Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dish of the Day: Brussels n' Bacon

At our house we do love Brussels sprouts but not in the conventional way. We shred them or roast them until they carmelise. Tonight I decided to do something different. I added bacon. Here's how to try this at home

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon:
- For two, chop about 12 medium-sized heads into strips (after removing the stem) and dice 1 piece of raw bacon.
- In a large frying pan, heat up 1 tsp of olive oil on medium low heat, and then place the sprouts and the bacon into the pan.
- Cover with a lid and wait for about 5 minutes before using a large spatula to turn everything in the pan over.
- Leave the cover on for the first 15 minutes of cooking, and turn every few minutes to prevent burning and evenly cook the contents of the pan. Leave the cover off after that so you can keep a close eye on the leaves so they don't burn.
- It will take about 25 minutes for the Brussels to fully cook, at which point they will be tender and you can pierce them easily with a fork. If you turn up the heat it will take less time but the leaves may brown too quickly, or burn.
- Remove from heat and add a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste.

This is a great way to eat a very nutritious member of the cruciferous family. While most people think of Brussels sprouts as soggy vegetables with a strange texture, this recipe turns them into a savoury dish with a nutty, not mention, bacon-y, flavour.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dish of the Day: Stuffed chicken and potatoes

Lazy dinner
Lazy dinner,
originally uploaded by me.
Today's post is about making the process of cooking dinner easier and more efficient. This photo at left shows how I saved time preparing dinner tonight. I crammed 3 different things on the baking sheet, some for tonight and some for tomorrow's lunch.

The chicken breasts were sliced in half and stuffed with herbed feta cheese, and I rubbed the breasts in oil and rolled them in a mixture of corn bread crumbs and herbs. I chopped the potatoes and drizzled some olive oil on them and then topped them with chopped rosemary, salt and pepper. The potato on the right will be peeled and mashed tomorrow and added to leftover baked herbed salmon to make salmon patties for our lunch.

The point is, I used only one tray and the food was ready all at the same time, but for the whole potato which I left in the oven after I turned it off. The baking tray won't even need to be washed thanks to the aluminum foil, a baking aid which I try not to use too often.

On the side, we served up leftover boiled broccoli florets for our greens. All in all, a pretty easy meal!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Peanut Butter Separation Anxiety - Solved!

Do you like peanut butter? Mmm...I sure do. But wait - I'm not talking about that peanutty spread pictured above. That's just hydrogenated oil and icing sugar mixed with some crushed peanuts. Yeccccch!

I'm talking about ground peanuts in a jar. It's yummy stuff and it's one of my favourite treats, drizzled onto a banana, spread on toast with honey, on a cracker at night time. The problem is, there is a lot of separation of liquids and solids in a jar of peanut butter while it's sitting on a store shelf waiting for you to take it home. I have spent many collective hours wiping oily splotches off my counters made by an attempt to stir the PB oil and peanuts back together so that they become a homogenous spread. This has always been a tricky job, until now. I have discovered the secret to mixing natural peanut butter back into a lovely, smooth consistency.

Many people decide they'd rather buy the Kraft-type peanut spread pictured above because it's just so much easier to open the lid and spread away! Now you'll no longer be tempted by these horrible spreads because here is the solution you've been waiting for.

Buy a new jar of PB before your old one runs out. Place them side by side on the counter, lids removed. Using a fork, take out several forkfuls of peanut butter out of the new jar and place it into the "old" jar. Be careful not to let any of the oil drip onto the counter as you transfer the ground peanuts between jars. No focus on the new jar: use your fork to stir the oily, peanutty mass into a nicely blended spread. If it looks like you have too much in the new jar and the oil levels might seep out of the jar as you're stirring, simply take a bit more out of the new and place it in the old jar. Now put your newly-blended jar of PB and put it in the fridge. It will stay blended. And use up that old jar as quickly as can be. No mess, no fuss, no spills!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Exercise More, Stress Less

Faithful readers of BEYG know that we are not advocates of exercising for weight loss. But we can't think of a better way to stay fit and feel great. Regular exercise makes a body feel wonderful, when not done to excess, and folks who are physically active just know that it has positive effects on their mental health as well.

Now some clever scientists at Princeton University are showing how regular exercise can produce new cells in the brain that do not react to stress. The article, goes into depth on this study and others which are demonstrating how rats brains are changing in response to exercise, and are becoming less anxious and stressed. Several studies involve putting rats on a running program and then subjecting them to laboratory-induced stressful situations. The runner rats were cool as cucumbers.

"It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms," says one graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth. And it appears that the benefits appear somewhere between 3 and 6 weeks of getting on a regular training program. In the University of Colorado experiments, for instance, rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress-induced anxiety, but those that ran for at least six weeks did. "'Something happened between three and six weeks,' says Benjamin Greenwood, a research associate in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, who helped conduct the experiments."

It's no surprise that there aren't any quick wins in the exercise department. Good things come to those who wait, and persevere. I'd better shut my laptop and start doing my exercises!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ode to the Humble Pea

Most folks with kids come to appreciate the humble pea as it's an easy food to cook (from frozen) and most kids enjoy this cute, round finger food. Personally I hated peas until I moved out on my own because I'd only encountered them in their canned incarnation. Like most moms in the 70s, my mom only served vegetables that came from a can, so I thought that all peas were mushy and a sickly, grey-green colour.

But at our house, we love our peas which are fresh from the pod in the summer and fresh from the freezer the rest of the year. Frozen foods have come a long way in recent years and they're generally picked at the peak of ripeness and flash-frozen which preserves most of their vitamins and minerals. And because peas are so often "right there" in the freezer, just 3 minutes and a pot of boiling water away from being ready-to-eat, they make their way into lots of dishes.

I encourage you to consider adding peas to your meals, for an extra dab of fibre, protein and vitamins. If you've already got a main with a starch, a protein and a veggie side, you could add in peas to bump up the veggie factor. Here are some ways to incorporate peas into your meals:
- add to green salads
- add to pasta salad (try rotini, chicken, grape tomatoes and peas)
- add to creamy pasta dishes (e.g. shells, baby shrimp and peas)
- adding green peas to boxed macaroni and cheees bumps up the veggie quotient but still serve another vegetable on the side
- add to stews (in the last 5 minutes)
- add to soups (even canned veggie, chicken noodle)

This last suggestion we do frequently, and I love the way peas add colour and thickness to pureed soups. Go to your favourite recipe site, such as or, and type in 'peas' and you won't believe how many interesting recipes pop up. Eat your peas today!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


This is not a post about food. This is a post about my latest fashion favourite. Call it a gown for Recessionary Times. A "little black dress" for the eco-conscious, if you will.

This is me pictured above in my Snuggie. It's cozy and warm, makes me happy, and enables me to keep the thermostat turned down in our leaky old house. It may not be sexy, but then I don't plan on wearing it anywhere. I suppose you could go for the zebra or leopard pattern if you wanted to mince around the house looking mysterious. And it looks like anything goes at those Snuggie Parties. Call me a bore, but I'm not taking this baby into the great outdoors. I'm too afraid that harm might come its way: it might get stained, or torn. It's not even fire-retardant, poor thing.

I love my Snuggie! It's a baby blanket for adults. I just hope I'll be able to get a new one before it disintegrates from overuse, like my childhood blankie did. Poor Boodie....

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hallowe'en Party

originally uploaded by follepourchocolat.
We had a Hallowe'en party this past weekend and I made gingerbread pumpkin cookies, vegetable macaroni and cheese and a veggie tray with dip. I was planning on sharing the recipe, but the truth is, I didn't keep track of what I did.

