2017 Resolutions: Patterns for Change

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Picture from the Chihuly exhibit at the ROM; this piece is entitled Tumbleweeds, but for me elicited lightening, or a spark. An inspiration to spark change for 2017.

Congratulations on making it through the  first week of 2017 (and a bit)! Nearly 51 of them left to accomplish your goals, get stuff done, screw it up, reinvent yourself, get lost, find your way again, make mistakes, get it right, find success, experience loss, travel, end relationships and start new ones, ignite new passions, flip the page. It’s all a bit exciting, isn’t it? Maybe a bit scary. Not knowing what lies ahead, where you will be at this time next year? All the while hoping that life doesn’t throw you a giant curveball. Bracing yourself for potential disaster or pain. But that fear hangs in the background for now – because January is for aspirations and renewal. As pretty much everyone else (whether they admit it or not), I too love January for its capacity to instill reflection and inspire purpose. I don’t arrive on January first with a list of resolutions, instead I form them over the first few weeks of the New Year. Emerging from a holiday induced stupor, I need a bit of time to get my  bearings and spend some time thinking about how I want to shape the days, weeks and months ahead. This is a luxury granted to us living amidst material comfort, good health and relative affluence. I don’t want to squander it.

So how are you making out so far? Are you feeling panicked or energized? Hopeless or motivated? Astray or purposeful? It’s so easy to get overwhelmed under the barrage of resolutions flying at you every which way. Everywhere you turn, there they are – in conversations with friends, scrolling through social media, in every magazine and news outlet. And one common theme is health. Specifically the attainment of a healthy weight, a healthy diet, a healthy everything. I have to fully confess, as a dietitian I sometimes want to go into hibernation during this time, and perhaps I would if it weren’t for my own desires for a fresh start. But the seemingly endless posts about diets, detoxes and nutrition have me wondering when the collective paranoia of what we put on our plates reached this frenzied fever pitch. Everyone from doctors, to TV personalities to self proclaimed experts and celebrities are claiming that their diet is the one that will change your life around. You just need to avoid this, give up that, try this, banish that. Each nutrient or food coming under attack in turn, with grains and sugar getting the brunt of the scorn at the moment it seems. And if it’s not a food that’s getting publicly flogged, then it’s how we eat. Forget the advice to eat small meals throughout the day – oh so last millennium! If the hordes of (start air quotes) nutrition gurus (end air quotes) are to be believed, fasting is where it’s at. And the longer the better it seems; a study in willpower. Perhaps the biggest test of it being how long you can withstand a juice fast, because you know, detox. Forget a weekend, a week even, let’s go for a month! Umm, no thanks, I like to chew.

I know I am sounding incredibly disdainful and perhaps a touch irritable. But the thing is, all of this makes me sad. Sad that people shilling this ever-changing and increasingly more outrageous diet advice are preying on people’s vulnerabilities, all the while making A. Lot. Of. Money. Your buy-in buys them a very comfortable life. The weight loss industry in the US, including everything from diet soft drinks to supplements, diet books, apps and more is worth $60 billion. Let that sink in: $60,000,000,000 in one  country alone. That is a lot of zeros.

It makes me even more distressed knowing that the majority of those who consume this advice are women. My comrades, my soul sisters. Strong, smart, amazing, beautiful humans. And not their fault – women have been spoon fed smoke and mirrors about what they should look like for far too long, inciting a quest to change what they see in the mirror. But that is a rant for another day. For now, let’s focus on this: there is no ideal, perfect diet. No ultimate way of eating. No supreme regime. In my books, there are only healthy eating patterns. That’s right patterns is the operative word. Patterns that change and mold and flex. They are not meant to be rigid and static. Your pattern will differ from mine and will suit your life.

Pulling from the dictionary, where a few definitions of what a pattern is reside, the one that I like in this instance is this: a combination of qualities, acts, tendencies, etc., forming a consistent or characteristic arrangement; anything fashioned or designed to serve as a model or guide for something to be made. In essence, a consistent model that allows for variety.

It’s a tough sell because this concept is not wrapped in a sexy, glossy package. No promises of enlightenment  through discipline. But perhaps the promise of tamed anxiety and realization that you have the knowledge and skills within. So let’s take a collective, deep, steadying, cleansing breath and look at what healthy eating patterns might look like.

