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Posted by karen
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This is it. The weekend that launches my season of Christmas hospitality. It's fast and furious, with a dinner for four Friday night and hosting a neighbourhood potluck brunch on Sunday. 
 
This is a "world-away" contrast to a former chapter of my life.  When December was a flurry of celebrations: from the get-go birthday party on the 2nd for my daughter - to a host of Christmas parties connected to all the life-circles of my husband and I and our two children- to our son's birthday on the 23rd. And this event was the starting gun for the marathon of Christmas celebrations that revolved around a community of family - going from house to house - which would wrap up sometime around the New Year. Just recording this makes me breathless. But it was wonderful: a time of sharing, laughter and fun, and of course, eating.
 
Coming from a heritage of accomplished cooks, the food was plentiful and delicious. Taste memories range from the traditional Swedish lutefish and lefse, to the stuffed turkey, a myriad of salads and vegetable dishes - and a "stretch buffet" of sweets and desserts.
 
But just like the jam-packed holiday schedule has changed, so have many of the food choices that are now on our feast menus. 
 
Generally, we now have: more fresh vegetables and fruits, more whole grains, less animal fats, more natural sweets, less refined sugar.   
 
The following recipes I've made this weekend are some healthy holiday eating suggestions you may want to serve at your holiday feasts.
 

Begin with "A Starter" 

Curry Pumpkin Hummus 

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp.allspice
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. maple syrup
1/4 cup tahini
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup solid-pack pumpkin puree
3 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. sea salt (or Herbamare)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
garnish: chopped pistachios or toasted pumpkin seeds
 
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, cayenne, and maple syrup. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring well.
Stir in tahini and chick peas; remove from heat.
Stir in the pumpkin, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor and process until smooth.
Spoon into a shallow serving bowl and sprinkle with garnish.
 
(Nutrition notes: these flavorful curry seasonings improve circulation - good "flu-fighters". Tahini and chick peas are protein sources - pumpkin supplies vitamin A.)
 
Recipe adapted from "Quick-Fix Vegan: Healthy Homestyle Meals in 30 Minutes or Less" by Robin Robertson

Home-Made Pita Chips - one version GF, one not

Cut whole-wheat pitas (or for gluten free use corn tortillas) into wedges and arrange on large baking pan. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with a wee bit of sea salt. Bake in 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until crisp: flipping them over half-way through. Not gluten free, but a healthy alternative to nachos cooked in oil. 
 

Quinoa and Roasted Squash Salad - delicious make-ahead salad

1.5 cup quinoa
2 3/4 cups water
pinch sea salt
 
2.5 pound squash - acorn, buttercup or Kabocha - enough for 8-10 cups cut into cubes
3 Tbsp.extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. Herbamare
1/2 tsp.cinnamon
1 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups red onion, cut into slivers
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup chopped parsley
 
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. good quality balsamic vinegar (I used balsamic fig from this great source in Halifax)
1 tsp. orange zest
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
 
optional: crumbled feta cheese
 
Rinse quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and place in 2-quart pot with the water and sea salt. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool completely. (Can be made ahead 1-2 days before you need it and kept in the fridge.)
 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash into quarters, scoop out seeds and cut into equal bite-sized chunks, about 1-inch squares. Place into baking dish, toss with the olive oil, Herbamare and cinnamon. Roast for 35-40 minutes. Stir once halfway through - let cool on the pan.
Place the pecans in a separate small baking dish and slide them in the oven along with the squash. Roast for 10-12 minutes - don't forget them in there!
 
Saute the slivered red onions in a wee bit of olive oil - for about 5 minutes, just until soft and beginning to change colour. Remove from heat.
 
Place cooled quinoa into a large bowl, add the roasted squash, roasted and chopped pecans, sautéed onions, dried cranberries, pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.
 
Put dressing ingredients into small jar with tight-fitting lid. Shake well and pour over salad. If desired, sprinkle crumbled feta cheese on top before  refrigerating until serving.
 
Recipe adapted from www.nourishingmeals.com
 
 

One favorite has not changed - that's our holiday fruitcake. Gloriously good and gluten free.

 
 
Many years ago my Mom found a recipe for this fruit cake which has become an annual Christmas standby - and sometimes shows up during other times of the year too!
 
Over the years I've tweaked it to suit my family; it has evolved into a delicious gluten free version.
 
This is not the traditional candied fruit, butter-rich kind of fruitcake. It's made with dried fruits, nuts, eggs, flour (I use a GF mix, as mentioned), baking powder, bit of honey or maple syrup and vanilla. You know it's good when even the grandkids say, "it won't be Christmas without Nana's fruitcake."
 
Click here for the recipe for the Healthy Nut and Dried Fruit Christmas Cake.
 
This cake doesn't have to be aged - it'll be a hit (and so will you!) if you squeeze it into your schedule this week.
 
