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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Raw Deal






Happy Halloween!  And what a scary day it is due to all the devastation caused by Super Storm Sandy.

In any case, I thought the holiday defined by candy consumption was a perfect time to have another discussion about nutrition, ha ha!

There are so many diets out there right now, promising everything from extreme weight loss, to eternal health.  A raw food diet has been gaining popularity, particularly among the plant eaters.

While I love vegan foods, I have never been drawn to the raw food diet.  Aside from salads, I generally prefer eating my veggies cooked, and a life without cooked grains, in my opinion, is not worth living.  In addition, there is no evidence that a raw diet is any healthier than a diet involving cooked plant foods, and it is also way too restrictive for me.

Nevertheless, the look and sound of many raw recipes and dishes has always appealed to me, so I've been eager to try some.

When we were in San Francisco, we went to Cafe Gratitude for lunch one day.  I ordered their rendition of macaroni and cheese, which was basically zucchini in a vegan cashew cheese sauce.  I was underwhelmed, to say the least.

Yet when I recently read a glowing review of Rawlicious, I decided to suggest it as a destination for my dinner date with some girl friends last Friday.  The food just looked and sounded so amazing! 

I ordered the House Salad:

housesalad

Followed by the Pad Thai:

pad-thai

My girlfriends split the Nacho Platter, and also both got the Pad Thai (Nacho Platter, below).

nacho-platter

They said the guac, salsa and cashew sour cream were amazing, but the chips were more chewy than crunchy.

I thought my salad was fabulous - huge, and full of hemp seeds and pepitas, as well as beets, carrots and greens - and the ginger-date dressing was tasty.

I was disappointed by the Pad Thai.  It was tasty, but not as flavourful as I would have liked and while it was advertised as having both zucchini and kelp noodes (which I adore), I think I spied only 2 kelp noodles, while the rest was zucchini.  I love cooked zucchini, but raw, I find it meh.  Also, for me, it is not a satisfying replacement for real noodles, while I find that shiritake and kelp noodles both do that well.  Admittedly, one of my friends and I both expected the Pad Thai to be served warm...even though we knew it was 'raw'.  Perhaps it was because it was a wet, windy night, but it just wasn't as comforting as the real thing, and didn't taste at all like it either.

I think what I've realized is that the best raw dishes are the ones that mimic more traditional dishes that are typically served cold.

What's nice about going to a raw restaurant, is you at least know you are going to get nutritious food and no refined grains, sugars or fats like you find in most restaurant food.  Case-in-point: last Saturday we ordered Thai food from a place in our neighbourhood.  The menu listed a grilled salmon with tamarind sauce and brown rice.  This is what I ordered, but I was quickly told they no longer make brown rice, because it takes too long to cook.  Strike 1!  I ended up steaming some brown, jasmine rice myself.  When our food arrived, I discovered the 'grilled' salmon was actually breaded, deep-fried salmon.  Strike 2! Yuck!  But I was hungry, and I didn't want to mooch everyone else's meals, so I ate it.  It was gross.  Overcooked, dry and greasy.  Great, I gummed up my arteries, and it wasn't even an enjoyable experience!  At least the veggies and tamarind sauce tasted delicious with my jasmine rice.

Anyways, back to the issue of raw food.  I have to admit that I left Rawlicious feeling extremely full.  In fact, none of us had space for dessert.  Unfortunately, that full feeling continued the next day and my stomach felt heavy and full, in a yucky and not very comfortable kind of way, until late in the afternoon. I think it may have been from the vast amount of nuts and seeds in that meal.

There is no way I could ever live on the raw food diet.  I would just be miserable.  But that's how I feel about the Paleo diet, and virtually all other highly restrictive diets.  But here is what I'll say on the matter: If you enjoy following a diet, that is based on sound nutrition and whole foods, and it is able to keep you healthy and at an ideal weight, than go for it.  But don't bother with anything that makes you miserable because you won't be able to stick to it, and it's what you do long-term  that matters the most.

If you find you can't resist all the Halloween treats this time of year, here are a few tricks: (1) Fill up on healthy food so you are less tempted.  When your blood sugar gets low, that's when reason tends to go out the window in the face of fast sources of energy, (2) Only buy the candy that you DON'T like to give out.  If your favorites aren't around, then you'll be less tempted to indulge, or (3) Make your own healthier versions of your favorites, such as those created by Angela.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Give Me a Pita Break, or Six...

Recently the Ozery company sent me a huge box of their products to try.  Ozery is a Canadian, family-owned company, that began as a bakery in the back of a Toronto falafel shop. 

I've actually loved their pitas for years, and recently I made the girls pizzas on their mini pitas and Big A delcared it "The best pizza crust ever!"

I happen to think their pitas are among the best out there taste-wise, so I was thrilled that they sent a bag of their organic whole wheat variety.  They are soft, thick and fresh, and sturdy enough for even the heftiest fillings.  The only thing to remember about these babies is that they are so big and thick,  that just one clocks in at 280 calories, which is double what you find in most thinner ones.  They also contain some refined flour, which I don't like.


Large Organic Whole Wheat

Ozery also sent us a package of their multigrain flat buns, which are whole grain, and equally delicious.  Unfortunately, at 190 calories, these too give you more bang for your buck than you might want if you are watching your energy intake.  Note, however, that they do offer a smaller, 100 calorie version, which may be more suitable for many people.

Multi Grain Sandwich OneBun

The company also generously included a bag of their apple cinnamon minis.  I already knew Adam loved these, but I discovered the girls do too.  In fact, while Adam managed to limit himself to 2 of  them the evening the box arrived, the girls DEVOURED the rest of the bag for breakfast the next morning.  THE WHOLE BAG!  That was 6 each!!  So clearly these are a winner from a taste perspective, but from a nutrition perspective, I'm not as impressed.  The first ingredient is refined flour (I wish they would ban it, along with trans fat!!), so each one is 70 cals, 2g protein, 3g sugar, and only 1g of fibre.  The girls' breakfast was, therefore,  420 cals, 12g protein, 6g of fibre, all of which is not bad I suppose, but also 18g of sugar, which is not great.

