think healthy thoughts

Would you believe, based on this blog, that I was raised a really healthy eater? As in, lots of macrobiotic-vegetarian-type fare, no refined sugars, and whole grains everywhere? And that I still eat that way quite often?

I didn't think so.

But it's true. Just ask my aunt, who got in trouble for giving me ice cream on a really hot summer day. Or the boy in kindergarten, whose offer of a lollipop I sadly declined, because I was too afraid to eat sugar, even out of my mother's view. Or all the kids in grade school, who made fun of my brown bag lunches, packed as they were with natural, organic sodas (which were a very special treat for us!), fruit leathers, raw veggies, and whole wheat bread. My grandmother used to (gently) make fun of my sisters and I for eating - and loving - tofu, or "toad food" as she liked to call it. We had an organic vegetable garden and were members of a food co-op long before any of that was even remotely trendy.

You may have guessed it by now - I'm the child of back-to-the-land hippies. And that provenance is one I'm eternally thankful for, because without that early imprinting of healthy eating habits, I'd have nothing today against which to balance my raging love of sugar. So whenever it occurs to me that maybe I've been giving in to my sweet tooth a little too often, my own personal "cleanse" involves lots of tofu/veggie/brown rice stir-fries, beans and rice, and lentil soup. Which essentially means we eat like this at least once, and usually more like two or three times a week.

But really, who can find fault with dinners like that? I know they're good for me (when your body's screaming for kale and tamari, it behooves you to listen to it), but they're also setting my kids up on the same firm ground I was raised on. Ever since Kalen was old enough to request specific foods, one of his favorite dinners has always been tofu stir-fry ("peas-tofu-tamari-rice-chicken" is his standard plea). And Wylie gets excited, genuinely excited, every time I open up a package of tofu. Often I don't get to put much of it in our dinner, because the boys snatch it all off the cutting board before I can get in into the pan.

I get that this might make my family seem weird to most (what is this obsession with tofu?), but it's a weirdness I love, and will continue to cultivate. But there's another weirdness, or, more accurately, contradiction, that I'm just now realizing is also part of my family's culinary legacy: I am not alone in my craving for sweets. I just don't hide it from my kids as well as my parents did.

Both of my parents love chocolate, in all its forms. Ice cream is another big weakness. And I'm pretty sure that every single time there is apple pie in the house, my mother has it for breakfast. But, when I think about it, I don't remember sweet treats being an everyday occurrence for any of us. In fact, my memory of only being allowed small quantities of sugarless (honey-sweetened! nothing artificial!) treats is much stronger than that of any white sugar indulgences we may have had.

However, now that I've grown up, I think I'm on to the truth of the matter: Mom and Dad were probably eating their fair share of junk food, just not so blatantly. Which was apparently wise of them, seeing as I never caught on to the double-standard. Now that they're officially Empty Nesters, though, it's interesting to visit and see all sorts of things in the cupboards we were never allowed to have as kids. Was it all always there? Is there a secret hiding spot we girls never knew about? What were we missing out on?

No, seriously, they made the right choices with what they fed us. The real question is: should I be making sweets more hidden, more off-limits in my own home? Is it better to be faced regularly with temptation, through which you (hopefully) learn moderation, or is "out of sight, out of mind" the healthier mantra? And do I even have the willpower to explore this beyond the world of words? (Well, we can all pretty accurately answer that last one. Ahem.) But still, even as I'm actively teaching my kids about all the health benefits of good, wholesome, unprocessed foods, I know it's important to think about what sorts of silent messages I may also be sending them. I'm curious to know what others think about this, both from the child's and parent's perspective. Has anyone found the perfect balance?

It's something I'm going to keep thinking about over lunch. Which would be apple pie, with a side of cheddar. I am my mother's daughter, after all.

Simply Perfect Apple Pie
This pie is from In the Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley. Which is one of my favorite pastry cookbooks, and it always baffles me that more people don't know about it. So here's my completely biased plug for it: if you love to bake, you need to own this cookbook. The pages upon pages of techniques, ingredient explanations, and charts alone make it worth the purchase. And the exquisite recipes push it over the top into the realm of Classic Culinary Tome. Buy it, buy it, buy it. But first, make pie.