For starters, let’s just accept that there is no need for a punishing regimen for our bodies to detox. We have livers and kidneys who do the job just fine. Now onwards. Here are some healthy eating patterns to get you started, my Top Ten if you will:

  1. Eating more whole fruits and vegetables IS in fact a good thing – the more the better. If possible, at every meal and making up the majority of your plate. No argument from me here. Besides adding a whack load of vitamins and minerals, they add to our fibre intake which we are severely lacking in. Fibre is the nerdy, undervalued, introverted but quietly powerful superhero of the nutrient world – balancing blood sugar, keeping our gastrointestinal systems in tip top shape, taming cholesterol levels and more.
  2. Legumes like beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas as well us nuts, seeds and tofu are excellent sources of plant based protein that I encourage people to eat more of – supported by lots of evidence that reducing our intake of animal based protein is better for our health, our budget and the environment. Oh and again, hello fibre, our multitalented superhero friend!
  3. Skip the processed white grains for the most part. There are so many awesome whole grains waiting to grace your plate! Brown/red/black/wild rice, quinoa, millet, sorghum, farro, wheat berries, oatmeal, buckwheat, pot barley, amaranth, teff, spelt, kamut – it’s a whole new world opening up before you! And you guessed it – more fibre.
  4. Dispense with sugary and artificially sweetened drinks like pop and juice, sports drinks, sweetened lattes, diet soft drinks. Choose herbal teas and water – whether plain, carbonated or fruit infused. Go ahead and add lemon juice – it isn’t a magical cure for anything but it does taste good and might make you drink more.
  5. The grocery store is a minefield of ultra processed foods masquerading as healthy choices. Be wary of what food manufacturers claim on the front of the package. Read the ingredient list (its length not necessarily an indication of quality – my favourite brand of crackers has a super long list of ingredients but they are mostly whole grains and seeds) – look out for added sugars, artificial anything, food colouring, refined starches and so on. I often post reviews on my Facebook page of packaged foods that I think are great…and maybe ones that aren’t.
  6. Speaking of sugar – it’s not an all or nothing deal. It’s true that we consume too much. But instead of trying to banish it completely (umm can you really say you will never have birthday cake or ice cream with your kids??), look for sources of added sugar in your kitchens and replace with better options gradually – start with cereals, yogurt, granola bars, snacks marketed to children, drinks and so on.
  7. Take the time to feed yourself and your family well. Be consistent and reliable. This means taking the time to plan, shop and cook and making space and time for meals and snacks that you eat together at the table(whenever possible) without distractions. Be prepared so that you don’t skip meals or forget to feed yourself. It might mean giving up some things in order to make this a priority (yes I know Netflix tempts with endless opportunities for binge watching…but someone has to get dinner started!)
  8. Pay attention when you eat. Avoid TV, devices, toys or books during eating times. Make conversation with those around you. If you eat mostly on your own, it means having to adapt to being with yourself and your thoughts during mealtime. This is the only way to truly start getting to know your body and your hunger and fullness cues. We’ve been conditioned to ignore our inner voice on so many fronts. Distractions in our lives abound and so we are terrible at this (myself included) and often override our bodies – skipping meals when hungry or eating beyond fullness. Start listening.
  9. Enjoy your favourite foods at regular intervals. Denying yourself chocolate or restricting chips will only lead to preoccupation with those foods. We all know how that goes… Instead, have them every now and them, enjoy thoroughly and watch how they lose their power to control your food choices.
  10. Take pleasure in moving your body in ways that are appealing and enjoyable to you. If you have kids, move with them. If running is drudgery and the treadmill your nemesis, why the heck are you signing up for a 10km race? Find a yoga challenge or a hiking trek if that’s your thing instead. As with food, there is no perfect or ideal exercise.

Now these may be a good place to begin, but there are plenty of other things that you could do, or maybe are already doing, to start you off on good footing as you welcome 2017. The ULTIMATE goal is living a life that you can embrace for 365 days of the year and not just 7 or 30. In fact that’s the litmus test for any diet out there – if you can’t live it for a year it’s not worth starting in the first place. My happiest, most vibrant life includes a boat load of vegetables as well as homemade chocolate peanut butter pie – just in different proportions. It includes long hikes with friends, solitary yoga and punishing obstacle course races. Cupcakes, kale, hummus, wine by the bottle and Netflix too.

For 2017 my hope is that you make peace with food and permanently exile restrictive, demanding diets that zap your confidence, diminish your self-worth and wreak havoc on your health. Embrace vitality and give yourself permission to enjoy eating. Invest time in cooking for yourself or your families and relish new ingredients, recipes and cuisines. Happy New Year!