Spelt

 We were also sent a bag of their cranberry orange breakfast pitas.  Adam doesn't really dig citrus, so he ate one and said, "These are good if you like cranberry orange-flavoured things."  Big A loved them and I had to stop her from eating more, after she quickly scarfed down 2 whole ones.  Little A initially said they were yucky, before she even tried them, but then happily ate half of one.  Again, these are great tasting, if you like the cranberry orange flavour combo, but I am not overly impressed with their nutrition profile.  First off, the first ingredient is refined flour.  Each one has 200 cals, 6g of protein, and 2g of fibre, they also have 10g of sugar.


If you like these - or any of their sweet/breakfast pitas, I would consider them a 'treat' food.

The healthiest thing they sent was a box of their organic spelt lavash crackers.  I've had these before too, and they make a great pairing with cheese, dips or spreads.  This particular variety is 100% whole grain, making them a high fibre, high protein, and relatively low-calorie cracker option.  These get two thumbs up from me!

Lavash Organic Spelt


The company also makes snack foods, and they sent over a bag of their rosemary garlic pita crisps.  Again, these contain some refined flour, and personally, I like to stick to things like fruit, veggies, a handful of nuts, cheese, etc. for snacks and skip this type of 'snacky' food.  But I suppose pairing these with some hummus and veggies isn't an altogether terrible snack option.  I put these out with some hummus on Saturday when we had friends over and everyone loved them, describing them as "Very flavourful." 

Rosemary Garlic

I definitely recommend checking out the Pita Break line of products.  They are available in most grocery stores and health food stores across Canada, as well as some major retailers in the U.S.  Just be sure to check labels because not all of their products are 100% whole grain. 

Disclaimer: The Ozery Company gave me all the products for free, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumping Iron




Good Monday morning!  Sandy is having an impact on most of eastern North America.  Even here in Toronto, it's rainy and DARK!  Oh what a week it's going to be, and Halloween week, no less!  Anyways...

Since first trying it last year, I have become a regular blood donor.  It's not an unpleasant task, and I feel like it's just such a good thing to do.

Unfortunately, I have started having some difficulty with the restrictions.  No, not the exchanging bodily fluids with monkeys stuff...no, my blood pressure, which is really low, has almost been too low a few times, and last week, I was actually rejected altogether because I twice failed the hemoglobin test.

I have never had problems with my iron levels before, not even while pregnant, so I was a bit surprised.  Even more surprise that the nurse started barking at me that given just how low my iron was, I must be feeling tired (um, no) and she could SEE it in my face.  Thanks.  Something tells me that looking anemic is not a good thing.  She also told me to start eating spinach.  Ha ha, she clearly didn't have a clue who she was dealing with! 

The nurse ordered me to start taking an iron supplement as soon as possible, warning me about the constipation that will accompany it.  Yeah, I already knew about that.  So even though I don't feel tired (geez, I'm usually referred to as the Energizer Bunny!), I've started taking iron pills.  Hey, who can't use a little more energy? When I consulted one of the fertility doctors I work with, however, he said my levels are just a bit below normal and really nothing to be concerned about, but he did say I should try the pills and see how I tolerate them.

I just worry - given my past problems with insomnia - that if this puts me over the top into bouncing-off-the-walls-land, that I'll start having difficulty sleeping.  As it was, when I announced to my spinning class yesterday that apparently I haven't been functioning at full capacity and potentially will have even MORE energy soon, they groaned.

We shall see...I'll keep you posted on the sleep and the poop, since I'm sure you'll want to know all the gruesome details.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The "No Lunch" Lunch Box Solution


For the past couple years I've been dreading the moment Big A starts Grade 1, and I have to pack her a lunch.  We've found that the daycares have a way of getting our kids to eat, or at least try, all sorts of things that they otherwise wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.  I was very concerned that Big A's nutrition was going to seriously deteriorate.

Truthfully, it has been challenging, but not as awful as I'd imagined, once I learned a trick or two.

First of all, I discovered that less is more.  Being a Jewish mother and all, I default towards packing too much food (just as when I cook, I always make enough for a small country - or so Adam says).  But hey, god forbid my child should go hungry!  However, I found that when I did this, not only was Big A less likely to finish all the food, she was less likely to eat anything.  Perhaps too much food looks intimidating? 

I got very concerned several times when her lunch box came home with only a few bites missing.  How was she making it through her day?  She had gym!  She played in the school yard!  She is growing!!  It was also very annoying to have to throw out so much food, particularly foods that I know she likes: no-nut butter and honey sandwiches, spaghetti, vegetarian sushi.  It all ended up in the garbage with nary a nibble taken out.

Adam reminded me that Big A usually eats more for breakfast than most kids eat in a day, so she really isn't going to starve.  He's right and not exaggerating.  For example, this past Wednesday she had a big bowl of oatmeal, banana (an entire banana) and cinnamon, followed by 2 pieces of whole wheat bread with honey, and something else (I can't remember).  Then when I dropped the girls off at daycare, she had a plate of pancakes they were serving. 

