Month: May 2014

Spring Yield

I couldn’t be happier to see Spring arrive just for the basics. Not having to bundle up every time you go outside, watching new growths on the ground and the trees, opening the windows, being outside during the long evenings and so the list goes on.

But one of the best things is the Spring diet. Where the potatoes, squash, turnips and carrots fall to the wayside and get replaced with asparagus, garlic scapes, radish, mushrooms and fiddleheads. My MamaEarth box looked the best it has all year.

spring veg

Fiddleheads are the one vegetable that I’m least likely to jump on. They require a lot of cleaning and not being a native Ontarian, I’ve never been a huge fan.

Last year I wrote about their benefits (lots) and a “how to” on preparing them. They are so toxic when raw, that I wonder if we should be eating them at all. This year, I seem to have conquered them and got the hang of it. Now they aren’t hard to prepare and instead of just sautéing them (what I have done in the past), I included them in a Spring quiche. Wow. Even my fussy 5 year old who has sworn off all fruits and vegetables (see previous post), ate it, asked for seconds and then even talked about them the next morning. I’m going to try to find one more batch before their short season is over.

A quiche seems a lot of work but actually once you have the pastry (recipe here), it’s quite simple. Here’s what I did to make a  Fiddlehead and Proscuitto Quiche.

Fiddlehead Quiche

Fiddlehead and Proscuitto Quiche

Flaky Pastry Shell
1 lb fiddleheads, cleaned and trimmed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
6 white mushrooms, finely chopped
3 thin slices proscuitto
2 large eggs
1 cup almond or coconut milk
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg (or 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg)

Bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Add the fiddleheads and boil for 10 mins. Drain, discarding the water and set aside.

In a skillet, heat the oil and add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes until all vegetables are softened. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix eggs, milk and seasonings.

Assemble the quiche with the onion mixture first, topped with the proscuitto and then the fiddleheads. Pour the egg/milk mixture over top, careful to keep it within the crust.

Bake for 35 minutes at 375ºF or until set and lightly browned on top.

Serve with sautéed bok choy (using same skillet, add a little more oil and sauté washed and roughly chopped bok choy until wilted. Add any remaining fiddleheads that weren’t included in the quiche and season with tamari sauce).

Serves 4.

 

 

Fruit Strike

My 5 year old has taken a turn against fruits and vegetables. Vegetables, yes. That’s been going on a while. But fruits?? Seriously? This was the girl that could eat fruit from morning to night and she’s adamant she won’t eat any. Except those that come in a squeegee packet or an applesauce container.

Thankfully the local farmers market kicks off this weekend so I hope I can take her there and tempt her with some fruit.

In the meantime, it was time for a Zoe’s Kitchen blog. She requested alphabet pasta (to be fair, she’s been asking for the last 3 days but I keep forgetting). So she was pretty happy to hear it was on the menu tonight. Together we made a chicken soup. It was tasty and she actually ate it, although I did end up blending it because she was picking out the vegetables. I tell her I’m going to strain it but I blend it in the Magic Bullet while she’s not looking. That trick has been working for years.  And as long as I have a separate dining room and kitchen, I don’t see why it shouldn’t continue.

She watched me cut up the chicken to make the stock and declared she wouldn’t eat any of the meat. She didn’t. Then she watched as I cut up the vegetables for the soup and declared them “gross”. I think they look pretty.

veggies

Anyway, it’s enough to make you run for the nearest package of something she will eat but I’m more stubborn than she is so I push on.

She heats the pan, adds the onion, the leeks and the garlic. Good enough. She freaks when she needs to put the carrots and mushrooms in. It goes in anyway. Then the stock and she calms down as she can’t see the veggies as much. Once it was boiling, she added the good stuff – alphabet pasta. Some seasoning and few minutes while it cooked and then she was ready to dig through the soup looking to spell her name.

It’s a tough gig but it usually works out in the end. And by the way, the soup was yummy! Recipe below.