Baked Mac n' Cheese with Veggie Sauce

- Cook some whole grain macaroni according to package directions; drain in colander
- At same time, place a mixture of vegetables in a pot and just cover them with water. Bring to a boil. I used leek, broccoli stems, carrots, and some cauliflower.
- Boil until tender, about 15 minutes; let cool
- Puree vegetable mixture in your blender, reserving a bit of the water and add milk. It should be quite thick, not watery. Add vegetable water if it's too thick (i.e. you cannot pour it)
- Place macaroni back into pot you used to boil it
- Pour the vegetable puree over the macaroni and mix it in with a spoon. Add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, or less.
- Put pasta into a buttered glass baking pan; sprinkle with 1 cup (or less) of shredded cheese of your preference
- Cover with foil and place into an oven at 400F
- Bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil. Bake until cheese topping bubbles.
- Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

The kids loved this dish and so did the adults, with everyone being quite surprised when they learned it was chock full of veggies. Yummy, good cold weather food. Oh! and the pumpkin cookies were a hit too....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Read Labels and Don't Be Duped

I can't say enough how important it is to read labels now that every supermarket chain has its own branded "healthy food" line. Twice now I've come home with a product I grabbed off a shelf because I assumed it was good for us because the label told me it was.

The first was a President's Choice Blue Menu cracker; the other a Safeway Eating Right fig newton. When I finally read the labels, each of these foods had sugar listed as the first ingredient, before flour. That means that there was more sugar in the product than flour. I've followed a lot of cookie recipes over the years, but not even the sweetest one contained more sugar than flour. And why a fig newton cookie needs that much sugar is a mystery: figs are incredibly sweet on their own.

Companies are taking advantage of our trust and our lack of time in the grocery store aisles to sell us food that will do more harm than good. If you avoid processed food altogether, you won't get taken in, because most of these foods are processed and packaged to look like homemade, wholesome foods. But instead they are made with cheap ingredients (sugar, white flour) with a few healthy ingredients thrown in (e.g. flax seed) to make us think that the foods are good for us.

I encourage everyone to stick to your instincts about what's good for you and your family and take the time to read food labels. Just because a package looks like it contains a healthy item, does not mean it actually will. Apparently the FDA is planning to put pressure on companies who use coercive marketing and packaging to dress up unhealthy choices as healthy ones. They are looking into enforcing national labelling standards that will make it easier for consumers to pick the right foods. Don't expect to see them steering consumers away from sugar anytime soon though. Sugar still manages to avoid any medical blacklists, but that is due to change in the future.

Knowledge is definitely power, and what's more powerful than being in control of every thing you put into your body for fuel? Do yourself a favour and spend time finding out what's in the food you buy and eat.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dish of the Day: Spinach Artichoke Dip

In Vancouver, there are several restuarants that offer spinach and artichoke heart dip as an appetiser. They serve it with those fried nacho chips and I think they refry them before bringing the dish to the table because they always seem extra greasy.

One of these restaurants published their recipe years ago and I haven't ordered this dish ever since. Turns out that mayonnaise and butter are the main ingredients, as well as a lot of shredded cheese. Yummy....but a bit hard on the digestion, and who needs that much fat at one sitting?

I've asked my old friend ricotta cheese to stand in as the main ingredient in this delicious, cold weather appetiser. Ricotta is a relatively low fat cheese and it's still very light, high in protein and incredibly versatile. You can buy ricotta in low fat versions if you like, but I'm not keen on overly processed dairy foods.

Recipe for Spinach Artichoke Dip

- Take one block of frozen chopped spinach and prepare according to package instructions (usually, you boil it in a small amount of salted water for a few minutes)
- Dump the cooked spinach into a sieve, or colander and squeeze out all the water, or your dish will be watery
- Take 2 small jars of artichoke hearts (1 used one large can 398 ml) and also put them into the colander to remove all the water, or oil in which they were sitting
- Chop up artichoke hearts into smaller pieces if desired, and remove any woody pieces
- Generously butter a small oven-ready dish (I used an 8 x 8 square pan); go all the way up sides and edges
- Dump into your baking dish the contents of a 500 ml tub of ricotta cheese
- Now add the spinach and artichokes and mix well with a fork
- Stir in 2 Tbsp mayonnaise or sour cream and 1 Tbsp olive oil to make for a creamier consistency
- Add in a few shakes of salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper if you like a bit of spice
- Finally, add in 1/2 cup of shredded cheese (white cheddar, edam or gouda)
- Cover dish with aluminum foil and place in over at 375 for 20 minutes
- Remove the foil, crank oven up to 425 and cook for 5 more minutes
- Then turn oven to broil and watch your dish until cheese starts to brown
- Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. If you're eating with people who are related to you, or very good friends, eat right from the dish with tortilla chips, preferably a baked or multigrain kind. I served this with open-faced salmon sandwiches.

This dish can be reheated and really should serve 4 people at least 2 times. This is why you've buttered all edges of the pan to prevent ingredients from burning and sticking.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dish of the Day: Turkey Roast

Happy Thanksgiving!! This year we were a wee group of 6 diners with small appetites, and we're not big fans of turkey. I find that the white meat especially can be quite dry. There was also no way we'd make a dent in a big turkey, so I decided to try and cook a turkey roast, which I believe is when you take a turkey breast and stuff it, twine it and roast it in the oven.

As you can see above, it looked beautiful en route to the oven, but more importantly it tasted delectable. I'm attributing that to the extra special step of brining the turkey beforehand. The recipe which I loosely followed is this one. I made my own stuffing with whatever we had around the house: raisins, apples, onion, whole wheat bread, butter and chicken stock. I bought fresh sage for the occasion.

What did we serve with this, you ask? Peas and French green beans. Sadly I don't have a photo of the turkey after it was cooked because we gobbled it all up. But from now on, I will always brine a turkey. It's fast and easy and makes the meat moist and delicious. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Deadly Burger Deconstructed

I like a good burger. And one of the best that I know is at my parents' house in Central Ontario. My parents have a hobby farm with assorted animals including some grass-fed cows. Each year they take one cow to the tiny, nearby slaughterhouse to be killed and they eat it in a variety of ways: ribeye, sirloin, as well as some that gets ground for burgers. This meat is dark red and delicious. It needs no more seasoning than a shake of salt and pepper.

I could go on and on about this splendid meal, but in reality, I rarely get to enjoy this. My parents live thousands of kilometres away, and they are very lucky to be able to eat fresh local food. They can purchase eggs and chickens from Mennonite neighbours, and they have plenty of land for a vegetable garden in the summer. Whereas I must make do with my 3' x 10' urban garden and like most folks, I rely on what I can source at a restaurant or at my local supermarket. Since most North Americans get most of their food from a store, meat eaters in particular are eating food which has been processed and packaged by people whom they will never meet.

Which brings me to this article documenting the horrible illness a young woman endured several days after she ate a hamburger infected with E. Coli. She is now paralysed from the waist down. One of her low points was having the doctors put her into a coma for nine weeks to try and stop her violent and endless convulsions. The article uncovers the cause of her illness and traces back all the mishandled situations, oversights and red tape that lay behind the tainted meat. The story gathers up all the bits of meat and other ingredients scraped together to make her hamburger patty, for which the packaging listed only one thing: beef.

The cause of this woman's needless tragedy is simple economics. Cargill (the maker the frozen beef patties), like other large food producers, wants to be a very profitable company. The best way to achieve that is through mass-production and lowering the cost of raw materials and processing methods. The result is that many low-quality meat bits are added together to make a patty, some having been in contact with feces. With such high volume production runs and so many sources of raw ingredients, and other issues like insufficient time to clean equipment, staff do not take the time to properly inspect the patties for pathogens. But that doesn't stop this food from being shipped to grocery stores so they can be purchased by you or me.

