Tu B’Shvat: Nature is calling

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer

Tu B’Shvat, or “The New Year of the Trees”, begins this year at sunset on February 10.  This joyous celebration has developed into an ecological day of sorts, reminding us of our connection to the earth. The Jews are considered caretakers of the environment; as such, traditions include donating money to plant trees in Israel or planting trees in one’s local area, essentially “giving back” to the earth. In many ways, this observance bears a striking resemblance to the United States’ celebration of Arbor Day. 

On Tu B’shevat, meals often include foods from shiv’at ha’minim, or the seven species specific to the Land of Israel. Among these are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates. Some families celebrate by enjoying a vegetarian/vegan, good for the environment as well as providing a gateway opportunity to introduce new forms of healthy produce and grains. In California, almond trees are in full bloom at this time of year, and almond-rich recipes make a special appearance at many festival meals. 

If you and your family have been seeking ways to eat healthier this year, TuB’Shvat is an ideal time to embark upon this journey. Celebrate the earth as you enjoy its bounty, full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants! You might consider trying out the following recipe ~

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Seven Species Muffins

  • ¾ cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup dried figs
  • ½ cup dates
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • ¼ cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup light olive oil
  • ½ cup white granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup barley flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Cover the raisins with water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, turn off heat and allow raisins to plump up in the water for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove and discard any stems on figs; chop dates and figs. Set aside.

Using a food processor, blend together the dates, figs, almond milk, applesauce, pomegranate juice, and cinnamon until very smooth, similar to the texture of apple butter. Set mixture aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, light olive oil, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a “well” in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour blended mixture into the well, and add egg mixture to the bowl. Fold the dry mixture into the wet ingredients until the dry ingredients are just moistened and become a lumpy batter. Gently fold plumped raisins and chopped walnuts into the muffin batter.

Spray small amount of nonstick cooking spray into the bottom of each muffin tin, or use paper muffin cup liners. Divide batter equally into muffin cups, filling each cup to the top and mounding the surface slightly. 

Mix 2 Tbsp. sugar and ¼ tsp. cinnamon in a small bowl using a fork. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of cinnamon-sugar evenly across the surface of each muffin.

Place muffins in the oven and immediately turn heat down to 375 degrees. Bake 23-27 minutes until the tops of the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin; continue cooling on a rack. Serve warm.

If your culinary curiosity is piqued on this holiday, create a new tradition in your family by preparing a vegetarian meal once a week, or once a month. Reflect on what the earth has given you, and vow to remain both eco-friendly and heart-healthy!