So I stopped worrying she was going to starve and that's when I finally found something that works.  I don't pack her a lunch at all!  Before you call the authorities on me, let me explain: when I pack her a bunch of food which all appear to be 'snacks', rather than a 'meal'.  Now each day I pack her 1 fruit, 1 veggie, 1 'other snack' and a 'treat'.  Other snacks include: cheese and crackers, hard boiled eggs, a mini-pita pizza, rice cakes and yogurt, etc.  I only give her a small amount of each.  The treats might be: a homemade muffin/cookie/brownie (whole grain, sugar-free, stuffed with veggies sometimes...), homemade popcorn, or dried fruit.  The final thing I learned is that if you call something a 'treat', it is most likely going to get eaten.  Big A always asks what her treat is for the day  If I haven't packed one of our usual treats, than I can declare 'yogurt' the treat, and it will for sure get eaten.

Although Big A was a bit surprised at first, she came home and said, "Mommy you didn't pack me a lunch today!", she comes home with much less uneaten food, AND I actually spend much less time prepping food for her lunches because it's all so easy to throw together.  Win-win!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cutco Cutlery - Review and Giveaway!

I am very excited to offer the first giveaway ever on my blog!

If you love to cook, like I do, than you know how important it is to have high quality kitchen equipment, particularly knives.  Believe it or not, I despise chopping fruits and veggies, but I do it because I believe cooking from scratch is essential to good health and nutrition.  I think a significant contributor to the North American obesity epidemic is our over-reliance on restaurant, prepared and processed foods.  I don't see "hating it" or "not having time" as excuses for not cooking.  It's a life skill, and like brushing your teeth, I think you have got to do it, regardless of whether you want to or not to ensure good health - unless you are wealthy enough to pay someone to do it for you, I suppose. 

I was recently sent several complimentary products from the Cutco Cutlery company to try out.  The company makes a wide variety of kitchen knives, gadgets and cookware.  They sent me their can opener, Santoku knife, and trimmer in the beautiful pearl-handled line they offer.


As soon as I tried them, I was smitten.  The handles were a very comfortable, even for my small hands.  The knives are appropriately weighty, but not too heavy.  They did easy work of all the fruits and veggies I tried cutting, including raw chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, bell peppers, pear, ginger, etc.

At first I had difficulty with the can opener and, to be honest, couldn't get it to work.  But given how high quality the knives are, and how sturdy the opener looked and felt, I suspected I was simply doing something wrong, or it was because I am a lefty.  I asked Adam to give it a try and he initially had difficulty too.  Then we discovered that we'd both been holding it upside down.  Oops!  Yes, we really do have PhDs!  Once we held it correctly, we discovered it made quick work of can lids, leaving a smooth edge and intact rim.  We were both very pleased with the results.

Cutco was established in 1949 and is the top selling brand of cutlery in North America.  They are made in Olean, New York, and come with a Forever Guarantee, which is better than a lifetime guarantee (you can pass them on to your children and the guarantee still holds).  They offer knife sharpening, for a small shipping fee, and will replace any product that breaks.  All products are dishwasher safe.  The company has recently expanded and has recently launched a new division of their company that can help you brush up on your cooking skills.  Here is some additional info:

Cooking with CUTCO is an exciting new venture within the CUTCO Cutlery family that gives individuals the opportunity to run their own business from home. CUTCO has been in business since 1949 and we are the #1 Brand of Cutlery in North America! Our new venture, Cooking with CUTCO, combines the best of both worlds –Cutlery and Cookware! The CUTCO Cooking Experience allows YOU to showcase our amazing products in action in the kitchen as well as educate your client on how to cook nutritious and healthy meals for their families, in a fast and cost effective manner. But most of all you will have a tonne of fun creating these experiences for yourself & your clients in their kitchen! This business is fun and easy - we will provide you with hands on training, video training and so much more! For more info on how to become a Cooking Consultant, go to cookingwithcutco.ca.
Cutco is generously offering one lucky reader of this blog the chance to win one of their santoku knives. 
Table Knife
In order to enter the contest, please leave me a comment on this post stating what product you would most want on the Cutco.ca website or what recipe you’d most like to try from the cooking with Cutco page  by October 31st, 2012.  Contest is open to residents of Canada only.
 
Disclaimer: I received free products from the Cutco company to review, but all opinions on this blog are my own.
 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Organic Panic

 
If you know anything about nutrition, than like me, you were probably rolling your eyes over the bruhaha caused by recent headlines declaring organic food no healthier than conventionally grown food based on the results of a literature review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

These headlines referred to the findings that organic food has similar levels of nutrients and are not less likely to contain bacterial pathogens that can cause food-borne illness.  Well, duh!  Who ever thought this was the case?  Most people eat organic foods to avoid pesticides and to support more sustainable, environmentally-friendly farming practices.

In a perfect world we would only grow and produce organic food.  But let's face it, this is a far from perfect world.  Most people cannot afford to eat organic food.  Fortunately, if you pick-and-choose your food wisely, you can minimize your exposure to pesticides without breaking the bank.

Not only do different fruits and veggies have varying levels of pesticides, but where produce is grown is also a determining factor. 

If you want to avoid the most pesticide-laden fruits and veggies, than stay away from:

Most Pesticide-Laden Produce

Fruit
Veggies
Peaches (Chile)
Bell peppers (Mexico, Canada, and U.S.)
Nectarines (Chile)
Cucumbers (Honduras)
Pears (Chile)
Green beans (U.S. and Mexico)
Strawberries (U.S. and Mexico)
Asparagus (Peru)
Apples (Chile)
Kale (U.S.)
Cherries (Canada)
Summer squash (U.S.)
Source: Nutrition Action Healthletter, October 2012

Your best bets for conventionally grown fruits and veggies include:

Least Pesticide-Laden Produce

Fruit
Veggies
Mangoes (Mexico)
Asparagus (Mexico)
Bananas (South America)
Bell peppers (Netherlands)
Cantaloupe (Mexico and Honduras)
Corn (U.S. and Mexico)
Apples (New Zealand)
Carrots (Mexico and U.S.)
Watermelon (U.S., Honduras and Mexico)
Green onions (Mexico)
Grapes (U.S. and Mexico)
Cabbage (U.S.)
Oranges (U.S.)
Spinach (Mexico)
Blueberries (Canada)
Cucumber (Canada)
Cherries (U.S.)
Celery (Mexico)
Nectarines (U.S.)
Kale (Mexico)
Source: Nutrition Action Healthletter, October 2012

Even if you cannot afford organic produce, you should still aim to include as much fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet as possible, and to minimize consumption of unhealthy fats, added sugars and processed foods.  The next most important thing would be to try and eat as much organic food as possible.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dental Hygiene Au Naturel


A growing body of research links poor dental health with a host of chronic health issues and risks, including from heart disease to pregnancy complications.  So even though I hate doing it, I floss my teeth every day, brush after every time I eat, and I use a fluoride rinse.