Chicken and Mushroom Soup

 Chicken and Mushroom Soup

5 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 leek, sliced

2 carrots, finely chopped
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup small alphabet pasta

Heat oil in a soup pan and add onion. Cook until transparent, then add leeks and garlic. Stirring, cook for a couple of minutes, then add the carrots and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes until vegetables have softened and reduced slightly.

Pour in chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add pasta, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Simmer until pasta is cooked.

Enjoy!

 

What do I do with …… Greek Yogurt?

My favourite yogurt is – and I’m not making this up – 2% plain organic yogurt. You can’t get simpler. Yet it’s incredibly difficult to find. I hunt through shelves and shelves of flavoured, zero fat, conventional brands before I find what I want. On the other hand, organic and yogurt have both exploded so much in recent years that it is possible, with the customary hunt of course, to find them everywhere, even Walmart.

I embarked on a hunt yesterday and came away proud that I’d found what I wanted in a short time. Remember, I almost always have 2 kids trailing me so time is of the essence. Here’s the product I bought:

Greek Yogurt

Plain? Check
2%? Check
Organic? No. But it definitely perceives itself as organic and caught me out.
Regular? No. It’s Greek. It’s all Greek these days. I never even noticed this point.

I’m not a fan of Greek so this bothers me. I like to mix my yogurt with agave nectar and flax seed and pouring it over chopped fruit. You add flax seed to greek yogurt and you’d need a knife to cut it. Leave it for a few minutes and it would turn into  a brick.

Now I have this container of Greek yogurt in my fridge that I’m wondering what to do with. It’s actually a very healthy food, despite the fact that it isn’t organic. Greek yogurt is much higher in protein while significantly lower in sodium, carbs and sugar. It is higher in fat which explains the enormous selection of low-fat and fat-free varieties. I prefer the versions with some fat since fat helps the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, including calcium which can sometimes be the sole reason that some people eat yogurt.

It is also very frequently dressed up by manufacturers in the Food Industry. So many varieties I see contain artificial flavours, artificial colours, preservatives, GMOs or added sugar. One variety I found in the store contained 26 grams of sugar in one serving. No, that’s not a typo. It’s unbelievable.

So please be careful of what you choose and make sure you read the ingredients and the sugar levels. Once you’ve done that, Greek yogurt, with its thick creamy tang, can be used in many dishes.

— Try it in potato or pasta salad instead of mayonnaise.
— Add garlic, dill and parsley to taste and serve as a dip with crackers or raw vegetable sticks.
— Substitute it for sour cream in taco or burritos.
— Use it as a sandwich spread

With my container, I’m going to use some as a marinade for chicken pieces. The yogurt acts like a tenderizer resulting in great flavour and texture. Simply mix the marinade ingredients together and toss over the chicken pieces for 2 hours or overnight. Then grill or bake up the chicken as normal. Delicious!

Yogurt marinaded chicken1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1 grated lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp salt

 

 

Why I Love the Seasons

Cycling through my favourite trail this morning, I was overjoyed to see the trees and plants in full bloom at last. To have my cycle path back and to be free of a multitude of layers of clothing.

Spring Cycle Path

 

Maybe one of the reasons I was so happy to be here and see this is the fact that it’s been so long since I have seen it. Oh, so very, very long. Initially I was excited about the upcoming winter and a season of Christmas, snow, skiing, skating and cosy nights but it went on too long and was a touch too cold. The snow is great, the ice …. not so much. Asides from skating, it’s more of a hazard than anything else. So I’m ready to break out the summer gear and embrace the change.

Spring, once it kicks in, has to be the best time. Long evenings and cooler temperatures are perfect. And after all, we do need a little transition from the extreme cold to the extreme heat!

My brother and his family moved to Singapore just over a year ago. Since they’ve been there, every day has been the same. Initially I was envious of them in shorts every day, swimming and hot temperatures. But as time went on, I find myself less envious. I know I would tire of the humidity, the constant heat and the monotony of the same weather. God grief, what would we talk about if we didn’t have the weather fluctuations?!

