karen's blog


Posted by karen
karen's picture

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
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.

 


 

"B"eautiful Berries

16 Sep 2011
Posted by karen
karen's picture

Berries are getting the bright lights for "B". I think they are positively wonderful. They are delicious and they are beautiful to behold. 

 

Nutrient note highlights - my top berry picks:

blueberries - phytonutrients, antioxidants (especially the wild ones)

cranberries - juice helps acidify urine to inhibit bacterial growth (recommended for bladder infections)

strawberries - high in vitamin C 

raspberries - folic acid, vitamin C, lutein

source of fibre

depending on the berry - varying amounts of magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese

Berries on the Bushes

Some berries are still available free-for-the-picking - if you’re game to look for the wild ones. I have heard that in our area you can find patches of wild blueberries, cranberries and blackberries but their whereabouts are family secrets and well-protected. To date I've been privy to visit one good-sized wild blackberry patch.  A small bucket of berries was my reward in exchange for some nasty scratches and a blood donation to hungry mosquitoes. These details were forgotten by mid-January, however, when multi-berry smoothies satisfied cravings for summer.

Where I live in Nova Scotia we can pick cultivated blueberries from August until mid-October or later. Both my husband and I are diehard pickers: even if our fingers are numb we can't leave the patch until all our buckets are full. We will be stocking our freezer this fall with yet more ziploc bags of these blue nuggets of goodness.  But the berry season is definitely waning; though it happens annually, this is one food calendar page I hate to turn. 
 
Saying good-bye to this seasonal fruit and harvesting ritual is shared with the back to school routine.  Hello to the daily dilemma: what to pack for kids’ lunches. I marvel how my mother pulled this off for us five kids who scrambled out the door by 7:45, running to catch the yellow school bus.  Granted, over fifty years ago (yikes, it really was that long ago!) she had the perogative to fill those lunch boxes with whatever she had in her pantry and the time to prepare. She wasn't restricted by avoiding banned allergen foods - nuts, shellfish, some cheeses, to name a few- a reality for most lunch-packers with today's school policies.

But criteria for packed lunches still holds true for:  

tasty - or else the kids will trade that lunch you worked so hard to make

nutritious - to help young bodies and brain cells to concentrate and understand

has to survive the journey - traveling in a backpack and being thrown in a locker

has to be food-safe - so everyone stays healthy

Enter: the convenience of Frozen Berries

Your freezer might be stocked with berries you have picked this summer. If not, good-sized bags are available in most supermarkets, and they’ll cost less than buying fresh.

On a school (or work) morning, put a cup or less of good-sized frozen strawberries or blueberries in a small plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.  Remember to pack the spoon to go with it. By lunch time the berries will be thawed out with some very nice syrupy-juice that somehow tastes sweetn without adding sugar. (My grandkids think the juice is the best part.)The berries will be soft but should keep their shape; a very nice change from the standard lunch fruits - apples, oranges and bananas.

If your children like plain yogurt, put some frozen berries in with it - they'll act as mini ice paks, keeping the yogurt cool until lunchtime.

To add whole grain energy and some healthy fats, include a small baggie of homemade granola (or purchased equivalent) to either of the above suggestions.

 

Bake a Real Tasty Treat with Real Food Ingredients:  

 

Blueberry Apple Bread

2 cups peeled, chopped apples

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 egg

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

2 Tbsp. ground flax

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

2/3 cups chopped walnuts (toasting them first adds to the flavour)

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Combine chopped apples, honey, applesauce and oil in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add the egg and mix well. Combine 1 cup of the flour with the other dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the apple mixture. Mix the remaining 1/2 cup flour with the berries (this helps stop frozen berries from 'bleeding' and to be more evenly suspended in the batter). Add to the batter, along with the walnuts.

Spread batter evenly into a lightly oiled and floured loaf pan. Put into oven - check after baking for 1 hour and 10 minutes. May need to bake about another 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven.  A tooth pick or sharp cake tester inserted into the centre of the bread should come out clean. 

Let cool before cutting.  Slices up nicely for packing in lunches if you can keep the family away from eating it all fresh out of the oven!

 

Bring out the berries - hope to meet you in the patch!

 

(Photo credits: Fimby

Keeping a Food Log

06 Sep 2011
Posted by karen
karen's picture

Have you ever thought about what - and how much - you eat and drink in a day, in a week? For too many of the world's population, the answer to this question is a painful and unjust reality of our global food distribution. For those who live in the affluent Western world, however, this revealing exercise could prompt us to change our tune if (when)  we say "I eat very little refined sugar"  - and to adjust our gratitude meter when the local market has run out of our favorite lemon basil but yet has five or more varieties of greens.

In the general sense, record-keeping has merit.  We (should) track things like what we earn and spend - and many of us keep diaries or journals of events and activities. Their purpose can be intended for pleasure or need-to-know information: useful tools for review and direction. Most of us know at least one shutterbug who thinks, "...if I don't photograph "it", "it" didn't happen..." Well, things do happen regardless of whether or not we snap that picture. To sustain life we all consume food and drinks - most of us do so several times a day. Recorded or not, "it" happens.

This daily fueling routine is anything but a ho-hum occurrence. What we consume (and what our body absorbs - but that's a whole other post and more) isn't just to stop the gnawing sensation in our belly. Indicators we get - fluctuating energy levels, see-sawing moods, cravings declaring control, not to mention how our clothes fit and the number on our bathroom scale - are affected by all those items recorded (or not) on a food log.

It takes courage and commitment.

A (truthful) food log is a useful tool in my job as a holistic health coach, helping to assess nutritional imbalances, sports nutrition requirements, food sensitivities, allergies, etc.