Eggnog Nicecream + Gingerbread Chocolate Sauce

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Some days I sit down to write a blog and know exactly what I want to say. Some days, like today, I have  no idea. My mind is blank. Or maybe not blank, but all the ideas I hold within are blunt and vague instead of sharp and focused. And so I am not writing with the fervour of wanting to spill words onto the page at break neck speed lest they disintegrate. This kind of a writer’s block scenario requires a bit more introspection. What do I really want to say? And so I settle on the truth.

Life has tossed a few obstacles on my path recently, both health and relationship wise. I have taken to yelling at the universe to stop being such an a**hole from time to time while trying to scramble over said obstacles  more or less intact. It is not a graceful process. There’s tears and pain and scars. But I am more than fortunate. I have an abundance of comforts and great friends and family to help me along the way. And I also have the opportunity to set aside time, energy and resources for self-care. I have been listening to my body and doing more yoga, going for hikes and listening to energizing and inspiring podcasts. I have been spending time with my nieces and nephews – talk about therapy! They bring me crazy amounts of joy and their giggles are pure magic. I am also just trying to give myself over to the process. Whether it be health or relationships or career, I have to trust that it WILL all work out. Perhaps not in the way I pictured or wished for. But in some way or another it will be okay. I imagine a crossroads up ahead where luck and hard work will intersect and I achieve what I am striving for. I just have to keep my eyes open and be willing to flex and bend and yield.

Now, I don’t have a witty or thoughtful segue to this recipe so…..gingerbread!!

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Gingerbread was the inspiration for this recipe. Gingerbread and eggnog. Essentially, I am in full on Christmas mode and wanting to devour the sights, sounds and flavours of the season at any chance possible. It started with making multiple batches of peppermint bark for gatherings in recent weeks, checking out the Milton Santa Claus Parade last weekend and  then going  to the Trans Siberian Orchestra with my family a few days ago. The Christmas spirit has been ignited. 

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This is called nicecream because in using only plant-base ingredients it’s a kind way to consume  ice cream without using dairy milk. And it’s nice. Really really nice. And kind of magical, because who knew that frozen bananas can yield something smooth and creamy and cold and so akin to real ice cream that you might not miss the real thing. And it’s also super healthy, because it’s  just fruit! I paired the nicecream with eggnog flavours and topped it all with a gingerbread chocolate sauce, which is a gingerbread-spiced version of my original chocolate sauce. I haven’t posted the recipe for the original sauce on this blog yet but people went nuts about it when I shared it on Instagram and Facebook. I guess people care about a chocolate sauce that is free from refined sugar, made from wholesome ingredients and versatile (you can use it as a fruit dip, on top of oatmeal, as a base for hot chocolate etc.) And because it’s chocolate. This version is filled with gingerbready spices and molasses – I use the blackstrap variety because they are a good source of iron and calcium, unlike other types of molasses. So there you have it, chocolate, eggnog, gingerbread, nicecream, Christmas. Enjoy!

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Eggnog Nicecream with Gingerbread Chocolate Sauce

vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, refined sugar-free 

Makes 2 servings of nicecream +  approximately 1 1/2 cups of chocolate sauce

Prep Time 10 minutes

Ingredients for nicecream:

4 ripe bananas, frozen, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

small pinch of ground cloves

1 Tablespoon maple syrup optional)

Directions:

1.       Add bananas and vanilla into a food processor and process until a creamy, soft-serve ice cream consistency . This will take a few minutes, and at first will resemble a coarse, crumbly mixture. Keep processing and scraping down sides often until you get nicecream. Add spices and maple syrup (if using) and process for a few seconds until combined.

2.       Spoon into serving dishes, top with gingerbread chocolate sauce and enjoy right away.

Ingredients for the gingerbread chocolate sauce:

8 soft medjool dates, pitted

6 Tablespoons cocoa or cacao powder

1 Tablespoon virgin coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon blackstrap molasses

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

pinch of sea salt

1 cup warm water

Directions:

1.       Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

2.       Store in an air tight jar in the fridge for up to one week. The coconut oil might solidify in the fridge, just heat in the microwave or by running sealed jar under hot running water to melt.

Notes:

I keep a stash of whole, frozen bananas in the freezer; they break up or chop easily even when frozen. You want them to be ripe, with black spots on the skin (but not mushy or brown inside) when you freeze them.

I used Mi-Del gluten-free Gingerbread Men for decoration. So adorable!

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Vegan Thanksgiving Feast: Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower and Sage Soup, Pan Fried Herbed Tempeh, Spiced Ginger Cranberry Chutney and More!

