Smokey Chickpea Potato Soup

img_3127I’m on a mission. A mission to get people  to spend more time in their kitchens. Please don’t run away screaming just yet! Hear me out. We demand a lot from our bodies – vitality, energy, a healthy weight. We likely invest time and money in insuring our bodies against illness and ageing – gym  memberships, anti-aging products, yoga, meditation. Yet we are afraid of spending time in the kitchen. Think about it – we are constantly hearing messages about time-saving recipes, convenience foods, short cuts, prepared meals and so on. So much so that we have become averse to our appliances and all that equipment languishing in our cupboards. We drag our feet and protest against cooking, citing long lists of priorities. But preparing food is at the basic level of self-care. We should, in fact, be running towards our kitchens  instead of away from them. Cooking more is one of the ways, perhaps  the most important way, we will be able to resolve so many of our food and health issues. When we prioritize cooking for ourselves and our families, we declare that taking care of our bodies through whole, nourishing meals consumed at our dining tables in the company of our loved ones matters.

Now I get that spending more time in the kitchen doesn’t mean spending ALL of our time in the kitchen. We still want easy to prepare recipes that aren’t going to send  us on a wild goose chase trying to track down unusual spices. There is a time and place for that, and I do admit that I enjoy spending my time unearthing exotic foods and perusing aisles of newly discovered markets. But recognizing that’s not everyone’s cup of tea and with the mission to get people to cook more in mind, I decided to create a recipe that is made with simple ingredients and requires only fundamental cooking skills. In fact I challenged myself to create a recipe with items I already had on hand!

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Soups are really at the very centre of convenience cooking. One pot, a bunch of familiar ingredients and a few spices to add flavour and flair, and a bit of idle time. That’s it. This soup contains potatoes, an often vilified vegetable (probably for its incarnations as chips  and fries) but actually delivers a bunch of nutrients in a pretty convenient package. One medium potato with the skin on provides a third of your B6 and a quarter of your potassium and vitamin C needs as well as 15%of your daily fibre requirement. Carrots add colour and beta carotene and chickpeas stand in as the filling, fibre-rich protein source. Despite usually being relegated to decoration, I added parsley as much for its flavour as for its surprising nutritional punch: a quarter cup of chopped parsley provides a quarter of your vitamin C and almost 300% (yes you read that right) of your vitamin K needs. Vitamin K is a powerful fat-soluble vitamin that is involved in the  blood clotting process, so you know, you don’t bleed to death!! Thank you vitamin K *gives high  five*.

As always, this recipe is plant-based but can be enjoyed by everyone. As with many soups and stews, this one tastes even better the next day – so perfect for leftovers! What is your favourite quick and easy to prepare meal that you often cook for yourself and your families?

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Smokey Potato Chickpea Soup

Makes 6 servings

Prep Time 15 minutes

Cook Time 20 minutes

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons avocado or extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon smoked paprika, hot or mild

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning*

3 medium potatoes, skin left on, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 5 cups)

3 carrots, peeled, sliced into rounds or half moons (about 3 cups)**

6-7 cups water

1 (19oz/540ml) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2-3/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1-2 teaspoons sea salt, to taste

1/2-3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.       In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3-5 minutes.

2.       Add the smoked paprika, sweet paprika, cumin, Italian seasoning and half of  the salt and pepper to the pot and stir for about a minute until fragrant.

3.       Add the potato, carrot and water, stir to combine. Increase heat  to high, bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and carrots are just fork-tender (be careful not to overcook!)

4.       Finally stir in the chickpeas and parsley, and adjust salt, pepper and seasonings to your taste.

 *If you  don’t have Italian seasoning on hand, just use any combination of thyme, oregano, basil, dried sage and rosemary.

**This soup will thicken as it stands (especially overnight), add extra water to thin it or just enjoy as is. I used 6 cups of water.

 Tips:

-I  add the onion and garlic to the pot off the heat as I chop them. Once I have all the other ingredients prepared, I add the oil and turn on the heat.

-I chop the parsley and rinse the chickpeas while the soup is simmering, to cut down on prep time.

