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Your Most Valuable Asset

What if someone gave you a fabulous new vehicle, that was capable of doing virtually anything you could imagine? Further, what if they told you that as long as you took good care of it, it would last for the rest of your life, and it would carry you anywhere you wanted to go?

Guess what – you’ve got it! It’s your own body. Take good care of it and it will carry you in style to the end of your days. I know there are exceptions, sometimes bodies let us down, through no fault of our own. Illnesses and conditions can make our physical performance less than optimal, compared to others. That’s the great thing, though. When it comes to your own human health and performance, you don’t need to measure up to anyone but you.

If you’re having trouble fitting fitness into your schedule, try working it in a little at a time. Make sure you make a commitment that you can keep. For me, for example, I know very well that if I plan to work out first thing in the morning, no matter how early, the odds are better that it will happen. If I try and leave it to the end of the day, life seems to have a way of intervening.

Other tips for making sure you give your fabulous vehicle the care and feeding it deserves?

  • Find a workout buddy who will keep you accountable
  • Start small – even parking at the end of the lot and walking to your office is better than no exercise at all
  • Don’t overdo – trying to compete with your younger self isn’t helpful and it may just set you up for an injury
  • Try different activities until you find one you like
  • Don’t invest in a pricey gym membership until you’re sure you’ll go – try as many “taster” classes as you can
  • Check out your local YM/YWCA or Community Centre – they’re great places to sample a wide variety of drop-in classes until you figure out the things that are fun
  • Try something you’ve never tried before, just once – who knows, you might like it!

Have fun, get fit, and here’s to your health. You’ll be grateful when you feel great every day.

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Meal Plan – Week 2 – and A New Recipe Experiment

So here we are, week two. Some weeks there is more time to make a detailed meal plan, involving all three meals. Realistically, though, our breakfasts are similar – smoothie or oatmeal, sometimes granola, and the occasional egg dish. Lunches generally consist of a salad, some soup (made ahead and frozen or in the fridge), or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. So we just made a list of dinners which we know by heart, or can easily find in a recipe book or favourite website.

Here’s the list:

Chili-stuffed squash

Mushroom and lentil cottage pie

Fish risotto

Lamb stew

Country captain chicken

Salmon patties

Homemade pizza

Once again we took stock of what was already in the house (the acorn squash needed to be used up from the holidays, although it will keep almost indefinitely in a cool place – and you might remember the veggie chili from a few days ago, leftover in the freezer). We needed some refreshing in the fridge – greens, salad stuff. We had used up the potatoes, and there was no lamb for the stew or fish for the risotto. Otherwise, most things were on hand.

We also tried this with squash recently, from one of our go-to sites, Cooking Light. It’s very searchable, by ingredient, name, or cooking method, and also, downloadable to apps like Paprika. We did make some adaptations to the recipe, since we hate dirtying extra dishes. First, we chopped the bacon, and put it on the parchment along with the squash rings. It was perfectly done at the same time as the rest of the recipe. Our rating? Delicious! (Also, since we don’t want to waste food, we baked all the leftover squash bits, sprayed with oil and sprinkled with chili powder, on a separate tray to be used in other recipes).

Thanks for visiting! Do you have meal planning challenges you wrestle with, or problems in using things you meant to make, but didn’t? I love to find novel ways to use up things that didn’t quite fit the plan.

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Get Your Veggies with All-Season Salads

There’s a tendency, perhaps precipitated by cooking magazines, to move off of salads this time of year, and focus on warmer fare, like soups or stews. I know that this seems logical, but there are so many great veggies available now, that it seems a shame to only eat them cooked. Sure, local lettuce may be less available. What I’m suggesting is that if you have the privilege of accessing fresh fruit and veg in your local market, please do take advantage.

What I am not saying is that everyone is as fortunate as we are in Toronto. A head of hydroponic Canadian lettuce is out of reach for many families. Heck, there are some places (not in far-off lands, but here in our own country), where fresh produce of any sort is just not in the store, or it costs so much that you can’t possibly afford se it to feed your family. This is a travesty. Please speak out about this.

And while we are on the subject of hunger, if you do have enough, do support your local food bank or soup kitchen. You would be amazed how far they can make a dollar go. I learned from one of them that they can get wholesale prices, making better use of their money, although I’m a big advocate of having your kids choose foods from the store, so they learn about sharing and healthy choices). When our kids were small, we started emptying our coins into a jar at the end of the day. Once a month, we would use this money to buy food bank food. We still give regularly, even though the kids are grown.

