Sunday, 28 August 2016

Stellar Sandwiches for Funeral Feasts

Anyone who's ever attended a funeral buffet will undoubtedly remember the sandwich tray. Depending on the deceased's ancestry, one might find baked ham and cheese buns, mortadella on focaccia bread, pulled pork in a kaiser roll, or liverwurst on dark rye.

If you're planning a funeral or memorial service and are staring blankly at a wall trying to figure out what to feed everyone, take a deep breath, and know that you can depend on tea sandwiches. They're the ideal foods for such events because they can be eaten with one hand whilst chatting with friends and family members, and tend to be tidy enough that they won't erupt all over one's formalwear.
I was once served a slice of Swedish "sandwich cake" (Smörgåstårta) that was truly a thing of beauty: multiple layers of fish paste, shrimp, sliced hardboiled eggs, smoked salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese between thin layers of bread. That's a bit much for a funeral buffet, but it just goes to show that one can rise above the standard melty ham and cheese bake and add a bit of variety to a solemn affair.

I tend to prefer vegetarian fillings in funeral sandwiches, mainly because plant-based ingredients don't go quite as dangerously manky as chicken salad or smoked salmon if left out on a buffet table at room temperature for several hours.

When it comes to the breads and such being used, that's really a matter of individual taste + dietary requirements. For the sake of presentation, it's nice to use a variety of different breads in various ways, such as using pumpernickel to make rolled rounds, or stuffed mini croissants.

Knowing how difficult it is to find food that won't poison me when I attend events, I tend to be the one who brings gluten-free or paleo dishes that we Celiac folks can munch in solidarity.

GF breads can be found at most supermarkets and health food stores, and though paleo rolls are a bit time consuming to make, they turn out rather delicious. If you can get your hands on corn flour-based tortillas, those are also wonderful for GF wraps.

The fillings listed below are categorised as vegetarian with V, vegan with VG, and  Paleo with P. There's a lot of crossover, and of course recipes can always be adapted by swapping ingredients in or out. For example, one can use mashed avocado in lieu of any kind of mayonnaise, Tofutti instead of cream cheese, etc.

Chick'n Salad with Cranberries and Walnuts (VG)
Pulse drained, canned chickpeas in a food processor with a handful each of dried cranberries and walnuts. Mix in some vegan mayonnaise, season with salt and pepper, and spread between slices of grainy bread.

Cucumber, Dill, and Almond "Feta" Soft Cream Cheese (VG, P)
Make a batch of soft almond cheese, and spread it between slices of your favourite bread. Top with thinly sliced cucumber, a sprinkle of salt, a sprig of dill, and even some minced capers, if you so desire. I like this best inside very light, mini GF scones.

Artichoke Muffaletta (VG, P)
Drained artichoke hearts are put through a food processor with a bit of vegan mayonnaise or avocado, and then seasoned with salt, pepper, Cajun spice mix, and tabasco sauce. That's then packed into a mini bun and topped with chopped green olives, minced green onion, and thinly shredded lettuce.

Tomato Slices on Basil Pesto (VG)
A classic: basil pesto spread on whatever you like, and topped with a slice of firm, ripe tomato. Add a bit of salt and pepper, and you're golden.

Hummus with Beet Carpaccio (VG, P option)
Not only rich in flavour, the textures of creamy hummus and slices of sweet roasted beet pair together wonderfully. Use golden beets to avoid inevitable pink staining that red ones will cause. To make a paleo version of this, make hummus from sweet potatoes, cauliflower, or parsnips instead of chick peas.

Mushroom Pate with Dijon (VG, P)
Spread whole-grain Dijon mustard on light or dark rye, top with sliced mushroom pate and either a slice of bread-and-butter gherkin, or a bit of Boston lettuce.

Black Bean and Avocado Bites (VG)
This is great as a filling in mini croissants: use a fork (or food processor) to mash black beans into a thick paste, and season that with salt, pepper, chopped green onions, and a bit of lime juice. Slice open the little pastries, slather some of the black bean mash inside, and top that with a slice or two of avocado and a pinch of salt before closing.

Sliced Hard-Boiled Egg with Veggie "Caviar" (V, P)
These fancy appetizer bites are a nod to my Germanic/Nordic heritage: spread a bit of butter or Earth Balance on flatbread, top with a spray of arugula, a couple of slices of hard-boiled egg, and a small dollop of vegan caviar.

Provolone with Mango Chutney (V)
Mango chutney's tart/sweet combo complements provolone's creaminess in the best way imaginable. Spread multigrain bread with Earth Balance (or butter, or other vegan margarine) on one piece, mango chutney on the other, and sandwich a slice of provolone and a piece of frisée lettuce between them.

Roasted Asparagus Tips with Garlic-Herb Aioli (VG, P)
Roast asparagus tips with a bit of olive oil and good salt, then lay them out between slices of bread (or wrapped up in a tortilla) that's been spread with paleo or vegan aioli.

Olive Tapenade and Cucumber (VG)
The salty creaminess of vegan olive tapenade is a perfect contrast to the crisp sweetness of thinly sliced cucumber. This is great on focaccia bread or any other base that has some firm chewiness to it. (Note: If you use store-bought tapenade, check its ingredients as many varieties have anchovies added to them.)

Baba Ghanoush with Roasted Red Pepper and Zucchini Slices (VG, P)
Slice a mini pita pocket in half, spread baba ghanoush inside each half, add a layer each of roasted zucchini and red pepper slices, roll up, spear with a toothpick.

