Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry + Easy Almond Butter Sauce

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I promise to get to the stir fry in a second, but first a little bit of self-reflection never hurt anyone 😉

Let’s talk friends, i.e. the family that you choose for yourself, the tribe you willingly associate yourself with, the group of people who serendipitously come into your life (and sometimes back into your life), a network of people that grows roots and supports you through thick and thin. I’ve been compelled to reflect on my friendships these past few weeks – for a variety of reasons, some incredibly good and some quite unsettling. Luckily for me the unsettling bits did not originate from within my circle, but nevertheless I have been one of the affected bystanders hit with a storm of betrayal and lies. All I can say is that I am one fortunate woman to have the friends that I have. More than fortunate. Blessed, in fact, if I may use this clichĂ©d and worn-out, hashtagged to death remark. But it hasn’t always been like this.

About five years ago I ended a very long term, depleted relationship; and even though its conclusion was far overdue and inevitable, it still left me reeling and feeling lost. At that time I had a couple of genuine friendships and a handful of tenuous ones. As I recovered and adjusted to the aftermath, I engaged in new hobbies, rediscovered forgotten ones and started making connections  with people from all walks of life. In the midst of this flurry of new faces, I found those that have now solidified into friendships that I deeply treasure. I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t easy for me at first. Over a decade since high school graduation (where I was a shy and reserved creature) I wasn’t sure HOW to make friends. Sounds ridiculous, right? But I wager that many adults just aren’t sure how to navigate the friend-making landscape. It gets a bit more complicated once you’re past the point of playing in the school yard, where a short recess spent kicking a ball around or playing hopscotch leads into the best-friends-forever realm. In any case, I guess somehow I figured it out. Five years later I am surrounded by people that make me a better person. And that’s the ultimate jackpot right there. The friendships that I have made over the last few years, as well as those that have endured the growing up years, have shown me how to be a more caring, empathetic, authentic, giving, loving, generous person. I am still learning and VERY much a work in progress. But as I reflect on the me pre-big-life-changing-breakup to the current me, it still astonishes me how much I have changed. And entirely (mostly) for the better. And all because of my tribe. I mean these people who willingly spend time with me are selflessly taking care of sick family members, raising smart and kind children, organizing care packages for those in need of a pick-me-up or some extra TLC, volunteering in their communities, reaching out to those who are isolated, and tirelessly setting an example of what a good human being should look like. It is impossible for some of that not to rub off on me. Like glitter off a princess Barbie, that stuff really sticks! And so I am grateful, and thankful, and blessed, and indebted to the universe for my friends. How did  I ever get so lucky.

And now for a clever segue to this stir fry. Well, I guess just like my friendships, this dish is uncomplicated, nourishing, deeply satisfying and rich in flavour. Kind of proud of what I just did there. Okay, please don’t leave. I promise I’m done now.

This recipe is a more formalized version of something that I have  been cooking for years – except that in the past I would just throw a bunch of dashes of this and that straight into the pan and somehow it would turn out. But people want numbers and proportions and so I nailed it down for you!

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It really is a pretty simple and versatile recipe. Sub in whatever veggies you like  – mushrooms, peppers and baby corn would work beautifully. But I am partial to the sponge-like quality of broccoli which tends to hoard the tasty sauce within its abundant tendrils. Whatever veggies you choose, add the ones that cook longer first, a few minutes ahead of the others. You can easily make the almond butter sauce nut-free by subbing in tahini. If you like garlic, add some of that in along with the ginger – I’m  not a garlic-hater, but I choose to do the least amount of chopping per any recipe I make. I am chopping averse. Or maybe I just like quick recipes. 

Please let me know if you make this!! You could even just make the sauce and slather it onto whatever food you please. Like friendships, this sauce makes life better…okay, here’s the recipe finally. Who lets me write anyway?

