No fuss, no muss, and a whole lot of fibre…

Last night I made a batch of one of my easiest homemade breads. It’s more of a method than a recipe, although the proportions have been worked out after much experimentation. (In the EAT section of my site, you’ll find other recipes, including other breads).

There’s nothing like homemade bread for breakfast, or a sandwich, or just as a snack – but I’m always trying to sneak in some more healthy goodness. One of my tricks is always to add some chickpea flour, for extra protein. This one also benefits from whole wheat flour, and whole grain rolled oats. It is a bit time-consuming (you’ll want to start a day ahead, or first thing in the morning to bake for dinnertime), but it’s worth the wait, and doesn’t require any kneading at all.

Enjoy!

No Skipping Allowed!

Breakfast: for me, it’s still the most important meal of the day. I know there are plenty of trends promoting fasting, or other approaches to weight loss or maintenance, but for me, exercise and breakfast are “must-haves” for a good start to any day. And it’s more about feeling great and having lots of energy to face life’s challenges, than about weight.

Our breakfast rotation doesn’t vary a whole lot – all year, one of the options is a smoothie; in winter, another is oatmeal (granola in warmer weather), and occasionally an egg (with or without leftover pizza). This particular version features one of my favourite smoothie ingredients: a beet. Along with that, there was a carrot, some kale, ginger, cinnamon, a few berries, sunflower seeds and soy milk. Creamy, delicious, and fast!

Work With What You’ve Got

Farmer’s market fresh! One thing about summertime trips to the market is that (in the words of my grandfather), your eyes can be bigger than your belly. That’s sort of what happened with the basket of fresh peaches we picked up on Tuesday. To be more specific, it was our capacity to consume them before they hit their tipping point. We’re surrounded by overripe fruit, and so there are peaches in every meal. To top it off, we had a surfeit of cheese, left with us by some departing guests. What to do?

When I have a host of items that need to be used, one of my first thoughts is always salad. It’s a go-to when vegetables are in season. This one started with a vinaigrette of homemade red wine vinegar, canola oil, and Kozlik’s Balsamic Fig and Date mustard – in equal proportions. I mixed this in a large bowl, and then began adding veg – greens from the balcony garden, cucumbers, radish, and celery – but use whatever you have, like in this Kitchen Sink Salad. Then I topped it off with some walnuts, sliced peaches, and crumbled Stilton. If you’re a vegan, omit the cheese or use some chopped smoked tofu instead.

Even though I bought too many, I never get tired of too many peaches. We love them, and all the other seasonal bounty, so I’m grateful to be able to have many delicious ideas to use them up.

Fill Yourself Up!

In an ongoing quest to be better every day, I’m always working on health as one of my priorities, and that starts with walking, and also with eating well. Filling yourself up is important – starvation, deprivation, and denial just aren’t sustainable. So instead it’s really helpful to focus on putting as many good things into a meal as possible. Empty calories are easy to banish when you choose lots of healthy vegetables, brilliant colours, lean protein – with a nod to Michael Pollan, mostly plants! This tasty salad has sweet potato, peppers, red onion, pink beans, and a tasty curry vinaigrette (equal parts Dijon, cider vinegar, canola oil, and a teaspoon or so of curry powder for each serving).

There’s more to filling yourself up to eating, though – something I have been discussing with a friend quite a bit lately.  It’s important to fill your mind with positive, helpful, forward-moving thoughts. Often when we are overwhelmed with trying to help others, we forget to take care of ourselves – but the oxygen-mask rule can help keep us on track. If you’ve ever flown on a plane, you’ll recall that they tell you to put your own mask on before helping others. That’s because if you aren’t filled up (with air), you won’t be any good to anyone. So my favourite fill-up method is to get out for a good brisk walk, early in the morning as the city is waking up, and to drink in the sights and sounds around me. Today I was particularly inspired by the sunlight filtering through the trees in Allen Gardens – just steps away from skyscrapers and streetcars. That alone has filled me up with enough gratitude to last all day.

 

Fuel Up! Keep Your Body and Mind in Shape…

When you start to think of food as fuel, instead of comfort, you re-evaluate what you eat all the time. Salty, sugar-y treats don’t look so appealing any more. But in a busy life, it can be difficult to figure out what to cook. One of my go-to dishes when I’ve had a long, stressful day is homemade pizza. We make the whole thing ourselves, starting with the crust. Here’s how:

Turn on your oven to 425F so it will be ready.

In a measuring cup, put 3/4c of warm water with 1t of maple syrup or sugar, if that’s what you have. Sprinkle with 1T of yeast and let it rest. I sit mine on the stove since that will be giving off some warmth. While that happens, relax. Have a glass of water. Check your Facebook. Read a blog. Give yourself a little neck massage. Put away some laundry. Whatever.

Next, stir the yeast mixture and pour into a medium bowl. Sprinkle in some oregano, hot sauce or smoky paprika for  flavour. If you don’t have any, no worries! It’s good plain. Add whole wheat flour, stirring in with a fork in a circular motion, a little at a time until it begins to come away from the sides of the bowl. Then sprinkle a little flour on the counter, dump the dough on that, sprinkle with a tiny bit more, and knead a couple of times to form a ball (not for ages, maybe a minute at most).

Spray the bowl with cooking spray or oil it lightly, and put your dough ball back in. Cover with a tea towel and put it in a warm place (like the top of the stove) to rise for 10 minutes.

Put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet or pizza pan. This will save you cleanup time! Pat the dough out to the size of the pan on the parchment, using floured hands to keep from sticking. Top lightly. For this one we used 1/2c marinara, a few sliced mushrooms, and a diced red pepper. If you eat dairy, add cheese – 2oz of feta and 2oz of manchego. That’s it! Bake for 18 minutes, cool slightly, and serve. For two, you can do 6 slices, and save 2 for breakfast. Ready in less time than to select, order, and wait for delivery. The best part? When you get up as early as this to fit in a walk the next morning…

…when you come back home for breakfast, those extra slices will be waiting. Great topped with a poached egg! Feeling grateful, hope you are as well.

Drinking Well is the Best Reward

 Today’s re-post from a coach I’m following contained some great food for thought – it was a post about drinking (or more to the point, not drinking). She is currently working her way around the world with Remote Year, and one of her co-travellers blogged about her experience travelling the world while sober. It was a great reminder that, although we may love a toast, an after-work cocktail, or a glass of wine (or two!) with dinner, everyone doesn’t do that. They shouldn’t have to. And we absolutely need to get over the idea of having to cajole them into doing so.

So when you’re thinking of enjoying a beverage to celebrate, remember you always have options, and whether for religious reasons, health reasons, or just because that’s how they roll, remember to include your friends who don’t make alcohol the centre of every celebration. Some delicious options you can offer include:

Fizzy water garnished with a slice of orange or lemon, cucumber, or a sprig of mint

Plain old ice water, with or without a tiny splash of fruit juice for flavour

Smoothies, sweet or savory (here’s today’s recipe, for two):

1 banana

1 cup washed strawberries, fresh or frozen

1 carrot, chopped

1T/15ml or so of fresh ginger, chopped

1t/5ml cinnamon

Add these to the blender and then pour in unsweetened, low sodium soy milk to the 1L/4c mark. Blend until smooth and enjoy. No added sugars, no artificial anything, filled with fibre, sweetness, and good-for-you vitamins.

Salut! Slante! A la tienne! Prost!

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.

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!