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!

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.

 

Head off in a new direction and be surprised!

Whenever I talk about city walks, people are used to seeing my photos of skyscrapers, busy city streets, heritage buildings, or the occasional “downtowny” park. But when I post from nearby Riverdale Farm, or somewhere like the Don River Pathway/Pan Am Path, they ask, “Where’s that?” or “That’s not near your condo, is it?” It is. Within 2.5km of my condo, I can have City Hall, beautiful Lake Ontario, the Beach, the Farm, or the Trail. It’s really splendid. If you’re a city-dweller, head out in any direction for your walk, and go for twenty minutes or half an hour, then turn back. Tomorrow, choose a new direction. Even after you’ve covered some favourite routes many times, there’s always something new to discover. Take a different turn now and then, or let the lights choose whether you head north, east, south, or west, and surprises await. Start your day with a little surprise, and I’m sure you’ll be inspired to keep walking every day, as I am.

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!

 

Kids in the City – How Families are Hacking Highrise Living

One of the great things about having “gone condo”, is the wide mix of families that are coexisting in our building. I can remember living in the suburbs when our kids were small, convinced, as many families, that it would be really difficult to raise kids in an urban environment. Experience, and the families that surround us every day, have convinced me otherwise. As we travelreflecting pool Toronto Sign about, we see strollers, wagons, bikes, kids on their own two feet – just as we once did in the suburbs. Densification has made this such a hot topic, the City of Toronto even commissioned a study – called the Growing Up study.

It was really interesting to discover that it’s not just empty-nesters like me who have decided to take advantage of the convenience of condo life. I was especially enthusiastic to read in the report, about the parent who commented that they are able to give more time to their kids because they aren’t weighed down by a bunch of exterior maintenance on their home. There were lots of other interesting insights – if you like finding out how other people organize their lives, you’ll enjoy it also.

As climate change, expensive city homes, and other factors lead many of us to consider taking up only the space we need, rather than the space that advertisers, television shows, or social/peer pressures try to convince us to want, tall and tiny homes are becoming increasingly popular. Far from being a compromise or a sacrifice, we’ve found it to be a very freeing exercise – and our commitment to super-organized, minimalist, needs-not-wants living is the only thing that’s growing, while our footprint is most decidedly shrinking to “just-right”.

 

 

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

 

I Went for the Harris, and Discovered Anique J Jordan

Revisiting The WardOne of the fantastic things about living in a large city is an abundance of culture – museums, parks, statues, and the people and places that surround us. We recently visited the Lawren Harris exhibit (“The Idea of North”) at the Art Gallery of Ontario – and it is fascinating to see depictions of our own city and country, that have shaped our sense of what is “Canada”.

A most interesting part is that it is a multi-layered journey for us. At the same time as we are visiting depictions, we can see some of the sites still standing in our neighbourhood, others now-buried under newer construction. reflecting pool Toronto SignMy husband was also reading The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood; we live near here now, and there are still many people arriving, struggling, and starting near what was once called “The Ward”. Our own condo is built in a neighbourhood that is experiencing a sort of rebirth or redefinition, and we wrestle daily with what our presence here means to the community.

So back to our visit to the AGO…I called it the Harris exhibit, but Harris is not the only featured artist. We also discovered Anique J Jordan, a woman who is searching, defining, exploring herself, our shared city, its past, and how that can be expressed or depicted, both in visual art, and in words. She has an intriguing blog, here, which I plan to keep reading – I find that in reading Anique’s exploration, I am discovering as well. It has been some time since her last post – I hope she will post again.

How Big is Your Neighbourhood?

IMG_5508Although we live in Regent Park, we’re not limited by the borders of community as decided by city planners or other folks. Instead, we measure our neighbourhood by walkability. Travelling a city or town on foot can quickly acclimate you to the shops and services that are available, and let you get to know people and places far beyond the immediate blocks near your home. For us, a 5-kilometre loop is a regular occurrence, happening several times a week. As a consequence, we regularly experience sights, sounds, and shops far beyond the borders of the quarter where we reside.

On this particular day, our walk included a stroll south to Queen street (above). After that, we wound through some of the tinier streets (Bright Street is a favourite) toward the Distillery District. Headed for Cherry StreetWhere Sumach meets Cherry, we passed under this maze of streetcar wires, making our way past the secret data centre and the incredible new Cooper Koo YMCA complex. As you can see, it was early – definitely pre-7am, although we are enjoying the light while it lasts. We know we’ll need our full armada of reflective gear in just a few weeks as the days get shorter.

Distillery It’s always fun to cut through the Distillery District and see all the amazing shops and food vendors (although typically during our pass through in the early morning they aren’t open, we’ve made the trip there often enough that we’ve seen the insides and the people as well). The juxtaposition of the ancient distillery buildings with the CN Tower in the background makes us wonder what the original occupants might have thought.

SculptureThe various art pieces offered by the shops are fascinating – like this guy. We especially like how he has an iron for a nose! Some are practical, many are beautiful, and most are things that we don’t have room for in our minimalist lifestyle – but we appreciate the opportunity to see them as we pass by and continue our fight against years and gravity.

Esplanade On this particular day, we also made our way along the Esplanade, past Crombie park, heading southward, finally, on Jarvis Street. via Jarvis we can get all the way to the lake, crossing the street near Sugar Beach and the amazing, huge sugar elevators on the waterfront. It’s like another world, passing beyond the whizzing traffic and the hustle and bustle of workers, people walking their dogs, and construction crews continuing their endless quest for one more building.

Lake OntarioThe Lake is beautiful early in the morning, and it is a great way to get centered before jumping into the fast-paced world of work. Being able to see birds, flowers, trees, and water at the same time as planes, trains, and automobiles is very satisfying, because it reminds us that we can find peace wherever we are, no matter how fast the pace.

For our return trip, we made a straight shot northward up Sherbourne Street – arriving home just in time to grab coffee and a smoothie before facing the events of the day. Is it worth getting up at 5:30 or 6 in the morning to fit all this in at the start? I’ll let you be the judge.

What Salad Season Means To Me

Two great things for me about salad season are (a) variety and (b) surprises! We do our best to eat local produce when we can get it, and we are at the height of the #Canadian season, with lots of delicious things in abundance. I have no trouble buying lemons, or spices, or coffee, or even avocadoes from afar. But oh, the glorious greens, the field tomatoes, the cukes…who could resist?

Combine that with my efforts to eat more plant-based meals, leading to new and interesting mixtures of veg – and I’m having the best time! Today I had a Greek-salad-inspired dish with an Asian flair. That’s a real Toronto meal if I ever saw one.

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