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Simple Veggie and Tofu Stir Fry + Almond Butter Sauce

Serves 3-4

Prep Time 15-20 minutes

Cook Time  20 minutes

Ingredients for Stir Fry:

1 block of extra firm tofu, cubed

1 Tablespoon coconut oil, or other neutral tasting oil

1-2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger, to taste

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons tamari

1 bunch of broccoli or cauliflower, trimmed and cut into bite-sized florets

3 carrots, peeled and sliced into desired shape

2 zucchini, sliced into desired shape

Ingredients for Almond Butter Sauce:

4 Tablespoons roasted almond butter (may be substitutes with natural peanut butter, or tahini for a nut-free version)

4 Tablespoons freshly boiled water

2 Tablespoons tamari sauce

3 Tablespoons natural rice vinegar

1 teaspoon maple or agave syrup

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

 Directions:

1. In a large non-stick sauté pan or wok, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add cubed tofu and cook, stirring often, until golden brown on most sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan onto a plate.

2. Reduce heat to medium and to the same pan add minced ginger, 2 Tablespoons tamari sauce, 2 Tablespoons water and broccoli or cauliflower. Stir well and cook 3-5 minutes. Add carrots and zucchini and cook 5 more minutes.

3. While vegetables are cooking, in a medium bowl whisk almond butter and freshly boiled water with a fork until smooth, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until combined. Adjust to taste.

4. Add almond butter sauce to the vegetables and stir to combine. Add tofu back to the pan, stir and cook 1-2 more minutes until flavours meld together. Enjoy!

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Waging A War On Women’s Bodies: The Battle Continues

Let me cut to the chase. Despite some strides made in recent years, ultimately, we are still battling a deep seated idea that only certain female bodies are desirable and desired. I know what you’re thinking, “No! Not me! I love all bodies.” But if we really delve into our behaviours we’d be able to identify plenty that refute this belief. But who’s to blame, really? From a very young age we are force fed images in magazines, ads, social media and  in our social circles that constantly remind us how we should look. And if we can’t achieve this specific look than clearly we are not good enough, we lack willpower and we need to work really hard to change. It’s come to the point that lamenting about your looks and ceaselessly working on changing your body has become part of the female identity. It’s so uncommon that it’s almost jarring to hear a woman proclaim that she is 100% satisfied with her body. While men also face body issues, women are disproportionately affected by body shaming and so I direct my focus there. Also, I am a woman. How’s that for stating the obvious. 

Because of this relentless message that our bodies take up too much space in this world, we resort to diets.  Diets that punish, and bully, and make us believe that IF ONLY we possessed self control we could attain perfection. That simply, the only thing standing between us and flat abs is the resolve to resist a cupcake. But most of us can’t. And that doesn’t make us weak, it just makes us human. Our bodies don’t like dieting. We are essentially programmed to like whatever the opposite of dieting is. But the answer isn’t to find a solution to this inborn encoding, to discover new ways to trick our physiology. The answer  is to make peace.

Here is the question that I have been pondering for some time now: at what point in history did we decide that criticizing, disparaging, judging, censoring, praising, assessing and condemning women’s bodies was okay? When did we decide what the ideal woman should look like? And I know some will point to the fact that curvy women were venerated in the past, but isn’t that just another form of what is happening today? I imagine that during the heyday of plump bodies, there were still “the right type of plump” and the “not plump enough” or “too plump” and undoubtedly the “too skinny” bodies. Ultimately our attitude remains the same but the image of the ideal body changes. Most recently I have seen the problematic trend of eschewing skinny and worshipping strong bodies. Strong is good! Strong means healthy! Strong is noble! Our new found worship of strong emblazoned on shirts and bumper stickers everywhere! Let me tell you something, strong is just a thinly veiled attempt to identify the current idea of an ideal body. Because if you’re not strong, then you are “other”, the not strong body, the body that needs to work harder to become strong. And so we find ourselves at square one, making women feel like they need to fit into a mold. I challenge you to Google images of “strong is the new skinny”. I did. Out of the first one hundred images, only about 8 (and I am being generous here) portrayed a body that wasn’t rippled with well defined muscle and glistening with sweat. Don’t tell me that we are past the point of idolizing slim. Body acceptance (acceptance of ALL bodies) is still a very, very long away.

Now please understand me. I don’t believe that body acceptance should come at the expense of rejecting those with muscles, or skinny bodies or slender frames. I don’t think that is the approach at all. In my utopian view of the world, ideally we come to a point where bodies are just bodies, the vehicles for our minds and hearts, the instruments that carry out our actions and dreams. Where size does not matter and people (women) aren’t constantly battling with themselves to change.