1 double recipe gluten-free pastry crust (go here for my single-crust version), separated into two uneven discs and chilled

3 pounds Northern Spy apples, or other tart cooking apple
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
5 tsp cornstarch

1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp milk

Additional granulated or sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the two discs of dough from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you want to roll them out, to allow them to soften a bit. Take the larger disc and roll it out into a circle with a diameter of about 12-inches. Now, depending on what gf pastry crust recipe you're using, different techniques will work better than others for rolling it out. For me, I find that rolling the dough out on a piece of parchment works best. I don't flour the parchment, but I do dust the top of the dough with gf flour mix when rolling it out. Ease the dough into a deep 9-inch glass pie plate (I pick it up by the parchment, then invert it, peel off the parchment, and ease/patch it into place). Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until needed. Roll out the other portion of dough between two sheets of parchment to a circle just larger than the top of the pie plate. Keeping the dough between the parchment, slide it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate as well.

Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples and place them in a large mixing bowl. (Ms. Daley reminds us that the thinner the fruit, the more you can fit in the pie, and thus the thicker and denser your filling will be. All good.) Sprinkle the apples with the lemon juice. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Sift the cornstarch over this mixture and stir with a small whisk or a fork until everything is well blended. Add the sugar mixture to the apples and toss to coat well. Let the apples sit for 3 to 5 minutes; if there seems to be a great deal of juice, add an extra teaspoon of cornstarch and toss to distribute it evenly. Take the lined pie plate out of the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, and spoon the apples and their juices into the shell, pressing gently on each spoonful to pack the apples in as tightly as possible. Mound the filling slightly in the center and take care not to get any filling or juice on the edges of the shell.

Brush the edges of the shell with the beaten egg. Remove the other pastry circle from the refrigerator and peel off the top piece of parchment. Invert the bottom piece of paper over the pie, centering it as you do so, and settle the pastry onto the filling. Peel off the parchment and gently press the top pastry onto the filling, easing out any air bubbles, then press around the edges to seal. Again, depending on your crust recipe, you may find yourself doing more patching than easing and pressing. When I made my apple pie, my top crust got so warm (note to self: don't work next to the oven!) that it was almost melting under my fingertips. One section fell apart, and only sort-of went back together. But, as you can see from the photos it all turned out fine, and even those cracked and patched sections of crust were still super flaky and delicious. So don't stress it. Trim the excess pastry with a very sharp knife and crimp the edges of the shell decoratively if desired. Mix the milk with the remaining beaten egg and brush over the entire surface of the pie. With a sharp knife, make three or four long slits in the top to allow steam to escape, and sprinkle the surface of the pie with 1/2 to 1 Tbsp of granulated or sanding sugar.

Place the pie plate on a baking sheet to catch any drips and turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Bake the pie for 50 minutes to 1 hour (my pies usually take closer to 75 minutes), or until the crust is a lovely golden-brown and the filling can be seen bubbling up between the slits in the pastry. If parts of the crust seem to be darkening too quickly, cover those areas with a bit of foil; this will prevent them from scorching. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool at least 20 minutes before cutting.

This pie can be stored at room temp, lightly covered, for up to 3 days. Reheat in a preheated 300 degree oven for 15 to 25 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.


  1. Oh, pie, YUM! I wish I were closer so I could come have a slice and visit!
    On a side note, I got an email from King Arthur, and they're marketing their own line of gf baking mixes. Wonder how they'll measure up to good ol' Betty Crocker...

  2. Yeah, the pie was great. Kalen seemed confused when I told him he *had* to eat some yesterday morning before we left to catch our plane! Forced pie-eating in the morning was definitely out of the norm for him. ;)

    You know, I've tried the Betty Crocker cake mix, and to me, it tasted just like I remember regular BC cake mixes tasting. So, I guess for their target audience it's a success, but I don't really want cake that that tastes like it's full of chemicals and came out of a box . . . I wonder what the KA mixes will be like? Off to check out their site . . . At least gf stuff is getting more mainstream (and hopefully more affordable)!


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