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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Have a Healthy Passover

Next weekend is Passover as well as Easter so many of us will be sitting down to large celebratory meals with loved ones.

Unfortunately for Ashkenazi Jews, Passover can be a challenging time of year from a dietary perspective.  I have never been a fan of traditional Eastern European Jewish cuinine (heavy, starchy, meat laden foods), but Passover foods can be even worse.

 I know I'm not the only one to not be the biggest fan of traditional Passover food.  I can name few people (i.e. none) who rank gefilte fish or matzo as one of their favorite treats.  Even if you enjoy a good matzo ball soup, charoset, or potato kugel, you may have experienced what I call "Passover Gut", particularly if you abide by the Passover dietary rules for the full 8 days of the holiday.

Passover Gut is essentially sluggishness and constipation brought on by eating refined flour matzo and all the other dishes where matzo meal hides.  Combine this with the elimination of high fibre whole grains and legumes, and a lot of dishes heavy on eggs and/or fatty meat and it is literally a recipe for digestive disaster.

But it is possible to survive this holiday with your guts intact, and even enjoy yourself in the process.  Here are some ideas for making this a happy, healthy Passover.

* Avoid white flour mazto products.  Whole grain varieties are now readily available.
* Avoid packaged/processed Passover products such as pastas, cereals, cakes, cookies, soups, etc.  They are usually full of refined flour, sugar and trans fats.  In addition, they are super expensive and taste like crap.
* Limit red meat consumption.  Brisket at the sedar is fine, but you don't have to eat the leftovers for lunch for the next 5 days.
* Don't overdo it on the eggs, oil and high fat dairy products.
* Eat lots of fruits and veggies and try to incorporate ground flax (it's okay to eat at Passover) to make sure you are getting enough fibre, and drink lots of water.
* Remain active to keep your system moving and your energy levels up.

Breakfast Ideas:
- My Passover breakfast cereal (see Passover section)
- My Passover Protein bars (see Passovser section)
- Whole grain matzo with almond butter, or other nut/seed butter
- Greek yogurt with ground flax and blueberries
- Smoothie with milk, yogurt, flax and fruit
- Scrambled eggs with spinach and cheese and whole grain matzo
- Matzo brei made with whole grain matzos
- Homemade muffins made from quinoa or coconut flour

Lunch Ideas:
- Whole grain matzo with egg, tuna or salmon salad
- Green salad with grilled chicken and whole wheat matzo
- Tabouli salad made with quinoa
- Vegetable frittata
- Stir-fry or noodle salad made with shiratake or kelp noodles

Dinner Ideas:
- Grilled or baked fish or poultry, rather than red meat
- Roasted or baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.
- Curry or stir-fry with quinoa instead of rice
- Roasted or grilled vegetables
-Quinoa salads with grilled veggies or nuts and dried fruit
- Vegetarian soups
- Matzo balls made from whole wheat matzo meal

Snacks:
- Plain, unsalted nuts (excluding peanuts, which are legumes)
- Yogurt and fruit
- Raw vegetables
- Dried fruit
- Whole grain matzo and cheese
- Hard boiled eggs
- My Passover protein bars


Desserts:
- Fresh fruit
- Fruit compotes (Check out my recipe in Passover section)
- Cheesecake (crustless or make an almond meal crust)
- Flourless chocolate cake
- Cakes, cookies or squares using quinoa flour, almond flour or coconut flour (check out my recipes in Passover section!)
- Meringues
- Macaroons
- Chocolates/truffles
- Chocolate dipped strawberries, or chocolate dipped dried fruit, orange peel, etc.

Handy ingredients/substitutions:
* Wine vinegars or coconut vinegar in place of rice vinegar
* Nut/seed butters instead of peanut butter (try almond, cashew, hazelnut, tahini, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, etc.)
* Plum vinegar in place of soy sauce (gives you that salty/umami flavour)
* Coconut flour, almond flour, hazelnut flour and/or quinoa flour in place of grain flours
* Coconut oil and coconut butter in place of oils and spreads made from soy or canola

If you are vegan, this can be a really tough time of year, but it can be done! For protein, nuts and seeds are your best bet, as well as quinoa and veggies (most foods except fruit contain some protein)


Stay tuned, I'll be posting some new Passover recipes this week...

Friday, March 30, 2012

Vegan Nacho Cheeze Burritos

What did the grocer say to the kid who stole the brick of pepper jack? 

"Hey buddy, that's nacho cheese!"

I know, I know, I'm hilarious!  A little humour to warm up your chilly Friday morning.

Anyways...

These burritos are making some serious yummy lunches for me this week.  You can adapt this recipe with whatever veggies you prefer.  I simply used what I had on hand: a bag of rainbow salad and a massive bunch of kale.

I have fallen in love with Joseph's lavash recently. 

They are whole grain wraps and really what makes them so special is they are soft and sturdy and RECTANGLE.  I'm not the best rapper...I mean wrapper.  I find these babies hold a ton of filling and are still rollable.  This recipe definitely requires a knife and fork to eat, but when I want an eat-out-of-hand wrap meal, Joseph's are a perfect fit.

Nacho Cheeze Burritos

Nacho Cheeze Sauce (Adapted from http://ohsheglows.com/2011/10/13/vegan-pumpkin-mac-n-cheeze-sauce/)
1 tbls Earth Balance (or other non-hydrogenated butter substitute, or butter)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls taco seasoning (recipe below) or chili powder
3/4 cup plain soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 tbls arrowroot starch (or corn starch)
1 400g box frozen cooked butternut squash, thawed (or 1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 340g bag rainbow salad or broccoli slaw
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 large bunch kale, thick stems removed, torn into pieces
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup salsa
Cayenne pepper or chopped jalapeno pepper, to taste (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together milk and starch until smooth.  Melt Earth Balance in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and seasoning and stir, cooking for about 30 seconds.  Add milk and whisk until mixture begins to thicken.  Whisk in squash.  Turn off heat.

In a large frying pan or skillet saute veggies and beans in vinegar over medium heat until they have softened and most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Add salsa and pepper, if using.  Pour cheeze sauce into skillet and stir.  Divide filling into whole grain tortillas or lavash and wrap. 

Makes about 4 large burritos, or - if you have an appetite like mine - 2 honkin' burritos stuffed to the max. plus extra filling spooned over the top.


Yes, this whole recipe makes just 2 lunches that size for me.  How do I eat so much?  Don't ask.  Like really, don't ask.  Everyone else does and I get tired of being asked.  Guess I'm just a very hungry girl :)

Taco Seasoning

2 tbls chili powder
2 tbls paprika
2 tbls ground cumin
1 tbls oregano
1 tbls onion powder
1 tbls garlic powder
1 tbls salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Life Stages

PRESCHOOL
The preschool stage is not an easy one in this house.

Big A challenged us from the time she was about 18 months old, until she turned 5 last year, when things finally started to improve.  And that's certainly not to say that things are now easy or perfect!

Big A is still prone to erupting into tears over every little bump and bruise (like as minor as a breeze blowing a hair on her arm kind-of-thing!), and I still struggle to get her to respect my authority.  She is definitely much less defiant, moody and emotional than she used to be, but when she is happy and having fun she often ignores me, which is incredibly irritating.  For example, she'll come into the bathroom after I take a shower and slap me on the butt and laugh.  Then she'll keep doing it, and when I ask her to stop, she will ignore me and keep doing it over and over until I lose my temper.  A minor thing, but she does annoying stuff like this to me all the time.  More importantly, she will ignore me when I tell her to stop doing something that involves safety risks. Like when I pick the girls up from daycare and I'm trying to get them ready to go home, Big A will start pushing Little A's stroller up and down the hallway, getting into other parents' and kids' way and almost knocking people over.  That kind of thing really makes me want to lose it.

