Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fig and Mint Tart

Fig and Mint Tartlet
This deliciously satisfying, elegant miniature tart has a cream cheese and honey filling and topped with fresh figs, mint and pistachios.  Figs are thought to have been first cultivated in Egypt. They spread to Ancient Greece and Rome were later introduced to other regions of the Mediterranean by ancient conquerors and then brought to the Western Hemisphere by the Spaniards in the early 16th century. In the late 19th century, when Spanish missionaries established the mission in San Diego, California, they also planted fig trees.

Enjoy the flavors of  fall?  Try my pumpkin french toast!

Therapeutic topic of the week: 
by Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating

The key to understanding the profound link between metabolism and stress is the central nervous system (CNS). The portion of the CNS that exerts the greatest influence on gastrointestinal function is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This aspect of the nervous system is responsible for getting your stomach churning, the enzymatic secretions in the digestive process flowing, and keeping the dynamic process of nutrient absorption into the bloodstream on the move. The ANS also tells your body when not to be in digesting mode, such as when there’s no food in your belly or when you’re in fight-or-flight response.

Two subdivisions of the ANS help it accomplish its dual task of digestive arousal and digestive inhibition: the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The sympathetic branch activates the stress response and suppresses digestive activity. The parasympathetic branch relaxes the body and activates digestion. It might be helpful to think of these two parts of the nervous system as on-and-off switches.

Simply put, the same part of our brain that turns on stress turns off digestion. And conversely, the part of the brain that turns on the relaxation response turns on full, healthy digestive power. Eating healthy food is only half of the story of good nutrition. Being in the ideal start to digest and assimilate food is the other half.

Here’s a favorite client story of mine that will help make things a little more practical when it comes to the stress/digestion connection:

Chen, a charismatic forty-six-year-old doctor of Chinese medicine, was plagued by nagging digestive upset despite overall great health and a vast knowledge of natural healing. He felt that maybe it was time to look at his diet and requested my help. When I asked some basic questions about his eating habits, I was quite surprised by the answer. Chen would stop at McDonalds on his way to work and eat two Egg McMuffins for breakfast in the car while rushing through city traffic. For lunch he’d zip to the same McDonalds and eat two Big Macs in the car as he drove back to the office. After work, he ate two slices of pizza. Chen informed me that he wanted to feel better but he wasn’t willing to cook, bring a lunch to work, eat vegetables, or give up McDonalds. Go figure.

I told him I suspected I could actually help him despite the impossible limitations he was giving me to work with. Here is the simple strategy to which Chen reluctantly agreed. He had to eat his Big Macs while the car was parked and take twenty minutes to enjoy them slowly and sensually. I asked him to do the same with his Egg McMuffins at breakfast. He needed to take time to slow down with food, and with life. He needed to breathe deeply before, during, and after his meals.

Two weeks later Chen called me in an excited state with some wonderful news to tell. First, his digestive symptoms had disappeared. And then he said, “You won’t believe this, really, but I hate Big Macs. I’ve been eating them for fifteen years and I can’t stand them. Have you ever tried to savor a Big Mac? You can’t. You have to eat it fast and smother it with lots of ketchup to hide the taste.”

Chen was not a relaxed eater. He had plenty of patients to see throughout the day and seemingly little time for self-nourishment. The simple act of taking time to slow down and eat shifted him from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance, and his digestive upset quickly disappeared. When this happened, his body wisdom was finally able to give him feedback about his food choices, and he subsequently gave up Big Macs naturally and effortlessly. He didn’t need to use his willpower to resist a favorite food or exert mental force to make better choices. All he did was savor a Big Mac.

Are you beginning to understand the metabolic power of relaxation? Can you see how eating in the natural and necessary state of parasympathetic dominance can yield breakthroughs with food and metabolism?

Fig and Cream Cheese Tartlette Recipe

1 lb my homemade or store-bought pastry dough
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup (5 1/2 oz) cream cheese
3 tbsp of honey
1 tbsp orange juice
12 to 16 figs, each cut into 6 pieces
Handful of green shelled pistachios, halved
1 bunch of fresh mint, ripped or roughly torn
Special equipment: miniature round tartlette fluted pans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll out the pastry on a floured counter to the thickness of a 1/4 inch and use it to carefully line the pan. Homemade pastry is will be quite crumbly. Don't worry, you can patch it together in the pan. Press the a plastic straw against the pastry all round the edges to coax it into the fluted grooves. Trim off the excess around the top. Put in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, or until firm.

Remove the tart from the refrigerator. Take a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than the pan and scrunch it up, then unscrunch it and line the pan with it. Fill it with pie weights or dried beans and "blind bake" in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the paper and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

For the filling, put the cream in a bowl and whip until beginning to thicken, then fold it into the cream cheese and mix with the honey and juice. Put the filling in the tart case, then arrange the figs on top and scatter over the nuts and mint.

Tip: This tart is best eaten on the day it is made.

Adapted from Lorraine Pascale

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