Today marks the official first day of spring, but you wouldn't know it here in D.C. We're still bundling up every morning for our commute, bracing for the cold weather. And even if a few daffodils have started opening up, the trees are still bare.
We've been forcing the season, trying to will warmer days into being. We're thinking spring produce, grilling and ice cream.
When Regi and Kate came over for dinner, we wanted to make a dessert that was special. (It's not every day that they can get a sitter for their three boys and spend a night catching up with friends.)
But we also wanted something that we could easily make ahead, so we could actually hang out with Regi and Kate instead of scurrying around trying to finish dessert.
We also wanted something springy and on the healthier end of the spectrum.
These Brown Sugar Banana Parfaits with Maple-Glazed Pecans seemed like they would fit the bill perfectly.
In actuality, they did -- with one major exception.
It goes by other names -- caveman, primal, hunter-gatherer. It's a fad diet that first started in the 1970s, but has exploded in popularity in the past few years. The idea behind the Paleo diet is this: For millions of years, our cavemen ancestors ate a diet of lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and fungi. Then, relatively recently, our ancestors began farming grains, potatoes and other refined starches. Evolutionarily speaking, our bodies haven't adapted to that change in diet. So we'd all be better off trying replicate the diet of Paleolithic man.
In other words, lean proteins and veggies are in. Carbohydrates, refined sugars, legumes and dairy are out.
Simple enough. And who can argue that modern-day humans couldn't stand to cut down their carb intake? Paleo is, at its most basic, high in protein and low in carbs. (In a lot of ways, Paleo seems like Atkins 2.0.)
We're a little torn on Paleo, to be honest. For one thing, it's always struck us as questionable to talk about "a Paleo diet" as if there was one single set of foods being consumed by cavemen the world over. We're no experts, but we're pretty sure the guys sitting around painting caves in Lascaux weren't slugging coconut water (a major part of the modern Paleo diet). And the guys who were sipping on coconut water probably didn't have access to, say, buffalo.
And we're not sure about the argument that "this is what cavemen ate so this is what's best for you." Cavemen ate whatever cavemen could find. That doesn't mean their diet is necessarily the healthiest mix of foods for human consumption.
Also, their lifestyles were so vastly different from our own that we wonder how much we should be comparing our diet to theirs. For instance, our ancestors needed as much protein as they could find. But modern humans don't "need" meat at all. In fact, a lot of nutritionists smarter than we are say we'd all be much better off eating no meat whatsoever.
We have a lot of friends who are going Paleo these days. We're not among them (as the croissants we ate in San Francisco will attest). But this is all a very, very long-winded way of saying that we're intrigued by the Paleo diet, but unconvinced about its merits.
But one night recently we hosted a Paleo dinner to see what all the fuss is about.
'Tis the season for sweets. Ever since Thanksgiving, it seems like we've never been more than arm's reach from a tempting treat or confection -- at parties, at the office, at the bank. There was a plate of cookies at the gym one day last week, for Pete's sake.
Nevertheless, we wanted to try out these Crunch Bars. (Oh, the lengths we go to for you Bittens....)
This is our kind of holiday dessert: chocolate, vaguely impressive looking, but also a bit imperfect.
This Peppermint-Meringue Brownie Cake is a home run on all three of those counts.
The chocolate, well, that's self-explanatory. The bottom half of this cake is a fudgy, rich brownie base. We'll wager that will be a hit with most of you, unless brownies have somehow done you wrong in a past life (if so, you have our condolences).
Vaguely impressive? It is, isn't it? Doesn't it look complicated? Like we spent hours toiling away at this cake? Like we needed some special skill to pull it off? We definitely didn't. (We did, however, need an electric mixer. So we suppose our superpower is "owns a mixer.")
But this cake is also imperfect, in the very best way possible. The holidays, while lovely, can also be tough. There's a lot going on. Families are messy. You, dear Bitten, need not also arrive at the dinner table with "perfect" dishes. We don't subscribe to "perfect" -- imperfect is the name of our game. And here's why it applies to this cake.
Egg Custard Pie was a staple at my family gatherings growing up. Regardless of the occasion, be it Thanksgiving or lunch after church, in a time of celebration or sorrow, Egg Custard Pie was present. And it was always made by my grandfather, Tot.
Tot is an unusual name. And it's even more unusual when you learn that it's his full first name -- It's not short for anything, and he has no middle name. Even more odd, Tot is a twin. The name my great-grandparents chose for my great-uncle? Dot.
All you need to make Tot's Egg Custard Pie are eggs, sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch and whole milk. Tot's notes for the recipe say to use "sweet milk," by which he means non-buttermilk. And he never bothers with a homemade pie crust -- he's perfectly content with a store-bought shell.
The pie itself is a cinch to make. Whisk the filling together, pour them into a pie shell, and bake until the pie is set. Serve the pie at room temperature after it's had time to cool. The pie, sweet and scented with nutmeg, is light in texture, rather like a cross between a cream pie and a flan. The texture of a Egg Custard Pie might not be for everyone, but we love it.
Decades later, Tot is still making this pie. We hope to be making it for just as long.