I do wonder if before all of this there truly was an era where body shape, size, fat percentage, dimensions really did not matter. I have to imagine that prehistoric societies did not trouble themselves with such trivialities as they tried to outrun predators and directed their energies at survival. Perhaps even for several generations after that bodies were just simply bodies. Then things went haywire. And specifically for women. I oscillate between rage and sadness when I see or hear of situations where women are forced into believing bogus diets, mislead by so-called experts, bullied by unrealistic ad campaigns, disparaged by healthcare professionals, disregarded, overlooked, shamed. And what is frightening is that attempts to wage war on women’s bodies are becoming far more ambiguous, so that even the most offensive enterprises seem benign. Like with the aforementioned strong body movement.

I don’t want to end this diatribe on a sour note. It’s not all hopelessness and doom. While a global shift in paradigm will require far more bold and drastic solutions and a great deal of time to undo the damage of generations, we can all start to chip away at the current norm. It starts with you. Stop criticizing yourself. Throw away the scale. Look in the that mirror and see yourself for your qualities and NOT your body shape. You are one fine human being and I don’t need to know your jean size or your hip measurements to see that! This sounds clichĂ©d, but if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Protect children from hearing body shaming in conversation, songs, on social media and TV. And it’s tricky. You know that song, the one about that bass? That’s not an anthem for body acceptance. Listen to those lyrics a little closer: the message is accept big bodies and reject ‘skinny bitches’, the song’s words, not mine. (This is what I mean when I say it’s a lot more ambiguous these days.) Stop greeting friends with “You look great! Did you lose weight?” This is problematic on many levels, and so ingrained in our psyche as normal dialogue, but continues to reinforce that weigh loss equates with greatness. Chose activities based on your likes and not on their calorie burning potential. Pick a variety of foods based on what you enjoy, not on a long list of ‘shoulds’. Those ‘shoulds’ are ever changing and often not based on any actual merit. So forget strict food rules and trust yourself. Trust your beautiful, wonderful, vibrant, capable, competent, flawed, perfect SELF.

We need to win this war, one battle at a time, so that we don’t waste another second of our precious, short lives on this ongoing conflict. Imagine, just really imagine, what we could accomplish if even just a fraction of energy wasted on altering our size was diverted to something more positive. I am not going to pretend like I have the solution. It hasn’t been  an easy journey for me to arrive at this place and perhaps one day I will share my experiences. But I definitely know how I have changed my words and continue to adopt behaviours to promote body acceptance for myself and those around me. Will you join me?

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As always, share your comments and thoughts below!

With much love and gratitude,

ilona xo

Cooking Up A Revolution

 

In a recent article in the National Post, Claudia McNeilly explores why despite a growing obsession with food, we are in fact spending less time in the kitchen. She writes: “Cooking is largely viewed as extra work that we are eager to pawn off to other people.”

I am not surprised to read a line like this as our ever busier, jam packed lives leave little leftover time to spend in our kitchens. But perhaps it is time to rethink this whole cooking thing. What if cooking nourishing meals for ourselves and our families became the first thing we scheduled in our calendars? What if sitting down to a meal at an actual table became more important than activities, errands and binge watching the latest and greatest? I for one, along with a quickly growing body of health professionals, strongly feel that reclaiming time and redirecting it to shopping for food, cooking and family meals would result in a vastly healthier society – positively influencing not only our physical health, but our mental health as well (read more here, here and here.) It’s not just what is available at the grocery but how we eat and how much time we spend in the kitchen that has drastically changed in the last few decades. Perhaps it’s those factors that are largely shaping our health today – food for thought?

In any case, forget celebrity chefs with their promise of “30 minute meals”…umm maybe 30 minutes of actual cooking but no time factored in to shop for new ingredients, food prep and clean up (oh the clean up!)

Dig out your old, simple favourites and start creating your own meals! No need to be fancy or pricy. Choose seasonal or frozen produce, dried or canned legumes, nutritious but cheap grains like millet, brown rice or whole grain pasta and get those pots on the stove.

