Desperately Shirking Sugar: Evaluating Raw Coconut Nectar

Which sweetener is best for tea?The ongoing Mid-Atlantic power outage got me thinking about what I would miss most during a blackout. Air conditioning, hot showers, refrigeration, Internet access, gasoline, and use of my cell phone would be at the top of my list. Other, smaller deprivations would include working light bulbs, use of my bang-straightening wand (my head is one giant cowlick), and my daily tall glass of cold tea, lemon and ice.

Low Glycemic Sweetener labelAsk any Texan, and they’ll tell you that the key to a good glass of tea is the perfect level of sweetness, but many people these days eschew traditional white table sugar. While waiting for a prescription to be filled at People’s Rx this week, I browsed their grocery section. (I’ve only just recently discovered this holistic, friendly and funky convenience store/compounding pharmacy/school of nutrition.) Because the space is quite small, there’s room for only one brand of each product — one olive oil, one vinegar, etc. I got the feeling that I was picking through a carefully curated selection. Janet, a wellness consultant, wandered over and asked if she could be of assistance, so I asked her about coconut vinegar. She seemed much more excited about coconut nectar, with its low glycemic index, so I bought a bottle thinking it might be a more healthful way to concoct my precious iced tea.

The following morning, I tried it on hot oatmeal instead of my usual maple syrup.
It was delicious! Although I prefer the flavor of maple with cereal, Continue reading

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What About Meat? The overdue chorizo experiment.

Let's taste test the year old package of chorizos against the brand new packageIn celebration of Meat Week on National Public Radio (click here, here, here, here, and here to hear each broadcast; also, check out their food blog The Salt here), I took the opportunity to exhume and storage-test the package of Quijote Chorizos CaserosA spicy dried cured Spanish pork sausage I had stashed in my pantry one year ago. I remember flinching when I first laid eyes on the dark red tubes of pork flesh dangling from a standee near the cheese section of Austin’s Central Market. The existence of meat that defies putrefaction when stored at room temperature has always been suspect in my mind; like boarding my first airplane unconvinced of the principles of aerodynamics, purchasing and ingesting unrefrigerated meat seemed like a giant leap of faith. I considered whether I should give this a try for the sake of long-term food storage research.Because I’m not a fan of canned meat — not even tuna — I thought this might be the only way to get a solid hit of umami should I be left without access to fresh meat.

Additionally, chorizos have a special place in my heart. My Italian grandmother used to fry what she called “chooditoos” with onions and green peppers. I adored my curvaceous, huggy-kissy grandma. When she wasn’t standing by the stove in her house-dress frying fresh donuts in bacon fat, she was crocheting lace for my pillowcases, slipping me cigarettes, and rubbing paregoric into my gums. Many years later, while on vacation in Barcelona,

Continue reading

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Are You My Mummy Food? Nina’s granola is just as good.

A bowl of oatmeal topped with Nina's granola, raw milk and maple syrupI came of age in a geographically isolated and bookstore-free town, long before cable TV and the health food revolution. My family’s 19″ Zenith received three channels (sometimes four, depending on atmospheric conditions), two of which were French-Canadian and therefore undecipherable to us hicks on the Yankee side of the border. Luckily, the one channel broadcasting in English was NBC, purveyors of the ganglia-warping H.R. Pufnstuf as well as Star Trek, The Jetsons, and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Further compounding this assault, every school night at 6 PM, The Huntley-Brinkley Report spat out Vietnam War statistics like sports scores: Us: 72 killed vs. Them: 133 killed. Adding to this contradictory stew of high and low absurdity, my mother chose to supplement her media intake with a weekly dose of the National Enquirer. It was there she read about Edgar Cayce, a trance-prone psychic who dispensed details of ancient civilizations, the history of Atlantis, dream-sourced health advice and — like all good marketing machines, recipes.

Through her underground network of budding New Age housewives, my mother somehow got her hands on one of Cayce’s books. She began regularly baking one recipe in particular, a toasted nut and seed concoction she erroneously referred to as “mummy food”I recently looked up the origin of this recipe and found that “mummy food” was indeed an Edgar Cayce speciality, but his version was a mixture of Assyrian figs, corn meal and milk meant to balance the body's pH.. I suspect she appropriated the word to add an air of mystery to her new wonder-food for her picky-eater children. Not that she Continue reading

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Almond Butter Taste Test: It’s my party and I’ll salt if I want to.

Spirited debate at the testing bar

“Lord, grant me the wisdom to know when to pick my tomatoes,
the courage to flip my omelets like Julia Child,
and the serenity to accept that not all foods taste as good as they should.”


Even though I repeat this foodie prayer often, I still find myself challenged in the serenity department. Instead of accepting the Zen of cooking, I get hung up on worldly concerns: Why doesn’t fresh coconut taste as coconutty as a Mounds bar? Why doesn’t my cup of coffee taste as delicious as the freshly ground beans smell? And why doesn’t almond butter taste anything like almond extract?

Coordinated plates and taste test forms.

Custom labels coordinate with questionaires

Clinging to the hope that perhaps I simply hadn’t found the right brand, I decided to hold a blind taste test party. Since this was my first official Gourmet Survivalist event, I went a bit overboard. I purchased six different brands of almond butter, made two batches myself, baked three different almond butter desserts, and designed image-coordinated questionnaires, Continue reading

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Wake Up, Ralph!: Almond and Almond Butter Nutrition.

