Monday, 31 January 2011



A very close and beloved friend who is a biophysicist always reminds me and is very insistent that I take a folic acid supplement daily. I've known about the importance of taking folic acid while pregnant, and of its importance in DNA synthesis. Recently, I pulled some books off the shelf, I visited some Internet sites, and I did my own "in-depth" study of folic acid.

An article in the New York Times which I include below, referred to folic acid (and other micronutrients) as "the world's healthiest food." Since Sweet Almond Tree is a food blog, I decided to post something about this healthy and all important food!  

Image result for folic acid
I kindly ask you to remember to take folic acid daily, and also to take micronutrient (multivitamin) supplements. Micronutrients are a range of crucial vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, the B vitamins (which include folic acid), iodine, iron, zinc and calcium.

Micronutrients from food sources:

World's Healthiest Food
January 3, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist

So what’s the most scrumptious, wholesome, exquisite, healthful, gratifying food in the world?It’s not ambrosia, and it’s not even pepperoni pizza. Hint: It’s far cheaper. A year’s supply costs less than the cheapest hamburger.

Give up? Here’s another hint: It’s lifesaving for children, also lifesaving for women who may become pregnant. If you know of a woman who may become pregnant, make sure she gets this miracle substance.
A final hint: It was a lack of this substance that led to a tragedy that I encountered the other day at a hospital here in the Honduran capital. Three babies lay in cots next to one another with birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.

In the first cot was Rosa Álvarez, 18 days old and recovering from surgery to repair a hole in her spine. She also suffers from a brain deformity.
In the next cot was Ángel Flores, soft tissue protruding from his back.
Closest to the door was José Tercera. His mother unwrapped a bandage on his head, and I saw a golf-ball-size chunk of his brain spilling out a hole in his forehead.

The doctors believe the reason for these deformities, called neural tube defects, was that their mothers did not have enough micronutrients, and particularly didn't take folic acid while pregnat. 
(Click here to go to: United Call to Action on Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies /World’s best investment for development)  These micronutrients are the miracle substance I’m talking about, and there’s scarcely a form of foreign aid more cost-effective than getting them into the food supply.

“It’s unnecessary to have these kinds of problems,” Dr. Ali Flores, a pediatrician and expert on these defects, said as he looked over the three babies.
If a pregnant woman does not have enough folic acid (also known as vitamin B9) in her body at the very beginning of her pregnancy, then her fetus may suffer these neural tube defects. That’s why doctors give folic acid to women who plan to become pregnant.

Equally important is another micronutrient, iodine. The worst consequence of iodine deficiency isn’t goiters, but malformation of fetuses’ brains, so they have 10 to 15 points permanently shaved off their I.Q.’s.

Then there’s zinc, which reduces child deaths from diarrhea and infections. There’s iron, lack of which causes widespread anemia. And there’s vitamin A: some 670,000 children die each year because they don’t get enough vitamin A, and lack of the vitamin remains the world’s leading cause of childhood blindness.

“In the early stages of life, the die is cast,” said David Dodson, the founder of 
Project Healthy Children, an aid group that fights micronutrient deficiencies in Honduras and other poor countries. “If a child is not getting the right micronutrients, the effect is permanent.”

Nine years ago, Mr. Dodson was simply an American businessman running a 300-employee waste company that he had founded. Then he happened to visit Honduras and, in a hospital, encountered a mother whose newborn baby had a hole in the skull. He learned that negligible amounts of folic acid would prevent such heartbreaking defects — and his life was transformed.

“I had never seen anything in my life that could have so much impact for so little money and be sustainable,” Mr. Dodson said. He and his wife, Stephanie, sold their company and used some of the proceeds to start Project Healthy Children.

The most cost-effective way to distribute micronutrients isn’t to hand them out. Mary Flores, a former Honduran first lady who is active in nutrition, notes that impoverished women can be hard to reach, and even if they are given folic acid pills they sometimes won’t take them for fear that they actually are birth control pills. So micronutrients instead are often added to such common foods as salt, sugar, flour or cooking oil.
Adding iodine, iron, vitamin A, zinc and various B-complex vitamins including folic acid to a range of foods costs about 30 cents per person reached per year. Groups focusing on micronutrients also include 
Helen Keller International and Vitamin AngelsIn the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has required that flour be fortified with folic acid since 1998. Even in America, with better diets, medical care and widespread fortification, not all women get enough micronutrients, but the problem is far worse in poor countries.