Happy healthy holiday eating!!
Posted by karen
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The 2011 calendar will soon be wrapped up. Have you thought about - or made - any nutrition resolutions for your fitness and athletic activities? Maybe they look like these:

-- gearing up for a month-long digestive cleanse and decreasing exercise intensity

-- launching into a vegan diet

-- testing out what eating raw is all about

-- cutting out caffeine for a month

Or maybe your "extreme" resolution is to figure out how to fuel yourself properly while training for your first marathon.

Running happens to be my favourite fitness gig - but whatever the exercise activity, our performance and experience will show whether our eating choices have been left to chance.

Goals are good.

If you've not yet decided, and don't want to be left out of the resolution loop, check out the following list. These all carry a worthwhile nutrition objective - and benefit.

Avoid diet sodas and foods with Aspartame and other synthetic sugars.

-- consuming Aspartame also includes ingesting methanol (wood alcohol) which is a dangerous neurotoxin and a known carcinogen.

-- one of the many negative side effects is the harmful effect on the nervous system

-- synthetic sugars contribute to acidity, a condition which leads to (1) inflammation, and (2) the body creates fat cells to store that extra acid so that, ironically, consistent consumption of Aspartame could add to your weight.

Avoid refined sugar - only a few of the reasons why:

-- refined sugar weakens the immune system by stealing your white blood cells' ability to destroy bacteria 

-- can encourage addiction to eating foods devoid of vitamins, minerals and fibre - when our body really needs and wants those nutrient-rich foods

-- upsets mineral relationships in the body, e.g. messes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium

Eat more greens and veggies for antioxidants, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, zinc, omega 3's

-- a hefty daily serving of greens

-- a generous daily serving of coloured veggies and bright-coloured fruits, berries

-- a hearty daily portion of sulfur producing veggies - e.g. cabbage, broccoli, turnips, onions, garlic, etc.

Make your own power bars and gels.

-- the nutritional value of processed energy bars is often the equivalent of candy bars. Home made bars and gels with nutrient-rich calories are less expensive and easy to make. The recipe for the gel is in my post about dates (you'll have to scroll down a ways to find it).  I shared some of this power gel recently while running with a friend. She's hooked. So much tastier than the gels you buy - and made with real food ingredients.

Protein Bar Recipe

1 cup protein powder (hemp, soy or whey)

2 cups rice bran

1/4 cup cocoa powder

3/4 tsp. sea salt

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup shredded coconut

3/4 cup hemp seeds

Mix above and add:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 - 3/4 cup brown rice syrup or honey

1/4 cup maple syrup

Mix thoroughly and form into balls or press into a pan to cut into bars.

Store in refrigerator or freeze.

This recipe came from a colleague who makes them for a pro sports team. Convinced?

Eat more fermented foods - e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi

-- the healthy bacteria in these foods speed up digestion and assimilation of nutrients

-- fermented foods help reduce sweet cravings (and when you do indulge, fermented foods help digest the sugars)

-- fermented foods contribute to an alkaline state, as compared to an acidic environment, which is responsible for an increase of free radicals and a decrease in the production of cellular energy

-- bonus - you can easily make it yourself, see how to do it here

Log your food intake - what you eat every day and when you eat it.

-- the timing of your food intake affects how you feel when you exercise

-- tracking food you eat along with your exercise performance can be a helpful fitness nutrition tool - especially if you want to notch up your activity for competition

 

I challenge you to choose at least one New Year's nutrition resolution.

You never know what rewards could await you in 2012.

I'd love to hear from you - what are your nutrition resolutions?

Posted by karen
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We don't have to expect dietary damage control in January.

We can plan to prepare and eat healthy foods for our holiday-Christmas eating.
 

My Healthy Holiday Eating Workshop will help you to be ready:

 
--when you're the hostess - healthy nutritional alternatives
                                                 - accommodating food sensitivities
                                        
--when you're the guest - tips on 'holding your healthy line'
                                             - suggestions on offerings you can share  
 
--for the days in between 'the parties' 
 
 
 

What you can expect:

 
--tasting and sampling
 
--gluten-free options
 
--flavorful, sweet treats - without refined sugar
 
--take-home recipes and nutrition notes for the above
 
--to have fun
 
 

When and Where:

 
--Monday, December 12
--6:30 - 8:00-ish
--Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia
 
Contact me for registration and information. Limited seating - register early!
 
 
 
 
Some of the fixings for quinoa - roasted squash salad. It is fresh, flavorful - and festive (taste and see the finished product at the workshop - my photo accidentally got deleted from my memory card :(
 
 
Give yourself a Christmas gift...set yourself up for Healthy Holiday Eating.
Posted by karen
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Hold the line on healthy.

 
We're marching into the season where schedules and life get busier, and if we're not intentional about it, healthy eating patterns and food choices can end up somewhere "down there" on the list. 
 
It's not the time to opt for nutrient-deprived fast food, to stock up on processed "easy meals," or fill up on the goodie trays in the coffee room at work.
 
Flu bugs and colds are not taking a holiday. Stress and sleep slip out of balance. 
 