The other challenge we have with Big A is she is a major dawdler.  Getting her to accomplish any task in a timely manner is virtually impossible.  But admittedly, Adam and I are not patient people and perhaps a little OCD about being efficient and on time, so perhaps our expectations are too high for a 5 year old.

All this aside, Big A is a great kid that Adam and I are very proud of.  She is self-confident and free-spirited: she continues to dress however she wants and do whatever she wants without concern about what others think, and I love this about her.  Some days she'll wake up and put 6 ponytails in her hair, other days she'll insist I paint hearts and butterflies on her face for no reason.  She is always one of the most enthusiastic participants in her kindergarten and daycare classes during concerts and performances.  She is completely non-judgemental.  I have NEVER heard her describe herself or another child in terms of appearance or labels.  In fact, I don't think I've ever even heard her say anything negative about anyone.  Period.

Unfortunately, it is now Little A who has hit a challenging developmental stage.  She turns 3 next month, but like Big A, it looks as if the terrible 2s are going to extend well beyond age 2.

Perhaps some if it is due to her dislike of daycare, but she is doing better there.  She doesn't pitch fits about going as often lately, and she even resists coming home some days because she is having so much fun.  She finally concedes that some of the kids are her friends, and the teachers report that she is doing great.

Some of it may be due to her refusal to nap.  The bear trick worked for a few weeks, but eventually, like most parental tricks, stopped being effective.  No matter how tired she is, and no matter what the consequence of not napping (i.e. Pink bear is not allowed to come to daycare the next day), this child WILL NOT NAP.  Not even in the car or stroller.  So by late afternoon, this child is often DELERIOUS, like seriously losing it.

The rest of it is probably just this yucky developmental stage.  None of it is our parenting, of course.

When Little A doesn't get something she wants, dramatic, complete hysteria ensues.  Really I am not exaggerating.  This kid is just one extreme or the other.  When happy she is the most affectionate, adorable, joyful, charming child.  When unhappy...well, just imagine complete opposite end of the spectrum!  And really I am not exaggerating.  In addition, Dr. Jekyll/Mrs. Hyde continues to refuse to potty train, something we have yet to have the emotional energy to really tackle.

Yesterday I agreed to let both girls ride their bikes to daycare in the morning.  Little A has been getting very upset when Big A goes ahead - she is inevitably much faster on her 2-wheeler+training wheels than Little A on her balance bike - so I made her promise to let Big A go ahead without getting upset about it (of course I realize now that making a not-quite 3 year old promise something is silly).  Nevertheless, the minute Big A pulled ahead, Little A erupted into tears and carried on the entire way to the school.  She was so out-of-control when we got inside, that one of her daycare teachers insisted on taking over and having me leave so they could calm her down.  It was so bad, one of the dads asked me later if everything was okay because the situation looked "intense".

That's one word for it!

Last night was almost as bad.  After dinner, Little A pushed herself away from the table, got down from her chair, and threw her bib on the floor.  Adam told her to pick it up and she refused and told him to pick it up.  He told her to pick it up before he counted to 5 or go to her room.  She refused.  She went to her room and screamed.  Adam went up 3 times and asked her if she was ready to pick it up and each time she refused.  Finally, I went up and she decided she was ready.  I brought her down and she picked it up, howling and crying the whole time.  Adam and I clapped our hands and told her we were proud of her, but I think at that point ALL of us were emotionally exhausted.  The night ended with yet another tantrum when she asked to watch television after her bath and we told her no, that it was bedtime.  Man, what a day!
I keep reminding myself (and Adam) not to make judgements about her character, that this is most likely just a stage...and hopefully one that will end sooner rather than later. 

Given that Little A is our last child, I am a bit saddened that she is making it so tough to enjoy this stage.  Her adorable, squishy, cuddliness is not going to last much longer.  Hopefully I can take some of the lessons I learned when going through these issues with Big A, to cope better with the challenges and help Little A come through the other side a bit faster...or at least I can reassure myself that it IS a stage and somehow we WILL get through it alive!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Choco Crispy Squares

What is it about cereal squares that kids love so much?

That is not a rhetorical question.  I never ate them as a kid. 

But my kids adore them.

Problem is, they are either full of junk (sugar, sugar and more sugar) or made with nut butters, which means they can't go to school or daycare or virtually any public space for kids.

My solution was to come up with these babies.  Healthy AND yummy is always the best outcome.  No compromise required.  In fact, these treats are gluten free, nut free and vegan, so they can accomodate most dietary restrictions.

Choco Crispy Squares

375g pitted dates
2 cups water
1/4 cup xylitol (or other granular sweetener: coconut sugar, Splenda, stevia, etc.)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbls coconut oil
340g (about 10 cups) brown rice crisp cereal

Place dates in a large pot over medium heat with 1 cup of water.  Simmer until dates are soft.  Add remaining cup of water and puree in pot with immersion blender, or let cool and then transfer to food processor and puree mixture and return it to pot when done.

Whisk in xylitol, cocoa powder, vanilla and oil.  Once oil is melted and mixture is well combined, remove pot from heat.  Stir in cereal.  Line 2 8x8 square pans with wax paper.   Divide mixture evenly between pans and press down well into each pan.  Place in the fridge until firm.  Cut into squares.  Keep in an airtight container and refridgerate.  Makes 32 squares.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Alphabet Soup

I suppose the bright side of the drastic dip in temperature this week is that it makes this recipe more appropriate to make. 

It was inspired by Big A's insistance that because of her wiggly top front tooth, she must eat only very soft foods.  I am very dismayed that she is just as distraught over this tooth, as her two bottom ones, which have already fallen out.  Since this is only tooth #3 that she is losing, we are going to have to go through this drama many more times over before she has all her adult teeth in.  Sigh!  I am going to have to remind her again that she will never be able to get her ears pierced until she can deal with pain a bit better.  Perhaps I'm being insensitive...it's possible that it's really painful, I just don't remember being distressed about losing my teeth as a kid, and certainly most of  Big A's friends seem fine with it too.

Anyways, this is a healthy, kid-friendly, wiggly-tooth friendly recipe that makes a great lunch or dinner for the little ones. 

I've kept it very simple for little taste buds, but you can always jazz it up with extra herbs, spices and/or veggies of your choosing.

I used Artesian Acres organic kamut alphabet pasta, but any whole grain pasta will do.  If you haven't tried this kamut pasta, you definitely should (pictured below is their linquine). 

We eat it frequently in our home and it's awesome.  This brand is also Canadian.  It's available across the country in health food stores, and even Loblaws.

This version of the soup is vegan, but you could use diced up chicken breasts and chicken stock in place of the lentils and vegetable broth if you prefer.

Alphabet Soup

1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup dry red lentils
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
650g bottle passata (strained tomatoes)
1 litre or more vegetable broth (preferably low sodium)
1/2 cup whole grain alphabet pasta

Saute lentils, veggies and Italian seasoning in oil in a large soup pot set over medium heat.  Add a bit of stock, if necessary to prevent scorching, and cook until veggies start to soften.  Add tomatoes and broth and turn heat down to low.  Simmer until veggies and lentils are soft.  Use immersion blender and puree soup (or transfer some or all to a food processor or blender).  If soup becomes too thick, thin it out with additional broth or water.  Add pasta and cook until tender. 

Tip: Freeze extra in ice cube trays so you can pop out kid-sized portions for a quickie meal.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Goodies

Good morning!  Isn't life wonderful?

If you feel like throwing your coffee at me for being so perky on a Monday morning, don't worry, if I try hard enough, I can find lots to complain about.

My tongue still hurts like CRAZY, which is really pissing me off since my cracker accident happened last Wednesday.  And I can't even elicit much sympathy from Adam who thinks I'm quackers for hurting myself in such an absurb manner.  In my defence, it really hurts to either talk or eat, and since I do so much of both, it's basically hurting all the time!

