So… it’s January. I wanted to put that out there before you all start doubting my sanity at this latest post. I have been back in the US for exactly 32 days. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, MLK Day and my dad’s birthday have all passed, but today I’ll be making references to 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 have been thinking a lot about different aspects of “healthy eating” lately – 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 back in November and have been meaning to write a related 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. 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 here.
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 advise that one participates in food prep 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 in your fluorescent cubicle its not quite the same effect. 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. You can think about your caloric intake all day, but if you don’t account for environment and context chances are you aren’t giving yourself a fair chance to make healthy eating choices anyway. We could all learn a lesson from Brazil here.
So what does communal eating look like? It sounds like a commitment. But truly, communal eating comes in many shapes and sizes – some more nutrient packed than others, but all better for the soul and love of food.
Communal eating can mean hot dog beach picnics…
…or it might look a little more homemade.
Preparing and consuming food with others doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. You don’t have to cut hours out of your schedule or become a culinary wizard. This year I was lucky enough to have two Thanksgivings (that ultimate cornerstone of communal eating) and while the first consisted of five-minute turkey burgers and Pilsbury rolls after class, the second resulted from roughly eight hours of extreme culinary toil. I enjoyed both equally thanks to the lovely people I got to spend them with.
Today I will leave you with these thoughts and a recipe that has almost nothing to do with anything I just said. This was my culinary success of the holiday season – a sort of lazy man’s version of a Momofuku creation and definitely the reason that I ended up being a pretty good Secret Santa. Find someone you like. Make it with them. Eat it with them. Pass it on. If you eat it communally 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 kitchen 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 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. 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. *Note: you can use a combination of white and brown sugar if desired!
4. Pour cornflake mixture onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Stick them in the 350 degree oven and flip every ten minutes until they are crunchy and brown and taste like Frosted Flakes. 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 Crunch Bar texture.
6. When done, 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 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. Enjoy!