 
This is the call: strengthen the ramparts on healthy eating.
 

Here's my defensive eating plan.

Greens

Greens are on the menu - every day, at least once a day. In a salad, a green smoothie or transformed into a "hot dish." Please read more about  these super foods and find recipe ideas from my "gotta have greens" article on active.com.
 
 

Miso

A cup of miso soup will be my hot drink choice for some of my "tea breaks". Miso is a fermented product with probiotics (aids digestions), it's also good for circulation, blood pressure and resists toxins. Miso makes a tasty, nutritious addition to all kinds of dressings, sauces and dishes. It's interesting trying a variety of misos - pictured below are brown rice and soybean.
 
 
 
 

Easy peasey cup of soup, perfect for an appetizer too.

Pour boiled water into good-sized mug. Stir in 1 tsp miso. Add chopped green onions, snippets of dulce, finely grated carrots, (opt - tiny cubes of tofu). Stir thoroughly, let sit for 2 - 3 minutes and enjoy.
 

"I'd like to bring something."

This will be my answer when invited to a party. One idea for an appetizer: a veggie tray and healthy dips . It's a great way to introduce a nutritious buffet option, besides knowing the list of ingredients:) The following guacamole recipe has a different taste twist, with some bonus nutrients.
 
 
 
 

Miso Dulce Guacamole -  great for fresh veggies or tortilla chips, or as a spread on wraps with fresh veggies

2 well-ripened avocados, pitted and skins removed, *save pits
1/2 tomato, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped dulce or nori
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup tahini
2 Tbsp. miso paste (brown rice or soybean)
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. hot pepper flakes
olives for garnish
 
Mash all the ingredients together or process in a food processor. Best if eaten the same day. *Putting the pits back into the dip until time to eat will help stop the dip from turning brown.
 
(Nutrition notes: avocadoes are full of healthy fats, garlic and onion: antioxidants, 
 
(adaptation from Thrive: the Vegan Nutrition Guide by Brendan Brazier)
 
 

Avoid refined sugar.

Okay, refined sugar is really hard to escape at this time of year.  I know I'll be indulging sometime. 
 
That's the key. Sometime - which doesn't mean sampling everything on the dessert tray.  Choosing something special that I really want to taste.
 
I plan to be extra diligent in my own kitchen, where I have the choice, the ingredients and the tools to create sweet treats without refined sugar.
 
Both for eating at home and sharing with others.
 
 

I have a simple plan. Now, to move forward with courage.

I live a real life in a human body and like everyone else,  I live in a nutritional "war zone".

But I have a plan. Do you too? Let me know!

Posted by karen
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My house is a maze of boxes and suffused with the energy and excitement combo that accompanies an approaching change. No, I'm not in one of my rare seasonal house-cleansing frenzies. This weekend our daughter and family are moving out and forward, on to their next life adventure, ending their six-month transition period of living with us. A season where our house has pulsed with the activities and kafuffle generated by five people (and one cat) – added to our mix of two.

No surprise that the kitchen has been the hub – and a huge amount of gratitude goes to my daughter, Renee, who's masterminded (and implemented) most of the healthy feeding program to sustain all the creative and physical energy.

One person can't – or wouldn't want to – do such a task singularily. Renee's husband, Damien, has 'done' most breakfasts and I've taken some shifts as head or sous chef, cleaner-upper and filling in other gaps. Celine, Laurent and Brienne – aged 12, 10, and 8 – have had their daily kitchen chores plus food prep as requested. They're proficient in cutting and chopping veggies, concocting delicious salad dressings (move over, olive oil and balsamic vinegar), and blending super smoothies – all adding to the wake of accumulated food bits and pieces scattered on the kitchen floor.

My body has probably never been happier with iself – fuelled mostly by fruits and veggies, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, dried fruits instead of sugar. Meals and snacks (a favorite part of the food plan) have been just out-and-out delicious and nutritious....

African Peanut-Potato Stew...Tortillas...Pumpkin & Black Bean Casserole... Falafel...Simple Oatmeal Raisin Cookies...Slow-Cooked Tofu in Pineapple Barbecue Sauce...Creamy Cashew Lemon Pie...Easy Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna... Hearty One-Pot Meal Miso Soup...Raw Peanut Butter Cookies...Buckwheat Hazelnut Pancakes...Grated Beet & Carrot Salad... Chickpea and Roasted Tomato Salad...Savoury Millet Stew...Breakfast Rice Pudding...Roasted Potato & Asparagus Salad...Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge...

But even when it's great, we can have our moments when we want a change of menu. This week for Celine, that meant finding an alternative breakfast recipe that she could make for the household. This health-aware pre-teen found one, tweaked it to use ingredients she had available – and we ate it this morning! Yum yum.

