Sunday, 28 April 2013

Food, Magical Realism and Mexico: Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquevial

I've just finished reading Like Water for Chocolate, the first novel by Laura Esquevial. Set in early 20th century Mexico, this novel explores the mystical link between cooking and passion.

Denied her true love, Tita, the protagonist, experiences torrid emotions while cooking for her (dysfunctional) family, sparking either fits of depression or wild orgies in those who consume her exquisite meals. Daily life and the extraordinary, culture, family, love and food all intertwine in this surreal novel.

Each chapter opens with a recipe. While as a health lover I'm not inspired to suddenly produce meals using so much meat or heavy cream, the traditional Mexican and pre-Hispanic recipes have me enthralled.

Alchemy that is not to be missed: the perfect way to make hot chocolate, simply using fresh cocoa beans and freshly boiling water...

Beautiful, intriguing, delicious...

Friday, 26 April 2013

Cold Climate Food: The Nordic Diet

As much as I adore tropical treats, in the middle of winter they just don't always feel right. It's so easy to forget the wealth of local specialties that come from you're own cold climate. These are usually hearty, healthy and perfect to get you through a biting winter's (or summer's, if you live in England...) day.

When I first discovered the Slow Food movement, I was thrilled: it make so much sense, particularly as an anthropology student with a passion for food, and most importantly, it all sounded just so... delicious. But, there was one problem: I had been reading about the Italian Slow Food movement, and reading all about the mouth watering regional Italian food specialties. For a while after writing that essay, I certainly ate a lot of Italian food...

Lately, however, I've become very interested in cold climate foods that are beautiful, delicious and healthy. To my surprise (aren't healthy foods usually expensive and tantalisingly exotic, most likely from the heart of a tropical rain forest? What's so special about waxy new potatoes, blue-green kale, fresh grilled fish...) I loved the foods I read about, and eating them in winter felt so right. Even better: according to research, these foods are just as healthy, but minus the marketing.

Cold climate food doesn't have to mean gorging yourself on pies and cheese and chips. Trina Hahnemann (Denmark's Nigella, but healthy!) has brought out The Nordic Diet book; a guide on how to eat wholesome, delicious foods in our less than forgiving northern climate.

Hahnemann claims that the Scandinavian diet should be the diet model for Northern Climates as opposed to the standard model we're told to follow: the Mediterranean diet (which, by the way, studies were based on war-time Med, when people were frugal; the contemporary Med diet, with its abundance of olive oil, meat etc. is very different, and without the same claim to health). Hahnemann concisely sums this up:  "I think that people have lost their food culture and forgotten about how foods suited to northern climates can be healthy"


The diet principles are pretty basic, pretty sound, and make perfect sense for hearty yet light food. Mountains of our northern, hardy vegetables, wholegrain cereals such as spelt and rye, some cold water fish and not too much meat. Oh - and especially - keep moving! (Trust me on this, because it will keep you warm, too).

The health benefits of the Scandinavian diet are extensive. Not only do Scandinavian countries have some of the longest living populations. Here are a few links with some great information on the health benefits of eating a wholesome, cold climate diet: 

NordForsk on composing a 'Nordic diet' (Note that they recommend meat should be eaten in moderation. During the war, many Northern countries went through periods where they did not have access to meat, and so had to eat a largely vegetarian diet; as a result, rates of disease dropped dramatically in this period)
Danish online pamphlet with manifesto and guidelines. More of the same, but nicely laid out. 

So let's start living Scandi style. 

Free yoga

I adore yoga and I adore nature, so I was thrilled to discover the two coming together in the weekly free yoga classes, filmed against the stunning mountainous backdrop of the Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming.

These classes were a god send when I was living in a tiny flat on a busy main road in the city; they were the perfect thing to de-stress, move, and soak up the natural beauty when I was cramped, stressed, and surrounding by pollution and high-rise buildings. A yoga oasis.