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving everyone! I love this time of the year. So much to be thankful for. Family, friends, health, prosperity…life has been good. Oh and it helps that in my part of the world we are immersed in a weather utopia with mild temperatures, blazing sunshine and a riot of fall colours already beginning to blossom.

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Be forewarned: this is a long post but you will be rewarded with three original recipes + links to more recipes I have tried.

Amongst the things I am thankful for is being able to enjoy a vegan, plant-powered Thanksgiving feast that made taste buds sing. The only true veg guests at our table of nine (+ my eleven day old niece) were my sister and I, though everyone else is food adventurous and certainly open to trying anything. My sister’s only directive was “just make something that will serve as a vehicle for cranberry chutney”. Ok, mission accepted.

Now you will have to pardon the quality of the photos in this post as I was snapping pics in what can only be described as delighted chaos. I was cooking in my mom’s kitchen, sharing precious counter space with her as she made her menu items, making up recipes and writing them down as I went along and ensuring that the finished products were in sufficient quantities and edible and more or less ready at the same time. And all along trying to ensure my camera survived intact.

Flowers from my parent’s garden adorning our festive table
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While my mom made the customary turkey for the non-veg folks at the table along with her infamous wild rice and sausage stuffing, she did contribute to the veg menu by making a savoury mushroom gravy and a separate dish of her stuffing with roasted chestnuts in lieu of the meat. They were amazing! I will have to work out the recipes and share with you soon. (Question: is it still called stuffing when you’re not stuffing anything with it? Things that make you go hmm).

The other side dishes she made were naturally veg-friendly and the only adjustment needing to be made to some recipes was to replace butter with olive oil or Earth Balance.
I supplemented the dinner menu with three items of my own plus two pies for dessert (a pumpkin pie and apple pie – in my opinion you cannot have one without the other).

Vegan Thanksgiving Menu
Appetizer:
Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower and Sage Soup (recipe below)

Entrée:
Pan Fried Herbed Tempeh (recipe below), Maple Roasted Squash and Sweet Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Sautéed Mushrooms, Wild Rice and Chestnut Stuffing, Mixed Mushroom Gravy, Spiced Ginger Cranberry Chutney (recipe below)

Dessert:
Pumpkin Pie with Gluten Free Crust (from Oh She Glows, I adapted the recipe for my peanut/tree nut allergic niece by replacing pecans with equal parts pepitas and gluten free ginger snaps) and Caramel Apple Pie (from Healthy. Happy. Life.), served with Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss Vanilla ice cream

And now for the recipes!

Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower and Sage Soup
This soup was inspired by the flavours of a Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Browned Butter I have made in the past for Thanksgiving. This year I did not have enough time to make this relatively easy, albeit time intensive recipe but still craved the silky, buttery, luscious flavours. So I came up with this soup, and I have to say the results were definitely reminiscent of the melt-in-your-mouth raviolis. In part I think this had to do with the fact that I pureed the soup in a Vitamix blender as opposed to using an immersion blender – this decision transformed the soup from good to great, simple to celebratory, smooth to silken.

1 butternut squash, cubed
1 head of cauliflower, cut up into florets
3 Tbsp olive oil or melted coconut oil
handful of fresh sage leaves, about 10-12 leaves
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper
8-10 cups water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes (I use Harvest Sun)
¼ cup full fat coconut milk

1. Preheat oven to 400⁰F, line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Toss butternut squash and cauliflower with olive or coconut oil, half of the sage leaves, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt and several grindings of black pepper. Tip out onto parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 30-45 minutes, until cooked through and golden (time will depend on your oven). Don’t overcook.
3. Once roasted, transfer vegetables into a large soup pot, cover with water, add bouillion cubes and rest of fresh sage leaves. Bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes until all the flavours have come together. Add coconut milk and adjust seasonings.
4. Carefully transfer soup into blender in small batches, blend until silky smooth. Note: leave vent hole on blender lid ajar to let steam out and place kitchen towel on top to keep splatters in. Pour pureed soup into clean pot, adjust seasonings again (usually I adjust salt last).
5. Serve with crispy sage leaves (heat up a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil in frying pan, toss in fresh sage leaves for a few seconds until they get crispy, remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towel to drain excess oil), a drizzle of coconut milk or pepitas Or all three.