Knowing what goes on in the processing factory means that each time you buy frozen patties from a large food corporation, you're taking a low risk gamble that you might eat infected meat. Many of us know that healthier foods are those which are as unprocessed as possible. These are the natural foods which we were designed to eat and they have been touched by few hands and machines, and so we assume they have a lower chance of being infected. These foods may be our safest bet. Because few of us are lucky enough to be able to eat our own beef, to buy the chickens from the lady down the street, or even to eat fruits and vegetables from our own garden.

Each time we go to the grocery store, we must make an informed choice. I know I'm not going to be choosing any ground beef or frozen patties anytime soon. And I will continue to ask lots of questions of my store's butcher and of the companies who try to sell me their products. It's our health at stake and we have the right to know before we hand over our money, or put our health on the line.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dish of the Day: Pumpkin Cookies


Fall is definitely here and to our family that means: Bring on Da Pumpkins! We adore pumpkins and squashes in lots of foods, albeit dessert-y ones. Pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin muffins and scones. We can't get enough pumpkin!

The pumpkin cookie pictured above is a new recipe I've modified which contains a lot more pumpkin than you normally find in a cookie. Often pumpkin cookies contain lots of sugar, are sometimes iced, and contain twice as much flour as pumpkin. This recipe has almost the same amount of pumpkin as flour. Also, I've used some orange juice concentrate to reduce the amount of sugar used. And I use whole sugar such as Rapadura, jaggery or Sucanut, such as
this for example.

Very Pumpkin-y Cookies

1/4 cup butter or coconut oil

2 Tbsp juice concentrate at room temp (melted)

1/2 cup whole sugar

1 egg at room temp

1 tsp vanilla, or dark rum

2/3 cup pumpkin

1 cup sifted spelt flour

2 tsps baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 and 1/2 tsps cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom (if you like it)

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 cup raisins

In a large bowl, cream butter and then add sugar. Cream until light and fluffy.

Beat in egg and then vanilla and pumpkin; mix well.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt and spices together. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until blended.

Add raisins. Place Tablespoon-sized balls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes.

Makes about 18 cookies.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dish of the Day: Chicken n Rice in the Oven

Tonight I was again bored and feeling uncreative. I had some chicken and that was about it. It was time to search the fridge for leftovers and see how a meal for 4 could be constructed. What I came up with was a saucy baked chicken recipe with rice and leafy greens. Here's how it came together:

- I grabbed some kale from the garden, washed and shredded it and placed in an oven-ready dish with some leftover brown rice.
- I mixed the two together so they were evenly distributed throughout the dish.
- I then took last night's delicious Moroccan Soup, and mixed it with about a cup of chicken broth.
- Meanwhile I was searing the chicken breast and then chopped it up and placed it on the rice mixture.
- Next I poured the soup/broth sauce over everything and ensured that all the kale and chicken was covered in sauce.
- This was placed in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes with aluminum foil on top to keep the heat in.
- I removed the foil, put some shredded cheese on top of the now bubbling dish, turned off the oven and left the dish in for 5 more minutes.
- The dish stood for 5 more minutes on a cooling rack and then we tucked in.

In the photo above, you can see we had a salad on the side. Not a bad meal for being unplanned and using up leftovers.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dish of the Day: My Green Soup Rocks the House

Okay, so that's a small exaggeration. But the kale that made it green IS such an amazing vegetable and I want to shout it from the rooftops. It's easy to cook with, delicious and nutritious. And you can do it too.

Yesterday I made us all green soup. We were travelling in the US a few days ago and we really needed a burst of fresh vegetables, to combat all that rich, takeout food. I took a pile of leftover vegetables from the fridge, chopped them up, threw them in a pot and covered them with water. Boiled for 10 minutes then cooled them, blended them and reheated and served. Delish!

Here's the recipe, of sorts:
- chop up garlic and onions and add to pot
- chop your vegetables into dice-sized pieces (I used zucchini, kale, carrots, potatoes)
- just cover with water (you want a 1:1 ratio of water to vegetables)
- boil for 10 minutes maximum
- remove from stove and add 1 or 2 vegetable bouillon cubes
- let cool for 10 - 15 minutes
- puree in blender until mixture is completely blended
--> if you use a leafy green your soup will be a vibrant green!
- put pot back on the stove and reheat
- add in 1 or 2 Tbsp of virgin olive oil
- if soup is too watery, simmer for 10 minutes to evaporate extra water
- if soup is too thick, add water or milk or yogurt to make it more creamy
- serve with fresh ground pepper or herbs from the garden

Make yourselves some green soup today and get healthy. I think you'll find this is a quick and easy way to get your vitamins and minerals.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Eat Your Peas, like Mom and Dad

Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic who recently came out of the closet about being a child bulimic writes a good article in today's paper about children modelling their parents' eating habits.

There are so many studies being done now to try and determine how today's kids are ending up with so many eating disorders. This article suggests that the best predictors for your child having a healthy relationship to food are:
- regularly having family dinners (we see the importance of this lauded everywhere from nutrition papers to child-rearing tomes),
- going grocery-shopping and cooking with your kids, and
- being good role models by exercising and eating well yourselves

It's not rocket science. A little bit of "monkey see, monkey do", and a dash of common sense. My little monkeys have had a fun summer - which definitely included ice cream - but we've always made time for being active, and eating our peas.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Diet, not Exercise, for Weight Loss

We've been on vacation, so I'm a bit behind on the blogging. A couple of weeks ago TIME Magazine published an article summarising what I've been trying to explain to people for years. Exercise won't make you thin. It what you eat that affects your weight.

I'm going to let the article do the explaining this time, however, let me state unequivocally that I highly value exercise. I've had a hard time fitting regular exercise into my life for the past 22 months, since the last couple of months of my pregnancy. I've had sporadic bursts of energy and time, where I walked 10 km per day, or swam a km or two, or had the pleasure of doing yoga twice per week. But it's not been until the last month that I've had time to regularly dedicate to exercise. And I've been feeling great because of it.

I've been biking to work at least 2 times per week, and getting in the odd 30 minutes exercise class there. I've been doing yoga at least once per week at home, and occasionally participating in my husband's latest obsession, the P90X exercise tapes. I'm starting to feel more toned, and less jiggly in my bits. But I'm not losing weight. I've been the same weight since a week after I gave birth. My weight might fluctuate a few pounds up or down from this setpoint, but when it does, it's almost always due to what I eat. Or, to be more specific, what I overeat. When I come back to normal, or eat piously for a few days, I return to my standard weight.

The best way to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life is to eat a moderate amount of a variety of foods: tons of vegetables, fish and beans, some fruits, and not too many flour-based or starchy foods. That's how our bodies were designed to operate, on a steady flow of healthy fuel. Go out and exercise a bit every day if you can, and push yourself athletically if you're in great shape. But don't expect exercise to solve your weight issues. More often than not, starting an exercise program will create a ravenous appetite that leads us to overeat. And then we're back to square one.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Getting Greens Back on your Dinner Menu

A friend sent me an interesting link to a story about Washington State chef Sabrina Tinsley who "sneaks vegetables" into her picky daughter's meals. It's not so sneaky; she does get her son and daughter involved in the process of making a vegetable soup with pasta stars. They help shell peas for example which we know is fun and piques kids' interest. But the key step is she purees the soup right before serving so that most of the vegetables' texture is made very bland, but all the delicious flavour is still there. And of course, then she adds in the cute pasta stars.