I started the fluoride rinse a few years ago, not so much as an anti-cavity measure, but on my dentist's recommendation as a strategy that could help with my teeth sensitivity.  She suggested a fluoride rinse made by Oral B, and it did help with my sensitivity.  Big A has been using it too, on the recommendation of her dentist, since the visit where we discovered she had multiple cavities.  It was perfect, for this purpose, because unlike a lot of mouthwashes, this one had no alcohol, nor strong taste, so she was willing to use it.  Unfortunately, like so many products I like, it was discontinued.  Sigh!

I've been on a quest for a replacement for the past few months and bought Crest Pro Health to try.  Big A complained that it is too 'spicy', so I've continued hunting for a better option.  I have been a little concerned about us using any of them on a regular basis, because they all seem to be filled with a lot of crap.  I don't understand why artificial colouring and a whole host of other stuff is necessary.  I was thrilled to recently discover a line of oral hygiene products called The Natural Dentist that makes various natural rinses and toothpastes.  I purchased the fluoride rinse hoping Big A would like the taste, and feeling better about her using it because it contains no weird chemicals.  Unfortunately, she declared it 'yucky', which I find difficult to understand, because I don't think it has barely any taste at all.  So I am now happily using it, and I'm on the hunt to find the kids' toothpastes they make for the kids to try.

The company's products are available in a number of major grocery store and pharmacy chains across Canada and the U.S.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Spicy Sesame Noodles


This is one of my favorite recipes OF ALL TIME and I've been making it for years.  I thought I put it on the blog when I first started it, but I recently realized that I never did.  My apologies, because it is so amazing.  Well now I'm sharing it.  So hopefully you'll forgive me tardiness on this one.

I've included the veggies I like to use, but pick and choose whatever are your favorites.  Add a protein in, if you wish (chicken, tofu, etc). Since the whole grain pasta and sesame butter have a lot of protein, I don't bother.  If you don't want them to be spicy, you can omit the heat factor and still have a fantastic dish.

Spicy Sesame Sauce

1/2 cup sesame butter (this is not the same as tahini, it's made from roasted sesame seeds)*
2 tbls low sodium soy sauce/tamari/coconut aminos
2 tbls rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup natural/sugar-free ketchup (or 1/4 cup tomato paste + 1 tbls coconut sugar)
3-4 tbls finely chopped or minced fresh ginger
3-4 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder (optional)
Siracha sauce, birds eye chilis, minced or crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Salt, to taste

Veggies

1/2 tsp sesame, peanut or canola oil
1/4 cup water
1/2 lb snow peas, trimmed
2 sweet bell peppers (red, yellow, orange, etc.)
2 lbs mushrooms, halved
1 bunch green onions, sliced

1 lb whole grain spaghetti, broken in half

Whisk together ingredients for sauce in a small bowl.  Meanwhile, cook spaghetti to al dente, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid, before you drain it.  Saute veggies (excluding green onions) in a large wok or skillet with oil and water, if needed, until tender.  Add cooked spaghetti and sauce and toss everything together, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid until desired consistency is acheived.  Stir in green onions.  Serves 4 as a main.

*If you can't find sesame butter, you can sub tahini + 1 tsp toasted sesame oil.

Friday, October 19, 2012

My Annual Parenting Challenge

children are the only people that can bring you to the brink of insanity...

I could not be happier that it's Friday.  I am very glad to see this week end.

Adam has been away since Sunday.  This was the week that Adam goes to Ottawa for his annual work trip.  A whole week is a long time to be a single parent. 

I counsel many single women seeking donor insemination so they can have a child.  While I can easily see myself having done that if I'd found myself still single in my 30s or 40s, I don't think I would have made a great single mom.  Heck, I don't think I make a great mom period!

I am the first one to admit that parenting does not come easy to me.  I just don't have the personality traits or skills that are advantageous.  Don't get me wrong, I unconditionally love my children and I would, without question, give my life for them.  But I am an anxiety-prone, Type-A, goal oriented, perfectionist who lacks patience.  Not great characteristics for a parent.  Particularly when you have two extremely stubborn, strong-willed children.

When Little A was 6 months old and I was in the throws of post-partum anxiety and depression, this trip seemed catastrophic to me.  I suffered from extreme anxiety over Adam being away for a week for months leading up to his departure.  I simply felt overwhelmed and completely unable to cope.  But cope I did.  Of course.  It's easy to look back now and marvel and how irrational my fears were.  But that's what happens when you have an anxiety disorder.  I can truly see now how serious it got too.

I am so grateful that I got help (CBT with a wonderful psychologist who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anti-anxiety meds).  While this week was still tough at times, I barely gave Adam's trip a second thought beforehand, and I managed to make it through, not too worse for wear.  Of course, Adam's sabbatical last year gave me lots of practice already at taking care of the girls on my own.  But I also am doing so much better at managing my anxiety.