It's also COLD here in Toronto after weeks of spring and summer like weather, which meant a bit of a battle this morning trying to convince the girls that they had to wear their winter jackets.

Big A discovered that one of her top front teeth is starting to get wiggly, which made her unwilling to eat breakfast and cry all the way to school because she claimed it hurt so much.  Adam and I are convinced she has the lowest pain tolerance of anyone on this planet.  A wiggly tooth can't possibly hurt as much as an injured tongue!

But honestly, such minor annoyances aside, life is good.  In fact, I am so stoked about the fact that I won an awesome gift basket from nutritionist, Marni Wassermanhttp://www.marniwasserman.com/blog, last week!  I never win stuff, and the basket is full of Filsinger's products http://filsingersorganic.com/, which are marvelous.  Local and organically produced, Filsinger's makes all sorts of apple, pear and grape products.  The basket I won contains a huge jug of their apple cider, apple cider vinegar (which you know I cook with like crazy!), apple sauce and pear sauce.  I can't wait to cook and bake with it all!

Since some days...particularly cold Mondays, we require cheering up with small pleasures, I thought I'd share some of my current faves with you.

Scents can dramatically affect mood so I am in love with the J. R. Watkins line of natural cleaning products, particularly the lavender scented all-purpose cleaner http://www.jrwatkins.com/jrwatkins/index.cfm?gclid=CP7f973ehK8CFcHJKgodazHu3Q.  Aromatherapy for house work?  I'm all for it 'cause I hate cleaning!  I need a little comfort and mood brightener when I'm doing menial tasks that I despise!

I also love Grapefruit Mate all natural room deodorizer.

Although I adore cooking with exotic spices, I can't stand food smells lingering about in my home.  Most commercial deodorizers contain pthalates and other toxic, carcinogenic compounds.  This is completely non-toxic and safe.  It's potent, so a little goes a long way, but it definitely clears the air and leaves a light, refreshing citrus smell.

I've mentioned the Live Clean line of hair products before, which I now use regularly.  But I thought I should also mention that they have a baby line, which is awesome.  I use their baby wash and shampoo on the girls.

Big A, who now has very long hair that tends to get extremely tangly and as I mentioned, has an exceptionally low pain tolerance, is often reluctant to let us brush it out and when we do, it can lead to hysteria.  So Adam and I always insist on using Live Clean's detangler for kids, which does a great job of allowing us to drag a brush through her curls with minimal complaints.
Both the baby wash and the detangler smell fabulous and can make wrestling your filthy children into the tub a little more bearable. 

Hey, I know Mondays can suck, so at least try to squeeze as much pleasure from the day where you can by appealing to your senses with some delicious tastes and smells to brighten up the beginning of your week!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Whole Enchilada

I am not vegan.  I am not even vegetarian.  But I try to eat a plant based diet as much as possible.  I like to think of myself as a flexitarian, if I have to give myself a label.  But hey, who needs a label?

Adam?  He prefers meat, or even fish, and flour-based products (i.e. bread and pasta) to beans, tofu and whole grains.  Sigh! He always accuses me of trying to turn him into the gassiest man on the planet because of all the veggies, beans and whole grains I feed him.  Geez, he's so paranoid!  Or...is...he...? 

Anytime you do increase your fibre intake it may take some time for your body to adjust, but it will adjust.  You should also increase your fluid intake.  The health benefits of a high fibre diet are plentiful.  Most North Americans don't get enough.  You should aim for 35 grams of fibre per day.

Anyways...I love creating hearty vegan recipes like this that satisfy even the most carnivorous appetite.  These enchiladas are chock full of veggies and nutrition, but are just as delicious as their meat and cheese filled counterparts.  If your brood won't accept tempeh as a meat alternative, just sub in 1lb of ground chicken or turkey and you are still giving them a healthy, fibre-packed, veggie-filled meal.

I've become obsessed with finely chopping up cabbage in the food processor and mixing it into various dishes.  It usually becomes undetectable in stews, curries, etc., and when kept raw and mixed in to things like tuna or egg salad, it adds a nice crunch.  Personally, I think cabbage is one of the most underrated foods.  It is ridiculously cheap, very versatile and delicious.  Adding it (or other finely chopped or pureed) veggies into things like soup, stew, curry or pasta sauce, is a great way to boost nutrition and lower the calories of your favorite dishes.

This is a large recipe which makes it perfect when cooking for a crowd or wanting a double-duty meal.  The filling can be enchiladas for the first meal, eaten on it's own like chili the next day, or served over rice, etc. You can cut it in half, or you can make the whole recipe and simple freeze the extra filling for another time.

The Whole Enchilada

Whole grain 10 inch tortillas (8-10)
Shredded non dairy cheese (or your favorite reduced-fat cheese)
1 recipe enchilada filling
1 recipe enchilada sauce

Enchilada Filling

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped (easiest in food processor)
1/4 of a green (or purple) cabbage, finely chopped in food processor

3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
350g package organic tempeh, crumbled by hand or pulsed in food processor
2 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 650ml jar passata (strained tomatoes)

Saute onion, cabbage, garlic and spices with oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.  Add in remaining veggies and vinegar and saute until veggies start to soften.  Add tempeh, beans and tomatoes and turn heat down to medium low.  Simmer until veggies are tender and filling is nice and thick.

Enchilada  Sauce

1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls chili powder
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped or cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
Water
Salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce.  Thin out with water until desired consistency is reached.  Season to taste.

To assemble the enchiladas, take a greased oven safe shallow baking dish and spread the bottom with some of the enchilada sauce.  Place desired amount of filling into the tortillas sprinkle each with some cheese, fold in both ends, and then roll up.  Place tortillas side-by-side in baking dish.  Cover the top of the tortillas with more enchilada sauce and sprinkle with more cheese.  Bake in the oven at 400F until cheese melts.  Makes 8-10 enchiladas.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Signs of Positive Change in Ontario Healthcare

As absurd as this sounds, I am not kidding you when I say I am suffering from a very painful cracker injury today.  Yes, a cracker injury.  Yesterday I badly cut my tongue while eating some Ryvita Sunflower Seed & Oat flatbreads.  Nevertheless, I still adore these crackers!

I am probably going to sound like even more of a dolt when I tell you this is not the first time this has happened.  I've actually discovered that if I toast my favorite Stonemill sprouted grains bread, some of the crusts and grains can be sharp enough to cut the inside of my mouth.

But please don't be scared off of eating whole grains, I swear the health benefits outweigh the risks!!  I really do encourage you to try Stonemill products, they're awesome.  Besides, I suspect few people are prone to getting such ridiculous injuries.  Did I ever mention I have twice given myself a black eye with a telephone?  Don't ask...

Anyways, on to better news.  I am pleased about several stories that ran in the Toronto Star yesterday relating to health care in Ontario.

Since both my girls were born via c-section, after their births I was stuck in the hospital for almost 4 days each time.  I say stuck because in both cases it was a completely miserable experience.

After Big A was born, neither Adam nor I had health insurance because he was doing a post-doc and I had just completed a contract job at UofT.  So we didn't demand a private or even semi-private room.  Sharing a small room with 3 other moms and 4 other babies (one had twins) was horrendous.

After Little A was born we both had health insurance so we requested a semi-private room.  This turned out to be a mistake because I soon realized that sharing with even one other mother and baby (and associated family members) is enough to prevent any real rest or sleep from happening.  Just what you need when you've just had major surgery and are trying to care for a newborn!

Add to all this that they overheat hospital rooms terribly (and you know how much I hate heat), and I was one miserable mamma.