Mr. Dodson notes that it is much cheaper to prevent birth defects than to treat them.
“It’s not a sexy world health issue, but it’s about the nuts and bolts of putting together a healthy population,” Mr. Dodson said. “Putting small amounts of iron, iodine and folic acid in the food supply hasn’t drawn attention the way it does when you treat someone who is sick or in a refugee camp. Until recently, this has been off everybody’s radar screen.”

As the United States reorganizes its chaotic aid program, it might try 
promoting what just may be the world’s most luscious food: micronutrients.


Folic acid food sources:

More on Micronutrients: 

To maintain your brain, muscle, bone, nerves, skin, blood circulation, and immune system, your body requires a steady supply of many different raw materials—both macronutrients and micronutrients. You need large amounts of macronutrients—proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. And while you only need a small number of micronutrients—vitamins and minerals—failing to get even those small quantities virtually guarantees disease.

(All the photographs and charts in this post have been "borrowed" from the Internet.  I did a Google image search, and there they were, just begging to be borrowed).

Monday, 24 January 2011


These crostini would make nice appetizers or even a delicious first course.



8 slices (1/4 inch thick) of nice, flavorful bread (I used garlic and rosemary bread)
olive oil
ground pepper
6 oz marinated artichoke hearts, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons crab meat
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (save a little to use as a garnish)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions :

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Brush the bread slices on both sides with olive oil and season them with black pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. You'll need to turn them over once during baking. Once they are done, set them aside to cool.
  • Meanwhile, make the topping. Chop the artichokes finely, and place them in a bowl. Add the Parmesan cheese, the parsley, the paprika, the crab meat, and enough olive oil to make the mixture delicious (but don't use too much olive oil).
  • Dividing evenly, spoon the topping onto the crostini, and garnish with additional Parmesan, if desired. Put the assembled crostini back in the oven for about 2 minutes, just to warm the topping and to give the cheese a chance to melt slightly.
These little guys were easy to make and very easy to eat!

Friday, 14 January 2011


Old recipes can and should be adapted to suit today’s lifestyle. Here is a new and healthier version: Thirty-Minute Cassoulet, adapted from Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way

I draw the line when it comes to making a traditional cassoulet, no matter how "gourmet" the endeavour. For one thing, the traditional version takes something like three days to prepare, and for another, a cassoulet includes a liberal amount of duck fat plus the rind of almost a whole pig ... Whoops no, not for me! 

Duck fat and pork rind were used in kitchens of centuries past. Caloric intake during those times was high, but people burned calories faster than we do because they were highly mobile and engaged in arduous labour. The country folk who prepared cassoulet were careful to use all parts of the animal they slaughtered (a necessary and laudable practice). 

Today’s lifestyle is much different ... much more sedentary, and we are all of us aware of the health risks associated when eating foods high in fat content. There's just no need to cook like that anymore. 

Jaques Pépin, gentleman chef extraordinaire, offers us a recipe for a cassoulet that can be cooked in less than one hour. Convenient, tasty and healthier. Thank you, Chef Pépin.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound rolled shoulder ham (also called a daisy ham or Boston Butt), tough outer skin removed, cut into four pieces
3/4 pound Italian sausages, cut into 3-inch pieces
4 skinless chicken thighs
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup diced onion
1 (14.5 ounces/400 grams) whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
4 cloves garlic crushed
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 (15½ ounces/450 grams each) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 
black pepper
coarsely chopped fresh parsley


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit /180 degrees Celsius.   
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the ham, chicken and Italian sausage.
  • Cover and cook over high heat for 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
  • Add the mushrooms, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Mix well and cook for another 10 minutes.
  • Add the beans, tomatoes and pepper 
  • Bring back to the boil, cover, and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • At serving time, discard the bay leaf, cut the ham into slices and the sausage pieces in half, and arrange the meat on a platter with the beans.
  • Sprinkle the parsley on top.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


