Good intentions, fail good

taste test

St. Petersburg Times
Special to the Times

    For a decade beginning in the early '70s, I became a real pain in the neck about food. All rice must be brown, all bread homemade and whole-grain. No meat, of course. We ate nothing with a face. No butter, sugar, milk or cheese. I drove my family and friends mad.

    To potluck dinners, I brought my signature dish, tofu carob cheesecake, or if it was a holiday, pumpkin tofu cheesecake. Portions were left in polite

lumps on people's plates or discreetly deposited under the nearest plant.

    If you fell ill, I was there with my Champion Juicer, plying you with healing glasses of raw turnip, parsley and garlic juice. When my father had a serious stroke, I blamed it on white rice, Wonder Bread and the only salad my stepmother knew how to make: potato.

    I made hearty casseroles of beans and grains, stewed piles of dark-colored winter vegetables. I served salads filled with sprouts and chopped vegetables and topped with a miso dressing so powerful no one would sit next to you for a week. I sent my son to school with sandwiches made with my heavy homemade bread. He begged me to stop humiliating him in front of the other kids. For treats, I cooked granola, which was actually quite good, and concocted a heavy fudge from carob, honey, powdered milk and peanut butter, which wasn't.

    My cookbooks were The Zen of Baking, Moosewood and The Vegetarian Epicure. I went on 10-day water fasts, overseen by a Fast Master. In case you wonder what that's like, colors and sounds become more intense, and after a few days you aren't hungry anymore, but you lean on things a lot. I went to an Indian doctor, visiting from London, who never touched me or listened to a word I said but sniffed my naked body like a dog and told me to eat raw foods for a month.

    When even this didn't seem pure enough, I decided to walk the Macrobiotic Way. Every bite chewed 30 times. Recipes without salt, honey or even lemon juice. Corn and sesame oils were okay, but olive oil had to be saved for special occasions. Fish was permitted if it had white meat. No tuna or salmon. I sweetened with substances I had never heard of: amasake, barley malt, rice syrup. Condiments were frowned upon. No salt, mayonnaise, strong spices or wine. Food was the flavor. I could eat aduki beans but no lentils, broccoli but not asparagus, collards but no green peppers. Sea vegetables were encouraged. I could have apples but not avocados, blueberries but no bananas. Baked goods were forbidden, as was any bread with yeast, but I was allowed as much whole barley and buckwheat as I could stomach.

    Meals took hours to prepare and almost as long to chew. I served Scrambled Tofu, Beans With Kombu and Squash, Boiled Tempeh and Scallions. For dessert, I made Apple-Raisin Kanten or Blueberry Couscous Cake. Everything turned out beige or gray, even the blueberries, and everything tasted bland. People stopped coming over.

Perhaps I did not delve deeply enough into the macrobiotic philosophy, or maybe I just ran out of time. I gradually fell away, back into olive oil and avocados, coconut and chocolate, back to buttered scones and ice cream - delicious, delicious ice cream.

    A few habits remain from those ascetic years. I still cook with brown rice and buy whole-grain bread. I make the really good granola. Here's the recipe. Cut it out. Fasten it to your refrigerator. It's like Ann Landers' Lemon Meringue Pie recipe: irreplaceable.

Norma's Granola

            Dry ingredients

3/4 cup raisins

2 cups assorted nuts and seeds, your choice: walnuts, shaved almonds, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds

1 32-ounce box Old Fashioned Quaker oats (or equivalent organic rolled oats)

1/2 cup wheat germ

1 teaspoon salt

            Liquid ingredients

1/4 cup canola oil

1 to 1 1/2 cups honey

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, mix raisins, nuts and all other dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, stir liquid ingredients until mixed.

Pour wet into dry and mix until oats are thoroughly coated.

Spread in large roasting pan.

Bake at 300 degrees, stirring after 20 minutes and then every ten minutes, until granola is evenly browned to the color you prefer.

Remove. Spread on newspaper to cool. Store in sealed jar. Keeps well.

Enjoy with only a slightly guilty conscience.


Norma Watkins is a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal. Her memoir, The Last Resort, will be published by the University of Mississippi Press in 2011.