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.)

Too little energy, too much weight. Want to feel supported in who you are.

Committed to making changes to improve health and wholeness.

If this is you but you don't know where to start.....

I want to help you - to build your new relationship with food.

Please use Contact Karen for Specific Services and Pricing.

New Client Initial Consultation (1 hr)

In-depth questionnaires related to your present eating habits, health concerns and lifestyle will be made available by fax, mail, or email. After they are filled out and returned, I will review them and meet with you to go over them. At this time I will address your health concerns, present symptoms, and imbalances indicated. I will discuss with you how your body and health is affected in every area by the foods you eat. General recommendations will be given and will include handouts and menu ideas with recipes. At this time we will look at your situation and determine what steps will be best for your future health and wellness goals.

Follow-up Consultation: 1-2 weeks later (30 minutes) follow-up on your initial visit. I will provide additional recommendations as needed, pulling together your health and wellness concerns.

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The above services are available in person and online.

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-- other workshop topics can be designed for the specific health and lifestyle needs of your group.

(Prices based on group size and location.)

 

Contact me and we'll talk about how you can move on your journey from overwhelmed to empowered.

 

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Make your Own Yogurt

26 Oct 2011
Posted by karen
karen's picture

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
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

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.

 

 

"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)

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