 

The Recipe: Pomegranate Muesli

Ingredients:

2 cups pomegranate juice

1 cup steel cut oats (could also use old fashioned oats – not quick or instant)

1/2 cup each sunflower and pumpkin seeds

4 apples, peeled and grated

1/4 cup cashews, coarsely chopped

5-6 cups fruit – combination of sliced strawberries and blueberries

1/3 cup raisins

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

2-3 Tbsp. hemp hearts

Instructions:

Soak oats and seeds in pomegranate juice overnight in refrigerator.

In the morning, stir in remaining ingredients. 

 

Note – add or substitute other fruits.

Makes 5-6 servings.

Nutritrient Notes:

-- soaking the oats and seeds overnight contributes to better digestion

-- pomegranates - high in vitamin K, contain vitamin C, choline, magnesium, potassium and calcium

-- hemp hearts - high in protein and fibre

-- flax seeds - omega-3 fats, selenium, fibre, phytochemicals, antioxidants 

 

Celine's Dad peeled the apples (to helped speed up the operation) but she did pretty much everything else. When it came time to dish up our breakfast bowls, it wasn't only Celine who appreciated something new on the breakfast menu! 

The youngest cook in the house, Brienne, is not one to be left behind - in anything. You have to check out her Miso Soup Recipe - and try it. It's sure to become a lunch standby.

Cooking healthy meals takes planning, time and work - at any age. Inviting and allowing young cooks to mess about in the kitchen is messy. But it's fun - and offers them the pleasure of creating, and eating, nutritious food. A gift that will come back in spades - for their own healthy food habits and opening a window for future shared cooking experiences. 

When these young cooks are your grandkids, the pleasure is especially sweet. Who helps you in your kitchen?

 

(Photo thanks and credits to Fimby.)

Make your Own Yogurt

26 Oct 2011
Posted by karen
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Yogurt. This complete-protein source has become a mainstay in many households. Mini packages get tucked into lunches, it's added to smoothies, spooned over granola, the Greeks transform it into tzatziki, it becomes dessert with fruit and a drizzle of honey...if your diet isn't dairy-free or vegan, you've probably got your own idea to add to the list.

What does it have going for it?

-- contains Lactobacillus acidophilus and other "friendly" bacteria needed for the digestion of food

-- can help prevent candidiasis (yeast overgrowth)

-- source of calcium and other essential nutrients

-- through the fermentation process, fat and calories are reduced, and usually increases in the B vitamins

-- recommended especially after antibiotic therapy (which kills off some of the normal bacteria in the intestine)

 

Make your own yogurt.

-- use low-fat milk 

-- forget the sugar - use a wee bit of maple syrup or honey if you have to, but it really does taste delicious as is

-- add whatever fresh or frozen fruit you like - or raisins, nuts, grated coconut.....

-- it costs much less than a carton from the supermarket

-- what you need: milk, plain yogurt to use as a starter, large dutch oven kettle, whisk, thermometer (opt), small bowl, large glass or pottery bowl, tea towel

 

Here's how you make it.

-- pour 2L carton of milk into a large kettle - you need room for it to come to a full boil

-- turn on stove burner to medium or medium-high. Be prepared to stand there and stir, to avoid scorching or burning the milk - or having it boil over as soon as you turn your back on it.

-- stir consistently until milk comes to a full rolling boil, threatening to boil over.

-- remove kettle from heat source, let sit and cool for 45 minutes. Timing is important - set the timer so you don't forget.

-- while milk is cooling, take plain yogurt out of the refrigerator, making sure it doesn't have added sugar or gelatin in it. Just plain yogurt with bacterial culture. Put 4 Tbsp yogurt (about 1/3 cup) in a small, fruit nappie-size bowl. Let it sit on the counter and come to room temperature while the milk cools.

-- after cooling for 45 minutes, milk should be close to 112 degrees, if you want to check it with a thermometer. The trick is not to have the milk too hot to kill the yogurt bacteria, but it needs to be warm enough to activate the starter. I always go by the 45-minute mark. (I mention using the thermometer reading in memory of my Mom who faithfully used that method - with great success.) Add about 1/2 cup of the warm milk to the plain yogurt in your little bowl, stirring well to thoroughly mix, then add the whole works to the milk in the kettle. Stir well.

-- Pour into a glass bowl - ideally with a lid, but if it doesn't have one, cover it with a layer of plastic wrap and foil.

-- Cover the "baby" to keep it warm under wraps - using a couple tea towels to completely wrap it up. The casserole-carrying wrap my Mom made for me years ago works perfect and is a wonderful reminder of her.

-- place the covered bowl in a warm spot for overnight or all day. An ideal location in the winter is near a wood-burning stove, otherwise I put it on top of my refrigerator. If your house is really cool, you can let it rest on a heating pad, on low heat.

-- after 8-12 hours (will depend on the room temperature), check your yogurt to see if it's ready.

-- if it has more water (whey) than what you like, strain the yogurt using fine-mesh strainers. Letting it sit longer will give you yogurt "cheese", a healthy substitute for cream cheese. 

-- enjoy, but be sure to save enough as a starter for your next batch

 

What if it doesn't turn out?