I think this is a fine idea. My stepmother served me delicious cream of cauliflower soup for years before I clued in to what it was; and was subsequently horrified. But it never gave me an appreciation for vegetables, because it had the boring consistency of all my favourite foods of the time, like rice pudding. It wasn't until I started eating out at nice restaurants during university that I developed an appreciation for vegetables in their natural, un-pureed state.

But I think a better strategy than disguising veggies, is to serve them unapologetically, and routinely at every meal. Tonight we had penne pasta that boiled along with shredded kale. The kale tasted yummy in the tomato-basil sauce and went well with the shredded cheese topping. We also had cucumber slices on the side. Vegetables are all over at plates in this house, and we don't try to disguise them or apologise for their fibrous texture. We like to dip them in dressings, mix them in salads, add them to soups or stews, eat them drizzled in butter. Even a canned soup can get jazzed up by adding spinach, kale, chard or broccoli. It's simple to cook and that's just what we do.

Many people I've talked to whose children "don't like vegetables" often reveal that they are not eating vegetables at lunch and dinner, or they do so rarely. The vegtable choices are often standard: carrots, peas, broccoli, and often are served in a bland way each time. Boring! No wonder kids don't like them. Kids learn by example and if Mom and Dad are uninspired by their veggie portions, then kids are not going to make the effort to like them either.

Go to the grocery store and find a new vegetable you don't typically eat. Serve it with a favourite, tried-and-true sauce or dip. Make it a bit of an adventure: "I wonder what this will taste like!" Or don't even mention it unless somebody asks "oh yeah, that's broccoli rabe with your favourite Naam Miso Gravy". Enjoy it and make it something you look forward to when it makes its way back to your dinner menu every other week or so. Vegetables are just another form of food: neither intrinsically good nor bad. It all depends on how they're prepared and served. Preferably with passion!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dish of the Day: French Lentil Salad

French Lentil Salad
French Lentil Salad,
originally uploaded by follepourchocolat.
Back in the 90s I worked at a fancy restaurant in Paris owned by the ex-wife and son of Mr. Eddie Barclay. Perhaps it's more appropriate to say that I ate daily for free at this restaurant, because I did very little work. However I did learn a lot about French cooking and one of the recipes I took home with me was for lentil salad. At "Marie et Fils" they served this with salmon that was lightly cooked - still raw in the middle in fact - but I think the salad does fine all by itself.

This is adapted from the chef's recipe and the main ingredients are, of course, lentils with chopped tomato and cucumber and chives. The lentils are canned (no shame here) and the rest was from my garden. The dressing is olive oil and a mixture of apple cider and white vinegar with a ratio or 3:1 oil to vinegar. I would like to try some white balsamic vinegar next time. And the special ingredient is 2 pieces of cooked crispy bacon. It's also seasoned with salt and pepper. Pretty simple, and very yummy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Let's All Cook! Our Lives Depend on It.

Once again, the amazing Michael Pollan has written a highly compelling piece about how our relationship to food must change. The article, titled "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch" ponders how it is that most Americans spend less than 27 minutes per day on food preparation, and instead spend hours watching cooking shows on TV. As he puts it: "What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will tell you they no longer have the time for."

Another shocking tidbit from his lengthy article is "the more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower it's rate of obesity....the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force...income levels or class." This is the kind of stuff that makes my blood boil, when I think of all the McDonald's or KFC advertising targetted to low income families. Their malevolent promise is: "we'll save you time and money so you can give your family delicious comfort food." Meanwhile, these fast food companies are serving up empty calories while leading small children down the path to obesity.

Here at BEYG we make no apologies for being lazy - and not terribly talented - in the kitchen. We won't win any awards when it comes to style or diligence in the kitchen. But our message is always the same: if you want to be healthy, you need to eat meals made from fresh, whole ingredients, as opposed to pre-packaged, convenience foods. You don't need to spend hours in the kitchen to serve up a healthy meal; but you do need start with real food, and some effort will be required.

I'll defer to Michael Pollan's words: "the path to a diet of fresher, unprocessed food...passes straight through the home kitchen." This message is becoming urgent now and we at BEYG want to shout it from the rooftops. Eat food, real food, as much as you require. Take the time to prepare it in a way that is enjoyable, and digestible, for you and your family. But make sure that food came straight from a tree, from out of the ground, from the sea, from a real chicken. That's how we were designed to eat, and eating that way is the only way we will survive.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dish of the Day: Focaccia Sandwiches

This is another recipe from Paul and Tami's kitchen.
Sandwiches for dinner don't have to be boring if you use fresh ingredients and extra flavourings like a good olive oil or pesto. Start off with good whole grain bread. Look for large round focaccia to make this recipe serve 4. In Vancovuer, try Duso’s or Zara’s at Granville Island Market or Calabria Bakery on Victoria Drive.

Vegetarian Focaccia Sandwiches

You'll need: good quality olive oil; fresh basil leaves (at least 10); red, yellow and green bell peppers (one of each) sliced into thin rings; one jar of marinated artichoke hearts, diced and woody part removed; fresh asiago cheese finely grated.

To build your sandwich; first carefully cut the bread in half and remove top. Then spoon or baste olive oil to cover both sides of the bread. Next place a layer of basil leaves on the bottom half of the sandwich – covering the entire surface. Then layer one colour of the pepper rings first in concentric circles. Almost like the Olympic rings! Then add the next colour. Now carefully fill the spaces between the pepper rings with the diced artichoke hearts. Finally, add the last layer of peppers. Cover with a generous layer of fresh asiago. Top with the bread "lid". Cut the sandwiches into 4 wedges.

Now it is a nice idea to wrap each sandwich up in saran snugly and put in the fridge for an hour or two and allow the flavors to meld. These are wonderful on a picnic, or for dinner with soup. They keep very well.

***Please remember the most important thing in making this sandwich is the bread. It must be fresh, authentic and not crusty.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Salad Days of Summer

Following my last post on eating summer salads, I came across this article in the New York Times with 101 salad recipes. They're organised by categories such as Vegan, Vegetarian, with Seafood. What a fabulous article; bless the Times once again for their earnest (and often delicious), cerebral journalism.

To whet your appetite, here are just a few of the salads featured:
- Grilled eggplant with toasted pita, white beans, pine nuts and cherry tomatoes
- Cherries in a balsamic dressing with hazelnuts and radicchio
- Arugula with cold whole wheat penne, lemon zest and olive oil
- Vidalia onions with seared skirt steak, roasted red peppers and salad greens

These salads are epicurean meals unto themselves. We at BEYG may not have the time to make some of the more involved recipes but we're sure tempted and inspired to try many.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cheers to not cooking dinner!

It's been unseasonably hot here in Vancouver and I can't bear to cook over the stove. Plus, with an unruly mess of vegetables growing out back, we can't help but build our meals lately around big salads. Here are some of the combinations I've been putting together:

- Leaf lettuce, green onion, baby corn, colourful bell peppers, fresh peas and radishes
- Homemade caesar dressing with Romaine leaves, artichoke hearts, capers, and bacon (veggie or piggie)
- Romaine or other firm leaves with hard boiled egg, potato, tuna, green beans, olive and green onion
- Any lettuce with baby chard, blanched and chopped kale, chunks of cheese, chick peas and cucumbers
- Mixed greens with cherry tomatoes, and nuts or seeds (pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, pecans or walnuts
- Spinach with peppers, bean sprouts, BC blueberries and chopped pecans or walnuts

And to any of the above, I love to throw in delicious sunflower greens. At our farmer's marketthere is a local guy who sells them by the bag and they are so nutty and delicious. I've tried to grow sunflower greens myself but they're a bit fiddly, and I'd rather pay the $5 to this dedicated urban farmer who grows them far better than I could.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Guest Blogger: Handheld Tortillas

My friend Tami is mostly vegan and knows her way around the kitchen. She wanted to respond to my taco post with one of her own recipes. There's lots of room for flexibility and customisation here. Tami makes them side-by-side in the kitchen with her husband so they're like a Taco Tag Team. Take it away Tami!