The other thing that was distressing was the appallingly disgusting food the hospital served.  I'll never forget one meal I gagged down ate.  It was supposed to be corn, mashed potatoes and chicken.  I say supposed to be because each element on the plate tasted the same: like nothing.  But what really irked me is that because I had had surgery, one condition of being able to leave the hospital was being able to have a bowel movement.  Yet nothing I was served had virtually any fibre in it!  Definitely no Ryvita or Stonemill bread on the menu (perhaps they are concerned about patient injuries from the whole grains?).  So needless to say, nothing was moving through my pipes.  I finally had to get my mom to go down to the hospital lobby and grab me two oatmeal raisin cookies from the Second Cup.  Hardly health food, but they did the trick.

When Little A was born, I simply refused to even look at the food and had Adam and my parents bring in all my food to me.  It just seems so ridiculous that when people are trying to heal, they are served such garbage.  Never mind the awful taste...how about a little nutrition??

So I was thrilled to read this article in the Toronto Star today detailing the efforts of the Scarborough General Hospital to overhaul it's patient food services to focus on fresh, whole, local and seasonal ingredients (http://www.thestar.com/living/food/recipes/article/1149469--scarborough-hospital-plans-to-serve-patients-food-that-s-delicious-local-and-made-from-scratch). I just hope other hospitals can follow suit!!

Also great is the news that Ontario will be getting two birthing centres run by midwives for women with low-risk pregnancies: http://www.thestar.com/living/article/1148858--ontario-to-fund-two-birth-centres-led-by-midwives

Unfortunately, neither of my pregnancies were low risk enough for me to go with a midwife or consider giving birth anywhere but a hospitl, but believe you me, my hospital experiences were so unpleasant, that if I had the option I would have gone with JUST ABOUT ANY alternative.  Heck, giving birth in the back of a cab might have been more enjoyable!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Total Yoga (DVD Review)

It's official: I'm addicted to yoga!

Unfortunately, I am still finding it difficult to make it to the JCC for classes.  Also, Adam has put a kibosh on my Do Yoga With Me habit because our internet service is not set up for that much streaming, so we've been dinged with huge extra fees at the end of the past few months.

I finally decided I needed to find a decent yoga DVD to do at home.  But my reluctance to purchase yoga DVDs was due to two factors.  First, I have had difficulty finding ones I like - I find it weird that the people in the videos never talk, and instead the yoga is narrated by a disembodied voice which I find gives them an emotionless, robotic quality.  Also, I like variety so I didn't want to be stuck doing the same routine every time, nor did I want to spend a fortune buying a gazillion different DVDs.

So I was thrilled when I just happened to find the Total Yoga Box Set on sale for $10!  I had no way of knowing if I'd like it (I was not familiar with the yogis - Ganga White and Tracey Rich who are a husband and wife team that were involved in the development of Flow Yoga), but frankly it was such a good value I decided to give it a try.  And I am very glad I did!

There are 4 routines, which vary in focus, duration and intensity.  I've been doing the two more intense routines, Water and FireTotal Yoga is a nice, intermediate intensity routine but I prefer the sequences in Water and FireTotal Yoga is very heavy on the various sun salutations (B, C, and D series).  Earth also has a lot of sun salutation series but has fewer standing poses than Water and FireWater is perfect when I feel like a quick moderate paced practice.  Not including the additional breathing exercise sequence and relaxation sections, it's about 45 minutes.  Fire is actually quite intense and gets me sweating.  It's about an hour, not including the breathing and relaxation sections.

Like every other yoga video out there, it is narrated by a disembodied voice and the participants say nothing, but these have a less creepy quality than most others I've seen.  In the Earth, Water and Fire videos both Ganga and Tracey are demonstrating the poses, with Ganga doing more advanced options and Tracey doing the more basic variations of each pose.  That man is SCARY FLEXIBLE.  In Fire he puts his leg behind his head at one point and it's truly amazing.  Believe you me I'm not doing that variation yet!  The other two videos are somewhat less advanced, but still solid routines that offer a pleasant variety of options.

Although I would always rather attend a class with a real life instructor and other participants, I'm perfectly happy to pull these out when this is not possible.  I definitely recommend this set if you are looking for yoga DVDs.  I'm not sure how easy it is to find the whole set for $10, but I think it's still worth it if you have to pay a bit more.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Double Chocolate Cookies (Vegan)

Little A is not much of a breakfast eater.  I don't know where that comes from because I don't know of anyone on either Adam's side or mine who doesn't like breakfast.

I often struggle to get her to eat anything before we leave the house, and even when we get to daycare, she rarely will eat what they are serving. 

There is one thing though, that she often asks for in the mornings and will ALWAYS eat: chocolate.  And who can blame her?  So in my desperation to get something in her belly, I have been giving in lately and handing her a chocolate brownie Clif bar for kids, or a Kashi dark chocolate cherry granola bar.  You know, junk food in disguise.  What's worse, is that if I give her this crap, I have to give Big A some too, and she has generally already consumed a massive breakfast.

Well last week the girls finished the Clif bars for kids that we got in Florida (they are still not available in Canada) so I started to think about what sort of chocolate treat I could make for them myself that is a bit healthier.  Little A used to be a huge muffin eater, but hasn't been into them lately so I decided on cookies.  What's wrong with cookies for breakfast?  In fact, what could be better than starting the day with DOUBLE CHOCOLATE cookies?  Hey, if I can make Little A leave for daycare with a smile on her face, I'm all for it.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Actually, I prefer my oatmeal to anything else, but I suspect not everyone would agree with me.  I do think you will ALL agree that these are delicious, regardless of what time a day you eat them!  Also, because they are vegan, the raw dough is perfectly safe to consume.  So if you are experiencing particularly desperate times and require a bowl of raw cookie dough to eat, this might be what you're looking for. 

This was also my first time experimenting with coconut sugar.  I found a great price on Madhava Organic brand. 

It is less processed than white sugar and has some nutritional value, but just keep in mind it is still a concentrated source of calories and like all sweeteners, should be used in moderation.  I might try using xylitol for these next time since my main concern with the girls is their teeth and xylitol does not promote tooth decay.

Double Chocolate Cookies

4 tbls coconut oil, softened
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax + 6 tbls hot water, whisk with fork until consistency of egg whites)
1/2 cup coconut sugar (or other sweetener)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I believe President's Choice semi-sweet chips are vegan)

In a large bowl, whisk together wet ingredients until smooth.  Add dry ingredients and chips and stir until dough comes together.   Form into small balls and place on baking sheet.  Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.  Let cool completely before transferring to wire rack.  Makes 22 cookies.

Yeah yeah, just add feeding my kids cookies for breakfast to my long list of parental sins!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Celebrating Spring with the Maple Syrup Festival

This weekend we took the girls to a sugar bush for the first time.  Every spring the Kortright Centre for Conservation: http://www.kortright.org/ has a Maple Syrup Festival.  Located in Vaughan (just past Vaughan Mills Mall!), it is just 30 minutes north of downtown Toronto and a great place to take the kids.

Even though the sun and lovely warm temperature didn't appear until about 4pm on Saturday, we still ahd a great time despite the cool, damp weather.  We got there around 10am and followed the trail which took us to demonstrations of how syrup was made hundreds of years ago and how it is made now.  The girls sampled fresh sap and syrup and got to walk around with sap buckets hanging off a yoke balancing on their shoulders like youngsters would have done in centuries past to help out on the farm (got me thinking of all the things I could get them to work doing around the house...).

We took a horse-drawn wagon ride and then bought the girls hot chocolate and pancakes with syrup for lunch. I turned a blind eye to the fact that they were eating a meal with the nutritional value of birthday cake.  The centre is clean, well organized and the staff were all extremely helpful and friendly.  My only real beef is the fact that the cafe really didn't have a single healthy option.  White flour pancakes, sausages, back bacon on a bun, hot and cold drinks, chips, cookies and muffins.  That's about it.

