Friday, October 2, 2015

Autumn Wellness

From Wednesday onward, this week has been my paradise: sunny and just cool enough for long pants.  Hello jeans, I missed you so!!!  I love autumn: the colours, smells, and, of course, flavours. I just wish it lasted longer.  Torontonians know we basically have two seasons: winter and summer, with two tiny little transitional periods called fall and spring.

While the temperatures may be cooling, that doesn't mean you need to start hiding under blankets sipping hot toddies and fueling up with heavy comfort food.  This time of year is full of opportunities for health and fitness if you look for it.

Now that the stifling heat and humidity is gone, its a perfect time to take a walk, go cycling, go for a hike, get outside and go apple picking, check out a farmer's market, or explore the country side.

This is also the time of year when all sorts of scrumptious produce are at their peak.  You know I love apples!!!  Just one of the many things I love about fall. I always look for new varieties to try and enjoy my tried and true favorites.  Don't forget about root vegetables and brassica veggies too, all packed with nutrition and fibre and so satisfying.  And don't forget about pumpkin spice everything!!
Don't fall into the trap of consuming high calorie coffee-like beverages full of sugar and chemicals from the coffee chains, instead try a new flavoured tea for a healthy, hot drink.  This one is currently my favorite:

And there's Halloween, which the kids have been planning in detail since November 1st of last year...and Thanksgiving, which celebrates nature's bounty.

I am very excited because this Sunday I am doing a presentation on konjac, and providing samples of some of my yummy recipes, as part of Marni Wasserman's Fall into Health Retreat. I'll be speaking about its health benefits and uses in the kitchen and sharing healthy chocolate chip blondies, pumpkin spice cookies, and no-sugar strawberry jam!

Have a lovely weekend and go out there and enjoy all that fall has to offer, you gotta get out there while it lasts!! Oh and if you live in a tropical climate where there is no real autumn...well it sucks to be you!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Aquafaba & Vegan Marshmallow Fluff


I am a total science nerd that loves playing around in the kitchen.  I guess that's why I love finding healthier alternatives to conventional recipes...its fun and games to me, and you literally get to have your cake and eat it too! For me cooking and baking is both art and science and I love it. I always have, and have been whipping up all sorts of treats since I was about 5 years old.

Because of my fascination with cooking and baking science, I had to try using aquafaba the moment I heard about it.  If you are vegan than you are probably at least familiar with what it is: the liquid from canned chickpeas that can be used as a substitute for egg whites.

After baking up some of my Healthy Chocolate Chip Blondies, I took the reserved chickpea liquid and got to work.  I thought I might have to whip it for a super long time so literally took the bowl and beaters and sat in front of the television, but to my surprise, it thickened rather quickly!

Now, from what I understand your success with this stuff will vary based on the brand of beans you buy and how concentrated the starch is in the liquid.  I think mine was pretty concentrated.  I used Bombay Dine organic chickpeas:

Organic Chick Peas

The can yielded 1 cup of liquid.

Here is how I made the marshmallow fluff (pictured is the 'fluff' about one third of the way through beating)...

Vegan and Sugar-Free Marshmallow Fluff

1 cup aquafaba
1 tsp guar gum
1/4 tsp lemon juice
1 cup baking stevia
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 scoop vegan vanilla protein powder (optional)

Whip liquid with guar gum and lemon juice with beaters until thickened.  Add stevia and vanilla and continue to whip to desired stiffness.  Beat in protein powder, if using.  Make sure you use a protein powder that tastes good to you!  Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Pot-luck Party and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-free Friday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Simply Vietnamese Cooking: Book Review

Simply Vietnamese Cooking: 135 Delicious Recipes

I consider myself a foodie, albeit not a traditional one.  I am definitely more of a health foodie, but even if I wasn't concerned with nutrition, I have never been a big fan of classic French cuisine or fussy stuff.  I find ethnic food so much more interesting and my favorite cuisines have always been Asian.  You name it, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, I love it all!

Admittedly, I haven't tried to cook much Vietnamese fare at home, so I was happy to review Nancie McDermott's book, Simply Vietnamese Cuisine.

Vietnamese cooking utilizes many of the flavours, herbs and spices I love like cilantro, star anise, fish sauce, ginger, tamarind, coconut, etc.  If you want to cook Vietnamese food, your best bet is to stock your pantry with the basics first.  The book has a glossary at the back that describes many of the ingredients and includes online resources where you can buy them should you not be able to find them locally.