-- if you're using starter from your previous batch, maybe it's been in the fridge for too long and has lost its punch

-- the milk might have been too hot or too cool

-- all is not lost - it can be used in baking, pancakes

-- don't give up - the odd time mine doesn't turn out either but as long as I keep making it on a regular basis, this rarely happens.

 

I hope you try making yogurt. Except for the occasional home-made ice cream indulgence (and a latte once in a while), I rarely consume milk products - other than my home made yogurt. Let me know how yours turns out.

Posted by karen
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Let's have a date.

Most of us "need" a sweet fix once in a while. I'm not talking about the sweetness of grilled beets and carrots (which are great in their place) - nor refined sugar added to food, in disguise or otherwise.

I'm talking dates.

Need a Background Check on Our Date

-- high in fibre

-- high in glucose (a carbohydrate), which may be why they're sometimes referred to as "Nature's fuel" - ideal snack to fuel activity

-- concentrated sugar and energy - 1 Medjool is about 75 calories

-- fairly rich in niacin, pantothenic acid, potassium, calcium, and magnesium

My kitchen is stocked with either Medjool and/or whole, pitted dates. They're yummy and a quick fix to satisfy post-dinner cravings for a "little something sweet" - they also shine as a sweetener in preparing other foods. The softest dates, like Medjool, are the easiest for a food processor or blender to process. However, soaking dried dates for 4-12 hours works well too  -- once soaked, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Raw Peanut Butter (and Date) Cookies

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my kitchen has been a-buzz "building" healthy food for our (temporary) live-in family. A favorite afternoon snack has been these delicious peanut butter cookies; a good example how dates can replace sugar. My daughter at Fimby has the recipe at the end of her Raw & Healthy post. A note of caution: these cookies can be yum-yum addictive.

Make your own energy gel using dates.

A fellow nutritional consultant, Kira Neumann, has the following recipes on her website. The gel has been my go-to sustenance for this summer's long training runs. And tasting the pie will give its own goodness report. Thanks, Kira.

Energy Gel Recipe

4 Medjool dates (or 6-8 dried dates) - soak for 3-4 hours for better blending

2 Tbsp. agave syrup

2 Tbsp. chia seeds

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

1 Tbsp. lemon zest

1 Tbsp. lime zest

1 tsp. dulse flakes (cut into very tiny pieces - mine were a bit big, can you see the green bits in the attached photo?)

pinch of sea salt

Blend ingredients together: due to the amount I recommend using a small machine like a Bullet blender. It will be quite stiff so you'll probably have to stop and scrape down the sides several times. (I've tried adding 2-3 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice but this makes it quite tart. I'd test this before using on a race, as the extra acid might trigger digestion issues you won't want to deal with on the run! Can always experiment by adding a bit of water to the mix.)

This makes over half a cup of gel, enough energy for a few runs or bike rides. I make 1-Tbsp. size balls and freeze them. On my way out the door to exercise, I put one or two in a small ziploc bag and tuck in a pocket.

(Bonus: the chia seeds in this recipe also add an energy punch - plus protein, fiber, omega 3's, calcium, antioxidants)

Let the Whole Family come along on the Date - with a Pie!

Creamy Cashew Lemon Pie

1 and 1/4 cups almonds

1 and 1/2 cups medjool dates (will be separated into 1 cup and 1/2 cup)

1 cup cashews

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

3 Tbsp. coconut oil

3 Tbsp. hemp seed hearts

3 lemons

Step #1

Soak overnight (at least 12 hours) - almonds, cashews and dates - in separate bowls. Drain and rinse in the morning.  

Step #2

In a food processor mix the almonds, 1 cup of the dates, 1 tsp, vanilla, cinnamon (if using) and hemp seeds. Process until everything is pulverized into fine pieces - should clump together.

Alternate scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times with mixing, until it's fine enough to press into a pie plate. This is your crust - put into the fridge while you make the filling.

Step #3

Don't bother to wash out the food processor bowl: put in the cashews, the remaining 1/2 cup of dates, 1 tsp. vanilla, coconut oil and the lemons - cut off the peel, take out the seeds and cut into chunks. Process until creamy and smooth. If you want a creamier look, add a bit of water. Spread into your waiting pie crust, put back into the fridge until time for dessert. (Can fast-track the setting time if you pop into the freezer for half an hour.) Very tangy, very lemony, very date-alicious.


Kira suggests serving this with fresh berries - I didn't have any in the fridge but will try that next time.

Life is sweet, with a date.

 

Posted by karen
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It's not simple. It's not one size fits all. It's not one specific diet/food plan for now and forever.

With the myriad of diet options and foods available, how can a person possibly choose the course of nutrition that is best for them?

Holistic nutrition adds to the "mystifiying" mix with its big-picture approach of body, mind and spirit: with food sharing the stage with exercise, sleep patterns, emotions, matters of the mind, stress, spiritual disciplines. 

Some selections on the diet buffet: not all inclusive and in random order.

 Fad diets.