There is a store and a gift shop, both which offer you bottles of maple syrup to purchase for a decent (but not wonderful) price. 

I also wanted to mention a really touching piece that was in the Toronto Star Saturday edition this past weekend, by Catherine Porter:

It profiled the life of Shelagh Gordon, an "ordinary" woman, a person just like you and me, who died tragically at the age of 55 from a brain aneurysm.  She was not rich nor a celebrity.  She was not married and did not have any children, but Porter does an amazing job of demonstrating the power of love and kindness by describing how deeply this woman touched the lives of so many people during her short life.  I was deeply moved by it and I think the message this story sends it a really important one.  If you want to read it, follow this link: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1146928--shelagh-was-here-an-ordinary-magical-life

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Green Popsicles

Happy St Paddy's Day!  I have exciting news for you.

Did ya hear?  There is a Real Housewives of Vancouver show coming!  Are you as excited as I am? (Statement dripping with sarcasm)

Actually, I cannot believe they chose Vancouver as the Canadian site for this show.  I thought even the glitterati of our fair west coast city were more into Lululemon, doing yoga and Priuses than Chanel, doing lunch and Ferraris.  But what do I know...I'm not and NEVER WILL BE a real housewife.  Thank goodness!

So what does this have to do with green popsicles you ask?  Just that I turned the same shade as these treats due to the nausea I experienced when I saw the ad for this new program on television.  Ha, nice segue huh?

For this household of mostly non-alcohol drinking Jews, St. Patrick's Day is not much more than a celebration of the colour green.  That is enough to thrill the girls, and given all the healthy foods that fall into this hue, it thrills me too.  So Big A and I were both excited to make these for her playdate today.  Delicious and nutritious!

Green Popsicles
1 ripe banana
2 kiwi, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
A few handfuls organic, baby spinach

Throw everything in blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until firm.  Run molds under warm water to release.  Filled 16 molds for me (depends on the size of your molds, however).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Vegan Pesto Spread

Another super quick recipe that made 2 delicious lunches for me this week (spread on a whole grain wrap with some sauteed kale and red onion stuffed inside).  It is very thick, so perfect as a spread for wraps, bread or crackers.  If you want to use it as a dip or sauce, just thin it out with a bit more olive oil or water.  It is also nut-free so safe for allergy-friendly schools and workplaces.

1 can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic
A few handfuls fresh basil
1 tbls extra virgin olive oil
2 tbls lemon juice
1/4 tsp Herbamare or regular sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Throw everything into the food processor and blend until smooth.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Keep refridgerated for 4-5 days.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Waiting for the Other Shoe...

Lately I have watched many people I care about face serious misfortune.  Two close friends of the family were diagnosed with serious cancers, a friend just had a worrisome mass on her cervix removed, another friend's father is ill, a neighbour's son has an illness not yet diagnosed and the husband of one of my best friends just called it quits on their 12 year marriage (they have two sons aged 4 and 1).

I am devastated and concerned for each of them and left wondering both what I can do to help, and what would I do if it were me in their place?

Like many people who struggle with anxiety, I have a tendency to worry about what ifs because of this irrational belief that if I do, the what ifs won't happen, or somehow if they do happen I'll be better prepared.  This is, of course, a fallacy because it assumes magical thinking, and worrying about things before they happen does little to prevent or minimize pain and trauma when they do occur.

I am relieved to say that all of this misfortune around me has not yet sent me into a spiral of anxiety like it might have in the past.  I know I've mentioned the importance of gratitude in the past, but I believe it applies here too.  I may not be able to explain why I am so fortunate, but I am.  A wonderful husband who I have been married to for almost 10 years (upcoming anniverary in May!), two smart, healthy, adorable girls, and a priviledged, upper-middle class existance.  My life has not been without it's share of heart break, trauma and disappointments, but relatively speaking my life has been very good.  Finally at the tender age of 37 I have realized that I am not undeserving of this fortune and enjoying it will not cause the other shoe to drop.   Actually, it seems far more selfish and narcissistic to not recognize and appreciate how blessed I am.  This also puts me in a better position to reach out to the ones around me who are right now facing major challenges.

The other point of this post is to remind you how important it is to reach out to others regardless of whether you are the one offering or needing help.  There is no shame in seeking help, we all need to lean on others for some reason at some point in our lives.  AND THAT IS OKAY.  I also think one of the most important things we human beings can do is help others.  Obviously, that is why I am in a helping profession.  But help can take many forms: donating money to a charity; opening the door for someone in a public space; housesitting for a neighbour; a hug; cooking food for a sick friend, etc.

I grapple with how I can help each and every person dear to me who is dealing with a serious problem right now and the answer isn't always easy to find.  Sometimes it is best to ask.  Sometimes the person won't know, but the fact that you asked is what is important.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

PB&J Crumble (Vegan)

This is a scrumptious treat that incorporates all the flavours of everyone's favorite flavour combination.  It is healthy enough to have for breakfast, but decadent tasting enough to serve as a dessert.  It's great warm or cold, plain or with a dollop of dairy or non-dairy yogurt or ice cream on top.  Any berries will do, or you could try using peaches or plums too.

1.5 lbs fresh or frozen berries (I used a combo of straw, black, blue and rasp)
2 tbls whole wheat or spelt flour

2 tbls whole wheat or spelt flour
2 cups large flake oats
1/4 tsp sea salt

2 tbls coconut oil, melted
2 tbls natural peanut butter
2 tbls agave syrup (or honey)

Toss fruit with flour and pour into a large greased Corningware, or other oven safe dish. 

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, oats and salt.  When oil is still warm, whisk it together in a small bowl with peanut butter and agave and then pour over oat mixture.  Use a fork to mix it all together.  Once dry ingredients are fully combined with wet ingredients, spread it evenly over the top of the berries.  Place the dish in the oven and bake at 350F for 30 minutes, or until fruit is tender and topping is golden.

Variation: For a sweet-salty combo, add 1/4 cup chopped, salted peanuts to the topping.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Middle Eastern Salad with Lemon and Cumin-Scented Yogurt Dressing

My parents were in town last weekend and although they stayed with my brother this time, they came to us Sunday for lunch.  I cooked up President's Choice Blue Menu falafels, and they were a hit.  I like them because a lot of pre-made falafels have white flour added as a binder, but these ones are flour free, just chickpeas and herbs and spices!

I served up the falafels with whole wheat pita, tahini sauce, and this salad.  My parents LOVED the dressing.  It's tangy, flavourful and refreshing, yet light in fat and calories.

Middle Eastern Salad

Organic mixed greens
Half a cucumber, cut in half circle slices
Half a red onion, finely diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Optional: Half an avocado, diced

Lemon and Cumin-Scented Yogurt Dressing

2 tbls extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of a lemon
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp dijon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbls white wine vinegar
1 cup non-fat, plain yogurt

In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice and zest, dijon, cumin, salt, and vinegar until fully emulsified.  Whisk in yogurt.  Drizzle over salad.  Makes about 1.5 cups.  Will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge.  You can also use it as a dressing for potato salad or roasted potatoes, or drizzled over meat, fish or grilled veggies.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vaughan Mills Mall and Build-a-Bear

I have been wanting to check out the Vaughan Mills mall  http://www.vaughanmills.com/ for quite some time.  So when I discovered that Build-a-Bear http://www.buildabear.ca/ has a store there, I jumped at the chance to go seeing as this is where I decided we would buy the supplies for Little A's birthday party. 

First I'll start by saying Build-a-Bear is a very cool concept!  You can do on location birthday parties at their stores, which we are not doing since the Vaughan location is the closest one to downtown Toronto and is almost 30 minutes away.  So instead, we bought the bears and some white t-shirts for each of them and the kids will decorate and personalize the t-shirts for their bear.  For free, each bear comes with a birth certificate so each child can name their bear, and a little cardboard house that you can put together. 