Cornbread and Guacamole Bites (V, VG option)
Slice mini cornbread muffins in half and fill with thickly mashed guacamole. Close so they look like mini green burgers.

Cauliflower "Egg" Salad (VG, P)
This one works for the autoimmune paleo diet as well. Combine steamed cauliflower florets with vegan mayo, minced celery, onion, salt, pepper, and even a pinch of turmeric for flavour. Pack into mini rolls or roll it up into wraps.

Ploughman's (V)
Slather Branston Pickle (or other favourite sandwich spread) between hearty bread slices along with with sliced aged cheddar and finely chopped pickled onions.

Tofu Banh Mi Rolls (VG)
Take mini rolls and fill them (generously) with vinegar-marinated carrot and daikon radish matchsticks, fried tofu strips, and lettuce.

Almond Butter with Apple (VG, P)
This is a great option for kids attending the funeral, as it's one they probably won't feel intimidated by. Spread almond butter on your bread of choice, top with peeled, thinly sliced red or yellow apple, and a drizzle of honey or agave syrup.

Cashew Cream "Cheese" with Roasted Strawberry Slices (VG, P)
A little fussy to make, but well worth the effort. The cashews need to be pre-soaked to make the "cheese" and the strawberries will need to be pre-roasted, but once the prep work is done, you can spread everything between slices of good, firm bread and dig in.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

A Broth to Soothe a Wounded Heart

Sorrow and mourning can take many forms, as death and loss can come in so many different guises. Sometimes it isn't the physical death of a loved one that we mourn, but the end of something we cherished. The loss of a job, or a friendship, or an intimate relationship, or even a lost pet. So many experiences tear holes into us, and we have to practice a fair bit of self care in order to heal those wounds so they don't grow and fester.

I've mentioned that one of the most nourishing foods I've come across yet is bone broth, as it isn't just a soothing internal hug, but also replenishes a body right down to the cellular level. It can be used as the base for a heavier soup, or just enjoyed on its own by the mugful; something that I try to do as often as possible, especially during the autumn and winter months. Quite often, a cup of this broth first thing in the morning does more to wake me and replenish my spirits than half a dozen cups of coffee ever could.

When making a healing bone broth, it's important to use bones from organically raised (preferably grass-fed) livestock, as you're aiming for the most nutrient-dense, healing food possible. Antibiotics and heavy metals are drawn into bones and marrow through the animal's bloodstream, so if you make a broth from conventionally raised animal bones, you'll be ingesting all those chemicals as well.

In addition to avoiding those chemicals, there's another vitally important reason for choosing bones from ethically raised animals, which was described so perfectly by my friend Cat Lane that when I asked, she granted me permission to quote her directly:
"There's another reason for this choice - because the bones of animals raised in hell and killed in anguish are not good medicine, not for our bodies and not for our souls. I make grief soups and teas as well, and for myself they don't contain animals at all, but plants raised with love and harvested with gratitude. That's not because I'm vegan - I'm not - but because no matter how hard I try, I can't not feel the animals' journey, when I am taking it's body into my own. And even 'happy cows' probably didn't want to die. That said, I make bone broth for dogs and all kinds of cat and dog foods with other animals, and the process of nurturing others soothes my own chronic spiritual pain. As long as it comes from animals that lived and died reasonably. We can't change the cycle of life, but we can engage in it with gentleness and wisdom and respect."

Bone Broth

  • 3-4 pounds of beef, bison, elk, deer, or moose bones (an assortment of meaty and marrow bones is ideal)
  • 1 medium-large onion, peeled and chopped coarsely
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 small leek or 1 large bunch of green onions, washed and chopped 
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 generous pinch of summer savoury, either dried or fresh
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • Good salt (I use pink Himalayan salt, but sea salt works as well)


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Arrange the bones in a baking dish, and roast for 30-45 minutes, or until the marrow softens and begins to melt.

Place the bones in a large soup pot (or crock pot, if you have one). Cover with water until they're submerged by a couple of inches, add the vinegar (which will help to draw the nutrients out of the bones) bring to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer.

After about 4 hours, add the rest of the ingredients, and add more water until everything is just covered. Let this cook for at least another 8 hours, though I'd recommend letting it simmer for another 12. Basically, the longer you let this simmer, the more nutritious the broth will be, and the more flavour will be developed therein. 

To strain your stock, use a large, slotted spoon to remove the bones and the larger vegetables, then strain the liquid into a large bowl. Add salt to taste, but try not to make it too salty: you're aiming for nourishment more than just flavour content.
The broth can be transferred to glass Mason jars or even a large pitcher, and transferred to the refrigerator once it's cooled to room temperature. Once cooled, a layer of fat will have accumulated and hardened on the broth's surface: you can scrape this off and keep it in the freezer to combine with seeds later to feed wild birds.

Don't freak out if/when your broth turns gelatinous: this is a good thing, as it means that collagen has been drawn out of the bones. That collagen is immensely healing for everything from sore throats and stomach ulcers to leaky gut, arthritis, and other types of joint inflammation. As soon as you heat the broth, the gel will dissolve back into liquid so you can sip it to your heart's content.

I've found that the best way to enjoy this broth is to do so mindfully: to sit quietly and focus entirely on each sip, appreciating the nutrients that are being drawn into my body without any distractions like TV or music or anyone else around me. Doing so brings a sacredness to this ritual, and that, as well as the broth itself, is immensely healing.