Veggies about to go in the oven…
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…and now done
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Silky smooth, courtesy of the Vitamix!
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Pan Fried Herbed Tempeh
Our vegan Thanksgiving feast needed something hearty to match up with the zing and tartness of the Spiced Ginger Cranberry Chutney, and thus came this tempeh recipe. I borrowed a bit of inspiration from a panko-crusted tempeh I encountered at a local vegan restaurant. In this version, however, I chose to use hearty whole-grain homemade breadcrumbs with the savoury flavours of sage and oregano; I love sage at Thanksgiving and my mom has tons of it growing in her backyard. The coconut oil I used for frying did not impart too much of its coconutty flavor but certainly you can replace with a more neutral-tasting oil of your choice.

1 block tempeh
1 cup bread crumbs (I used a few slices of Silver Hills Squirrely bread, left out to dry overnight then processed into coarse crumbs in a blender)
5-6 fresh sage leaves (replace with about 1 tsp dried if don’t have fresh)
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper
½ cup coconut milk, or another plant-based milk
coconut oil for frying

1. Place bread crumbs, fresh sage, oregano, salt and pepper in blender or food processor, pulse until everything is combined and sage leaves are finely chopped.
2. Cut block of tempeh in half so you have two rectangles, now cut each piece in half again but this time in such a manner that you still have the same sized rectangles but now half as thick. Clear as mud?
3. Set up two bowls, one with coconut milk the other with bread crumb mixture.
4. Dip each piece of tempeh first in coconut milk, then into breadcrumbs, pressing firmly so that breadcrumbs coat the tempeh evenly.
5. Heat coconut oil in non stick frying pan on medium/medium-high heat, you should have enough oil in the pan to come almost half way up the tempeh cutlets. Gently place tempeh in the pan, fry for about 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown, don’t burn it! Don’t stress if some of the breadcrumb coating falls off (I didn’t).
6. Carefully remove tempeh from pan onto paper towels to drain excess oil.

Only picture of the tempeh, clearly this photo was taken on the run
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Spiced Ginger Cranberry Chutney
If you’re still using cranberry sauce from a can to compliment your holiday feast, this is the recipe that will hopefully get you to abandon that practice. It is tart, sweet, spicy and zingy. It is unapologetic in its bold and stand out flavours. It rocks my Thanksgiving plate and its absence from the table would be deeply mourned by all. Funny story, when I first started making this irresistible condiment, about a decade ago or so, I was not yet enlightened to the difference between star anise and anise seed, and so anise seed is what I picked up at the store. It has remained an ingredient in this recipe despite the fact that I now stock star anise in my spice cupboard,can’t imagine making it without it. On a side note, I usually make a double batch of it and preserve in small jars to enjoy as an accompaniment to many other meals and snacks.

Adapted from Food and Drink magazine, Holiday 2000

2.5 cups cranberries (300g package), rinsed and picked over
1 large apple, any variety, peeled, cored and chopped
1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger (use more or less, depending how much gingery heat you like)
½ cup apple cider or apple juice
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup vegan sugar (cane, coconut palm, Sucanat etc.)
1/8 tsp each cloves and allspice
¼ of whole nutmeg, grated
2 star anise
½ tsp anise seed
3-4 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, once cranberries start to pop, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20-25 minutes. Chutney will thicken once cooled.

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All in the pot it goes
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Beautiful, vibrant, delicious
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And there you have it. In case you’re wondering, the other side dishes were quite simple to prepare and don’t amount to much of a recipe. The squash and sweet potato got the same treatment – acorn squash was cut into slices while the sweet potato was cubed, both were drizzled with olive oil, maple syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon, salt and pepper, then baked in a 400⁰F oven. The Brussels sprouts were washed, trimmed and boiled until tender then combined with mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, all was seasoned simply with salt and pepper.

Coming all together for a party on my plate
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The pies did not make it to the picture stage as they were devoured in a flash. The pumpkin pie was ahhhhhmazing, the filling reminiscent of a rich butterscotch. The ginger snap crust worked out well but was a bit tough (no one cared). The apple pie was quite good, certainly no complaints from anyone but I could work on my vegan crust making skills. And the leftover caramel from the apple pie recipe was divine when heated up and served with a scoop of Coconut Bliss ice cream and chopped walnuts. It may be true that I polished off the rest of the caramel in this manner. But no witnesses have been found to confirm.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!
ilona

Hug a Dietitian Today: Part 2.0

Happy National Dietitians Day! (the Canadian version; the US celebrated a week ago).

Yup, today is specially dedicated to honouring and celebrating dietitians. Today also happens to be World Macaron Day… coincidence??

A couple years ago I wrote a little post on my other blog (which is currently in hibernation) dispelling crazy myths about dietitians. Check it out here.

Now go celebrate with some cake. Make mine vegan.

Cake and love and good food,
ilona