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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Ask Aunt Nettie

We're delighted to share our Aunt Nettie with you. She's agreed to answer any questions you might ask about food, its preparation, and even clean-up tips. But we have to prepare you. She just might want to come right over to your house and help you fix dinner.

To send any questions to Ask Aunt Nettie an/or get her cooking advice, .

Editor's Note: Instead of Aunt Nettie answering individual questions, she has decided to address a number of requests from people who want to save money on the food budget and still enjoy healthy dining. This is one of a series of money-saving tips and recipes designed to stretch those slim dollars.

As an example of Aunt Nettie's impressive, penny-pinching ability to save, she still has some depression glass dishes and bowls in the cupboard--they're the real thing and she still treasures them.

In future issues of Vegetarians in Paradise, Aunt Nettie and her niece Zel will offer more money-saving recipes for the most extreme skinflints along with suggestions to help bargain-hunter foodies seek out cheap fare that still brings good cheer to the table.


Seventieth in a series of articles


Howdy there Darlin's,

I kin see the weather's a'changin' some, but we's still feelin them mighty hot an' sticky summer days a-comin' one after 'nother an makin' me think 'bout past times-- I mean a fur way back in history when folks was travelin' across them hot desert sands in Egypt by camel caravans. Whew! them were mighty hot days, too, an' they didn't have no air conditionin' or eeee-lectric fans like we do today. We's luckier today in many ways.

I got ta thinkin' 'bout what those folks mighta been eatin' along the way. They would have ta carry foods that wouldn't spoil in that awful heat and foods that could give 'em 'nuff energy ta keep 'em goin' till they settled down ta camp fer the night at somethin' they called oasis.

Why, there weren't no kitchens fer choppin' an' slicin' up a nice cool summer salad. There was just desert sand, an' a mighty hot desert it surely was. Well, just thinkin' 'bout the foods that grow natural in them desert countries I guessed they had a purty good supply o' date trees and walnut trees. So that makes a mighty fine combination already.

Then thinkin' a-way back in history, I remembered readin' they also had some mighty nice spices from other camel caravans that would travel all the way ta China and bring back such spices like folks had never seen before.

So I collected all them good fixin's in my kitchen an' used my very modern stove ta mix up some deeeelicious sweet date treats I'm callin' Caravan Confections.

Now in them way back old days, they woulda soaked them dates in water an' woulda pounded them spices in a mortar an' pestle before mixin' 'em together. They might-a used bread 'cause there weren't no rolled oats in them parts, an' I knows they didn't have chocolate in Egypt in them days neither. 'Stead o' puttin' 'em in the oven ta bake, they probly woulda baked 'em in the sun fer a day or two. But, these days we kin git ever'thing from ever'where. Guess you could say this sweet treat has ancient roots and modern leaves.

I surely hopes you enjoy these darlin' l'il ole sweets.

Yer ever lovin' Aunt Nettie

You'll need an inexpensive, hand-crank nut mill to coarsely grind the walnuts and a 10-inch (25 cm) skillet in which to combine the ingredients. Prepare these delicious treats two or three days in advance and allow the confections to "cure."

Caravan Confections


Yield: about 30 to 35 confections

    2 cups (240 ml) pitted dates, snipped in half
    6 tablespoons water

    1/2 cup (120 ml) plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
    2 tablespoons cocoa powder
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

    1/3 cup (80 ml) coarsely ground walnuts
    1/4 cup (60 ml) toasted sesame seeds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (Gas Mark 4) and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Lightly oil the parchment and set it aside.
  2. Put the dates and water in a 10-inch (25 cm) skillet over medium-low heat. Use a potato masher to mash the dates into a thick puree. If the dates are very dry, add 1 or more tablespoons of water if needed.
  3. Turn off the heat and transfer the dates to a large bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool.
  4. Add the rolled oats, cocoa, cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom and knead the mixture with your hands until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  5. Spoon the date dough onto the oiled parchment and use your fingers to spread the mixture into an 8-inch (20 m) square.
  6. Sprinkle half with the walnuts and the other half with sesame seeds. Press them into the surface and bake for 18 to 20 minutes. When cool cut into 1 1/2-inch (3.8 cm) squares and serve. Covered, the leftovers will keep for about a week at room temperature. For longer storage, refrigerate.

If You Haven't Met Aunt Nettie. . .

Our Aunt Nettie has a head like a hard disk. It's filled with gigabytes of information about food and cooking. And she's just itchin' to share her learnin' with city folk who live in mortal fear of the stovetop.

Aunt Nettie grew up on the farm. She did not eat out of a can or reach into the freezer. There was no microwave to pop her food into. Everything she made was from scratch. All the food she ate was natural, without pesticides. It was grown right there on the family farm, and she had to cook to survive. At eighty-three years young she still leaps and bounds around the kitchen and can shake, rattle, and roll those pots and pans with the best of them.

Nowadays, Aunt Nettie just shakes her head and complains, "Nobody cooks anymore. They have no idea about puttin' a meal together." She's on a mission. She wants to help those younguns eat better so they can grow up healthy like her own eight kids.

Click here for past Ask Aunt Nettie Columns

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