You've probably got a common sense handle on these but in case you need some advice for your friends, here's some fad diet red flags:  focusing on only one food or a certain location demographic, promoting/selling a certain product, recommendations that ignore differences among individuals and groups, offering quick fix solutions, sounding too good to be true. I can't resist some examples: Apple Cider Diet, Acai Berry Diet, 3-Day Diet, FatLoss4Idiots Diet, Hollywood Diet, Beverly HillsDiet, (New) Beverly Hills Diet 

High-protein, low-carbohydrate.

Focus is usually weight loss. Typical proportion of protein is greater than in the average diet - calls for a large amount of water for metabolism. This water can be obtained by drinking but can also be "siphoned" from body tissues - resulting in an initial weight loss, which is in reality, mostly a loss of water weight.

Low fat.

A popular diet choice for disease prevention, e.g. heart disease, cancer. The "low fat" catchword and label doesn't always give the facts about different kinds of fats (our body needs "good" fats). It can also convey a false sense of "healthy" when the product may truly be low fat but high in sugar and salt.

Juicing.

The juice from raw, whole vegetables and fruits supplies nutrient-rich food directly to body cells. Live enzymes boost the immune system. Most often used for short-term fasts, cleansing and de-toxification.

Raw.

Often used to heal the gut and clean out the digestive tract. Called the "living food" diet, basically consists of uncooked whole foods. Provides good vitality and nutrient content, but might be low in protein, calcium and iron.

Gluten-free.

Eliminates grains with gluten and the foods containing products that have been processed from those grains. Most often in response to gluten intolerances or sensitivities: or tried as a test to determine those intolerances.

Vegetarian.

Some types are ovo-lacto, lacto, vegan - depends on the inclusion of animal products: only milk and eggs, only milk, or the exclusion of all products of animal origin. Balanced vegetarian diets are most often based on fruits and vegetables; nuts and seeds; whole grains, beans and lentils - with attention needed to get all the amino acids for complete protein.

Metabolic typing (or nutritional typing).

A nutritional program that focuses on an individual's unique dietary needs, based on a variety of factors. e.g. gender, genetics, hormone levels, age, culture, blood type, stress levels, seasonal changes, and many others.

Yikes - it's complicated...and your choice can compromise your health.

Where does one even start?

-- whatever the diet, eat a variety of foods within the different food groups, e.g. switch up the vegetables, choose different beans, grains, etc. This broader spectrum can ensure a greater range of nutrients and help to reduce the risk of allergies. Variety also makes meals more yummy and interesing! 

-- feeling unwell or "yucky" after eating certain foods are likely indicators that dietary changes may be necessary. 

-- never say never - be prepared to be adaptable to change, then accept responsibility for food choices and continue learning.

-- don't be scared to try something for a brief test (assuming you're not taking medication, which will affect your eating flexibility) - e.g. introduce your body to a two-day juice fast,  eat raw for a few days  experiment with gluten-free(GF) eating by discovering new grains

-- a general healthy diet overview: low in fat and salt; minimal to no processed sugar; reasonable amounts of whole grains, beans, fresh veggies and fruits, lean animal proteins

-- read, read, read: research food facts and reviews; read nutrition blogs :)

--  seek the help of a qualified nutrition practitioner to help address nutrient imbalances and assist you through the diet maze. They can give you recommendations that are personalized to your specific nutritional needs.

Wrapping it up.

Annemarie Colbin in Food and Healing summarizes it this way: food is our helper, not our master. It's a facilitator and tool, our ally and teacher. Food can nourish us well if we choose well; if incorrectly chosen, food can teach us lessons about our body that we may, or may not, heed. If we experience negative results from our eating choices we should take that as information, not punishment.

As a nutrition coach and educator, I spend a lot of time thinking about food: appreciating its pleasures and grateful for its nutritious, healing powers. But in all the search for the right food, the right diet, the right nutritional formula, I need the regular reminder that food is a part of our sense of well-being. Whole health also includes aiming our lives positively, following our individual path in meaningful work, being thankful for life, and living with love and relationship.

Be well - let me know how you navigate the diet maze.

Posted by karen
karen's picture

If I were asked to name a humble vegetable, cabbage would get my vote. This versatile veggie, grown since ancient history and included in cooking worldwide is, however, anything but ordinary.

Why so crazy about cabbage?

It has good family connections. Cabbage - and broccoli, bok choy, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, radish, turnips, collards, watercress, aragula - belongs to the cruciferous vegetables. So.....?

Not a new idea but a good idea: eat a diet rich in these vegetables for the defense against, and the possible prevention of, cancer. According to Sally Errey in Staying Alive! Cookbook for Cancer Free Living, scientists weren't sure why this vegetable family had this distinction - until recent studies which have shown their ability to help the body's toxic waste-disposal system. Certain plant chemicals, like sulforophane and indole-3-carbinol, trigger the release of a protein that causes the release of several toxin-fighting enzymes that either neutralize cancer-causing chemicals or help the body excrete them.

