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!

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!

 

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!

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.

 

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”.

 

 

Seeds grow more than plants

IMG_5006Learning to grow your own food, whether it’s a single pot of herbs on the kitchen counter, or a bigger enterprise, like this, is an empowering activity. When you grow something you can eat, you appreciate all your food just a little more than you did before. For many of us, gardening is a labour of love, and out of tiny seeds, many lessons grow. Here are just a few:

  1. Attention: some gardeners plop seeds or plants in the ground, water, and walk away. If they don’t see something happening immediately, they stop paying attention. They don’t realize that daily attention will help them learn when to water, whether there are pests or problems, or how to recognize the living things they are producing, at each and every stage.
  2. Patience: plants can be fast-growing, and beans, or other species, are useful for first-timers. They show themselves very early. This is why transplants can be helpful in the first-time gardener’s plot. The beets and carrots, on the other hand, make us wait. And wait. But we learn they are worth it.
  3. Resilience: sometimes things don’t work out as we hoped. Gardens teach us to go with the flow. They demonstrate that sometimes we get something more wonderful than we expected, but that there are also disappointments – yet the garden carries on regardless.
  4. Ingenuity and charity: over-abundant plants, whether they are tomatoes, zucchini, or other super-producers, provide us with an opportunity to research ways of preserving them to eat later. They can nourish us in the winter, when food prices escalate, or they are natural, healthy gifts we can share with our friends and family.

Gardens need not be restricted to giant country or suburban plots. Small spaces produce amazing and wonderful amounts of food. Busy lives mean that parents may never have learned to garden, and so can’t pass this valuable skill on to their kids. Fortunately there are dedicated volunteers like the folks at Green Thumbs, who are making sure the gardening knowledge is passed on to new generations of growers. I urge you to click the link and check out these neighbours of mine!

 

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.