But the possibilities at this place are endless!  You have a wide variety of stuffies to choose from, and then you can customize your stuffie with an astonishing array of accessories: sports equipment, shoes, elaborate outfits and costumes, hats, sunglasses, sports cars, beds, etc.  So say you have a kid who is obsessed with hockey.  You can choose a stuffie and then suit it up like a hockey player.  The girls went bananas in this place!  In fact, when Little A saw the bear-carriers they had (i.e. like Baby Bjorn style baby carriers), she HAD to have one, so we bought it for her as her birthday gift which she'll get on her birthday.

We were also quite impressed with the mall.  It is mostly outlet stores of big brands like Tommy Hillfiger, Mexx, Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, etc. Unfortunately, because we got to the mall so late (Little A actually napped on Saturday for the first time on a weekend in ages!), and spent so much time at the bear place, that we didn't have a chance to check out any other stores.  Instead, we took the hungry girls to the Pickle Barrel there and bought them dinner.

As far as chain restaurants go, the Pickle Barrel www.picklebarrel.ca is pretty good in terms of quality and healthy options.  Even the kids menu has better options than most other places.  In fact, a whole segment of their menu is devoted to healthier options, developed by nutritional consultant, Rose Reisman.  These items are generally low in fat, and made with whole grains (like brown rice) and the calorie content is listed on the menu.

I was able to request that Big A's tuna sandwich be made on whole wheat bread and we ordered her the side of veggies option, along with a glass of milk.  Littles A got a huge platter of scrambled eggs that she gobbled down, along with fresh fruit and potato latkas (which she didn't touch).  Unfortunately, I could only order her "multigrain" toast, which looked more like caraway rye, actually, and was most definitely not whole grain.

It has a huge menu and lots of options, so its a good place to take the kids because just about everyone can find something to suit their tastes.

Generally, I am not the biggest fan of malls.  Being just 5 feet 2 inches, and somewhat claustraphobic, I easily get antsy when they are crowded and I always find them overheated.  But as far as malls go, we were pretty impressed.  Vaughan Mills is spacious, clean and kid-friendly.  Even Adam said that we absolutely have to get back there to check out the other stores!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Birthday Party Angst

I am sure I am not the only parent who starts stressing about planning my kids' birthday parties months in advance.  If you want to rent a venue or hire entertainment of any kind than you kind of have to! 


This year things are particularly tricky.  We are doing a joint party for the girls with family in between their birthdays on May 5th so that the cousins don't feel left out (since they don't know the girls' friends from school/daycare) and the aunts/uncles/grandparents aren't overwhelmed by too many kids running around (aka last year's birthday party!).  But Big A has insisted that not only does she want a separate party for her friends, but she also needs me to bake treats for her kindergarten class AND her daycare class.  On top of that, one of her best friends, Z, cannot have gluten so I have to make gluten-free treats for her kindergarten class and for the party (Z doesn't attend her daycare).  Big A wants the party to be small and at home, but I feel we have to invite 12 kids, because there are at least that many that she plays with and who have invited her to their parties.  That's a lot of kids for our small house! 

In terms of activities, we decided on t-shirt decorating, which is simple enough to organize.  For food, Big A wants lemon cupcakes made into a pull-apart cake.  I haven't figured out how I'm going to do this yet, or whether everything will be gluten-free or I'll have some treats that are, and some that are not.  I am going to serve pizza, and make sure there is gluten-free available for Z.  Aside from that, I think fruit and veggies, popcorn and chips will be sufficient.  Big A's party will probably be a 4pm-6pm dinner event.  I haven't even begun to think about the whole loot bag thing yet!

For the family party we are doing make-your-own ice cream sundaes, which the girls are very excited about.  There will also be fruit and veggies, chips and popcorn, and Life Choices hotdogs and some kid-friendly finger foods.  Since this will also be a late afternoon party (4-6pm), there will also be wine for the grownups.

The situation with Little A hating her daycare makes planning her party especially complicated.  Last week was better, but this week things have been really tough again.  Wednesday was most heartbreaking.  She spent the day with my mother-in-law and as soon as I reminded her of that when she woke up, she was a different child - the happy, joyful Little A we used to see much more often.  When we dropped off Big A at the daycare, she excitedly told all the kids and teachers that she wasn't staying and going to spend the day with her bubbie instead.  Even though everyone assures me that minutes after I leave her every day she is absolutely fine, I am still going to explore whether we have any other options for her because I am sincerely worried about this. 

I am a bit lost about who to invite to Little A's party because most days when I ask her who she wants to invite, she will name only the one girl from her daycare she classifies as a "friend", the same girl the teachers tell me bosses her around all the time.  Sigh!  Today I finally realized perhaps I should skip doing a party for her, and just have the party with family be it.  But I don't want to do that.  I want to make something really special just for her.  She has specified that she wants a pink, round cake - not a layer cake - decorated in hearts.  Ugh!  After trying to make "natural" pink frosting for the heart cookies last year that ended up purple-y brown (remember the sperm cookies?), I am definitely going to have to find a different approach to making food colouring-free pink icing!  For her party I will also serve pizza, fruits and veggies, popcorn and chips, and since she is not reliably napping again - particularly at home on weekends, this party will be an early in the day event (i.e. 10:30am-12:30pm).

We also decided that we will do build-a-bear as the activity, since Little A loves stuffies, and you can purchase kits that require no sewing and are appropriate for 3 year olds.  We are not renting a venue for her party either, seeing as she can barely name a single kid she wants to invite.

On top of my kids' wishes, however, there are also concerns around these events about impressing other parents, or at the very least not offending them.  Some parents invite ALL the kids at the daycare or school, but since we are doing home parties, this isn't feasible for us.  In addition, Little A has insisted that under no circumstances are any boys allowed to come.  Sigh!

We have been to parties recently with magicians, at indoor playgrounds, and at a bowling alley, etc. and all have been great.  We're lucky because in Toronto there are so many options!  We are keeping it pretty simple this year, however, (since that's what Big A wants, and what makes most sense for Little A), but I'm hoping we can do something more exciting in future years.  Also, we are following the lead of some other parents by refusing gifts.  Instead, we are asking everyone to bring $2, half of which will go to a charity of each girl's choosing, and half to be given to them to choose on one gift.  They already have so much, and I love this idea of getting them familiar with the idea of giving back to those in need.

Ack!  Even though this is all happening in late April/early May, I am already freaking out about it.  I don't want any parents to be offended, any kids to feel left out, I want my kids to be happy, I want the guests to have fun, I need to find the time to bake a zillion different cupcakes and cakes, and organize the other food for 3 different parties!  I can see why people with lots of money to burn hire party planners!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Vegan Jambalaya

It seems like as North Americans rates of obesity and chronic disease increase, so does our obsession with grotesquely over-the-top, unhealthy delicacies (i.e. double bacon cheese burgers with a fried egg sandwiched between two maple bacon donuts).

I think this comes from two places: (1) the natural tendency humans have to rebel against restraint/rules, and (2) the downturn in the economy which has meant fewer people are able to splurge on expensive big ticket items like holidays, cars, etc., and therefore are turning to more affordable ways to "treat" themselves.

I have a problem with both of these issues.  First off, rebelling against recommendations to live a healthy lifestyle is stupid because you only hurt yourself, and second, healthy eating is delicious, exciting and enjoyable and can be just as much a treat as any artery clogging dish you can think of. 