Phytochemicals ("plant"- chemicals) = good source of antioxidants. 

If  you catch your weekly media version of "Your Health and You" you're probaby familiar with these health buzzwords. 

The tiny phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables have unique abilities to modify human hormones and to prevent toxic compounds from binding to human DNA - possibly preventing damage that could lead to cancer. Studies have even shown that genetic defects that may lead to cancer are suppressed by the consumption of green cruciferous vegetables.

Over-dosing on one food group (even vegetables) is not a cancer-free guarantee.  

But I'm convinced about the superior goodness of cabbage and its kin. Some variety of this family is a regular at my table: raw, cooked, or sometimes - fermented.

Fermentation deserves a post of its own.

But until later, this is the short version on the benefits of fermentation:

- preserves food/nutrients

- breaks nutrients down into more easily digestible forms

- creates new nutrients

- some ferments function as antioxidants

- removes toxins from food 

I learned the ways of a gardener from the example of my mother - an extraordinary worker who preserved the fruits of her labour by canning, freezing, pickling - but never fermenting. Perhaps it wasn't in her Scottish upbringing or she'd heard stories of smelly brine bubbling out of crocks lurking in dark cellars. Whatever the reason, the only sauerkraut I ate growing up was bought at the grocery store and that pattern remained after I had my own kitchen.

Two years ago my nutrition studies piqued my interest in making my own. I bought Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and got all excited reading how to make live-culture foods, e.g. kimchis, sourdough breads, miso, yogurt  - and when I saw "sauerkraut is easy to make" on more than one page I was ready to go for it.

So you get the picture - I'm not the expert with years of experience. But based on how my sauerkraut (and kimchi) has turned out, I do agree. It is easy.

What you need. 

Food: Cabbage and salt (I use coarse sea salt). Utensils: A sturdy knife, a crock, a plate that is slightly smaller than the opening of the crock, a large rock.

Buy good solid heads of cabbage. I've learned from shopping at our garden markets that "fall" cabbage is the best type to use for sauerkraut. I don't know the proper name of this particular cabbage, but living in a county that boasts both home-style and commerical sauerkraut operations, I do what the experts advise. Except on the next point. Sauerkraut should be made as the moon is waxing. Unfortunately, my hankering to fill the kraut crock doesn't always line up with the lunar cycle, so here I do my own thing. 

Steps to Sauerkraut:

Chop cabbage into threads, as fine or coarse as you like it.

 

Place in large bowl as you chop it. Sprinkle salt on it as you go. How much salt? This depends on health and taste preferences. I recommend going lightly - for starters, 3-4 Tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of sliced cabbage. 

Mix cabbage and salt thoroughly and pack into your crock. It's important to pack just a bit at a time into the crock - pressing it down hard with your fist or some other sturdy tool. This is an important step: you don't want to allow room for air pockets and the tamping packs the kraut, helping to force the water out of the cabbage.

Cover the cabbage with a plate and place a heavy stone (that's been well-washed) on top of it. This weight is needed to force the water out of the cabbage and to keep it submerged. (My crock isn't very full this time as one cabbage head disappeared in a coleslaw.)  

Cover the crock with a tea towel and set in a corner of the kitchen. Cooler the location, slower the fermentation, longer the preservation.

Check the kraut the next day and every day or two after. The important factor is that the brine covers the cabbage. According to Sandor Ellix Katz, "some cabbage, particularly if it's old, simply contains less water." He suggests if the brine hasn't risen to the top by the next day, you can add some salt water (1 Tbsp. salt  to 1 cup water) to bring up the brine level. I haven't had experience with this as the brine has been sufficient. To help it stay submerged in brine, every day or so I firmly press on the rock/plate.  

Here I've taken the rock out so you can see the brine. This was after about 4 days. 

When is it ready?

It's all about how you like it. It should start to be tangy in about a week. Taste it. Its flavours will evolve as it ages. If you do take some out to enjoy, repack the remaining kraut, keeping the surface level and your weights clean. I generally leave mine in the kitchen area for a couple weeks, checking it often. Then I'll move it to a cooler location for 1-2 weeks before putting it into jars and into the refrigerator. I'll taste as I go but don't usually eat mine until it's fermented about 4 weeks. My batches are usually small like the one above so it's all eaten before it gets too 'ripe'.

Making sauerkraut may look complicated and scary but it really is easy. Maintain cleanliness and keep the cabbage submerged - and enjoy.  

Check back in a few weeks and I'll let you know how this batch turned out.

 


 

Posted by karen
karen's picture

I just returned from a week's vacation. My husband and I explored (mostly by car, some by bicycle) East Coast islands where we'd never been before, we practised our un peu français on patient restaurant waiters and shop keepers, and enjoyed the company of two friends-travel-mates.

Summer vacations for us are traditionally camping trips. These 'facilities' have been varied - a camper, trailer, van, a bare-bones cabin. Currently, our 3-person tent plus gear works well to "set up house"  where we can eat and sleep well: a home base for running, cycling, hiking, touring. This set-up suits both me and my husband from several angles - flexible options for our "home" base, it's conducive to physical activity and - especially important - we can cook the food we want to eat.