I recently filled out one of these for myself because I was upping my running mileage and was curious how many calories/day I was consuming. I kept the log on the fridge so I wouldn't forget - if you're sensitive about curious onlookers you might want to find a different handy spot. To tell the truth, after the week was up I got busy doing work and living life (like running and taking grandkids to the beach) so the calorie calculations haven't yet been done. But the log has still been helpful: something I changed after that was to eat more daily servings of veggies than fruits, rather than the reverse. I still cringe when I see this entry: 15 (!) chocolate-covered almonds. I don't even like them and the sad part is that they had awful chocolate! Overall, my breakfasts were pretty 'strong' but I decided I have to be more intentional about enough nutrition for lunches that I pack along. Just a handful of fruit doesn't cut it.

Expect some temptations during your "Dear Food Diary" week

to avoid or cut back on certain foods or drink.

- to change your mind about consuming something ("for this time") because of the hassle of having to remember to write it down ( the list is at home...

- to "fudge it" on serving sizes, or "forget"  to include certain foods you consumed - even if you're the only one privy to the list.

Look for some clues from your Diary

- food choices and eating patterns you weren't aware of  - e.g. an automatic default of diet pop accompanying any meal that has the same ingredients as pizza

- which foods - or combination of foods - leave you feeling yucky after you eat

- what kinds of foods/meals do or don't give you enough umph to do your next fitness workout 

Seeing it all there in "black and white" can be surprising and frightening - but also enlightening.

If you're up to the challenge, print out the PDF file provided to get you started.

I dare you. Do the diary.

A is for Almonds

29 Aug 2011
Posted by karen
karen's picture

Welcome to the first post about the heart of the matter - the real food. This summer, three of my grandchildren (and their parents) have been living with us. My kitchen has been a production center for (mostly) all things healthy, including high energy treats which often use almonds. My opening act is going to showcase this personal favorite nut, which happens to start with the letter A, and is “a very good place to start.”

First, some FAQs - Almonds contain laetrile, giving this nut the claim to be considered cancer-preventing. Most of the fats in almonds are polyunsaturated and high in linoleic acid - the body's main EFA (essential fatty acid). They're high in calcium and vitamin E and contain some of the B vitamins. They contain good amounts of copper, iron, phosphorus, potassium - also zinc, magnesium, manganese and selenium are present in almonds.

So it's for good reason that raw almonds are one of my pantry staples - for adding to home-made granola, sprinkling on salads and cereal, tossing in a trail mix, and traveling companions for a quick pick-me-up. They’re readily available to buy, are tasty raw or toasted, and when it comes to the price of nuts they’re a good bang for your buck. Soaking almonds for a few hours makes them easier to digest.

Almond Milk Recipe

This is my recipe for making almond milk, which is quick, easy, and costs between 1/2 to 2/3 of the store-bought price. The real bonus? The list of ingredients is healthy and short: water, almonds.

Step #1 - Soak one cup of raw almonds in water overnight, ensuring they're well-covered.

Step #2 - In the morning, rinse well, draining the water. Put almonds into a blender along with 4 cups of fresh water. I have a Vitamix blender (one of my hardest-working kitchen tools and a brand I highly recommend), but a sturdy blender will do the trick. 

Step #3 - Blend water and almonds until totally blended. For my Vitamix, that's on high for 2-3 minutes straight; if using another brand I suggest stopping your machine every 30 seconds or so, continuing to start and stop for a few minutes until the water and almonds are thoroughly blended.

Step #4 - Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth, a fine strainer, or my first choice is a mesh bag like these Care Bags  (I get mine from ellora) -  they eliminate most of the mess that can be a deterrent to making almond milk. Gently squeeze and twist the bag, releasing the almond milk. Pour into a jar and refrigerate. Shake well before using, as some of the ground almond mixture will settle at the bottom.

This rich, creamy milk poured over cooked whole grain cereal, or with fresh fruit with raisins, or blended in a smoothie tastes like dessert! The almond meal that's left in the bag can be added to bread dough or muffin batter, composted, or offered as yummy morsels if you have happy chickens in your back yard.

Another go-to favorite in our house is almond butter. If you're hooked on it too you know it can be pricey, used sparingly as a treat.  Based on the best quality (non-organic) almond butter available where I shop, I've calculated that making my own almond butter cuts the price in half and it is fresh, fresh, fresh! It's not difficult, also is quick, but you must use a top quality food processor, like Cuisinart or Bosch, to be the work horse on this one.

Almond Butter Recipe

Step #1- Spread 3 cups raw almonds on a large cookie sheet and put into oven that's been preheated to 325 degrees F. Roast for 10 minutes and give the pan a shake. Put back in oven for another 10 minutes. Give pan another shake. Continue to roast for 3-4 minutes and check to make sure the almonds aren't getting too dark. Depending on your oven they shouldn't need much more than another 5 minutes. If they start to crack, they are darker than what I like. Remove from oven.

Step #2 - Move the almonds into the food processor bowl with the S blade in postition. There's no need to cool the almonds, in fact they release the oils better if they are still warm.

Step #3 - Process in short spurts, frequently scraping around the bowl. There'll be lots of starting, stopping and scraping but in about 10-12 minutes the almonds will be processed into a smooth enough consistency for yummy butter.

Step #4 - Be prepared to stand your ground in licking out the bowl.

A no-guilt snack - delicious dip for apple wedges, a spread for your favorite whole grain toast, scooping by the spoonful out of the jar. Refrigerate what's left. 

This is just the beginning of ideas for real food options. I look forward to you joining me on an interesting and inspiring journey, exploring our way through the joys of juices, the scoop on squash, and beyond to a 'zillion' ways of enjoying zucchini. 

(Photo credits FIMBY)

Pages