Now there are many systemic issues that make it difficult for some people to make healthy choices (cost and availability of healthy foods, poverty, fraudulent food marketers, etc.), and I'm not talking about that here.  I am talking about well-off folks who roll their eyes over the idea of healthy eating, assuming it's just for tree-huggers, and seem to think "extreme" eating of the Paula Deen ilk is cool.  Personally, I think eating deep-fried, battered pound cake with whipped cream on top is not only yucky, but it's about as cool as smoking cigarettes.  I roll my eyes at people who roll their eyes at healthy eating, because anyone who believes healthy food is boring and tasteless is completely misinformed. 
Besides, fat-, sugar-, and refined flour-laden foods are pretty ubiquitous in our society, so not particularly unique or interesting.  I think it's far more interesting (and delicious) to create recipes using the bounty of wonderful, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that are increasingly available to us.

Now that I have finished my diatribe, I will present you with a delicious and healthy recipe which would likely make celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse pee his pants.  His outrageous cooking preceded Paula Deen's but his cooking philosophy: PORK FAT RULES! is almost as bad as hers, which I guess I would describe as: how can I take ordinary crap food and make it over-the-top disgusting?

Well BAM Emeril, go change your diapers, because some of us actually care about our health and know that delicious, satisfying food does not require pork fat!  And unhealthy behaviours are NOT cool.

Jambalaya is traditionally made with chicken, shrimp, and/or sausage, but I've used red kidney beans as the protein here instead.  You still get a satisfying, flavourful main dish that even uses Emeril's "Essence" that he loves to "BAM" with (i.e. creole seasoning).

I used my Hamilton Beach skillet/griddle combo to make this and just wanted to share that this is one of my favorite kitchen appliances.  I use the griddle for pancakes, French toast, etc. and the skillet for curries, stews, chilis, etc.  It's a great, relatively inexpensive item that both very useful, and very easy to clean.


Vegan Jambalaya

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tbls creole seasoning (recipe below)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 small zucchini, cut lengthwise into quarters and then strips cut into thirds
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet or pot set over medium heat (high heat if using the Hamilton Beach skillet!), saute onion in oil until softened.  Add garlic and seasoning, being careful it doesn't burn.  Add remaining vegetables and stir frequently until well coated with onions and seasonings.  Add beans, tomatoes and rice to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add in stock or water, cover pot and turn heat down to med-low.  Allow to simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed and rice is cooked (about 45-60 minutes).  Adjust seasoning, to taste.

Emeril's Creole Seasoning*

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup

*Note: Despite the amount of cayenne pepper in this blend, I found the Jambalaya wasn't spicy enough for me, so next time I would add additional cayenne.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Grownup Gingerbread Cookies (vegan)

One of my favorite treats of all time is gingerbread.  Gingerbread cookies, gingerbread cake (remember the classic Silver Palate recipe?), gingerbread men...there is something about the combination of molasses and all those sweet, aromatic spices that makes me crazy.  And there is that little ginger obsession I have, which is why so many of my recipes contain zingy root in some way, shape or form.


Lets be clear though, when I am talking gingerbread cookies, I am NOT talking about the bland, cardboard-like ones covered in cement-hard, fluorescent icing that you find at grocery stores and low-quality bakeries.  Don't get me wrong, icing is a must, but for me the perfect gingerbread cookies are relatively thick, and soft and chewy.  The icing is also not rock-hard.

My favorite recipe is, well, my own.  These cookies are not for the kids folks.  They have real bite, which is how I like them.  I use not one, but three types of ginger, plus an array of other spices.  They are also relatively healthy, for a cookie because I make them with all whole grain flour (of course!), they are vegan, and prune puree instead of butter.  This is more for the soft consistency this gives them than anything else.  Although they do have the added bonus of helping to keep you regular!  They can also be low in sugar if you choose an alternative sweetener, the choice is yours.  Although I like to use blackstrap molasses (which is also high in iron!), if you find it too strong, fancy molasses can be used too.  If you don't have all the spices, or don't like some that I used, just suit to your taste or what you have available.

I like to top them with royal icing, but load it on pretty thick so that it doesn't get rock hard.  Alternatively, you can make sandwich cookies with them, and fill the centre with your favorite flavour/type of icing.  I think cream cheese and lemon work best.

These are not crisp or crumbly in any way, they are more cakey and chewy, which I like, but if you prefer the crisp type of cookie, you can replace the prune puree with 1/2 cup of Earth Balance (or butter).

Grownup Gingerbread Cookies

3+ cups whole wheat pastry flour or whole grain kamut flour
1 cup sugar (or alternative sweetener)
2.5 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
A few grindings of freshly ground black pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3-4.5oz jars organic pureed prunes (baby food) or apple sauce
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tbls fresh, grated ginger
1/4 cup crystallized ginger

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add wet ingredients, fresh and crystallized ginger and mix until dough comes together.  If it is too sticky, add more flour, about 1/4 cup at a time.  Turn dough onto clean, well floured surface.  Sprinkle more flour on top surface and roll out to desired thickness.  Use the rim of a glass or any shape cookie cutters and cut out cookies.  Place on a non-stick baking sheet and bake at 350F for 8-10 minutes.  Let cool before icing.  Makes at least 2 dozen cookies, depending on how thick you make them and how big/what shape you choose.  I just used a water glass to make fairly large round ones because I could care less about cute shapes, they're just going into my belly!

If you are looking for a vegan royal icing recipe, you can try this one:

Vegan Royal Icing Recipe*

3 tbsp water
2 tbsp egg replacer powder
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1.5 -2 cups powdered sugar

1. Use an electric mixer to combine water and ener-g egg replacer, until it becomes thick and frothy.

2. Add in cream of tartar and continue to mix.

3. Slowly add in powdered sugar. Really watch the texture when adding in powdered sugar in increments. You are watching for an icing that holds a ripple for about 5 seconds and slowly smoothes away.

4. Decorate away!

Source: http://www.dharmabakery.com/blog/tag/vegan-royal-icing/

*To ensure your icing doesn't get rock hard, you can add a few tsp of agave syrup, and feel free to add any flavouring you want (vanilla, lemon, etc.).

UPDATE: Turns out these aren't just for grownups after all!  Even with the fresh ginger and cracked black pepper I added to these, the girls LOVED them!!  As a matter of fact, they even loved them plain as I served them without icing this time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the muscle pain and stiffness that can occur 24 to 72 hours after intense or unfamiliar physical activities. 

DOMS is caused by the tissue damage (microscopic tearing of the muscle fibres) that occurs from eccentric muscle contractions.  This muscle damage is not the same as an acute injury.  It is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of the adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and increase in size.  It is generally most severe for several days following the activity and then gradually subsides.

The extent to which DOMS is experienced seems to vary from person to person.  I have also found that my vulnerability to DOMS has increased over time.  In my 20s it wasn't too often that I experienced it, but now any time I do a really intense workout or new exercise or activity I do.  This may be due to age, or possibly due to the fact that I work out more intensely now than I used to since I have much less time to exercise and need to get more bang for my buck.  Pretty much every Monday and Tuesday I'm in pain because of my intense strength training session I do on Sunday mornings at the JCC prior to my spinning class.  As a matter of fact, as I write this, my upper back and biceps are screaming!

The problem with DOMS is that it can be uncomfortable enough to discourage people from attempting new activities, sticking with a new exercise regime, or exercising intensely enough to reap the full benefits of the activity.  Fortunately, there are ways to prevent or minimize DOMS.

Here are some tips from Elizabeth Quinn, an exercise physiologist and fitness consultant for treating and avoiding DOMS:

Tips for Dealing with Muscle Soreness After Exercise


If you do find yourself sore after a tough workout or competition, try these methods to deal with your discomfort. Although not all are backed up with research, many athletes report success with some of the following methods.

•Use Active Recovery. This strategy does have support in the research. Performing easy low-impact aerobic exercise increasing blood flow and is linked with diminished muscle soreness. After an intense workout or competition, use this technique as a part of your cool down.