Our recent getaway was different, with a mix of accommodations, which translates into challenges for nutritional eating choices. 

A couple nights, the price for the "bed" included breakfast - not totally a take-what-you're served, but sort of. The first inn cooked up an omelette and dark-grain toast that was great - as wholesome as the other B&B guest, Nick, a serious cyclist from the U.K. who encouraged us to "go for it" on road-bike tours. (Yes to that!). Another day's petit dejeuner scored on presentation but it was mostly 'white' and sweet - its only redeeming quality was the inclusion of a few apple chunks. 

Craving home-cooking: checked in at a cottage with a kitchen.

So now we had  cooking facilities - which turned out for naught, other than some tools to prepare a tray of cheese, nuts and nachos to go with a glass of wine - and to brew morning coffee. Pretty pathetic considering my passion for healthy, real food. But that's what can happen with last minute planning and reservations (I won't elaborate how this came to be - and I'm not saying I don't like spontaneity).  When you find yourself perched on an ocean waterfront spot (albeit  a starkly beautiful one) whose only food options are at a local gas station-convenient store and a fish and chips shop, choices are limited

And healthy options are almost non-existent.

The convenient store was a definite no. Enter "the other" menu decision: fish and chips (which my husband regrettably ordered); pizza (which wasn't available after 5:00 p.m.); soup, salad or a burger. I'd had a decent veggie salad for lunch and I was suspect of the creamy soups so I opted for a fish burger. Real, flaky haddock  - not finely minced mystery meat. An acceptable and tasty choice.

Next day - ferry ride with our bicycles and stuffed paniers: destination Les Îles de la Madeleine, QC.

A five-hour ferry trip gave us ample time to decipher stumble our way through the French tour guidebooks - figuring out where to buy food, what to see and do. (One of our travel mates was bilingual but my brain worked hard to dredge up bits and pieces of my high school French.) A 5 kilometre bike ride from the ferry and we pulled in to our next "home",  a comfortable hostel-cabin built as a replica of the islands' fishing huts (closely resembling a miniature grain elevator). By then it was dark. No grocery shopping that night.

Empty the paniers  for breakfast options - not bad (if you skip the dark chocolate), but better saved for cycling snacks.

This is morning number four without cooked whole-grain cereal - I'm in withdrawal. Too bad. The biking snacks went into a panier for later and off we cycled for breakfast at a boulangerie-deli.  The local soft fromage  was yummy: my husband "went for French" with a croissant, my muffin looked like bran but wasn't close. A plain baquette would have been a better choice - what was I thinking?

I don't want to come across as a complainer. Overall I was having a good time, but food-wise, things had to improve - which they did.  About 40 kilometres later - literally at the end of the road on Île du Havre-Aubert.

Café de la Grave "Gets it"

I just knew it was going to be good as soon as I walked through the screen door, observed the patrons (and their plates of food) and absorbed the ambience of old wooden tables, books and an accordian sitting on a bench. And this cafe did not disappoint. How often do you see millet pie on a menu?! The pie's filling had shredded veggies, herbs, pine nuts, and of course, millet - all encased in just enough crust to house the whole yummy lot. With crisp, organic greens: I hit the jackpot!

 

We had "gas in our tanks" for the return ride.  A 10K stretch of the road bordered the Dune du Havre aux Basques, one of the five dunes that are signature features of these archipelago-type islands. 

Cycling is a great sport. The physical exertion leaves your body tired in a satisfied kind of way - and it munches a lot of calories. We were not going to have a repeat of no food to cook like the previous nights: a quick  stop at the Co-op store and our paniers bulged with fresh vegetables, salmon steaks and a bottle of wine.

Not far from "home"  I distinctly detected one of my favorite aromas. Roasting coffee beans.  

We'd passed by Cafés du Moussonneur several times since arriving on the island and had not clued in to what was in the non-descript building. Didn't know what we'd been missing.

 

The best americano misto we've ever drank.

As lovely as the drink's presentation was to behold, this mellow yet rich espesso elixir was divine. And it wasn't just because my standard one-cup-a-day had been hours ago, or that we'd been on a bike all day so energy levels were low. The "refill" on the next morning's visit  was equally wonderful.  That's when we found out the secret. The espresso they used is a combination of four beans, one of which they air-dry and shake the green beans on racks by the seashore, removing any bitterness before roasting. Can you believe it? 

A return trip to these islands is immiment: more days to cycle around all the islands but equally alluring, is to have another Camacho espresso coffee.

Too soon we were re-tracing our journey home, on the ferry with plenty of time to reflect on the past few days. New experiences and sights were gifts to be thankful for. Yes, I was looking forward to my kitchen and well-stocked pantry, but this had been a good test in making food decisions with what was presently available.

And I made mental notes to be better prepared for next time - even if it's just bringing  a bag of rolled oats.

 

 

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