It’s January. I wanted to put that out there before you all start doubting my sanity. I have been back in the US for 32 days. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, MLK Day and my dad’s birthday have all passed. But today I’ll be looking back at Thanksgiving, and an article that I read in November. Give me a little credit. I am still watching the dust settle on normal, functioning, American life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “healthy eating” lately, and factors in a beneficial diet that don’t necessarily encompass nutrients, daily values, or calories. By lately I mean that I read an article on Brazil’s new dietary guidelines 6 months ago and have been meaning to write a blog post ever since. These new guidelines – as broken down here by Marion Nestle – consist of ten basic steps for a healthy diet. These steps are revolutionary in several ways. They mention the necessity of limiting processed foods and warn against misleading advertisements. The official release includes picture examples of healthy meals that are consciously, culturally appropriate, and affordable. It references the ways in which variation amongst food groups is “pleasing to the senses” and allows for “regional and personal preferences.” Brazil is doing something right.
For me the most interesting part of these recommendations is the way in which eating context and environment are accounted for. The accompanying press release states tenet five as follows.
“Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company.”
It goes on to define appropriate environments as clean and quiet, and even advises that one participates in food preparation and clean up with others, not just consumption. This idea of communality also fits into tenet seven, where it is recommended not only that one develops culinary skills, but passes them along.
What does this boil down to? You can eat all the wonderful nutrients in the world, but if you’re mindlessly guzzling them down alone, its not quite the same. And let’s be honest, whatever you’re inhaling at your desk is not going to end up being as healthy as what you prepared and consumed in a pleasant environment with others, calories aside, accounting for the soul, not only the body.
Communal eating comes in many shapes and sizes, some more nutrient packed than others, but all better for the love of food, and for pleasure.
(coney island beach picnic; july 2013)
(a homemade dinner with the NY fam, spring 2014)
Preparing and consuming food with others doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. You don’t have to set aside the day or become a culinary wizard. This year I was lucky enough to have two Thanksgivings, that ultimate cornerstone of communal eating. While the first consisted of five-minute turkey burgers and Pilsbury rolls after class, the second included eight hours of extreme culinary toil, which included a Parisian search for cranberries. Communal is all about the company.
(thanksgiving 1: Berlin)
(thanksgiving 2: Paris, ft. precious cranberries)
I’ll leave you with these thoughts and a recipe that has nothing to do with anything I just said, besides that it was shared and enjoyed at a Secret Santa party, so maybe it does. This was the culinary success of the holiday season; a lazy man’s version of a Momofuku creation. Find someone you like. Make it with them. Eat it with them. Pass it on. If you eat it together, it’s healthy, I swear!
Caramelized Cornflake Hazelnut Bark
Note: The measurements for this recipe are a little wishy-washy, but that’s okay because it’s incredibly easy and there is seriously no way you’ll mess it up. It’s melted chocolate, go with the flow.
2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, chopped
8oz chocolate (I used 5 Milka Bars and highly recommend a combination of milk, dark, and hazelnut bars)
1/2 a bag of cornflakes
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter
lots and lots and lots of sugar (it will become clear, I promise)
2 heaping spoonfuls Peanut Butter
1. Start by toasting your hazelnuts. Put them on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven for about ten minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and while they are still hot, rub them in handfuls in a dish cloth to remove skins. It’s okay if skins are not fully removed, just try to get as much as you can without scalding yourself.
2. Put hazelnuts aside while keeping the oven heated to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a small saucepan.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine cornflakes and butter thoroughly. Now, start adding your sugar. Add the sugar gradually, stirring while you go, until your mixture is completely coated (think: frosted flakes, so why not use frosted flakes: don’t question). Before you started to add the sugar you probably looked at your bowl of cornflakes and butter and thought “wow this is kind of wet and gross.” The best way to explain quantity here is to say that you should keep adding sugar until your cornflakes no longer look wet and gross, but are completely coated.
4. Pour cornflake mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Stick them in the 350 degree oven and flip every ten minutes until they are crunchy and brown and taste delicious. Add more sugar as they toast if needed.
5. Chop your hazelnuts while the cornflakes become yummy. Chopping into very small pieces will give your bark a wonderful texture.
6. Remove cornflakes from oven and let them cool. While they are cooling, melt your chocolate bars together in a small saucepan on the stovetop. Melt at low heat to prevent burning. When the chocolate is melted, quickly whisk in the heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter. Stir in chopped hazelnuts.
7. Before the chocolate has a chance to harden pour it in a thin layer onto another baking sheet covered in parchment paper (I used two sheets to make my bark nice and thin, but you could go either way). Set aside a tiny bit of melted chocolate.
8. Top the melted chocolate with cornflake mixture. Drizzle your set-aside-tiny bit of chocolate over the whole shebang and stick in the freezer for about 2 hours.
9. When the bark is completely frozen use your muscles to break it apart. Taste a generous amount and keep it in the freezer when you are not actively consuming it. Esse gut!