•Rest and Recover. If you simply wait it out, soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.

•Try a Sports Massage. Some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness and reduce swelling, although it had no effects on muscle function.

•Try an Ice Bath or Contrast Water Bath. Although no clear evidence proves they are effective, many pro athletes use them and claim they work to reduce soreness.

•Use R.I.C.E., the standard method of treating acute injuries, if your soreness is particularly painful.

•Perform Gentle Stretching. Although research doesn't find stretching alone reduces muscle pain of soreness, many people find it simply feels good.

•Try a Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory. Aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium may help to temporarily reduce the muscle soreness, although they won't actually speed healing. Be careful, however, if you plan to take them before exercise. Studies reported that taking ibuprofen before endurance exercise is not recommended.

•Try Yoga. There is growing support that performing Yoga may reduce DOMS.

•Listen to Your Body. Avoid any vigorous activity or exercise that increases pain.

•Allow the soreness to subside thoroughly before performing any vigorous exercise.

•Warm Up completely before your next exercise session. There is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness (but cool-down performed after exercise does not).

•** If your pain persists longer than about 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician.

•Learn something from the experience! Use prevention first.


Tips to Help Prevent Muscle Soreness After Exercise

While you may not be able to prevent muscle soreness entirely, you may reduce the intensity and duration of muscles soreness if you follow a few exercise recommendations.

•Progress Slowly. The most important prevention method is to gradually increase your exercise time and intensity. See the 10 percent rule if you need some exercise progression guidelines.

•Warm Up thoroughly before activity and cool down completely afterward.

•Cool Down with gentle stretching after exercise.

•Follow the Ten Percent Rule. When beginning a new activity start gradually and build up your time and intensity no more than ten percent per week.

•Know the 10 Tips for Safe Workouts.

•Follow the Spring Training Fitness Tips.

•Hire a Personal Trainer if you aren't sure how to start a workout program that is safe and effective.

•Start a new weight lifting routine with light weights and high reps (10-12) and gradually increase the amount you lift over several weeks.

•Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do.

•Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise.

Certain muscle pain or soreness can be a sign of a serious injury. If your muscle soreness does not get better within a week consult your physician.

Sources

[mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD004577/frame.html]Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise, RD Herbert, M de Noronha, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4, 2007, The Cochrane Collaboration.

Herbert, R., Gabriel, M. [http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abridged/325/7362/468?eaf]BMJ 2002;325:468-470. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review

Szymanski, D. (2003). Recommendations for the avoidance of delayed-onset muscle soreness. Strength and Conditioning Journal 23(4): 7–13.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lots of Fish...

No I am not posting about the dating world...after almost 12 years with Adam, I am definitely not current with living the single life. 

Today I'm posting about actual fish in the actual sea.  The kind you eat, if you are aren't vegetarian or vegan, that is.

I've had a love-hate relationship with fish over the past few years.  I always loved fish until I got pregnant with Big A.  Then during my pregnancy, aside from sardine and tuna sandwiches, I lost my taste for fish.  Figures that tuna is one of the fish you need to limit during pregnancy!  Instead, I developed an insatiable craving for red meat and broke my 9 year commitment to avoiding it after my mother's breast cancer diagnosis.  This preference for red meat was heightened when I was pregnant with Little A, and again, aside from tuna and sardines, I lost my taste for fish.  In fact, I don't think I ate a single grilled or broiled fish fillet during that entire pregnancy! 

Slowly, since Little A was born, my taste for fish has come back.  I am also happy to say my cravings for red meat have also abated.  Yes, the sight and smell of a braised lamb shank can make me drool, but I now generally avoid eating red meat without feeling deprived.  In contrast, my fish consumption is at an all-time high.  I love making trout or salmon for dinner, and fish and shellfish often appear in my lunches.  There are so many varieties and so many ways  to prepare fish to suit anyones taste.

Eating fish can be extremely beneficial for your health - it has positive effects on cardiovascular health and cognitive development, however, warnings about the potential negative effects of mercury levels and toxins in certain types of fish has left many consumers confused about which fish and how much fish is safe to eat.  This issue is extremely complicated since acceptable amounts vary by sub-population (e.g. there are special guidelines for pregnant women), and type of fish.  Then there are also concerns about declining populations of particular species that have been overfished, or the environmental effects of farming various fish.  It leaves many people tearing their hair out trying to figure out whether or not to bother making fish a part of their diet.

Fortunately, the information to assist you in making informed decisions about eating fish.  For example, the FDA provides a list of mercury content of various fish here: http://www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/product-specificinformation/seafood/foodbornepathogenscontaminants/methylmercury/ucm115644.htm.  Unfortunately, this table does not tell you how much is safe to eat and for whom, based on the mercury levels.

Likewise, David Suzuki's website has a document outlining the most environmentally-friendly choices: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/downloads/2010/SEACHOICE_alertcard09.pdf, but this document doesn't mention mercury or health risks anywhere.

I was pleased to find that the Washington State Department of Health has a comprehensive chart outlining the safety of various types of fish, and specifies safe amounts for various populations: http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/oehas/fish/fishchart.htm.  You can even print this chart or order a wallet-sized version, which makes it super handy for having with you at the grocery store.  It even highlights the types of fish that are less environmentally friendly!

Fish is a high quality protein. Many varieties of fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins D and B2 (riboflavin). Fish is rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium.  So my advice is not to avoid fish altogether, but become an informed consumer when deciding which fish to eat most often. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gluten-Free Banana Berry Oatmeal Pancakes

I almost exclusively make my pancakes now with oat flour, not because I need to avoid gluten, but because I honestly love them.  The taste, the texture...I'm drooling now just thinking about it!

If you do need to avoid gluten, make sure you use oats and oat flour that is labelled gluten-free.  These are so sweet and flavourful from all the fruit, that I don't add any sweetener to the batter, particularly because I douse them in syrup or honey for serving.

Gluten-Free Banana Berry Oatmeal Pancakes

2 cups oat flour
1/2 cup large flake oats
2 tbls baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 large, ripe bananas, mashed
4 egg whites or 2 whole eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbls fresh ginger, grated (optional)
Grating of nutmeg (optional)
1 cup + water or milk
1/2 cup strawberries, chopped
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup raspberries

Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add wet ingredients and whisk until well mixed.  Stir in berries.  Batter should be thick so that it will hold all the berries.  Ladel batter onto hot, oiled skillet and cook until both sides are golden and pancakes are cooked through.  Makes 8 large or 16 small pancakes (don't make them too large or they will be difficult to flip).  Serve with syrup, honey, vanilla yogurt and/or fresh fruit.

I sometimes eat these with maple syrup, but actually prefer them with honey.  Not just ANY honey, mind you.  Only my favorite: Wilson's honey.

I grew up eating this honey, which my mom would buy at the Kingston Farmer's Market, and I have been spoiled by it.  For sandwiches I like using a good quality creamed honey (less messy), but for cooking, baking or drizzling, it HAS TO BE WILSON'S!

This honey is so amazing.  Trust me, I'm a bit of a honey connoisseur.  I've tasted a lot of honeys and their's is by far the best.  It is thick, with a complex floral taste and aroma, there is just not another honey that compares.  If you live in Eastern Ontario and can get your hands on some, I encourage you to try it!!  For more info, follow this link: http://www.harvesthastings.ca/local/producers/wilson-apiaries

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Awesome Giveaway

Ever had trouble deciding whether to wear pants or a skirt?  No?  Me neither.  But regardless, I love the idea of "skants" which combines the two in a stretchy, cosy garment perfect for lounging or yoging (my verb for doing yoga) in.  If you want the chance to win a pair, valued at $110, check out the contest over at the Making Love in the Kitchen blog:

http://meghantelpnerblog.com/2012/02/29/yoga-clothines-giveaway-working-title/