If you have all these ingredients, make a great salad. If you don’t, I’m not giving a recipe. Try using whatever veg you can get. If you have frozen veg, give them a quick refresh under cold water rather than cooking. Or if you have “winter veg” (beets, carrots, turnips, cabbage), shred them. Use leftovers. They’re all good. Here is what I did today:

Chopped some hydroponic butter head lettuce onto a plate.

Diced celery and yellow pepper (both “ugly vegetables”  ). Use whatever veg you have, truly. Serve in a bowl if necessary, and use a spoon instead of a fork.

Drizzled with this dressing:

2t/10ml Dijon – it emulsifies, thickens, adds flavour

1T/15ml vinegar

2t/10ml canola oil (it’s Canadian!)

Next add some protein. I had cheddar. You might have hard-boiled egg, tofu,  beans, nuts, seitan, or leftover pork chop. No matter. Protein builds muscle and helps your blood pressure stay regulated. Not too much! A couple of ounces. It’s lunch!

Here’s what it looked like, when it was done. Enjoy. Use stuff up. Appreciate what you have, and give someone else a hand.

Have an awesome day!

Crunch Fall Salad

 

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What’s in your fridge? Autumn Veggie Melts

I’m a big meal-planning fan, but life can sometimes interfere. Last-minute engagements, ingredients that come in packages larger than the meal plan needs, and special one-time deals all can impact the inventory and leave you with stuff in the fridge that needs to be used. Here’s what I made with what was on hand, for today’s lunch.

I took some whole wheat and spelt raisin cinnamon sourdough, made this week:

img_64941That’s some Dijon mustard on there, from Kozlik’s.

Then I mashed an avocado with some lime, and put it on as well:

img_6495While I was doing this, I moved an oven rack up and set the oven to broil. My trusty assistant put some parchment on a cookie sheet for me – this gets messy.

img_64961The avocado is not only tasty but it helps the veggies stick to the melt. Grate up some leftover veg, or chop. I had some grated carrot and beet.

img_64971Then I topped that with some part-skim mozza (again, what cheese have you? Use that.)

Under the broiler it goes until bubbly and golden. That’s it. Tasty veg, healthy fats, and a little decadent cheese. You could absolutely use a melting vegan cheese, if you prefer.

Eat it up!

img_64981

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A Thought to Those Who are Working, This and Every Holiday

IMG_5974Labour Day. A day off. A celebration of workers. And yet, so many people are at work so that those of you enjoying a day of leisure, can do so.

I was reminded of this when my husband was reading me a reminiscence from a relative. They were talking about visits to Grandma’s house, where Sunday Rules – the day of rest – prevailed. There was no cooking. No playing. No “doing stuff”. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who had grandparents who wouldn’t drive their car, because someone might have to work on the Lord’s Day to pump gas, nor do shopping even if something was open, or even turn on the television, when a book (the Good One?) would suffice. For me, it’s not about the not labouring any more. Rather, it’s about giving respect to those who do.

In this country, and wherever you read this, there are thousands of people who work the holidays. Some are paid, some are volunteers. They all make days off better for the rest of us, and I hope you appreciate all they do, as much as I do. Happy Labour Day, Canada.

Savour the flavour…

Yesterday was an absolutely stunning day here in Toronto; we took a nice long walk (about 5.7km) through the city, taking in the sights and eventually making our way to St. Lawrence Market for produce. We stopped in along the way to take in the awesome Gothic Revival Cathedral Church of St. James, with memorial plaques commemorating many of Toronto’s noted citizens. We were intrigued by the very contemporary Stations of the Cross.

To the south, we swung by Berczy Park’s new dog fountain enroute to the market. Kids and pets alike were enjoying the spraying water. We had fun finding the one cat statue amongst the dogs, and to discover just what she was looking at. (We won’t tell just now – you should check out the mystery yourself!)

The sun was blazing and hot, so by the time we arrived home, we were in the mood for something quick and cool, that wouldn’t overheat the kitchen. We put some potatoes on to cook while we enjoyed a cool beverage on our balcony and took in the sights of the neighbourhood. When they were cooked, we let them cool in the fridge while we prepared the rest of this tasty curried salad. For two, as a main course:

For the dressing, whisk in a large bowl:

3 tablespoons (45ml) mayonnaise

1/4 cup (60ml) cider vinegar

2 tablespoons (30ml) curry powder – more or less, to your taste

3 boiled potatoes, cooled and peeled, and cut into chunks

1 red pepper, diced in bite-size pieces

2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can)

1 cup frozen green beans

1/4 cup (60ml) chopped unsalted peanuts

3 leaves basil, sliced finely

Mix all the vegetables into the salad, including the chickpeas. Divide between the plates and sprinkle with peanuts and basil. You can easily scale up this recipe to serve more people, and it keeps well in the fridge, gaining flavour as it sits. Enjoy!