McDermott divides the book into the following chapters:

Appetizers and snacks
Chicken and eggs
Beef and Pork
Fish and Shellfish
Salads, pickles and vegetables
Sweets and drinks
Sauces and other basic recipes

Now there are plenty of healthy and vegetarian recipes, but beware that traditional Vietnamese cooking uses a lot of animal products and sugar.  There are a whole lot that I will never make because they use pork and shellfish, which Adam doesn't eat, or contain a ton of sugar.  In particular, there are a whole lot of recipes using caramel sauce on fish and meat.  While I like sweet/savoury dishes, just the idea of this makes me want to barf.

Virtually every dish contains some sugar, but for many you can just skip it altogether as its only a small amount, or you can replace it with a healthier sweetener.  Pork can also be replaced with chicken.

I decided to attempt a recipe with my own modifications to suit our diet, and chose the Chicken and Pork pate, and Everyday Pickled Carrots to make Banh Mi inspired wraps.

Instead of ground pork and chicken livers, I used just ground chicken for the pate, and instead of just carrots, I used rainbow slaw, and cucumber for the pickle.

It wasn't possible to get the pate as creamy as it would have been with the chicken livers, but the flavours were amazing, Adam and I both loved it.  The fish sauce and star anise create such a unique taste. 

Vietnamese soups are amazing, so I think once the weather cools, I will try one of those recipes.  A lot of the egg recipes look great too.  Usually when I make omelets, I add salsa and cheese, but some of her recipes sound delicious.

The book has photos of some recipes, but what I really like is all the tips and information McDermott includes.  She also encourages you to try the recipes even if you aren't able to get a particular ingredient.

If you are interested in learning about Vietnamese cuisine, and giving it a try yourself, this book will give you very straightforward directions and info to do so.  Or, if you are like me, and not tied to authenticity, you can simply use it as inspiration for your own creations.

Disclosure: The publisher sent me this book for free, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Manage a Sweet Tooth

Most sane people love sweet things.  If you struggle to control yours, check out my post with suggestions on my other blog.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Perfecting the Kale Chip

Good morning! Its officially fall and we have been having the type of ideal autumn weather (sunny and not too hot) that makes me so so happy.  Amazing what a dramatic impact the weather can have on mood huh?  Although the temp is lovely today, its unfortunately rainy :(

So, lets talk kale chips shall we?

I go through phases of making them a lot and then kind of forgetting about them for long periods of time.  I should make them more often as they are the only form of kale the girls will touch.  Lately I've been making them again because my lovely neighbour who gets a weekly organics delivery box has been sharing kale with me (she is always dropping by some sort of veggie for us, which, of course, I love!!).

I am happy to say I have finally found what I believe to be the perfect way to make kale chips.  If you've tried making them before, you know they can easily turn out too oily, soggy, burnt or bitter.  Some claim you need a dehydrator but you don't. 

Here is the recipe that I find turns out the perfect kale chip...of course I have a fairly old oven, so if yours is a different temp or is a convection oven, the timing may be a bit different, but I encourage you to experiment a bit.

The record speed with which my family devoured the batches I made this way is a testament to how good they are!!

The Perfect Kale Chip

1 bunch kale, washed and torn into pieces, pat dry
2 tsp avocado oil (or other oil of choice)
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
Sea salt (I like to use Herbamere), to taste

Toss kale with other ingredients.  Lay out on 2 large, parchment-lined baking sheets, making sure the pans are not crowded.  Bake at 275F for 20 minutes, 1 pan on bottom rack, 1 on top.  Switch pans so the other is now on top and top pan is now on bottom rack.  Bake another 20 minutes.  Turn off heat but keep oven door closed and leave kale chips in the oven for 40-60 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Shovel liberally into mouth.

Friday, September 25, 2015

My Spiritual Side

I have never thought of myself as spiritual.  But that isn't why up until recently I had little interest in being a practicing Jew.

Even as a kid when I attended Sunday school, was Bat Mitzvah'd and attended weekly services with my family, I was agnostic.  I just never connected with the idea of a higher power that I couldn't see, hear, feel, touch, etc. I've always swayed towards the rational side and, as is evident from this blog, demand tangible evidence if I am going to believe something.  But the real reason I rejected it was that, as a kid in a small town, being Jewish just made me different, and not really in a good way.

I now embrace practicing Judaism, in my own way.  This doesn't mean following the dietary laws (I love seafood too much and hate the restriction of no milk and meat stomach comes first and foremost!). But attending shul for the important holidays and being part of a synagogue and a community is very important to me.  Judaism isn't so much a religion for me as a culture. 

So why did I mention spirituality? As I've gotten older I've become more spiritual and realized that spirituality doesn't necessarily have anything to do with organized religion.  In fact, it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the belief in a divine power or anything mystical either.  According to Wikipedia, spirituality "...may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity, personal growth, or blissful experience."

By this definition I realized recently I've become a 'spiritual' person!