I love this line from the last paragraph of the article, quoted from the book Cooked by Michael Pollan: “To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption.”

Turn off the cooking shows, leave the takeout menu in its drawer, skip the drive through. Rummage through your pantry for ingredients and stage a quiet revolution in your kitchens, taking away dollars and power from influential fast food chains and ultra-processed food manufacturers. Admire the slick and tempting dishes created on TV from time to time, but make your own (perhaps not as Instagram-worthy) meals far more often.

When I create recipes, I try to think about the amount of time spent on prep and finding unusual ingredients. Check out my blog and Facebook page, where I share either my personally crafted recipes or ones I have gleaned from others and loved for their simplicity and nutritional punch. Case in point: the colourful picture featuring raspberries at the top of this post is nothing more than whole grain toast, natural peanut butter, fresh fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup. Doesn’t get easier than that!

While I love cooking, I too am thrilled when I can use less dishes, chop less veggies and use more ingredients I already have on hand. Now doesn’t that sound tempting?

 

 

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!

Shortbread Failures and Life Blow Ups

I was really hoping to post a recipe today. It was all planned out. But it just wasn’t meant to be. After a couple of weeks of testing shortbread cookie recipes I declare defeat. For now at least. Though I solemnly swear that I cannot. Eat. Another. Shortbread. Cookie. Ever. Sad thing really, as they were my favourite at some point, though it’s hard to recall that blissful time in this sugar-induced haze I find myself in. What went wrong? Well, good question, it comes down to science really. The formula of sugar, butter and flour just wasn’t right. Nor were the changes I tried to make. I tinkered with proportions, times, temperatures and materials. Each time believing this batch would be it. But it wasn’t. The last batch being the worst of all. So I have decided to give myself a short shortbread break. A shortbreak. Hehe. Is it a forever break? Heck no! I just need to step away from these cookies long enough to not hate them. Should take a week or so. I’ve also run out of vegan butter.

What you might have seen on my Instagram Stories:

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This whole experience made me think of something I heard on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page the other day. That’s Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love book/movie fame. I recently got reunited with her discourse and community after discussing a book of hers with a good friend. In any case, she said something to the effect that anytime something blows up in your life, more often than not there is something far better on the other side. Now I know cookies don’t have the gravity of life events, but anytime I can use food as a metaphor…and the hope of better cookies on the other side? I’ll  take it! And it’s true, for my life anyway, life has blown up a few times in the past (breakups, injuries, health setbacks, a gazillion moves…) and it has ALWAYS led to a bigger, better, more fulfilling life on the other side. Yes, of course there is that temporary state just after the blow up that makes it hard to see things clearly. You are suspended in this insubstantial space that feels uncomfortable, scary, raw, blurry, you feel vulnerable or drained or fragile. But for me anyway, there were always cracks that allowed some light in. Sometimes those cracks were nothing more than hairline fractures, barely visible to the clouded eye. After going through a few life blow ups, I try to focus on expanding those cracks and coaxing, urging the light to edge out the pain or uncertainty. With practice (I’ve had some), the light seems to know its way back in much faster, I guess it has directions 😉

And blow ups is where the learning happens. You learn about you, your friends and family, your strength, your needs. And with these cookies I’ve learned about the infuriating yet fascinating baking process. One small change to the method or ingredients and boom, a wildly different outcome. I can already see how making endless batches of failed cookies has provided me with knowledge that will inevitably become invaluable as I create new recipes in the future. And yeah there will be more! I don’t succumb to defeat that quickly! Though a shortage of ingredients certainly puts a halt on development.

As an aside, you may have noticed with the last few posts that this isn’t strictly a traditional food blog (but I don’t think there are rules about that anyway). I’m still trying to find my voice and direction with this project and I have decided not to put any limits or agendas in place just yet. My sole intention is to create then post something at regular intervals. Sometimes that may include recipes but sometimes, like today, just words suffice. I do use food metaphors often though, so I guess there’s always that. Cooking and baking for me are like meditation in motion so that’s often when I do a lot of thinking and sorting of the chaos in my brain. Naturally then, for me, creating in the kitchen is tangled up with soul searching.