Keep it simple!

Sometimes when you’ve had a long day, it can seem onerous to make homemade food. That’s when something like a one-pot or oven dinner comes in handy. Also, if you’re really tired, the best thing for you is to get some fresh air and exercise, so you’ll be able to sleep when the time comes.

Earlier this week we combined both of these – after a long day’s work, we walked up the street to our friend Mark’s butcher shop, and picked up a couple of pork chops and some fresh Ontario asparagus. We circled back home for this tasty oven dinner:

First, heat the oven to 400F. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Then scrub your potatoes and slice 1/4″ or a little less than 1cm thick. Brush with olive or canola oil (we use canola, because it’s Canadian). Press a sage leaf into the top of each slice and place on the pan in a single layer. Sprinkle sparingly with salt, if you like, although they are very tasty with just the sage.

To prepare the pork chops, we brushed them with some fig mustard from Kozlik’s, and put them in their own parchment-lined pan.

Lastly, we took a sheet of foil and put the washed asparagus on it. This could probably have cooked less, but we didn’t want to fuss with it. We chopped a couple of cloves of garlic and added this along with the zest and juice from half a lemon. Wrapping the packet securely, we put it on the sheet pan and added all the dishes to the oven for half an hour.

That’s it! While we were waiting, we enjoyed a beer from the latest batch we bottled at Fermentations  on the Danforth. Charles and his team can match the flavour of your favourite beverage, or help you create wine from juice or actual grapes.

We’re feeling pretty fortunate with all of the great food and drinks we can find within a short walk or streetcar ride. Thanks for letting me share.

What does nearly 4.5km look like?

One of the most interesting things about wearing a FitBit is figuring out how far you went on that early morning or after work walk. When I tell many people that most days I log 4 to 5 km every day before starting work, they think that’s overwhelming. It sounds so far. In reality, it’s about an hour of brisk walking. To put it into context, it means I can do a loop from my house, down through the Distillery District, over to the east near the St. Lawrence Market, and complete the square by coming along Dundas Street.

I love to record the sights and sounds I encounter, the changing light, and even the weather, with quick snaps from my phone along the way. I’m no professional photographer, but it’s okay with me if the photos are a little bit imperfect – usually our memories are, as well.

Looking back at these photos reinforces why I walk – it’s not just about the fitness. It’s also about connecting with neighbourhoods and nature. I love how every time I take a walk, even if it’s a route I’ve covered before, I’ll get a perspective that’s just a little bit different. I might see a building from a new angle, or spot a change in a shop window.

Maybe a quirky sculpture will appear where I haven’t seen it before. Or possibly the visual will trigger a memory of something my husband said while we were making our way through that section. Other times, I snap because there’s something I want to look up or investigate when I get back home.

Taking these little shots along the way also gives me something to share with friends and family who don’t live close by. That way they can share the memory, even if they aren’t able to be here with me in person. I like to see the subtle changes that occur in familiar settings, like how the tables in the outdoor cafes and bistros are taking on a summery appearance that they didn’t have, even a month ago.

Seeing something like this park, where I’ve been many times, from a different vantage point, means I notice the expanse of grass, and how green it is. Later in the summer it will be tired and yellowed – it won’t have that early season freshness that is just here for today.

Coming up through the market, I can compare photos from this time last year, and see alterations to the skyline. Even the market itself is getting refreshed, with a new market building being erected to the north of where this iconic South Market stands. Vendors from the North Market are currently in one of those giant white tents that you may have seen for temporary installations near you.

I am also sometimes surprised by the low-hanging cloud cover, and I wonder whether this is only noticeable because the buildings keep getting taller and taller. All of these thoughts, as well as plans for my day, new ideas for writing or speaking, or working through challenges, happen while I’m making my way along the sidewalk.

Next time you’re out for a long walk, take time for a photo or two – you might be surprised at what you do and don’t remember about the pictures you’ve made along the way.

 

Granola, Granola, We Love Ya, Granola…!

About five years ago, we went off breakfast cereal entirely. We had been working on our diets, lowering our sodium, increasing fibre, and generally getting rid of things with excessive sugar or additives. Around that time I started experimenting with various recipes – some were too sweet, others were too fatty, but bit by bit I found what works best for us.