The week started off well enough.  Admittedly, I didn't have the mental energy to fight with Big A on several evenings when she refused to take a bath or practice her reading.  But I did get both girls' teeth brushed and flossed every night, which is an improvement over the past.  I have just come to expect that my children will be dirtier and less literate when Adam is away. 

Yesterday was awful though.  I helped organize an anniversary party for the girls' daycare, which has been running for 30 years!  Both girls threw huge tantrums, and again, embarrassed me (I think I have to go into these school and daycare events expecting the worst so I'm not surprised or disappointed).  I allowed them each to choose 2 treats from the snack table.  They each made their choices and quickly gobbled them down.  Later on, they noticed some chocolates that had been put out and both asked for one.  I refused, since they'd each already had 2 treats, and they both melted down.  Big A actually threatened me with, "If you don't let me have it, I'm going to complain until daddy gets home!" So I relented and let her have it.  NOT!  Believe you me, neither child got another treat!

Thank goodness for my friend Megan, who inspite of having 3 of her own children to corral, took Big A by the hand and tried to get her to calm down, while I tried to get Little A under control.  As we left to go home Little A calmed down, but Big A, in typical drama-queen style, claimed she was too tired to walk home and kept threatening to sit down on the cold, wet ground.  I ignored her and she shrieked the entire way home.  This morning the two of them would not stop fighting with each other.  I have never been more eager to drop them at daycare.

Adam is back tonight and I can't tell you how grateful I am to have a wonderful, supportive husband and co-parent.  Despite the fact that I can't imagine being a single mom, I never tell single women NOT to go ahead and become a parent on their own.  I have no doubt that for some people, parenting comes more naturally, and they are more than capable of providing a loving, nurturing environment for a child.  As for me, I think I'd end up in a straight-jacket.  I think it's beneficial for me to be an infertility counsellor because, not only do I get to help others in a way that's meaningful for me, but I get daily reminders that despite the many challenges of parenting, I am lucky to have two healthy children.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beddar Cheeze Spread



I love nutritional yeast.  Yep.  Even if it weren't so healthy, I'd still cook with it.  Regardless of whether it really tastes like cheese or not, it just tastes good.

My first introduction to it, however, is kind of amusing in hindsight.  I read about it when I went on my psycho-nutrition kick following my mom's breast cancer diagnosis.  This was back in 1998 before I was using the Internet, and while I was a single grad student with little money to spend on cook books.  Not knowing what to do with the stuff, I began just throwing it into fruit smoothies.  I didn't mind the taste, but now that I know it is best suited for savoury things because it has a rather 'cheesy' taste to it, I kind of gag at the thought.

Anyways, now I DO know how to use it, and really enjoy using it in all sorts of ways.  Given how much I like the flavour, I started to think about how I could really showcase the flavour.  I've used it for many cheese-sauce alternatives, but I decided to make a cheese spread, something I could slather on a cracker.  This was super easy.  It is also vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, low-fat, low-calorie, and full of protein, vitamins and minerals.  Oh, and incredibly delicious. Does it get any beddar?

Beddar Cheeze Spread

1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy or other non-dairy milk, divided
25g sea moss (a small handful), soaked and rinsed
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 heaping tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp paprika
1 tbls lemon juice

Place 1 cup of milk, and all other ingredients except remaining 1/2 cup milk and lemon juice in a sauce pan.  Simmer over low-medium heat for about 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until bubbling and thickened.  Turn off heat and whisk in remaining milk and lemon juice.  Let cool slightly.  Pour into blender and puree until smooth.  Transfer to a container and refrigerate overnight.  Drain liquid that has separated (like curds and whey!), and place your 'cheeze' in a food processor or blender, and blend until creamy.  Keep refrigerated for 1 week.


Spread on bread or crackers, use as a dip for veggies, or a topping for baked potatoes.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tropical Pineapple Coconut Curry


Adam went nuts for this dish.  You know when he loves a vegan dish, it's GOOD.  I should also add that my foodie mother loved it as well.  She tried some last weekend as she passed through town on route to England to meet up with my dad.  You'll love it too!

On top of being super yummy and nutritious, it is also inexpensive and makes a lot, so you  can either freeze leftovers, or serve it to a crowd.

You can serve this over the rice, but I prefer to mix the rice right into the curry before serving so it soaks up all of the delicious sauce.

1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbls fresh ginger, minced
2 tbls madras curry powder (hot or mild)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2-1 tsp salt
1/4 cup cider vinegar
Caribbean scotch bonnet hot sauce, to taste (optional)
1 can crushed pineapple, with juice
1 can light coconut milk
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas)
1 cabbage, cored and thinly sliced

1.5 cups long grain brown rice
3 cups water

Place rice and water in large pot.  Bring water to a boil and then turn heat down to medium-low.  Simmer until water has been absorbed.

This recipe has been entered into Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-free Fridays and Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend for Oct. 18-22.
In a large pot or skillet, saute onion, ginger, garlic and spices in vinegar for 2-3 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Add pineapple, coconut milk, chickpeas and cabbage and simmer until cabbage is tender and you are ready to serve.  Serve with brown rice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Roasted Italian Candy Plums


When it comes to fruit eaten out of hand, I'm really picky.  Apples are my favorite, followed by cherries, berries and citrus fruits.  That's about it.  Nothing else interests me.  But when it comes to cooking and baking, it's a whole other story.  Mango, apricots, peaches, pears, pineapple are all great.  But one of my favorite baked fruits is plums.  They literally taste like candy when baked or roasted. 

The girls have been swooning over the Italian Prune Plums we've been buying recently.  Big A particularly liked that the basket from the market was labelled as "Candy plums", that certainly increased the appeal.  Then I made these for the girls, and they totally flipped.  They are so f*ing good!  I actually had to cut them off because I was worried they'd eat so many they'd be pooping their brains out.