Now, I’ll enjoy reading on the porch, yoga on the back deck, cycling on the paths and above all, built in entertainment for my kids at the playground. Happy Spring everyone!!

 

 

Fighting the GMOs

About a year ago, I posted about GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) and how prevalent they are in processed foods. Since then, the awareness of GMO’s keeps increasing and there is starting to be a strong mainstream opposition to them.

You can read the background of GMO’s as well as the concerns in this post “Eating GMO’s”.

Recently, the GMO opposition celebrated a victory when Vermont approved a bill to enforce all products to contain labels alerting consumers that their product contains GMO ingredients. The enforcement date is set to begin July 2016. I feel like we are in an crucial hockey game where we are up 1 goal but the game isn’t over yet. Why? Because the biotech firms, specifically Monsanto and DuPont, are so incredibly rich that they can fight this bill to whatever extent they want to. Vermont is doing a valiant thing, taking them on with their taxpayers money. It has been reported that they have put aside $1.5million for legal costs in the anticipated legal case but it may not be enough.

These companies are so powerful that they can override even the best intentions.

Hence the reason I write and report this fight. It’s a fight we have to win. As an advocate of natural foods, there is nothing natural about GMOs and they will convert the natural foods we eat. Eventually there won’t be any whole foods left and we will be at the mercy of the Food Industry entirely.

I will keep you posted on this progress. Go Vermont!!

Dodgy Fruits and Veg

15 Dozen

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables as well as a list of the cleanest produce. This list can help us budget by selecting organic versions of the produce that are heavily sprayed and allows us to get away with conventional produce that isn’t so contaminated.

Anybody who has their own fruit trees will know that it’s hard to have a good yield without the use of pesticides. These fruits are the common ones, especially apples and pears. Potatoes are also hard since they vulnerable to bugs and easily damaged.

So it’s no surprise that some of the most common fruits and vegetables hit the Dirty Dozen list year after year. Much hasn’t really changed from last year with the following listed as the highest contaminants (in no particular order):

1. Apples
2. Peaches
3. Imported Nectarines
4. Strawberries
5. Grapes
6. Cherry Tomatoes (new, they were listed as a “runner up” last year)
7. Imported Snap Peas (new)
8. Potatoes
9. Celery
10. Bell Peppers
11. Cucumbers
12. Spinach

So what’s the issue with the pesticides used? First of all, the contaminants have been so successful in producing larger crops that their use increases year after year. For us, they have been shown to produce behavioural and developmental problems in our children whose immature bodies are unable to process the chemicals. Before you dismiss this, consider the recent statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 1 in 5 schoolchildren in the US are on some form of psychological medication. ONE.IN.FIVE. Yikes.

Furthermore, they are endocrine disruptors. In plain English, they mess with our hormones creating a whole host of problems including infertility. Finally, they are .. surprise, surprise …. carcinogenic. In my last post, I was asking you to eat more greens to prevent against cancer. And yet, many conventional greens are sprayed with chemicals that counter this benefit. So when you do choose your greens, select organic versions of spinach, kale and collard (the latter two were runners up on the Dirty Dozen list).

This is just us. The damage they are doing to the environment is a whole other story, one that is changing the entire eco-system, killing off entire species of wild and marine life, reducing the quality of the soil and contaminating our drinking water.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to 100% organic, you can save some money by choosing conventional versions of the following produce, aptly named “The Clean 15”:

1. Asparagus
2. Avocado
3. Cabbage
4. Cantaloupe
5. Cauliflower
6. Eggplant
7. Grapefruit
8. Kiwi
9. Mango
10. Onions
11. Papayas*
12. Pineapple
13. Sweet Corn*
14. Sweet Pea
15. Sweet Potatoes

* Although these are listed as low in pesticide residue, papaya and sweet corn have other problems. They are both GMO foods and should be only consumed as organic versions.

The EWG has compiled this information into a PDF that you can print and carry with you to the grocery store. Click here to download the EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide.

