either already on the market or in testing show promise to not only more effectively regulate cell behavior, but also get rid of projectile vomiting, whole-body rashes, and the other slew of symptoms we might face while pill popping.

These drugs are called allosterics and they show huge promise. Their big achievement is that they attach to usually untouched areas of a cell , not the traditional “active” site medications that push their way into the binding pocket, thus setting off receptors that either significantly ramp up the cell’s activity or turn it off. You can see how this can cause trouble in a multi-purpose cell. A site that is occupied by a molecule cannot receive information from other molecules to tweak its other functions. Thus the itching, and the fever, and the blood clots. Allosteric drugs target different part of the cell, smaller pockets so to speak, and only bind to the ones that they match with. Any sites that don’t match the medicines charge stay empty, especially when they don’t need them, allowing for our bodies to continue working as they must. The other big thing is that the allosterics only slightly ramp up or ramp down the intended activity, much like our own bodies would. Our own internal dimmer switch. In fact, most times, such a small tweak is all that is needed for relief to come.

It is essentially the difference between having only first and 5th gears on a manual transition car for the regular drugs, and all the other gears for the allosterics. Moving from 3rd to 2nd, or to 4th is far more effective not only as a driver, but for our cell function as well. Being able to drive only in first gear is pretty much a nightmare, horrible for your car, and yes, you will be honked at.

An example of an allosteric drug is Valium. It’s targeted pain treatment, which means it only does it’s job when the cell signals it needs relief. Even if you took too many, you would simply be able to sleep off it’s effects instead of over-dosing. So as much as people complain about pharmaceutical companies being greedy and creating dangerous drugs, it looks like their drive for profits is actually going to help more than hurt eventually. They are hard at work developing and testing new allosteric drugs for AIDS treatment, Alzheimers, Diabetes and a slew of other chronic ailments that left patients with the choice of the side effects of the disease or the side effects of the drug.

Soon, explosive diarrhea, flaky skin, and rotting teeth are not going to be the trade-off for handling what’s ailing us. Now that’s what I call progress.

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Not-So-Guilty Pleasures: Lambrusco

A perfect drink for a summer day.

I am no saint. Whether it comes to life or food, I believe that we live in one giant construct and it is utterly impossible to meet or follow all applicable guidelines. Worst of all is feeling guilty about doing something pleasurable. So I just don’t. But some pleasures are not only fun, but also not that bad. I don’t want to run out and claim that they are good, but they are at least not worth worrying about.

So in honor of that, I will attempt to bring you things I find delicious, or sumptuous, but that leave me feeling satisfied with no residual thoughts of, “Oh, I over indulged on that one!”

This inaugural blog is about my new favorite drink: Lambrusco!

Lambrusco is a slightly fizzy Italian wine made from a grape that shares the same name. It is best served chilled on a hot summer day, it can be sweet or dry, and is what I would like to dub “party wine.” I could imagine it making a sangria deee-licious. But why is it a not-so-guilty pleasure?

Clear and simple: It’s alcohol content hovers around 8%. That’s like a micro-brewed beer, similar to my favorite Pranqster. Except instead of a pint of beer, most wine is served in 4 or 5 ounce portions. Which simply means that I can happily sip on two glasses of Lambrusco and feel no regret that I’ve broken the proverbial “one serving of alcohol per woman per day” mantra that is being repeated, ad nauseum, in articles world-wide.  In fact, one glass with lunch would produce no effect at all on my normally very low resistance to such delightful beverages.

Since most wines run from 12-14% alcohol content, after one glass I am usually already tipsy. This is not the case with Lambrusco. The best part of all, for those of us who live near a Trader Joe’s, is that they carry a Lambrusco for $4.99.  A fun wine at a silly price, how can you go wrong?  Sure, it might be easy to get going on a bottle of Lamby and not stop, but the best remedy for that is to share it with others. And if you do drink an entire bottle, well, it’s not as bad as consuming a whole Cabernet all alone.


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