Caroline: Here's a variation of your taco recipe and one we have often. It’s a great way to use up leftovers and use your creativity in the kitchen. These are delicious and nutritious and the only real learning curve is the assembly part.

Sunshine Handheld Tortillas

Start with,
1. whole wheat tortillas
2. frozen tofu, thawed, with all water squeezed out, then cuised to a "ground round" consistency, (we usually have leftover "tofu ground round" from a previous dish (e.g. Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese) as we only use up half of it in a recipe at once.
3. cooked brown rice

- Saute up onion, garlic, peppers, fresh diced tomato, add the brown rice and then stir in the "tofu ground round"
- Scramble up a couple of eggs in a separate pan and add them to your rice mixture.
- Cover, set aside and keep warm.
- Meanwhile, put on a large pot of cold water with a pinch of sugar in it and add 3 cobs of fresh sweet corn to the cold water, then bring to a boil. Once the corn has boiled for a couple of minutes, take it off the heat and let stand in the water. Whenever you are ready remove the corn from the pot of water and cut the kernels off the cob and place in small dish.

All items below (or your substitute fillings) should be prepped and in front of you before you begin.
- fresh corn
- chunky fresh salsa (it is generally easy to find a good store bought one)
- grated Jack cheese
- chopped cilantro
- plain yogurt

Warm the tortillas one at a time in a pan and lay them out flat in the centre of your work surface. First place some of the rice in the middle of the wrap and flatten. Then put all your remaining ingredients on top of the filling - the fresh corn, salsa, cheese, cilantro and a drizzle of yogurt. Don't overfill; the ingredients should form a long sausage shape down the centre of the tortilla. Then fold up the bottom of the wrap, about 2 ½ inches over the filling, fold right side next to cover the filling, then pull over the left side of the wrap to complete. Next put a toothpick or an hors d'oeuvre pick in the centre towards the top of the wrap, plate it and eat as a hand held.

Other fillings to try: diced mushrooms, meatless chicken strips, leftover cooked red potatoes cut up, refried beans, avocado or whatever you fancy.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dish of the Day: Pasta with Yogurt Cream Sauce

originally uploaded by me.
The above pic is to show you what my kitchen looks like after I've cooked dinner, and before my wonderfully amazing husband cleans it up. Hopefully you can derive some satisfaction - as some do when watching Reality TV - such as "Phew....that's not my life!"

Tonight we had fresh pasta (asparagus and cheese ravioli) with kale, basil and a garlicky cream sauce. I do enjoy cream sauce but when it's made with real cream it's often too heavy for my liking. And it is summer. So I threw together a lighter yogurt sauce that you can do quickly, and customise it to your taste.

The Italian in me says all recipes should start with this first step:
- chop some garlic, throw in a pan and brown in olive oil for a couple of minutes
- bring a large pot of water to boil
- throw in your pasta and veggies (we used fresh kale and put it in for 2 minutes then added in fresh pasta that boiled for 4 more minutes)
- when cooked to your liking, dump pasta and veggies out of pot into a colander
- turn off heat and place pot back on the stove
- add yogurt to taste into the warm pot (I used 1 cup for 3 servings and this was too creamy for my liking; I'd use more like 1/2 to 2/3 cup next time)
- add in shredded or grated cheese, such as Parmagiano, to taste, about 2-4 Tablespoons
- place the pasta and veggies back into the pot and mix gently to coat with the yogurt mixture
- now place a dollop (1 Tbsp or so) of butter into the olive oil/garlic pan and warm it up until butter foams slightly
- meanwhile place the pasta on the plates
- remove garlic pan from heat and swirl the oil around several times and drizzle the contents over each plate of pasta
- top with chopped fresh herbs, salt and pepper and serve

Monday, July 6, 2009

Dish of the Day: Garden Soup

Garden Soup
Garden Soup,
originally uploaded by me.
Tonight's dinner included soup made almost entirely from food from our garden. The only exceptions are garlic (which I must plant next year) and chick peas, both obtained from the Portuguese grocers next door. How's that for fresh and local?

This soup was made by heating up 2 tablespoons of olive oil and adding chopped shallots to taste, then chopped garlic and stirring them for 2 minutes. I then added 2 cups of water and a roughly chopped tomato, and 2 handfuls of finely chopped kale. I simmered this on medium for 5 minutes, then added in 1 handful of chopped Swiss Chard, and some chick peas and simmered for a few more minutes. Right before serving I added chopped basil and chives.

Have a look in your garden or vegetable drawer and try throwing them into a soup with the addition of your favourite spices for a quick and healthy meal.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dish of the Day: Soft Tacos

Summer's here and who wants to use the oven? I sauteed and chopped up this dinner in under 10 minutes. Veggie ground round went into a skillet, with some onion and spices. I then chopped up:
- lettuce
- red and green peppers
- tomatoes
- green onions

I also opened up a can of beans, and set the table with salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese. Everyone had lots of options to customise their taco, and yes it was pretty messy. But a good time was had by all and we ate a very balanced meal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aspartame - is that a vegetable?

This is a link to a good Q. and A. column in the Globe and Mail focussed on answering the public's health questions. The answer to the question "Is Aspartame Harmful?" is measured. One the one hand, two researchers with ties to the artificial sweetener industry have recently published studies saying there's nothing wrong with it. On the other, a doctor's recent study (he has no ties to the sweetener industry) did find links between aspartame consumption and neurological disorders.

Common sense should make us naturally skeptical of consuming items that are not foods we'd consume in the wild; for example: sugar and other sweeteners, salt, alcohol, manufactured fats like margarine, drugs, or tobacco. Yet because we like, even crave, these non-foods, we keep finding ways to rationalise that they are, in fact, safe. It's very important to be curious and cautious about consuming non-foods and to continue to study them, while acknowledging that food studies are very hard to quantify. Subjects are not locked in rooms for months on end and fed a strict diet, and most of the facts gleaned from these studies come from the subjects self-reporting most of what they ate and drank throughout the study period.

Roll the dice if you like, but I'm not gambling on my health or my that of my family. We are given only one body for our entire lifetime and I'd like to keep mine in optimal condition, by avoiding potential impurities as much as possible.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dish of the Day: Cucumbers!!!

Today we harvested the very first cucumber from our garden. It was big, juicy and delicious. We didn't dip this baby, as it was so yummy that everyone was happy to chomp on it without any added flavouring.

Since we have 2 more cukes on the way and about a dozen little stubs that will soon be big and juicy like this one, we're going to need to get creative about how we eat them. I'm thinking:
- lots of Greek salad
- cucumber, tomato and chickpea salad
- cucumber added to summer couscous
- cucumber raita
- cucumber martinis, and cucumber gin and tonics, and cucumbers and soda with Pimm's No 1 Cup (not for the whole family of course)

Does anyone have any other good ideas...?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Baby Shells Peas

One of the most accessible vegetables for children is peas in a pod because they are a fun shape, don't need to be washed or cooked and they can be opened and eaten by even the smallest of hands. My Bug loves to "help Mommy!" in the kitchen and so I plopped her down in front of an empty bowl. I broke open each organic (no pesticides) pea pod and asked her to "put them in the bowl". She did a great job and really enjoyed doing something all by herself.