These are also super easy to make and can be used in so many ways: in a salad, served as a side or topping to savoury dishes like chicken or pork, served with yogurt or ice cream, or with oatmeal or granola, or as an alternative to jam in a sandwich with nut butter.

Unlike my stewed spiced plum recipe, which are equally delicious, but more like a fruit compote, these are less 'saucy'.  I think they are even easier to make since you don't need to stir them on the stovetop and instead, simply pop them in the oven.


Roasted Italian Candy Plums

2 lb Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
A few drops lemon stevia, or vanilla or plain, to taste (optional)

Toss everything together in a large bowl.  Spread plum slices onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, or until soft and sticky.

Monday, October 15, 2012

House Hunters' Hang Ups



It seems like every time I open a newspaper or turn on the television lately, I see something about the Bachelor Canada which premiered this month.   I have NEVER watched any of these matchmaking shows.  Frankly, I think they are all repugnant and I have never been able to fathom how people stomach watching such crap.  I feel similarly about most reality shows (Biggest Loser, Survivor, etc.).

The one exception is real estate/home reno shows.  I could watch HGTV all day.  Personally, I think these shows are qualitatively different than above mentioned.  They are not about competition or exploitation or public humiliation.  Just pure real estate porn and voyeurism.  Nothing wrong with that!

I particularly love watching the shows that follow house hunters.  This includes, of course, House Hunters and House Hunters International, but also ones like Urban Suburban, Property Virgins, Buy Herself, etc.

Nevertheless, there are certain things that I see frequently on these shows that drive me nuts and really make me wonder about North Americans' (particularly those in the U.S.) values and expectations.  Here are some examples:

Man Caves - I had never even heard this term until I started watching American house hunting shows.  Seriously?  You cannot be serious!  Any man who thinks he deserves his own room in a house where he can scratch his balls and act like a neanderthal doesn't actually need a house, he needs a cave.  A real cave.  Where he can eat raw meat with his bare hands.

Need for Privacy - I don't understand people who want to live in densely populated urban areas, but can't handle the idea of ever seeing another human being near their property.  What exactly are these people doing that they need so much privacy?  If you like to run around naked, you can always close your blinds, or your neighbours can close theirs...and if your neighbours prefer to watch, I say, "You go girl!"  Or "Guy!".

Stairs - When young, able-bodied people refuse to live in a home with stairs, it's not difficult to see why we have an obesity epidemic on our hands.  Like come on, a few stairs is gonna kill you?

Need for space - Okay, if you have 4 kids, you need space.  But why does an older, child-free couple need a 2,600 square foot home?  What about trying to minimize our carbon footprint, or live a simpler life??

Luxuries - It amazes me that even people looking for their first house, with a minimal budget feel they are entitled to a home with all the bells and whistles.  This is particularly true with Americans and seems to include a huge master suite with ensuite, soaker tub and double sinks, and granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen.  The double sinks is really weird to me.  Does a couple really struggle over sink space that much?  I don't think Adam and I ever have, and growing up in my parents' home, I don't recall either they nor my brother and I ever fighting over sink space in the morning...and we were all a.m. showerers!

Bathroom placement - Although if you have someone in your family with IBS I can see how this would not be ideal, I don't really understand the hysteria over having a bathroom near the kitchen.  Actually makes sense if you ask me!

Size over location - I love cities and I like being right in the center of everything, so I am always puzzled when house hunters choose a sprawling property in the middle of nowhere with a long commute to work over a smaller place downtown.  But that's just my personal bias and my desire to be able to walk everywhere.

Okay, that's it, that's my rant for the day.  Now go watch HGTV like good little boys and girls and see what I mean!

Friday, October 12, 2012

PBB&J Cookies


While I admit I could use some botox between the eyes, I am proud to say I still don't have a single gray hair.    This is actually quite surprising given what life can be like these days.

Take this morning, for example.  Little A had a 20 minute tantrum over what to wear, even though I wasn't even arguing with her!  I told her to pick out what she wanted, that she could choose.  She just seemed to want a fight.  Fortunately, after all the shrieking and foot stomping, she eventually settled on a cute, and relatively colour-coordinated outfit.

Another 20 minute tantrum ensued a little while later when she asked for a popsicle and I refused.  She carried on until I promised to make her and Big A hot cocoa.

Just before leaving the house, Little A began another meltdown over what she deemed unsatisfactory mitten and glove options.  Big A wouldn't let her wear her Hello Kitty gloves, and the three other choices I offered her were not to her liking.  Eventually she settled on some red gloves.

Yet again, there was screaming and tears when we were no more than 2 blocks from the house because her hot cocoa dripped on her jacket and gloves.

Not only is it a miracle that I don't have gray hair, it's a miracle that I am still inspired to bake treats for my little monsters.  Admittedly, this morning I felt more like making Little A eat worms.  But somehow both girls can easily melt my heart, even after a wretched morning such as the one today, with just the hint of their adorable smiles.  And smiles were had all around when they tasted these cookies.  Inwardly I smiled too, because they are just as nutritious as they are delicious.

PBB&J Cookies

3/4 cup natural peanut butter (or other nut/seed butter)
2 flax eggs (2  tbls ground flax + 6 tbls hot water)
2 large or 3 small, ripe bananas
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbls lucuma powder (optional)
2 cups oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup all fruit/sugar-free jam/spread (I used blueberry)

Combine all the ingredients, except jam, in food processor and process until dough comes together.  Drop large mounds onto baking sheet, lined with parchment paper.  Use your fingers to make a little hole in the centre.  This part is a bit tricky as the dough is quite sticky...and that is a rhyme so just give it some time! 

Drop a spoonful of jam into the centre of each cookie.  Bake at 350F for 12-14 minutes.  Let cool and then remove from baking sheet.  Keep refrigerated or freeze.