I often get asked, “what’s the recipe?”, and the truth is, there isn’t exactly a recipe. Here’s what I do:

Preheat oven to 350F, and line two cookie sheets (whatever size you have, which is why it isn’t a recipe…) with parchment paper. This eases cleanup and makes sure nothing sticks.

On each sheet, put a layer of large flake, old fashioned rolled oats. Not the quick cooking kind! Sprinkle with some dried fruit, probably half a cup or so is enough. Some recipes suggest you stir it in at the end, but I like the toasty, caramel-y flavour it gets if you bake it in. Next, add a sprinkling of nuts or seeds. In these photos, the top one has raisins and pumpkin seeds, while the bottom one has dried apricots and walnuts. Sometimes I’ve added coconut or dried bananas; these up the calories but it’s your call!

Drizzle each sheet with 2T (30ml) of pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup, please!) and 2T of canola oil. Other oils will work but this oil is Canadian and doesn’t change the taste. Sprinkle each sheet with cinnamon and stir all of it together. I’ve made this in a bowl before, but I’m lazy about doing extra dishes, even with a dishwasher. You could make a single sheet, but if the oven is going I figure I  should use the energy wisely.

Put the sheets in the oven around the middle rack (not too high, not too low…but you know your oven best). Set the timer for 10 minutes and stir. Depending on humidity and lots of factors, the granola will take more or less time. You want  a nice toasty golden colour.

Cool this, put in mason jars and store. You don’t need a lot – a serving is about 30g or an ounce if you’re watching your calories, topped with a banana or some berries. We use soy milk on ours. It’s also lovely sprinkled on ice cream or yogurt.

Enjoy!

 

Community Equals Connection

Recently our neighbourhood came together for an annual spring event, the Big Park Cleanup (in fact the whole community gets cleaned, as much as we can). Many hands made light work, and Regent Park looked even better when we were done. We had volunteer photographers, like Mark Shapiro, we were well fed by the Regent Park Catering Collective, and community facilitator and animator Barb Brook and volunteer Leonard Swartz organized us in grand fashion, just to mention a few.

Tonight many of us will come together again for our bi-monthly community potluck – the theme this month is gardening. Can’t wait to try all the delicious food! (Hmm…do you sense a theme here?) It’s at the Daniels Spectrum, 6:30pm. See you there!

Green is Good!

In order to fit in all the elements that make for a successful morning, sometimes we want a fast, easy-to-make breakfast. The easiest thing might seem like grabbing a muffin or a bowl of cereal, but neither of those things is particularly healthy, even if they are fast. Lots of sugar, sodium, and fat go into the average cereal or breakfast muffin, and not enough vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Instead, opt for a healthy smoothie like this one!

Get Active! Your Life Depends on It.

Were you an active kid, and years later, not so much? Or maybe you were always more interested in sitting down with a good book, or watching movies on t.v.

Science has shown that we humans are programmed for activity. We need exercise to give our brains oxygen, not only to be fit, but also to be sharp and productive. That’s why it’s important to find ways to fit action into every day. How can you do this?

  1. Take a walk – at the beginning of your day, on your lunch break, or after work to decompress and make a clean break between work time and “me time”.
  2. Play a sport – any game that helps you move is a good game. (While you’re deciding which one, take a quick look at how the Moss Park Hockey League is making our pricey national sport affordable for kids).
  3. Cycle to work – see the route from a new perspective and get your heart started at the same time.

Next time you’re wrestling with a tricky problem at work, try moving around. Take a walk to a colleague’s desk, go down the stairs and up again, or even just stand up and stretch a bit. Every motion counts.

Start your day colourfully!

Delicious smoothies hide tasty produce inside. We endorse Natur-A products.

Purple Smoothie Everyone can benefit from more fruits and vegetables – and one way to get them on-the-go is by starting the day with a delicious smoothie. Today’s version turned out to be a gorgeous purple colour, but a word of warning: sometimes the results are surprisingly unappetizing in their appearance, despite amazing ingredients. For this version, for two smoothies, I used a carrot, chopped, an over-ripe banana, a cup of blackberries (mine were fresh but frozen are just as good), a shake of cinnamon, and filled the blender to the 32oz or 1l level with unsweetened, low-sodium soy beverage. The brand we always use is Natur-a.  They’re Canadian, organic, and low-sodium, which can be very hard to find in plant “milks”. Unsweetened is even more difficult, so your healthy beverage can actually be quite a sugar bomb. These taste great to drink, on cereal, and also work as a one-to-one substitute for dairy milk in most recipes.