I ended up making a whole wheat pasta in a light olive oil and garlic sauce with shrimp, red peppers, broccoli and peas, and fresh basil and coriander from the garden.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Defense of Food

There's nothing like regret. A sad emotion that can't be changed because what caused it is in the past, and cannot be undone. I have huge regret that I missed Michael Pollan's appearance at the nearby UBC Farm last Saturday. I can't even remember what we did on Saturday but it probably wasn't anywhere near as exciting as hearing this very knowledgeable man speak.

Check out Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food. His words are clear and logical and his message is being echoed around the world. The idea of eating the food our great-grandparents ate is what I was taught in my studies on holistic nutrition and is simply a return to common sense, but it's becoming a battlecry taken up by all kinds of food and health advocates all over the world.

Alice Waters, Michelle Obama, the Slow Food Movement, are all saying the same thing: Eat real, unprocessed food, from not too far away, maybe from your own backyard. It's a message we must heed, if not for the sake of our environment, then at least for own health.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"We must cultivate our garden" - Candide

From the French: "Il faut cultiver notre jardin."

In his novel 'Candide', Balzac concluded his fantastical tale with his protagonist offering sage advice for what felt like dire times. It was Europe in the mid-1700s, and this pragmatic response of "let's just focus on our own affairs", was a sensible reaction to the intense optimism of a very difficult period in history.

Taken literally, "we must cultivate our garden" feels like pretty good advice for right now, too. With food prices rising ever higher and food security issues popping up more frequently in the news ("Bagged Spinach E. Coli Outbreak"), now is the perfect to be growing food right in our own backyards. And for families who want to encourage their children to eat more vegetables, there's no better way to pique their interest than by getting them involved in the act growing and cooking green foods. My Bug isn't even 18 months old, but she loves getting her hands in the dirt and touching the green leaves. My 7-year-old wasn't so keen on lettuce until her father and I exclaimed how yummy our own lettuce is; she's now a big fan.

My small patch of garden is thriving, much to my surprise, and the enjoyment of my kids. It's only the beginning of June and yet each day this week we've eaten something from it: a mix of lettuces for a salad, Romaine leaves for Caesar salad, wilted kale leaves with olive oil and balsamic, and Swiss chard with lentils and tomato sauce.

There's nothing simpler than cutting something from the garden and bringing it inside to wash and season. And I'm living proof that it's easy to grow something, even if you've never done so before. There are so many resources available online, from the whimsical, to the seriously informative Better Homes and Gardens website. Do a search on "vegetable gardening" and your region and you'll find many resources to help you start something growing right now, whether it's a patch of lettuce in the backyard or cherry tomatoes in a container on your balcony.

I'm taking comfort in these trying times by cultivating my own garden, and eating the fruits of my labour is my sweet reward.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Long Lost Art of Cooking

There was a great article in last weekend's New York Times called "Commander in Chef" which talked about Michelle Obama's plans for getting American families to eat more healthfully. Most people know that early this spring they broke ground for a vegetable garden at the White House but this article points out that Americans need help when it comes to what to do with those raw vegetables.

Raw Food enthusiasts would say "What do you need to do? Wash them and eat them!" but some of us like a bit more variety in our meals, like cooked vegetables, sauces and non-vegetable items.

The author pointed out that Americans ate takeout for 128 of their meals in 2008 and since the economic downturn and McDonald's recent surge in profits, it's pretty safe to assume that those meals were mostly fast food. Another worrying statistic quoted that 42% of the foods brought home from the grocery store were packaged and processed rather than fresh. The convenience foods industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Since I'm currently trying to watch our family's spending, I'm very reluctant to give money to companies whose mass-produced meals mean less nutrition for my family.

Most folks do need help for how to cook and Food Bloggers are here to help you. Take a look at the many recipes and Dish of the Day links on the right-side of this very page! And there are hundreds of recipe sites, such as the high brow, the something for everyone, or the eco-conscious

Judging by this summer's newest cookbooks, there are many of us out there longing for a return to simpler times when cooking and eating together was the norm, rather than a rarity. Titles such as "RATIO: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking" by Michael Ruhlman and "A HOMEMADE LIFE: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table" by Molly Wizenberg are but a few titles by authors who want to help us get back to basics and enjoy the simple pleasures of eating and socialising with friends.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spring Cleaning for the Body: Part 2

Although they are often talked about interchangeably, there's a big difference between a cleanse and a fast. A fast involves reducing the intake of calories so that your body goes into starvation mode and starts breaking down its fat stores to turn them into glucose, or fuel. A cleanse is typically eliminating items from the diet that are "unhealthy", undesirable, or non-food, and focussing on nutrient-rich foods, for the purpose of improving one's health.

Two common misconceptions about cleanses are that they are rigid, difficult or expensive to maintain, or that a cleanse or fast will medically purge or purify parts of the body (e.g. liver or digestive tract). Regarding the first, you can design your own cleanse in a way to make it pleasant and easy to follow. Regarding the second, more realistic outcomes of doing a cleanse are to break oneself from poor eating habits, to bring greater awareness to one's eating behaviours, and to have intense dedication to optimal nutrition for a short period of time.

How do you design a cleanse that you can stick to for 3 days or more? Choose first what you want to eliminate from your diet. Do you believe that you are having difficulty digesting dairy products? Are you eating too many desserts? Want to cut down on refined flours and coffee? Make a list of what you'd like to not eat or drink and decide on how long a period you'll try to stick to this.

Some ideas for cleanses:

- no sugar for a week
- no coffee from Friday to Sunday then back to just one on Monday morning
- eliminate all dairy products for a whole week
- no flours or starchy foods or sugar for an entire weekend
- go without meat products from Monday to Friday
- do a juice fast over the weekend; that's consuming only fresh or purchased juices and is best with a focus on vegetable juices and fresh juice (i.e. not store-bought)
- go macrobiotic for one week (fish, vegetables, brown rice and fermented foods)

What you might see during a cleanse:
- any change to what you take into your body will affect what comes out. Expect to see a change in bowel movements. Watch out for red-coloured urine if you drink beet juice. It's shocking to see but perfectly normal.
- bodily changes such as skin, nails or hair that is less dry or brittle
- a smaller tummy. If you're eating less or different food, you may find that your stomach is smaller and flatter. This is due to either having less in it or less gas production from the elimination of problem foods for you.
- a bigger tummy from more gas. This can be an unpleasant side-effect of eating more vegetables or raw foods in your diet. If you continue to have problems with gas, this means you are having difficulty digesting these foods, due to not chewing your food enough, or you may be lacking in sufficient enzymes or gut bacteria to break down your food properly.
- weight loss. If you greatly reduce your caloric intake, you may see a loss of a few pounds. Unless you continue to eat in the same way, it's likely that all but one or two pounds will return when your diet normalises.