I am always happy to get feedback, so leave a comment, share with friends if you so please and as always, I am eternally grateful that you stopped by! Even though there’s no nice food pictures this time around 🙂

xo

ilona

There is a crack in  everything. That’s how the light gets in. —Leonard Cohen

Limehouse Conservation Area + Shifting Perspectives

 

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Isn’t it funny how one hour can make such a big difference? The day after daylight savings time ends we get one extra hour. Sixty more minutes to devote to whatever we please. Maybe sleep. Yes, for most of us it’s sleep. It’s only one hour but it makes the day feel extra long, like a time lapse in the universe which allows us to squeeze in a little bit more. It feels magical, don’t you think?

Having an extra hour on a stunningly beautiful, golden autumn day meant there was only one thing I wanted to do: hiking. Which isn’t surprising as this is often how I use up extra time on gorgeous days (an example here.) So with a giant to-do list to tackle later in the day looming ahead, I savoured the extra bit of time and headed to Limehouse Conservation Area to explore a section of the Bruce Trail I have not yet been on. My goodness, why did I wait so long?? Each new section elicited an audible gasp, as I tried to take it all in and immerse myself in the beauty and uniqueness of the trails. Caves to traverse, nooks to discover, old lime kiln ruins to explore. And never mind the magnificent fall foliage ablaze and glowing in the low slung sun.

Shadows + Silhouettes

Only an hour adjustment but it makes all the difference. The angle of the sun altered, the slanting shadows cast and scattered in new patterns across the forest floor. The world looked different. It felt different. I felt different. Everything had shifted an hour.

Rooted

I go on hikes alone not to eschew company, but to revel in my solitude. It is not an isolating act, but one of hard-earned and protected aloneness. Not lonely but alone. My meditation. A way to turn over thoughts and ideas in my head with the equalizing and balancing force of nature as my companion. A way for me to find my way in the chaos of everyday life. It is so easy to become disoriented by the ceaseless cacophony of rings, and notifications, and reminders, and information. Oh that incessant barrage of information. On the trails it is me and nature. Perhaps other people too, but ultimately only in passing. As I discover new places and find my way on new trails, I feel empowered, renewed, recharged. A calmness permeates each neuron as many of life’s uncertainties no longer feel so threatening. They just are. A part of life and not an indication of being lost. A shift in my perspective. And I need that reminder often and hence the regular solo hikes.

Standing Tall 

I took pictures along my hike today, as I often do, to preserve some of the images on something more permanent than the canvas of my memories. And to share. With you, with my family, with my friends. I snapped and marveled. As I veered off the main trail onto a side trail, I mindfully put my phone away my phone battery died. And I am thankful it did, because perhaps I would have missed it. A little patch of forest where the trail widened, a sort of clearing, with woods to one side and the escarpment dropping off to the other, with a carpet of vibrant yellow leaves blanketing it all. A tree stump beckoned, and so I sat. I listened to the birds, an insistent woodpecker especially making its presence known, and the occasional distant purr of motorcycles, an airplane, reminding me of my proximity to civilization. A nearby river provided a hushed and constant warble. Golden maple leaves, still clinging to branches, seemed to flutter and wave without a detectable breeze. I felt like I was sharing my breath with them. The earthy perfume of drying leaves thickly covering the forest floor mingled with the heady fragrance of pine and cedar. The cerulean sky pierced the canopy with jolts of colour. I stayed for a while. I stayed and sat and breathed and felt the earth.

Confetti

Contented, I moved off my perch and continued on, grabbing a small handful of pine and cedar: aromatherapy in the palm of my hand. I felt like I was moving through chapters of the forest, as each new part of the trail revealed another layer of the plot. New colours, new sounds, new trees and foliage. New emotions and sensations.

Aromatherapy

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As I reached the end of the trail and emerged on a local road, I came upon a couple of hikers who looked up and asked “Are you lost?”, though in their case what they meant was “We are lost and are you in our boat?” I replied “No, I am  not lost” with a smile on my face and believing it with every fibre of my being. I helped them with directions and re-traced my steps back to my car. My phone batter dead, but my body, mind and soul recharged. If only for a little while.

Stay A While

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