I like to think of the almond as Ralph Fiennes

I like to think of the almond as Ralph Fiennes: a meaty, handsome nugget filled with talent, goodness, intelligence, and raw animal (vegetable?) magnetism. Ralph, however, is very sleepy. He can hardly lift his head off the pillow. Sure, I could ravage him right now; he’d certainly be tasty. But why not dunk him in a bath of cool water to wake him up, so I can experience him at peak goodness? Read on to find out why.

Are almonds good for me?

Yes. Fresh almonds and almond butter are high in protein, vitamin E, calcium, and a plethora of LDL-fighting monounsaturated fatty acids, making them good for the heart and combating arthritis. You can read the USDA nutritional charts for almonds here and for almond butter here.

What is almond butter made of?

Only two ingredients are needed to make delicious almond butter: almonds and salt. Many pre-processed brands of almond butters, however, contain additional oils. Some of these, such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, aren’t so good for you, but others, like flaxseed, can actually boost the content of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids. Read the label and don’t buy anything that contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats or oils.

Is raw almond butter more healthful than roasted?

A University of California study states that raw almonds are difficult for the human body to process and that a “significant portion” of available nutrients are never fully digested. Roasting almonds makes them slightly more digestible. However, the high temperatures required for roasting compromises flavor and destroys Vitamin E and other valuable nutrients.

Soaking almonds is the best way to capture their full range of nutrients. To my knowledge, there are no commercial brands of soaked almond butters available; it must be made Continue reading

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Almonds and Almond Butter Storage: the nitty gritty.

Bowls of almond butters and almonds

This information applies to most other nut butters. A lot of this is common sense, but I found a few surprises, (such as raw almonds keep longer than roasted ).


Start with the freshest organic raw almonds you can find.

Freshness: Buy from a store with a high turnover rate. Taste one in the store for freshness and flavor. Some health food stores stock prepackaged almonds in a refrigerator (e.g. The Natural Grocer in Austin sells raw Spanish almonds with a “Packed-on date”). You can also buy them direct from a grower. Here’s where I buy mine. If you’re buying California almonds, keep in mind that they’re harvested in August, September and October. Make sure to ask for the latest harvest.

Raw: Don’t buy roasted almonds unless you want to eat them right away. The high temperatures used in roasting changes the cellular structure of the almond.

Organic: Buying organic assures you that the nut was grown without pesticides and that other chemicals weren’t used to sterilize the nuts. Continue reading

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Almond intrigue. They could tell me, but then they’d have to kill me.

The tight-lipped food scientist

A few months ago, I cleaned out my very disorganized and extremely non-disaster-ready pantry to pave the way for a more sensible approach to food storage. Among the giant jars of boba balls and bags of guar gum, I discovered three jars of almond butter, two of them open, but all of them expired. Obviously, I enjoy the purchasing of this sticky brown paste to the actual ingesting of it.

I wondered if almond butter was really a sensible choice for long-term storage, so I did some research on line. Most sites report that a pre-packaged, unopened jar of almond butter can be stored without refrigeration for six to nine months; after that, it won’t go bad, it just won’t taste as good. This information came as a shock. I’ve stored almond butter for years on the shelf; I thought the stuff was more or less indestructible.

So how long do open jars last without refrigeration? After calling a variety of consumer helplines and receiving what sounded like wild guesses ranging from “a few months” to “forever”, Continue reading

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The Gourmet Survivalist won’t be seduced.

The Gourmet Survivalist does not accept advertising money


In case you’ve considered mailing me large manila envelopes stuffed with unmarked bills, you should know: I do not accept payoffs, bribes, sponsorships or foot rubs. This is the only way to maintain neutrality about the products I test and review. If you see an “ad” on this site, I’ve posted it free of charge because I genuinely love the product or service and want others to benefit from it. Continue reading

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But I’d rather eat something fresh, local, organic and unprocessed.

Why store food when I can eat fresh?

“Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.”

                                                                        ~ Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Most nutritionists agree: the most healthful foods are fresh and perishable, quite the opposite of what I consider “pantry food”.  In most cases, “fresh” trumps “organic ” in terms of nutrient availability, and there’s a general consensus that except for certain purposefully aged foods like cheese and wine, foods taste better when they’re fresh. So here’s the Catch-22: how do I store foods that, by definition, shouldn’t be stored?

After doing some reading — I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and Nina Planck’s Real Food – What to Eat and Why I found that the best way around this quandary is to store whole foods. By this, I mean minimally processed foods that are products more of nature than industry.  Unearthing, identifying, and discovering how to store these foods is my personal quest — and this blog’s raison d’être.

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Pantry Essentials: How I choose which foods make the cut.

How I Choose my Pantry Essentials

What makes a food “Gourmet Survivalist Pantry-Worthy?” Each ingredient that ends up on my essential pantry list will be subjected to the following criteria:

1. Brand Taste Testing 

Taste is number one. If I don’t like a food, it will most probably go to waste, no matter what kind of great deal I got when buying it, or how many brain-building, bloat-reducing, age-reversing, vigor-inducing bio-flavonoids and anti-oxidants it contains. I’ve amassed quite a collection of these sensible foods. I keep telling myself that I’ll eat them someday soon, but just like those sun-dresses I buy when on vacation, they’ll probably never see the light of day (or interior of my esophagus). Continue reading

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