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:

img_20161203_120621274

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

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

img_2630

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.

img_2599

img_2609

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.

img_2652img_2640

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!

img_2680

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.

img_2736

Mealtime Chaos Solved: the Magic of the Division of Responsibility

My passions as a dietitian have a wide and ever expanding reach. When forced to narrow it down, I really love developing plant-based recipes, helping people decipher and sift through the abundance of nutrition information/misinformation, providing specialized nutrition care to children with unique medical needs, and hold a very special place in my heart for teaching families to feed and eat well without mealtime battles.

The last one in particular can be very challenging at times, surprisingly more so than the others. And I suppose it’s because parents already have so much on their plate and too often feeding is so challenging and contributes to daily overwhelming stress and anxiety. There is so much conflicting information on what and how to feed children, that sometimes (often) even healthcare professionals get it wrong.

This article on parenting caught my attention today and compelled me to comment. Some might say that I have no jurisdiction on this topic, not being a parent myself. But here’s the thing, I consider myself and expert in childhood feeding (10 years of working in paediatrics does allow me to say that with confidence and without arrogance), and feeding is an act of parenting, so despite my lack of offspring, I do feel that I have some valuable things to say about both.

For a variety of reasons, parenting has shifted from the authoritarian ideology imposed on me growing up with a “my way or the highway” doctrine and corporal punishment peppered throughout for good measure (anyone else relate to “the wooden spoon”??), to a permissive style of current generations – parents paralyzed by fear of disappointing their children, fearful of saying no, wanting to please their kids in a way that perhaps they never were and asserting themselves as their child’s best friend.

The thing is, kids need very clear and definitive leadership in order to feel safe and secure. They need boundaries and rules, without which they have a very difficult time organizing themselves and the world around them. This all boils down to chaos. I say this with no trace of hyperbole, but I can identify kids of the permissive style of parenting right in the waiting room of our clinic; defiant, easily upset, irritable and generally unhappy, usually referred to see me for picky eating, disturbances in growth (poor or excessive weight gain) and possibly nutritional deficiencies. Their eating is erratic, mealtimes are fraught with arguments and the dining table is a battle ground. My judgment lays neither with the kids nor with the parents. The pressure on parents from family, friends and healthcare providers ii unbearable, and it inevitably transfers onto the child.

As with all areas of parenting, feeding requires some guts and defined leadership. Parents need to be neither too strict nor too lenient; as with Goldilocks, the sweet spot is somewhere right in the middle. In parenting terminology this is often referred to as an authoritative style of parenting: fair limit-setting, positive consequences, defined parent and child roles and consideration for the child when making rules (with flexible but appropriate “exception to the rule” situations.) [There is a fourth style of parenting, coined neglectful parenting but I rarely see this and I shall leave it out of this discussion.]

When counselling parents on establishing/re-establishing a positive feeding relationship, I always refer to the Ellyn Satter Feeding Dynamics Model which uses the Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR) as the backbone to guide feeding and eating attitudes and behaviours. If I had to name a golden rule book for mealtimes, this would be it. I know it sounds very official and kind of daunting, but it isn’t (though I  will say that it is sometimes harder to put into practice than it should be, given outside pressures and ingrained practices.) Essentially the sDOR guides parents to be leaders in deciding what, when and where their children eat, while children autonomously decide how much or whether to eat. The idea that children naturally know how much they need to eat for their growing bodies is deeply central to this concept, and any outside interference from caregivers dismantles this. The sDOR allows children to eat the right amount, to help them grow as they are meant to grow and to help families develop competence and confidence with mealtimes. When really applied (I mean like wholeheartedly, with courage), it can restore mealtime peace and greatly improve nutrition. Seriously, it’s magic. The tricky thing is knowing whether you’re doing it right, because a lot of bad habits can persist or sneak in while trying to implement it.

Some basic principles of sDOR include:

-set regular, predictable eating times

-don’t allow grazing or snacking throughout the day (avoid never-ending snack cups of Goldfish crackers or Cheerios which interfere with a child’s appetite at mealtimes)

-limit juice and milk intake and relegate these fluids only to eating times

-eat at the table together without distractions like TV (to promote role modeling and social interaction)

-in the words of Ellyn Satter, be considerate without catering at eating times (remember, you decide what goes on the table, just make sure to include at least one food your kids will eat if you’re serving a new dish – it’s okay if they fill up only on that food,  they need time to learn to like new foods)

-avoid pressure to get your child to eat more or try new foods; pressure always backfires

-above all, trust that your child will eat and grow as they are supposed to

No exaggeration when I say that the sDOR can work like a well-oiled machine and sound like a masterfully crafted symphony when applied well. I’ve seen it in action in all sorts of circumstances and it works! You do have to submit yourself to the process and  trust in it.

A registered dietitian knowledgeable in sDOR can help you achieve happy, healthy and pleasant mealtimes and quell the mealtime chaos once and for all.

Wishing you joyful, nourishing mealtimes,

ilona