Warning: If you add too much jam - like I did, they will overflow when baking.  Fortunately, no one around here complained!!

I have included this recipe in Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend for Oct 25-28, and in Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

National U.S. Depression Screening Day



Image Source

There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, and this stigma often prevents people from getting the help they need.

Recent research, however, has found that this stigma may be declining and Americans are now more knowledgeable than ever about the prevalence of depression and its treatability.

Today, October 11th, is National Depression Screening Day.  More than 1,000 sites across the U.S. are offering free, anonymous assessments for various mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and PTSD  To find a site, or to do the screening online, please visit: www.HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org.

Here is the official press release:

Mental Health Stigma Declining
Public Opinion Survey Reveals the Vast Majority Would Consult a Doctor if Experiencing Symptoms of Depression
National Depression Screening Day® Links Individuals to Treatment, Saves Lives
October 9, 2012 (Boston, MA) - Most Americans are familiar with depression and do not attach a stigma to seeking treatment for it from a therapist. In fact, most Americans believe that depression is treatable and go so far as to say it would not affect their vote in a presidential election if they heard that a candidate had consulted a therapist for depression.
The public opinion poll findings released this month by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., a nonprofit provider of mental health screening programs, come as thousands of community-based organizations, military installations and colleges prepare to host National Depression Screening Day events on Thursday, October 11. Screening locations and anonymous online screenings are available at www.HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org.
“These findings tell us that our efforts to reduce stigma and increase the public’s knowledge of depression through events like National Depression Screening Day are having an effect,” said Douglas G. Jacobs, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder of Screening for Mental Health, Inc. “The goal of the program is to educate people on the symptoms of depression, assess their risk for mood and anxiety disorders and connect those in need with local treatment services.
The telephone poll conducted by Anderson Robbins Research surveyed 1,021 American adults between September 15 and 20 and sought to evaluate perceptions and knowledge of depression and mental health.
Other key findings include:
· Half (53%) of Americans personally know someone who has been treated for depression;
· Nearly three-quarters (72%) say they’d be likely to speak with a health care provider if they thought they were experiencing signs of depression;
· Two-thirds (67%) believe depression can be successfully treated most of the time;
· Two-thirds (65%) say learning a presidential candidate had sought treatment for depression would have no impact on their vote. There were no significant differences with regard to political party identification;
· Those who know people with depression are more likely than others to seek help themselves, (76%, compared to 66% of those who don’t know anyone with depression), and are more optimistic about the frequency with which depression can be successfully treated.
To continue to educate members of the public on the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide, and the correct course of action to take, National Depression Screening Day will take place on October 11. As part of this 22nd annual event, community organizations, colleges and military installations throughout the nation will offer free, anonymous mental health screenings. This event helps individuals learn the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide; educates friends and family members on what to do if a loved one is at risk; and gives individuals the opportunity to talk to a mental health professional about their own or a loved one’s situation.
Screening for Mental Health Inc. (SMH) is the non-profit organization that first introduced the concept of large-scale mental health screenings with its flagship program, National Depression Screening Day, in 1991. SMH programs include both in-person and online programs for depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcohol problems, and suicide prevention. SMH programs have been used by hospitals, mental health centers, social service agencies, government agencies, older adult facilities, primary care clinicians, colleges, secondary schools, corporations and military installations reaching individuals ranging from adolescents to older adults.

Here is some additional information about depression in the United States:

1. How many Americans are estimated to suffer from depression?
Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder (the most common mood disorders are major depression and bipolar disorder). Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

2. What proportion of Americans with depression seek treatment? Studies have varied on this over the years but generally only about half of people seek treatment.

3. If stigma has declined, what factors usually function as barriers to individuals seeking treatment?
· People don’t know where to get help
· Cost of mental health care
· Not believing that mental health treatment will work
· Taking time off work for treatment
· Transportation issues
· Poor access (rural areas)
· Although stigma has declined it is definitely still an issue for some

4. What groups are particularly vulnerable to depression?
· persons 45-64 years of age
· women
· blacks, Hispanics, non-Hispanic persons of other races or multiple races
· persons with less than a high school education
· those previously married
· individuals unable to work or unemployed
· persons without health insurance coverage

5. Are there areas within the U.S. where it is more difficult to get treatment for depression?
Rural areas where there are fewer treatment facilities.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Festive Lentil Bean Loaf


However fleeting, I love fall: The weather,  the colours, the smell in the air...ah, it makes me so happy!  I also love Thanksgiving, a holiday that incorporates many things I cherish: cooking, eating, and gratitude.  So this past weekend was bliss for me.

Saturday we took the girls back to the Evergreen Brickworks.  This time Little A was in a much better mood, Big A enjoyed it, and there were no major meltdowns or incidents.  We convinced the girls to let us take them on a nature walk and it was wonderful.  We would have stayed even longer than we did if we hadn't had to get Big A to her gymnastics class at 1pm.

While exploring the farmer's market, Little A insisted on another giant vegan chocolate chip cookie so, of course, Big A had to have one too.  They also convinced me to buy them apple chips from the man from Niagara Try Dry.  He was so nice and helpful, offering the girls a taste of various dried fruits while they nagged me for the goods and giving me a paper bag for each of them when they impatiently tore their bags open, almost spilling them all over the ground.



Monday, Thanksgiving Day, we took the girls to Pumpkinfest at Downey's Farm.  This is the third year we've gone and we all love it.  This year not only did we have lovely weather, we got through the whole visit without a tantrum, until we got back to the car, at least.

Unfortunately, a particularly great long weekend is almost always followed by an especially difficult transition back to daycare/school.  Tuesday morning Little A got into her characteristic state of hysteria that makes her stop turn purple, appear as if she's stop breathing, and leads to diaphragm spasms and coughing fits.  Yes, this kid has been a champion drama queen since the day she was born.