Some important things to remember when doing a cleanse:
1. Take notice of all that you're feeling/thinking and keep a journal. This is the most important thing you can do. We spend so much time cooking/eating/thinking about/cleaning up after food. Often a cleanse means you are eating or preparing less food, and this often frees up lots of time for reflection. Being away from comfort foods also can create a lot of unexpected emotions and it's good to be able to capture this information, as it may tell you a lot about your relationship to food.
2. Have a buddy or a supporter. It's hard to make a dietary change on your won, especially if you make food for others who may not be as interested in doing a cleanse. Make sure you have people to talk to who support your idea.
3. Drink lots of water in between meals. This will help you feel more full if you're eating less than usual, but will also make sure you are staying hydrated, help to keep things moving in your system and flush out any toxins.
4. Eat slowly. If you're going to be eating a lot of vegetables for the first time, make sure you chew well to aid with digestion further down the line. If you're doing a juice cleanse, you will want to drink slowly so your meals don't end in less than 5 minutes.
5. Don't do a cleanse when you have a lot of social engagements. It's tough to restrict your diet at a party or when eating out, especially as others often see this as a time to indulge in rich foods.
6. When the cleanse is over, reincorporate the "forbidden foods" slowly into your diet. If you were doing a juice cleanse, slowly start back on eating solids with foods like cooked rice, cooked vegetables or crackers or toast. You may find that you don't want to bring some of the foods you eliminated back into your diet at all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hide the Dark Chocolate from the Children!

Sometimes being a parent brings out the kid in me. Even though I'm an adult, I still have trouble sharing my favourite things; especially my chocolate. Back when the Bug was 12 months old, in the spirit of sharing all my food with her, I gave her a small piece of 85% Venezuelan chocolate. She let it dissolve on her tongue for about a minute and then "bleaahhh!" Out came her tongue and the small dark blob plopped back onto the high chair tray. I breathed a sigh of relief: "Thank god she doesn't like the good stuff!"

But lately, I've been working my way through my Mother's Day chocolate so I can get back to a "Very Healthy Eating" phase, and consequently I've been eating some of it in front of her. Almost any child instinctively knows that a shiny package contains something good so the Bug kept begging for a bite of my Lindt 90% bar. I relented, while reassuring her "you don't like this, trust me". And darn it if she hasn't developed a taste for the stuff.

She hesitated at first, but then kept saying "nummy!" over and over. She even snagged a huge piece while I wasn't looking and that's when I started to snap some photos. After these photos were taken I realised that she had eaten a lot of chocolate considering her naptime was in 15 minutes. And the noise coming from upstairs now lets me know that I have made a grave mistake. Don't give the kids the good chocolate. And especially not before bedtime. Live and learn.......

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dish of the Day: Rhubarb Compote

Spring has sprung for sure when rhubarb makes its poky appearance in the grocery's produce department. My husband loves rhubarb so I had to bring some home. We boiled it in a small pot with a bit of water until it fell apart, then added a bit of SomerSweet and put it in the fridge to chill.

After dinner last night we served it warm over vanilla ice cream and I cut some fresh mint on top of mine. Yum!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dish of the Day: Lamb for the Whole Fam

For Mother's Day my wonderful husband cooked us a delicious lamb dinner, thanks to a great lamb chop recipe from Epicurious. I couldn't remember if the kids liked lamb or not since we often eat it out at restaurants, and don't often cook it at home. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photo of the Bug with chop in hand above should give you a pretty good idea of her appreciation. Let's just say it was hard to separate the bone from my little carnivore's hand. My 7-year-old was heard to comment "I could eat this every day of the week!"

The other pic shows Bug's plate before it was attacked by toddler hands and a toddler fork. Our local Safeway has recently been offering organic broccolini , that yummy hybrid, and we're eating it three times a week now. And good old garlic-infused rice on the side.

We're a garlicky bunch this evening. But what a pleasure, to be able to enjoy a special grown-up meal and not have to cook something extra for the little ones. Eating foods in a natural way - without heavy sauces, without overly processing them - is a great way to win over kids' taste buds. Children are often skeptical of foods they cannot recognise, and many have problems with sauces that may contain ingredients they don't like. Also, many kids don't like foods touching or being combined with other foods, which is why stews and casseroles tend to elicit a "yuck!" But fresh foods, cooked plainly and served with maybe a bit of butter, are often a real hit. Try it and see what your family thinks!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Spring Cleaning for the Body: Part 1

Fasts and cleanses are all the rage these days as people want to take more responsibility for keeping their bodies healthy. We no longer want to just rely on the medical profession to keep our health in check and this is a great change. I've always found it strange how some folks seem to take better care of a car they will own for only a few years, instead of tenderly treating their bodies well so they'll last a lifetime.

Nutritionists often get asked about the difference between a fast and a cleanse and how they can restore their health. Many inquirers have heard stories of how the intestines can get filled up with crusty old bits of rotten food - even coins and marbles swallowed in childhood! I take a calm approach to these questions and say "this scenario is unlikely". If your digestion is average, if you do not have critical health problems, and you are young to middle-aged, your intestines likely look a lot like a more familiar part of your body: your mouth. The intestines are not a mysterious cavern, they're a warm wet place filled with epithelial cells whose job are to digest small particles of broken down food. Just like the inside of your mouth.

I had the (mis?)fortune to see the inside of my colon with my own eyes a few years back when I was having unexplained digestive difficulties. I had taken a magnesium drink to clear out the colon before the medical exam and I was looking forward to being knocked unconscious so I wouldn't have to feel, see or hear any part of the experience. However, the doctor allowed me to witness the proceedings which was actually a thrill. It was oddly like watching a roller-coaster ride film through the inside of my large intestine, but the wonderful part was seeing all the bright pink healthy tissue inside this flexible and hard-working tube. Even though normally one's colon would be filled with the last stages of undigested food which millions of tiny microflora (healthy bacteria) would be breaking down, there is simply nowhere for crusty bits of "food" to hide. The moist smooth walls would let it pass on out to the bowels.

So let's return to a more familiar picture: imagine the inside of your mouth, minus the teeth. If you ate three times a day but never cleaned your mouth at all, would crusty bits of food, or a coin have any place to lodge themselves? Even if a coin got stuck in your throat, eventually digestive juices and the act of eating and swallowing would pass it further down the tube. Healthy intestines have no pouches or hiding spots and the act of peristalsis (two types of muscles that squeeze and push food along the digestive pathway) keep things moving. Of course it's another matter if you have polyps, bowel constriction or some other severe problem, in which case you should look to solving the root of the problem before attempting any type of diet change.

The point is, our bodies do a great job of functioning properly, even when we fill them with a lot of things that they weren't designed to turn into fuel, such as candy or deep fried foods. However, if you're interested in doing a fast or a cleanse to kick-start a change to your diet for the better, then you should be applauded for your efforts.

Next week
we'll talk about easy ways to follow a dietary cleanse that will involve fewer changes than you might expect.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How Does my Garden Grow?

I am in awe of the plants in my garden. I've tried to make a hospitable space for them, but it's tough for me to imagine how dirt could possibly be a nice place to inhabit. They seem to like it though - and thank goodness! I've told enough people that I've planted a food garden and my reputation is on the line. Since all I've ever done to-date is kill plants, inadvertently of course, the slow, steady growth of green things in my backyard is truly a miracle to me.

We've planted beans, peas, cucumbers, lettuces, kale, chard, onions, mint and chives. So far, every one if them is getting bigger, and I'm pretty sure this is a good sign! I think I need to start clipping these lettuces for don't they look juicy? I don't want them to get old and dry. As for the rest of the stuff, it's going to take a little while before they are kitchen-ready. But we're educating the kids on where their food comes from, and they seem to be enjoying watching the process thus far.

There are necessarily going to be a lot of summer vegetable recipes on the blog, coming soon. I'd be so happy to hear any ideas and suggestions that readers would like to share, since I'm looking at a steep learning curve here, as a gardener. Bring on the sun and the rain. My leafy friends need it!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Zen of Backyard Gardening

I have some optimistic ideas this spring. We're planning to do a small vegetable garden in our backyard, now that we have a backyard. I'm incredibly ignorant of the entire gardening world and there's a huge learning gap I need to fill, and fast.

