Chai-Spiced Carrot Cake with Dates and Pistachios (And Happy RD Day!)

Food🍰 Travel✈️, Health and Wellness, Health💪Wellness, Uncategorized

Happy Registered Dietitian day!

It’s wonderful, albeit a bit surprising, that this healthcare profession gets a day of celebration. But rightfully so. Our contributions to the healthcare field have taken us into research, medicine, education, public health, leadership, politics, counseling, and beyond. We have the potential to reach and impact every single human being on this planet because food is at the base of existence and integral to the physical, mental, emotional, economic, and social wellbeing of life.

And because, well…. everyone has to eat.

But, being chronically amidst the pandemonium of food politics and the ever-changing information in nutrition and healthcare, I sometimes want to take a step back and just remember the first reason I even wanted to pursue this field.

So in this post, I’m celebrating food.

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Food is absolutely something to be celebrated. Eating is essential to life, we all know this. But I think the celebratory nature of food has been convoluted to fit into the notions of beauty, health, capitalism, contrition/guilt, etc, etc…

Quite simply, eating nurtures the body and the soul. We eat because we enjoy the tastes and textures of food on our tongues. We eat for the comfortable satisfaction that a delicious meal brings. We are reminded of happy memories and eat for the rose-tinted nostalgia.  Food is a representation of languages, cultures, and regions. Food is symbolic in religion. Food is a solace through hardships in life.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

Today, I’m celebrating food through my culture.

As a Pakistani American who loves bringing these two cultures together, I bring to the table a very Euro-American dessert, carrot cake, with South Asian nuances.

This carrot cake has been desified*  by adding some brewed masala (spiced) chai to the cake batter. The word “chai” means tea in Hindi/Urdu. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, it is a strong brew of tea with spices, milk, and sweetener. You’ll find that these households often drink it several times a day. 
I also made a lovely date syrup to add the rich flavor of dates to this cake. Dates are one of the primary crops in many South Asian countries and an integral culinary component by default.

The pièce de résistance in this recipe is the garnish of pistachios, instead of almonds, walnuts, and/or pecans, which are more standard additions to carrot cake. Pistachios are also cultivated in and exported from South Asia.

So yes. These three ingredients are very desi indeed: Chai. Khajoor. Pista.

*Desified- to develop characteristics of South Asian communities like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

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My suggestions:
I used black tea leaves, of course. And for the spices, I added whole cardamom pods and a few cinnamon sticks (but this is optional since I also add cardamom and cinnamon powders to my cake batter as well). Other spices normally added to chai include star anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, black peppercorns, etc  but I only had cardamom and cinnamon at the time.

I recommend brewing the tea for strength. Mine was super strong and yet, the taste was subtle and very much complementary to the rest of the flavors of standard carrot cake.

For my date syrup, I boiled 2/3 cup of pitted dates over medium  heat with just enough water to cover the dates (like 1/4 to 1/2 cup water). I recommend cooling the syrup off and then blending it in a food processor or blender until smooth. Otherwise, the fibrous parts of the dates add a grainy texture to what otherwise should be a moist and soft cake. Boiling the dates and then blending them results in a gorgeous, caramel-like syrup that cannot be attained by simply blending alone (it’s all in the caramelization process between heat and sugar).

DO NOT abstain from adding the coconut to the cake batter. Be generous with it! Unless, of course, you despise coconut.

Okay, okay. Enough talk. Here’s the recipe!

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Chai-Spiced Carrot Cake with Dates and Pistachios

(First, brew the tea and allow it to steep so that it can become stronger. Then proceed with the rest of the cake.)

Brewed Chai
1/2 cup of water
2 tbsp black tea (or two black tea bags)
A few whole green cardamom pods (optional)
2 large cinnamon sticks (optional)
(Other spices such as star anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, black peppercorns are also optional)

Bring water to a boil, add black tea, cardamom pods, and cinnamon, reduce heat to medium/low and allow to steep for a few minutes for the flavors to infuse. Strain the mixture and put the mixture aside to cool and to be used later in the cake.

Carrot Cake Batter
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable/canola oil
2 cups carrots, grated
2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup pitted dates
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

Boil 2/3 cup pitted dates over medium heat with just enough water to cover the dates. Cool the syrup off and then blend in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F. Place the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom powder, cinnamon powder, salt) in a bowl and mix together. 

In a separate bowl, place the eggs, granulated sugar, oil, (cooled) date syrup, and the (cooled) brewed tea and mix together until emulsified. 

Pour this mixture over a large bowl of grated carrots and shredded coconut. Fold in the flour, a little at a time. 

Transfer the cake batter to a greased, baking pan. Place in the over and bake for 40 minutes. Allow cake to completely cool before adding cream cheese frosting. 

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Blend ingredients together until smooth, fluff-like texture attained. Apply to cake when completely cooled. 
Garnish cake with pistachios (lots of ’em).