My New Year's holiday was spent at the home of my dear friend Cathy. We all had a great time ushering in 2011! Cathy lives on the grounds of what used to be a farm, in an area of Pennsylvania that is semi-rural. It was wonderful to get away from the city for a little while. I went for walks on the nature path near Cathy's home, where I enjoyed breathing in the cold, crisp, clear air. I enjoyed too all the natural, icy, winter loveliness: looking at the sinuous denuded tree branches, poking the frozen earth with my walking stick, staring at the empty gazebo by the side of a pond. Inside the house we did the usual holiday things: cook, eat, drink, talk, laugh. Cathy had planned to teach me how to make her split pea soup. For many years now, I have raved about it. The broth is is to die for. It's seasoned with a ham bone which gives it a wonderful smoky flavor and it's full of delicious root vegetables. As if that is not enough, the soup is topped off with dumplings, which are one of my favorite things to eat. So, on New Year's Day, after the rose parade was over and with wine glass in hand, we sauntered over to the stove, Cathy the chef, I the sous-chef, and we started to cook some soup. Here's how to make Cathy's delicious yellow split pea soup:


  1. 1& 3/4 cup dried yellow split peas (if you want a thicker soup use 2 cups)
  2. 1 medium onion, sliced into thin rings
  3. freshly ground black pepper
  4. a ham bone with a nice amount of meat left on
  5. 1 nice size turnip, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  6. 3 or 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  7. 3 potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1 inch pieces
  8. optional: some vegetable broth

For the dumplings:

  1. 1 cup flour
  2. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  3. 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  4. about 1/4 cup of water
This will make about 6 dumplings, but for more, just double the recipe.


The best time to make this soup is when you have a ham bone left over after having cooked a baked ham. You will need a ham bone with a substantial amount of meat still attached to it so that you can have lots of chunks of ham in the soup. In the picture below you can see the ham bone we used.

Go ahead and place the ham bone in a large stock pot, add the onion slices, throw in the yellow peas, then pour enough water in the pot to cover the ham. If you have some vegetable broth you can use that as a substitute for all or part of the water. Season with the black pepper, cover the pot and place it on the stove over medium high heat. Allow the water to come to a boil. You may want to skim off the froth that develops as the water is boiling. (Rapid boiling and the starch created from the breakdown of the peas is the reason for the appearance of froth. The froth is mostly water bubbles that have become heavy from starch and gelatin and don't break up as they usually do). Once the water comes to the boil go ahead and turn the heat down, then simmer your ingredients for two hours.
While the soup is simmering give the ingredients a stir every fifteen minutes or so. In the picture above you see how the liquid begins to thicken from the breakdown of the onions and peas. Once the two hours are up, remove the bone from the pot and place it on a plate. Carefully, so that you don't burn yourself, remove the meat from the bone. Throw the meat back into the pot and discard the bone.

I took off the meat from the bone and then I was fascinated to look at the broken up tendons and the spongy part of the joint. Those holes must be where the blood vessels where situated. The ridges on the bone were created by the machine that gave the ham its spiral cut. I felt bad for the piggy, I really did. I am a horrible carnivore.
Add the turnips and cook for 15 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for another 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes more. While the vegetables are cooking you will want to make the dumplings: Mix the flour with the baking powder and add the butter. With a fork break up the butter while incorporating it into the flour. Add water, about a tablespoon at a time, and keep mixing with the fork until you have a batter that is soft and moist.

With the aid of a tablespoon drop the batter into the pot as shown in the picture above. Allow the dumplings to cook until they are nice and plump, about 10 minutes.

Dumplings nice and plump!
That is it! The soup is done. Ladle it into bowls and serve it immediately. It tastes best if eaten right away. It has an absolutely FANTASTIC flavor. If you can't eat the soup right away, remove the dumplings from the broth and store them covered. When ready to eat, place them back in the soup and warm while stirring.
Here's an empty soup bowl looking rather sad. Better fill it up. Oh, that interminable waiting!
The finished soup, warm and delicious!

Someone who shall remain nameless, made sure both dogs, Linus and Kelly, had their portion of soup!
January 2 and time to go. Sad to be leaving but looking forward to going home. Below is a picture of Linus, my sweet bichon frise waiting to go home. We had packed our things, including the two dog beds, on top of which Linus decided to climb. I guess he was trying to say: "please don't forget these, they are way too comfortable!" You're the man Linus!