Better For You Bread

If you’ve been following my posts for a while, you’ll remember my obsession last year with sourdough. I still love it, but the care and feeding of an infant dough all the time can be kind of time-consuming. I still follow my “no store bought loaves” rule pretty well all the time (even hamburger buns, although I don’t know the last time I actually used them for burgers). Yet I will admit to using store-bought yeast as it does speed up the process.

I’ve made lots of changes to bread that really help it be healthier than what we buy in the store. Of course, eliminating salt really helps. Yes, salt can be a regulator of the rise, but frankly, with modern yeasts, that is really rarely an issue. Keeping the amount of sugar down is just plain good for you, and using something more natural, like maple syrup, is better than a refined version. What else can I do to make the break healthier?

Recently I needed chickpea flour for a recipe – and in my neighbourhood, we have lots of neighbours from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East – all of whom rely on this staple in their cooking. That means we can get it in huge bags, very cheaply. But what to do with the rest? I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago with my bread, and it turned out really well. The texture was not compromised; if anything it was better, and the added bonus was to increase both the fibre and protein content of the bread.

Here’s what I did:

I always start with water that has been boiled then cooled to lukewarm, because that gets rid of some of the chlorine, which can inhibit the yeast. Begin with 3 cups.

I added a tablespoon of maple syrup and sprinkled on two tablespoons of traditional yeast, not the breadmaker or instant kind. This should sit in a warm place for about 10-15 minutes until it is good and foamy. Stir it with a fork and add to a large bowl. You can mix this bread with a mixer and dough hook, or by hand with a spoon and your hands, but the batch is a little large for a food processor. You could cut the recipe in half, but it seems a waste to heat the oven for a single 8″ loaf

Many traditional recipes have fat – butter, lard, or oil, but I added none to this. I did add a cup of chickpea flour, and then 5-6 cups of 100% whole wheat flour. Add the flour a cup or two at a time, with the machine running, or with the spoon, stopping to knead in by hand when it becomes difficult. About halfway through add tasty treats if you want – this batch had sunflower seeds, but I’ve also done raisins and cinnamon or other kinds of nuts or seeds.

Knead until the flour is incorporated and you’ve used just enough that it feels elastic and not sticky – or if using the mixer, until it cleans nicely away from the sides of the bowl. Remove it from the bowl, spray the bowl with cooking oil or wipe gently with cooking oil, and put the dough back in, turning to coat. Let it rise, covered with a clean tea towel, for an hour or so (not much more, or it will deflate).

Then shape it into two loaves, or a loaf and a cookie sheet with 12 buns (divide the second half of the dough into 12 even pieces, and press or roll into discs, about 4″ or 10cm across). Cover with clean cloth and let rise for another hour. This is a great project for when you are also making soup, when you are snowed in, or when you have a long project you’re working on at home.

About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 400F. Bake your loaves about half an hour; if you make rolls, check them about 20 minutes in. Tap on the bottom and listen for a hollow sound to be sure they are done. Remove from the oven and take them out of the pans to a wire rack immediately.

The “no store bread” rule has meant I can enjoy my bread without eating too much of it, and that’s a compromise I’m willing to work for.

Alterations and substitutions: 

I have also substituted 1c/250 ml old-fashioned oats, soaked in an equal measure of hot water, for 1-1/2 c/375ml of the wheat flour.

I have used 1 c/250 ml of dark beer instead of the same amount of the water – this can make a very light loaf with a lovely flavour.

Any kinds of nuts, seeds or dried fruit can be added, about a cup or 250ml in total. Herbs, olives, or sundried tomatoes also make a very interesting bread.

 

Mind your Mind!

Mindfulness is a popular concept of late – I was at a networking event earlier this week and the speaker was talking about the importance of mindfulness in moving forward, making decisions, reducing stress…a host of positive outcomes. Recently my husband came home from an event of his own, and he had won a Muse TM meditation device for his social media participation. No matter whose method, device, or framework you use, there are definitely advantages to bringing yourself into the present as you go through your day. Three that immediately come to mind (no pun intended), are these:

  1. You’ll enjoy more, if you aren’t distracted by regret, disappointment, or daydreaming.
  2. You’ll be more productive, if you’re focused on the task at hand.
  3. You’ll feel like you have more time, if you are appreciating each moment to the fullest.

So take a little time. Slow down and focus on what’s important. Contribute where you are the best one to do so. Or to leave you with a quote attributed to Paul Sloane, “Only do what only you can do.”