No big, traditional dinner this year though.  Adam's folks went to Ottawa for the weekend, my dad's in England and my mom stayed in Kingston because she's coming to Toronto next weekend, on her way to England to meet up with my dad.

I contemplated making Adam and I turkey, but instead got excited about the idea of a vegan alternative.    Something I could serve with the yummy vegan gravy I made.  This fit the bill and made a delicious, comforting meal, along with mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus.  I am particularly excited about making the leftovers into various lunch creations.  I pre-sliced the rest of the loaf, and froze the slices.  I'm thinking, lentil loaf sandwiches, wraps, or just shoveling the slices into my mouth as fast as possible.  Personally I don't even think it needs gravy.  I also think this tastes better than any meatloaf I've ever had.


Festive Lentil Bean Loaf

1 onion, minced
20 button mushrooms, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls sherry vinegar
1 tbls worcestershire sauce (vegan or regular)
1 tbls balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp Herbamare or regular sea salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
1-19oz can pinto beans, pulsed/broken up in food processor or coursely mashed by hand (leave chunky, you aren't making hummus!)
1-19oz can brown lentils, drained and rinsed
1 can tomato paste
2 egg whites or flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax + 6 tbls hot water)
1.5-2 tsp konjac flour (6-575mg capsules emptied out), or cornstarch/arrowroot might work?

Glaze

1/3 cup natural/sugar-free ketchup
1 tbls wocestershire sauce (vegan or regular)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Cook onion, garlic and mushroom in a pan or skillet over medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until they have rendered out most of their liquid and then liquid has reduced.  Add vinegars, worcestershire sauce and seasonings.  Continue cooking untl most of liquid has been absorbed.  Add in beans, lentils and tomato paste.  Remove from heat.  Quickly stir into eggs/flax eggs and konjac flour.  Scrape into a loaf pan that has been greased and lined with parchment.  Spread evenly and smooth top and cover with foil.  Bake in the oven at 375F for 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, whisk together ingredients for glaze in a small bowl.  Remove loaf from oven, discard foil and spread glaze evenly over the top.  Return to oven and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes.  Use parchment to assist removal from pan.  Cut into 8 thick slices and serve as desired.  Keep leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days or freeze.

This recipe has been included in Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday, and Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Spicy Sesame Tuna Noodle Salad



I adore shiritake noodles.  They are a wonderful replacement for rice noodles, particularly in Asian-style dishes.  Rice noodles can easily get gummy and sticky, but shiritake's maintain their texture no matter what.  Because they do not absorb liquid, however, you have to be careful to prepare them properly, using the drying method, and make sure you start with a fairly thick sauce. 

This dish is so yummy and flavourful and so quick to prepare!  Perfect for lunch or dinner.  For a vegan option, add cubed tofu in place of the tuna.

Salad

1lb bag shiritake noodles (not the tofu kind), drained and rinsed
1 can tuna, undrained
1 bag rainbow slaw
1 bunch green onions, sliced
2 tbls fresh ginger, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced

Dressing

1/4 cup low-fat mayo (regular or vegan)
3-4 tbls light miso paste
2 tbls rice vinegar (unseasoned, sugar-free kind)
1 tbls low sodium soy/tamari or aminos
1/8 tsp toasted sesame oil
Siracha or crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing in your intended serving bowl.  Set aside.

Place noodles in hot pan or skillet and cook until excess moisture is removed.  Add tuna, with the tuna liquid, garlic, ginger and green onions, stir, until liquid is absorbed.  Add rainbow slaw, stir everything together, and remove from heat.  Add salad ingredients to serving bowl and toss with dressing.  Serve warm or cold.  Serves 2 as a main dish.

This recipe has been entered into Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday lineup for the Nov 2-4 weekend.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving


I believe that gratitude is fundamental to well-being.  I don't believe that positive thinking can overcome every challenge, but I know for a fact that negative thinking usually only makes things worse.  So I try to be grateful and count my blessings on a daily basis.  Thanksgiving is just an opportunity to put more emphasis on this practice.

So here is what I am grateful for this year:

The usual BIG stuff like:
  • My amazing husband
  • My girls who are beautiful, inside and out
  • All the family and friends who are a part of my life
  • Living in a peaceful and privileged country like Canada
  • Not facing the severe hardship so many people in this world face on a daily basis (natural disasters, war, violence, poverty, homelessness, illness, etc.)
And some of the random, smaller stuff that's happened recently that I'm grateful for:
  • Although Big A woke up at 5:30am on Saturday, she was nice enough to coach me through my Insanity Fitness DVD and even did some jumping jacks and burpees with me.
  • The disembodied voices I'd been hearing for a few days were not evidence that I've finally cracked up, but were actually coming from the girls' Dora the Explorer Kitchen which apparently needs new batteries.
  • The girls got along well almost all weekend, and actually played more than they fought.  Watching them play and laugh together warms my heart.
  • The pie Little A made me on the girls' Ipad was virtual and not, in fact, real because it involved both sausage and sprinkles.
  • After begging me to make them spaghetti and meatballs last week, Big A declared the meatballs 'yucky' while Little A declared the long spaghetti noodles (which Big A forbid me from breaking up) 'too tricky to eat', but none of the food went to waste because Little A ate Big A's meatballs, and Big A ate all of Little A's spaghetti.
  • We've had some absolutely spectacular fall weather the past few weeks.
  • Despite the Ontario apple shortage this season, I was finally able to find my beloved mutsu/crispin variety at a good price...and I stocked up!!  I adore apples.
  • My TRX Rip Trainer arrived in the mail.
Oh, and last, but not least, I am grateful to all of you, who give my thoughts, feelings, ideas and ramblings some of your precious time.  I appreciate each and every one of you who read my blog.  Happy Thanksgiving!