For me this means I have become immersed in a constant quest for personal growth, and very slowly have found it.  This has come about through a combination of my professional work and my personal work, which are, inextricably intertwined. 

I believe I have struggled with existential issues since I was a young kid.  I was always asking the big questions and was never satisfied with the status quo.  But even in university when studying Descartes, Sartre, Foucault, etc., I considered the questions raised from a very intellectual perspective, without the ability to connect it to myself on a personal level. Even after a BA, MA and PhD!  I feel like I only had my own personal enlightenment when after Little A was born, I started my Masters in Counselling.  I knew instantly I had found my calling.  Sure enough, becoming a counsellor has woken up something very profound in me.  I love my work so deeply, I am passionate about it, and I believe I benefit from it as much as my clients do.  I have learned so much about the human mind, communication, love, the influence of culture, the world, and about myself. Perhaps because of all this, I have had some extreme highs and lows over the last few years but there is no doubt it has been a period of dramatic learning and personal growth. 

I had desperately hoped that now that I've returned to attending Jewish holiday services, I would connect on a personal level with the content.  I didn't expect to, to be honest, but I am so thrilled to say I have.  Certainly this is largely due to the fact that we chose a synagogue that is congruous with my values, but I also think I am at a stage in my life where I have become open to seeing its value.

Instead of being bored and edgy during services, as I expected to I usually am when having to sit sedentary, for long periods of time, I find myself, just as is intended, being deeply contemplative.

I have spent the past few years reading a lot of social psychology, which has informed my professional work, of course, but also aided in my own personal journey.  I find our wonderful rabbi chooses supplemental readings for the services which compliment the things I've been reading and thinking about.  Finally I recognize my spirituality, and have discovered that it does, actually connect with my religion.

So all this to say that I now realize that being spiritual is really about being contemplative, living and acting consciously and with an intent to honour oneself and others physically, and spiritually.  Seeing one's position in the context of community (both locally and globally). 

What I know for certain is that every human being needs to feel a sense of purpose in order to be fulfilled.  This sense of purpose can come from work, a role in the family or community, a hobby, an artistic endeavor, or by following a religious practice or tradition.  I have found my sense of purpose and now see how being an active part of my 'tribe' enhances it.  I realized that being Jewish doesn't make me different, and not just because there are way more Jews in Toronto than where I grew up! No, its because no matter what our race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, we are essentially all the same.  We all seek a sense of purpose.  We all need to feel loved and appreciated.  We all suffer.

And with that, I sign off.  Have an enlightening weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sardo Li'l Oliver Olive Snack Packs: Product Review

Olive a healthy snack for the kids, but sometimes convincing them to eat it is a challenge.  Sorry, bad joke, but olive a good pun!

As I have ranted on about many times before, we live in a toxic food environment which encourages overconsumption of highly processed, low nutrition convenience foods...especially for kids!  Most food products marketed to children is fluorescent hued nutritionally void garbage.  But the marketing works.  When I take the girls grocery shopping, it sounds something like this,

"Mommy can we get ____ ?"
"Mommy can we get ____ ?"
"Mommy can we get ____ ?"
"But this one is 'made with whole grains."
"What about this one? Its only got 7 grams a sugar per serving."

Believe me, we are not in the produce aisle! Its usually the aisle with crackers, cookies or snack foods.  Or even the dairy aisle, because, of course, now you can get sugar sweetened yogurt with cookie crumbles or sprinkles on top!


Studies have shown that kids are highly influenced by packaging, no matter what the content.  Even fruits and veggies are more appealing to them if they have a cartoon character on the label. 
For this reason, I was very excited when Sardo offered samples of its new kid packs of olives.  Perfect for a lunch box, these snack sized containers feature a cute mascot, Li'l Oliver and contain stickers. 

Here's the nutritional info per pack:

Know what I like? Zero grams of sugar!!

2802 chart

Now, my kids - despite my love of exotic cuisine - are not very adventurous, so I didn't really have high hopes they'd like olives, but I definitely wanted to try.  They were eager to sample the goods when they arrived (black and green varieties) and loved the stickers, but didn't love the olives.  Grrrrrrrrr! I once dumped a guy I was dating in university because he didn't like olives.  How can you not like olives??

I still think its a fantastic healthy snack idea so I gave them to my sister-in-law because my niece and nephew love olives.  So don't let my failed experience dissuade you, you never know what your kids will like and maybe Li'l Oliver might just tip the scales in your favour!  As for me, I will keep trying since, as they say, you need to let your kids try a new food at least 10 times before you give up since familiarity often breeds liking.  Oh yeah, don't you worry, one day these girls will be olive eaters!

Disclosure: I was sent these products compliments of the company, but all opinions on this blog are my own.