Since it's a long weekend I thought I'd get out there and get a headstart. It's been a rainy couple of days and I decided to do some digging in the beds, to see what the soil is like. I turned over a few shovelfuls and right away I see some lovely plump worms - which I've just chopped in two with the shovel's blade. Gasp!

How do Buddhists garden? Perhaps they turn over the soil with their fingers. Somehow I don't picture extreme Buddhists doing a lot of heavy lifting, nor getting particularly dirty. But I put out the question to the blogosphere. How does one garden without turning the activity into "Saw V" for our little wormy friends? Or is this just part of the whole deal?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Diet for a Recession? More Veggies, Please!

I don't know about you, but I'm certainly watching what we're spending at the grocery store lately. We are trying to keep an eye on our savings and so I'm afraid to be spending too much on food. Typically it's one of the bigger chunks of our weekly budget, because I always rationalise putting unnecessary items in the grocery basket with one word: yum.

When I go shopping just for vegetables, as I do sometimes at a nearby organic veggie-only store, I find that the total is usually pretty low. By contrast, when we buy meats or fish in a specialty shop, or when they are part of a big grocery bill, the total is a lot higher. Animal products tend to be more expensive. So if you're trying to save on your food bills, and you've always wanted to explore vegetarianism, this might be the perfect time to try it out.

An example of a low-cost, yet completely nutritious vegetarian meal I'll be making this week is Swiss chard with lentils. I paid $3 for the organic chard, $1 for a can of crushed tomatoes and I'll be using about a dollar's worth of brown rice and dried red lentils as well. That's about $6 for a meal for four.

Of course, it calls for garlic, onions, spices and olive oil and these add to the cost but they are staples in my kitchen so I don't factor them as an added expense for this meal. In fact, I often modify how I cook dishes according to what I have in the fridge so I don't have to shop for items I'll use only once or twice.

Here's how to make Swiss Chard Lentil Stew

- Put 1 Tbsp of olive oil in large pan on medium heat and saute 2 chopped garlic cloves and a small diced onion for 5 minutes
- Add in 1 cup of red lentils and 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of broth (of your choice) and bring to a boil
- Meanwhile, wash and rip Swiss Chard leaves into pieces that are a couple of inches across
- Chop 2 inches off bottom of stems and the rest into one inch chunks
- Place large pot of water to boil on the stove and add in chard stems
- Once water is boiling, add in ripped leaves and boil for 5 minutes, then drain and set aside
- Back to those lentils.....boil until lentils are tender, about 10 minutes, then add in a small can of crushed tomatoes, 1 tso dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and pepper and the cooked, drained chard
- Stir, bring to a simmer and stir and simmer for 5 minutes until lentils are soft enough
- Adjust seasonings to taste: if you like tart, you can add in 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar; for spicy add 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce; for savoury add in 1 Tbsp soya or tamari sauce
- Serve over brown rice for a vegetarian meal with complete protein

Friday, March 6, 2009

Acidic Diets - Don't Get Burned

Alright, I'd like to stand up and admit I have a problem. Now that I am doing double duty as working mom and stay-at-home mom I am relying on frozen entrees to save me time on dinners. And lunches at work are sometimes provided during lunch hour meetings or when I get a quick minute to run to the cafeteria. Let's just say that finding leafy green vegetables is a near-impossibility. I'm eating a lot of foods that aren't fresh, a lot of meats and breads.

These foods have an acidic effect on the body when they are broken down and digested. This means that what they break down into are molecules with a low pH, and an excess of these can slightly alter your body's pH to be more acidic. This is a problem because our bodies ideal pH is slightly on the alkaline side. When we become more acidic, our body's processes don't run as effectively and some believe this can cause us to become sick.

You know that craving you get when you have a cold and you can't wait to gulp down a huge glass of orange juice? That's your body sending out a message for more alkaline foods. Orange juice, when absorbed by the digestive system, provides alkaline (higher pH) molecules. When people get colds, their bodies typically become acidic and eating or drinking alkaline foods can often make them feel much better. This is one of the reasons Vitamin C (an alkaline-producing vitamin) is recommended for colds. A swig of very alkaline-producing apple cider vinegar, while horrible-tasting can instantly make you feel better when you have that achey acidic feeling.

Right now I'm really craving some fruits and vegetables to get back into a more alkaline mood. I know that I don't have a lot of spare time in my schedule so I'm going to have to do a grocery run that gets me some "green foods" which can easily be prepared and gobbled up by the Bug and me. I want items that can be added to soups, sandwiches, or go into quick salads. I'm looking for veggies that are easy to cook, and fruits I can peel, cut up and store in glass containers in the fridge for easy snacking. Here's my shopping list:

- frozen spinach
- kale
- Swiss Chard
- Brussels sprouts
- blood red oranges
- mangoes or papaya
- pineapple
- watercress
- mixed greens
- hothouse tomatoes
- avocadoes

Hopefully you, too, can use these suggestions to keep your own diet on the alkaline side, without being a slave to the stove.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tony Horton is a (Fitness) God

Since giving birth to an infant, I've really found myself without too much time to do anything, including exercise. One late night before Christmas I succumbed to the siren's call of an info-mercial for the 10 Minute Trainer. It promised to send me a series of DVDs to help get me in shape for only 10 minutes per day. It promised to be easy, effective and fun. And it's all true. In fact, it's better than I could have imagined.

I believe that what you put into your body is critically important to your health. Exercise is also very important for improving health. When most people these days are so busy, it can be very difficult to fit exercise into their schedules. I think that Tony Horton's exercise programs offer busy people fun, safe, and effective ways to exercise at home and get in great shape.

I've seen many exercise-at-home programs before and it's very hard for trainers to demonstrate complicated exercises to people who are new to physical activity. Many trainers do not show modifications for people of differing ability or their explanations leave out key safety tips. But these videos manage to do all this and also get viewers moving and working out multiple parts of their bodies at the same time. I'm a very happy customer!

The website Horton uses to promote his many exercise videos such as Hip Hop Abs, P90 and P90X also offer a nutrition section that features recipes, tips, and demos ensuring that folks don't rely only on physical exercise to lose weight and become healthier. It's a well-thought-out program, compelling and easy-to-follow. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to start exercising safely and effectively from home. Now if I could just find those ten minutes for exercising every day...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Healthy Lunch To Go

I've made the jump back into the "real world" and I've been test-driving my new bento boxes, with moderate success. It does require extra effort to pack and carry your lunch from home, but it's manageable. Since my going to work means that the Bug has to go to daycare, I'm already required to pack her lunch, so it's only a tiny bit more work to make a larger version for myself.

I've been keeping the bentos on the counter and ready to fill while I make dinner. As each dinner dish becomes ready I take a small portion and place it in Bug's or my bento. Of course, some dinner dishes aren't easily ported to lunch the next day, such as tonight's Japanese noodle soup. But I have enough scraps around the house to piece together a lunch menu for the two of us. I'll be giving us bread and cheese, whole wheat crackers, some Barbara's Blueberry Fig Newton's, leftover broccoli, avocado, grapes, oranges, tofu, and a tin of fish spread just for me.

My biggest challenge has been remembering to buy enough food for 6 meals, instead of the regular 4 (for me, husband, Bug and her sister). Although I'm sure each week will take an extra shot of effort in planning my menus, grocery shopping strategically and cooking and storing, it's become easier with the help of this lovely blogger, Biggie and her Lunch in a Box website. I suspect she's one of those women with time management skills coming out the ying-yang, but I must politely envy her cook's skills.