Enjoy!

-Amna ❤

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Parce Que, Je Suis une Blogueuse de Nutrition

Food🍰 Travel✈️
An update (and the inspiration for the title of this blog post) is that in September of 2014, I had the good fortune to shadow a prominent nutritionist in Paris, France. Charlotte Debeugny, is a board-certified nutritionist and a published author and blogger with the website “Nutrition in Paris”, where she advices on the latest research findings related to health, nutrition, and wellness while also posting her musings on current foodie trends and diets (website found here). Charlotte studied Nutrition at the British College of Nutrition and Health and graduated in 2011 and now lives and practices in France.
I had actually come upon her blog while researching nutrition and dietetic programs in Paris, France (don’t ask) and was greatly impressed by her blog posts, research findings, and her publications (she most recently co-wrote and published ‘Le Régime 5/2 à la Française’, her book on intermittent fasting). I decided to send her an email, informing her that I would be in Paris for a short time period and if she would be interested in allowing me to shadow her during that time. I did not expect an answer from such an eminent authority on nutrition and diet in France and in the UK so I was shocked and pleasantly surprised, as you may expect, that she responded right away and was more than willing to allow me to observe and shadow her in a private practice/consulting-based setting.
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(Guess I’ll include some pictures, to keep your attention throughout this entire post 😉 )
So finally, that Tuesday morning of September 2nd arrived (I had landed in Paris the previous day). I took the address that Charlotte gave me for the clinic location, found the nearest metro, and navigated myself over to the 17ème arrondissement of Paris. I found the clinic, was buzzed in and guided into the building by the secretary, and then to Charlotte’s office. Charlotte, a tall, stunning lady with a striking demeanor, was also very kind and sweet and made me feel right at home. We quickly jumped into conversation, before her first client of the day came in, and talked about anything and everything related to nutrition and dietetics: the dietitian’s role in medicine, research and study findings related to new food and health trends, disease prevention, the ‘French Diet’, so on and so forth.
For her practice, Charlotte works closely with doctors and other health professionals and provides individualized support and advice for her patients (or in this case, clients) , which I was able to witness firsthand. Sitting in on her consultations was actually one of my first ever real-life experiences in the field of nutrition and dietetics! Charlotte was patient, personable, highly knowledgeable, and thorough in her advising. Her clients (mostly British and a few French) were also friendly, eager for education and advice, and had no problem with me being there, sitting in on the consultations. In fact, they would even ask me for my advice and opinion over many issues!
I gained so much insight from this experience; instead of simply reading about the role and job of a dietitian or watching videos, I was able to observe firsthand for myself that the role of the dietitian most essentially functions as an Educator, Supporter, and Guider; with all of the information out there regarding health and nutrition, the dietitian acts as the ‘navigator’ in processing the right/necessary information and translating it to the layman and guiding their patient/client towards the right direction, suitable for the individual’s lifestyle and physiology. And of course, the key role of a dietitian in the field of medicine is prevention (whereas a physician’s role would be to treat the ailment); by teaching and providing the tools for the patient to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle adjustments to prevent illnesses before they begin.
A very necessary role in the field of medicine, indeed.
I learned that a lot of “behind the scenes” work goes into the process, a lot of research and paperwork before and after the consultations and follow-ups on the client (for example, Charlotte keeps track of her client’s daily intake via Nutrilog and MyFitnessPal). It’s very important for the dietetics practitioner to stay updated on new health and nutrition information, to attend conferences and workshops, network with health professionals, play an active role in social media (yet another reason for my blog), and continue to volunteer as much as possible in the community.
So this is just a tiny synopsis of my experience working with Charlotte. On my last day there, I interviewed Charlotte for my blog (which shall be posted soon!), where we discussed her book (and her second one which will be coming out soon), her own experience with Intermittent fasting, new trends in the food and health industry, and much more.
I will also be doing a post regarding the French Diet (yes, that is a thing). After having lived and studied there in the past, I have gathered a few assertions regarding the French lifestyle and eating habits that we (especially Americans) can learn from.
Sooo, be on the lookout for both of these blog posts soon. Now, since I kept your attention for so long, I will leave you with some more pictures of my stay in Paris (plus, I need to empty out pictures from my overly-stuffed iPad…). Enjoy!
The Louvre, morning and night:
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Attending Friday prayers at the Grande Mosquée de Paris:
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 Many a coffee break:
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A day well spent at the Musée d’Orsay:
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Landmarks (Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and Petit Palais):
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Exploring the Musée Jacquemart-André:
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Dreamy scenes of Paris:
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Found a late-night Farmer’s Market!
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Notice that pictures (or a discussion) of food are missing? Very observant 🙂
Well, we’ll just leave all of that for another post, shall we??
{Edited by Amna from 2018: I regret to inform you all that a Paris food post never happened…. maybe if I hopefully end up in Paris again someday!}
 -Amna ❤