Another Reason to Eat your Greens

The last month has proved to be a huge learning curve for me. I was forced to tackle a subject I prefer to run away from. Cancer.

The word cancer will evoke some kind of emotion in everybody that sees it. Today’s version of the plague, it is a rare – and lucky – person that hasn’t been touched by it in some way. I have watched friends suffer through their own or their parents treatments and some have lost loved ones as a result of this disease. My father-in-law died of a unique type of lung cancer, mesothelioma, almost 15 years ago.

Now it touches me again. My mother, a couple of months ago, was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. She was hurriedly taken into surgery to remove a portion of her lung and lymph nodes the cancer had spread to.

The initial thought is why? Why does lung cancer hit an otherwise healthy woman in her late 60’s? She doesn’t fit the profile of somebody with lung cancer, but then again, nor did my father-in-law.

We can analyze all we want, but the past is in the past and it’s time to review her diet and lifestyle to help her beat this.

So, to the books I went. Research and more research using the resources I had but until now, hadn’t used. Some things were consistent with diets used for other diseases, some were more cancer-specific.

But overall, what I needed to do was to provide a diet that was mainly alkaline (in order to keep the blood pH level in it’s very narrow, healthy range), rich in antioxidants and high in foods that increase the oxygen level of the blood.

Of course, diet is not the only factor we need to consider but a good diet will help fight against the toxins that are around us everyday. Those that are known to be carcinogenic and those that are too new to know the full effects, such as GMOs and WIFI.

The best place to begin is with leafy, green vegetables. A food that can be almost as hated as disease itself but once you get to know them, figure out what to do with them and maximize their flavour, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them in your diet every day.

A list of these foods would include the infamous kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and swiss chard. There are more than enough of them to create plenty of variety in the diet. And a good thing too as many of them have different properties and benefits that we gain the most defence by rotating through all of them regularly.

If there was a good time of year to start adding leafy greens into your diet, it’s now. Springtime brings the crop. Start looking for local produce at the grocery store and from farmer’s markets, which will shortly kick off in earnest. Asparagus is one of the first green vegetables to arrive and it’s always a joyful day when I see that. Not because I love asparagus, although I do, but because it really, truly means that the winter is over.

Here are some ideas to add some leafy greens to your meals every day of the week. Not only will they put your body in a better position to fight off disease, they will also fill you up with satisfying nutrients that will keep the cravings at bay.

Frozen greens or pre-packaged green make it quick and easy to include them in your meals.

Frozen greens or pre-packaged green make it quick and easy to include them in your meals.

MONDAY: Take an egg and watercress sandwich for lunch. Use the remaining watercress in a green salad in the evening. Mix it with a box of mixed baby greens and dress it with a homemade simple vinaigrette.

TUESDAY: Add some chopped arugula to a pasta sauce. It’s great with lentils and tomatoes.

WEDNESDAY: Finely chop some dandelion greens and mix it with some chunks of cooked potato. Dress it with a mixture of a clove of crushed garlic, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a tbsp of white balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil.

THURSDAY: Add a couple of handfuls of spinach to a morning smoothie. It’s mild flavour will go unnoticed in a fruit smoothie.

FRIDAY: Make some coleslaw using red and green cabbage. It will go perfectly with the fish you make on Fridays 🙂

SATURDAY: Snack on some homemade kale chips. Strip the leaves off a fresh bunch of kale, wash and pat dry. Roughly chop, toss with olive oil and sea salt and bake on a baking tray at 350°F for 15-20 minutes until crispy but not burnt.

SUNDAY: Prepare a side of sautéed Swiss Chard. Strip the leaves from the stalk and chop the stalk into bite sized chunks. Rinse stalks and leaves very well. Spin dry. Sauté a large sliced onion in 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet until golden brown and caramelized, approximately 10-15 minutes. Add the stalks after 10 minutes, add the leaves a minute before the end. Season with 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. You can also try some other ideas for toppings for greens.