Stay weird

Elle (Canada) - - Radar -

Quick: Pic­ture your fam­ily seated around the hol­i­day ta­ble. We bet that be­tween your cousin’s ve­g­an­ism, your mom’s di­a­betic part­ner, your dad’s gluten-free GF and sec­ond-cousin-thrice-re­moved Fitzwilliam be­ing off the (cran­berry) sauce this year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a per­son who will “just eat any­thing”! Whether by choice or ac­tual con­di­tion, we live in the age of “RSVP di­etary re­quire­ments,” and we couldn’t think of any­one bet­ter than Su­san Jane White to act as our “al­ter­na­tive-eat­ing-agony” aunt. This Ir­ish cook­book author, and re­formed crap-food ad­dict, has made a name for her­self with her de­li­cious cheek­ily gluten-, re­fined-sugar-, pro­cessed-weird­ness-free eats. She even threw in a be­spoke recipe just for us (see right) and solved our hol­i­day dilem­mas. Q: I quit the sweet stuff about six months ago, and I feel great, but now the hol­i­day sea­son is com­ing and I’m a bit sad that I won’t be eat­ing Aunt Sue’s short­bread and my other sug­ary sea­son faves. Do you have any sug­ges­tions for keep­ing things fes­tive but sugar-free? A: “Sug­ges­tions? Hell, yeah! Wake up and smell Aunt Sue’s short­bread! It won’t kill you, and it will make Aunt Sue so happy to see you en­joy her recipes. Go and give that tray a love bomb. Re­mem­ber that this is only one day. It’s not about di­ets; it’s about love. If you’re re­ally freak­ing out, you should prob­a­bly meet [my book] The Vir­tu­ous Tart. This is a cook­book that takes the hell out of healthy. You’ll be able to arm your­self with an ar­tillery of nour­ish­ing treats for Aunt Sue’s in­stead of snore­some fes­tive junk. Think of it as am­mu­ni­tion to get you through the hol­i­days.” Q: Our of­fice holds an an­nual hol­i­day potluck com­pe­ti­tion, and I want to WIN. What should I make? A: “Pome­gran­ate hal­vah! It’s good enough to make a de­vout friar feel like Ricky Martin. Ev­ery health nut will want to strad­dle you—it’s ve­gan, gluten-free, paleo and badass. You won’t be laden with a big shop­ping list ei­ther— just tahini, honey, co­conut oil, flaky sea salt, vanilla and some pome­gran­ate seeds. Gently melt it all to­gether, pour it into a lined lunch box and decor­ate it with more pome­gran­ate seeds. That’s it! Freeze un­til set, and then let ev­ery­one in the of­fice rub your halo.” Q: Come De­cem­ber 27, I am so over any­thing in­volv­ing the oven, but we of­ten have mates pop by dur­ing that week. Any rec­om­men­da­tions for some­thing good (and easy) to rus­tle up? A: “Yes: wine. Grapes are part of your one-a-day, right? And cho­co­late, lots and lots of cho­co­late. It was my six-year-old son, Ben­jamin, who re­minded me that ca­cao beans come from a plant. And plants are ba­si­cally salad. See?” Q: I’m host­ing my en­tire (“weird food”-hos­tile) fam­ily for Christ­mas lunch this year, and I want to wow them with a show­stop­per of a dish that will fi­nally win them over to my healthy-eat­ing ways. Any­thing come to mind? A: “Yes. Try serv­ing kale chips on Michael Fass­ben­der’s abs—al­ways works. Fail­ing that, here’s a scorch­ing recipe: Mushroom & Mer­lot Stew. (See op­po­site page.) One taste will ig­nite their dim­ples, like kiss­ing Bradley Cooper or giv­ing Don­ald Trump a wedgie live on air.”

party tip Flow­ers make work for your host...but cho­co­late never does. Cut the cheese ...Just maybe steer clear of the veni­son char­cu­terie? Antler cheese­board with cheese knife, $29.50, Indigo. For de­tails, see Shop­ping Guide.

6 tbsp. (90 mL) ghee but­ter or olive oil

2 large onions, peeled and diced

4 fat cloves of gar­lic

4 beet­roots, peeled and chopped into bite­size pieces

3 bay leaves

5 sprigs of thyme

3 c. (750 mL) Mer­lot or other dry red wine

8 1/2 c. (2 L) re­ally good stock or bone broth

1 tin of an­chovies, chopped

8 hand­fuls of wild and reg­u­lar mush­rooms

4 tbsp. (60 mL) grated gin­ger (op­tional)

2 tbsp. (30 mL) Kudzu (op­tional)

Heat a lit­tle of the ghee or oil in your largest heavy-based saucepan. Add the onions and gar­lic and sauté un­til glassy, say eight to 10 min­utes. Tum­ble in the chopped beets, bay leaves and thyme and let them so­cial­ize for five min­utes on low heat. Then pour the Mer­lot, stock and an­chovies into the pot. Let the pot gur­gle for 60 min­utes, un­til the beets are ten­der. Leave the lid off and let the al­co­hol es­cape (which prob­a­bly sounds coun­ter­in­tu­itive for a fes­tive recipe, but it’s very nec­es­sary—sorry).

While the stew mer­rily cooks, prep the mush­rooms. Slice them into bite-size chunks or leave them whole if they’re small. Heat the rest of your cho­sen fat in a large fry­ing pan, lower the heat and cook the mush­rooms un­til ten­der and caramelized. I do this in three or four batches and lis­ten to com­edy pod­casts all the while. Once the mush­rooms are done, sea­son them and para­chute them into the pot. When all the mush­rooms have been added, you can pop in the gin­ger too. That’s it. If you want to thicken the broth, dis­solve the op­tional kudzu in two ta­ble­spoons (30 millil­itres) of cold wa­ter, add to the pot and let sim­mer for an­other 10 min­utes. My cranky hus­band prefers to add Di­jon mus­tard, but I like to leave it out to an­noy him. Serve with creamed cele­riac or plain mashed pota­toes with some grated horse­rad­ish. It’s your party. Rock it.

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