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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Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola

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Awww man, y’all are gonna lose your shhhh for this one! Believe it or not, this is only one of the very few times I have made my own granola. I’ve had every intention in the past, just zero execution. Confession: that could be said about other aspects of my life too, I suppose. Procrastination is the name of my game and I am VERY good at it (let it not be said that I don’t have any skills!) If putting things off until the last minute and figuring out ways to avoid what I need to do by doing everything else instead was a sport, I’d be a world champion. That’s not to say I’m lazy – just good at deferring. And even in the kitchen, I cook all the time but creating workable, tasty recipes that make sense and can be replicated is another thing on its own – that requires planning, forethought, precision, and measuring spoons. All of which just slow me down in the kitchen. But the desire to share good food that is delicious and nourishing in equal measures finally succeeded – and so I have hunkered down, with note pad and pen in one hand and measuring cups in the other (or something like that) and started not just making food, but actually developing recipes. Who am I?? Also, it helps that my recent foray into this was received so generously by my family and friends, one just can’t help but be inspired to go on.

So let’s get on with this recipe. There are some food pairings that just seem to be made for each other: peanut butter and jam, coconut and pineapple, lime and tequila. And of course chocolate plus cherries, the darlings of this recipe. I mean, when have chocolate and cherries together ever been a bad idea? Never. Am I right? Thought it has to be said that the cherries also go beautifully with the hazelnuts in this recipe, and the almonds, and well the chocolate goes with just about anything (chocolate + hazelnuts, enough said.) So what we end up with is a jar full of goodness that just loves to intermingle, and each ingredient, while good on its own, elevates the others. A metaphor for a utopian society dare I say? If granola can inspire a visionary world view, well all the better in my opinion.

I had some family and friends try this granola out on its first outing and the reviews were fantastic. On top of yogurt, paired with almond milk for breakfast, or straight up out of the jar by the fistful, everyone fell in love. The recipe is pretty simple too: you mix the dry ingredients together, and essentially make a raw chocolate to coat everything in. Mmm, a chocolate bath. I know that dried cherries can be quite pricy but a little goes a long way. In any case, feel free to substitute dried cranberries instead if that’s all you have on hand. That goes also for the nuts and seeds, change those up if you want but keep the amounts the same. It’s a pretty flexible recipe – and far better than most of the granola you can buy, both in taste and nutrition. Nourishing dried fruit, seeds, nuts and oats with antioxidant rich cocoa powder and a touch of maple syrup. That’s it.

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Finally I have to say I chuckled a bit when naming this recipe. I though, once people read chocolate and cherries I will have them sold! They won’t even notice the word granola in there. Muahaha, got you!

Oh! One  more thing, as I was eating this bowl of granola I was rewarded with a delicious, rich chocolatey almond milk. Never a bad thing.

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Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola

vegan, soy-free, gluten-free option

Makes about 6 cups

Prep time 10 minutes 

Cook time 30-35 minutes

 Ingredients

1 1/2 cup large flake rolled oats, gluten-free if needed

1 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped

1/2 cup raw hazelnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/4 cup hemp hearts

1/2 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped

scant 1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300˚F (150˚C) and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, hemp hearts and dried cherries and salt. Stir well.
  3. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt coconut oil, remove from heat and whisk in maple syrup, cocoa powder and vanilla.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the dry mixture and stir well until everything is well-coated.
  5. Tip the granola mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread out into an even layer. Press down on the mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon so that it sticks together.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir, again spreading it our into an even layer and pressing it down. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. Let the granola cool completely on the baking sheet, it will harden as it cools. Break the granola up into clusters and transfer into an airtight container (I use glass jars).

Tips

You can chop the nuts by pulsing in a food processor.

Substitute equal amounts of other nuts, seeds, dried fruit as you wish.

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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