-If this recipe leaves you with a bunch of leftover parsley, use it in salads, pasta and rice dishes, smoothies and sprinkle extra on the soup before serving.

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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

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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Harvest Kale and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Creamy Maple-Cider Dressing

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Here’s what I know about kale. It is hardy. It stands up to a greater breadth and depth of temperature, seasons and wind than any other vegetable in our garden. It thrives far longer (it continued to spill its harvest into the frigid mornings of mid-November.) It nourishes and satiates. It gives and weathers and feeds. And it needs little sustenance in return. Talk about a superfood with super powers! What I also know about kale is that I’ve been eating it for FAR longer than it has been basking in the glowing light of superfood status. My grandmother, aunts and mom have been growing and using kale in their kitchens for as long as I can remember. And while I don’t think they ever imagined its dominance as the queen of greens, they certainly knew its value. Easy to grow. Easy to cook. Easy to transform.

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Onto this glowing recipe. Kale salad is nothing new. I’ve been making versions and incarnations of it for many years. Sometimes as the star player and sometimes as a companion to other greens. This salad though is all about the kale. It is home-grown kale paired with classic autumn ingredients to create a hearty, addictive and delicious appetizer or meal. I do highly recommend massaging the kale for this dish. Yup, that sounds ridiculous, I know. But really, it makes a difference. If you’ve ever had dry, woody kale in your salad you will appreciate this step. And doesn’t this hard working produce staple deserve a little R and R?? You’re welcome kale.

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The first few times I made this recipe I used delicata squash which works beautifully. But as luck would have  it, delicata was nowhere to be found on my grocery expedition this time. So butternut squash played the perfect understudy. And really any squash or pumpkin would do. I do love serving this salad with the squash still warm from the oven. The warmth is a great foil for the kale and sets off the zingy dressing nicely, but room temperature is just fine. Straight from the fridge the next day works too. And yes, this salad is the kind you can eat as leftovers, nothing gets soggy!

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I usually serve all the ingredients layered on a large platter or wide, shallow bowl with the dressing on the side so people can drizzle on as much as they want but feel free to do the drizzling yourself. Or just mix all the salad ingredients with the dressing. This recipe  might make more dressing than you will need but that’s not a bad  thing. It’s perfect on other greens or roasted veggies.

A hearty, warm, vibrant salad to nourish and chase away the impending winter blahs. Oh, I should say this recipe makes a pretty hefty  party sized salad. So you can always halve the quantities to make a smaller amount. But like I said, you can keep it in the fridge for a couple of days with nothing to worry about. And then change it up with some cooked quinoa or millet, or alongside a spicy soup or stew.

Harvest Kale and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad + Creamy Maple-Cider Dressing

vegan, soy-free, gluten-free

Makes a party sized salad

Prep Time 20 minutes

Cook Time 35-40 minutes

Ingredients for the salad:

2 bunches of kale, washed, ribs removed, chopped into bite sized pieces (about 12 cups)

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 8 cups)

2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided

1  Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1.5 Tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped

1 batch of creamy maple-cider dressing

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl drizzle the kale with one tablespoon of olive oil and the apple cider vinegar. Gently squeeze and massage the kale until thoroughly coated with the oil and vinegar. Set aside.
  3. Place the squash on the baking sheet, drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil, all  of the maple syrup, salt, pepper, cinnamon and cloves, and toss to combine. Arrange in a single layer and roast for about 35-40 minutes, flipping once halfway through cooking time. Squash should be cooked through and browned around the edges.
  4. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add pumpkin seeds and toast until starting to turn golden and fragrant, about 3-5 minutes. Stir frequently so that they don’t  burn. Transfer onto a plate and let cool.
  5. To assemble the salad, place the massaged kale onto a platter or bowl, top with toasted pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and roasted squash. Drizzle or toss with about 1/2-3/4 of the dressing and serve with extra dressing on the side.

Ingredients for the dressing:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

2 Tablespoons tahini

1 clove of garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

6-8 Tablespoons water

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients and 6 tablespoons of the water in a blender and  blend on high until emulsified. Add extra water as needed to achieve a pourable consistency.

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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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