Meal Planning

Winterize Your Greens

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I think I can safely say that summer is behind us. Fall is almost behind us. It’s time to adjust our diets to cater to the colder months. According to traditional healing systems, such as Chinese and Ayuervedic medicine, our bodies need cooling foods in the hot months and warming foods in the colder months. Realistically, we often eat the same foods year round but when you think of these cooling and warming foods, it makes a lot of sense.

Cooling foods are more of the raw fruits and vegetables, citrus fruits and leafy, crunchy vegetables. Warming foods require more cooking or preservation. Tomato sauces, lentils, winter squash, cabbage and dried fruits are all warming foods. Garlic and Ginger are both warming while curry is cooling. That seems counter-intuitive but if you ever eat a curry in mid-winter and then go outside, you will soon realize that you aren’t as warm as you were before you ate the curry.

Meat, dairy, eggs and heavier foods such as butter, cream, chocolate and whole grains such as barley lend themselves much better to the winter months but vegetables are just as important and shouldn’t be neglected. It’s just a matter of switching. For example, a staple in the summer, salad, can become cooked winter greens so there is no excuse to give-up the greens in the winter months. The nutrients they provide are all the more important to fend of the cold and flu bugs.

Although, lettuce doesn’t lend itself well to being cooked, kale, swiss chard and bok choy does. Very well. Steamed kale with a drizzle of tamari and olive oil is delicious. Sauteed bok choy is super simple and probably easier – and quicker – to put together than a salad in the summer.

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Warmed greens in minutes. Bok choy is sauteed in butter and drizzled with tamari and olive oil.

 

 

 

 

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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.

A Boxing Day Meal

It’s not totally known what the history of Boxing Day is. There are a number of theories, probably stemming from Britain since commonwealth countries celebrate it but the USA doesn’t.

I feel bad for them. It’s a great day – if you aren’t spending it in the mall that is. A day of pure laziness, outside if the weather permits, reading new books or hanging out with the kids excited about their new toys. As I see it too, you are off the hook in preparing a large meal. If you hosted Christmas Day, your reward is leftovers. Which, done right, can be better than the meal itself!

If you didn’t host, you can still make an easy meal. It’s the one time in the year that I buy a ham. I get a bone-in ham from the butcher and warm it up in a baking tray. It’s best to use a wire rack to keep the meat moist while cooking. You can add about a 1/2″ liquid in the bottom of the tray – today I just used water. Cover it with foil and cook for about 20 minutes per pound.

1/2 hour before cooking time finishes, brush a glaze on the ham. You can find lots of different ideas online, I like a really simple one mixing about 2 tbsps brown sugar with 2 tbsps honey and about a 1 tbsp mustard powder. You can keep basting it for the last half hour. It’s better if you do. I tend to forget to!

The ham only needs simple accompaniments. Some new potatoes with parsley and a little butter and something green. Broccoli or a green salad. Maybe some bread. Definitely bread with some cheese if you have guests.

Enjoy the extra time in the living room today!

Stocking the Candy

Chances are, stocking up on Halloween candy this weekend was on your to-do list. If so, keeping them out of sight will help you resist the temptation. Under no circumstances, open that box!

If you are a last minute purchaser, like myself, it’s easier to resist the temptation of “just one” at the end of a bad day. Because one leads to another and another and if you’ve ever been to a wine or beer tasting, you know how quickly those “little” tasters add up. Yes, there are less calories in one treat but there are more in the end when it’s hard to stop.

Never fear. The stores aren’t actually ever going to run out. In fact, they might even put them on sale on October 31. The choice might not be as extensive but small sacrifice for keeping that candy out of the house.

If you do have the choice, do the kids’ parents a favour and avoid too many artificial colours and flavours which is linked to hyperactivity (and every parent wants that at 8pm on a school night!). The easiest way to do that is to stick to the chocolate candy bars. The ingredients tend to be less and cleaner. Alternatively, there is a company yummyearth.com
that sells lollipops and candies that are free of artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners and lots of other chemicals. I’ve often picked them up at Winners, but they are also available at Target, Staples (of all places), Whole Foods and well.ca.

Finally, if you can’t resist temptation, consider the option of, horror!, not giving candy at all. Particularly smaller children will love small bottles of bubbles (my neighbour does this each year), stickers or glowsticks. It’s better than hiding behind darkened curtains anyway.

Happy Halloween!

Two Fish on Friday?

There is no law that says we have to only purchase one type of fish for a weekday dinner. As long as you are buying fillets, they tend to be the same size and require the same cooking time. I seem to be on a roll with bad photography at the moment so I might as well post this one.

fish

This is a fillet of pickerel (Ontario local) and a fillet of Arctic Char. I will often do some organic salmon or black cod as well. It keeps the cost lower as both of these are very expensive fish. But we still all benefit from eating the “good stuff” without breaking the budget.

PS. These fillets are rinsed and patted dry. They sit on a bed of sliced onion, fennel, garlic and mushrooms with olive oil. They have salt and pepper over top and the juice of half a lemon. They were covered with foil and baked at 375°F for about 35 minutes. We ate them with couscous and steamed broccoli.

Cook like a Tenzo

A tenzo is a chef who prepares all the meals in a monastery. Given to them, was a set of instructions “for the cook” by the Zen Monastic Standards. This was a position of huge responsibility and without the right mindset, the outcome of the meal would be affected and the practice of the monks would be compromised.

The tenzo would be guided to focus on their task without distraction. The role of the tenzo was exhausting, as anybody preparing a Thanksgiving meal will appreciate. Mindful attention was thought to be the only way to fulfill their duty and those working with them.

A mindful mindset will help you through the preparation of the meal. Being present and focusing on the task will show through in your cooking. From the obvious in that you remember you have something on the stove and won’t burn it to the less obvious in that you will have enhanced flavour in a dish made with a positive mood. That might sound “out there” but did you ever make something in a bad mood that was delicious? This is what I mean.

By now, you will chosen the ingredients you settled on to provide a meal to your guests. Appreciate this food and focus on it while you prepare it. A moment to reflect before digging in to eat will also encourage your guests to be mindful of what they are eating. Focusing at a time like this when it’s so easy to overeat will cut down on calories and bloating if nothing else.

So turn off the phone, let somebody else watch the kids and focus on your holiday in the kitchen. Allocating somebody else to clean up always helps too!

Inspire Your Meal Planning

I was listening to a discussion about menu planning the other day. It went around the fact that it’s quite laborious to do and may be better if there could just be one menu plan to rotate through each week.

There are a few problems with this. You are going to get very bored and lose the inspiration to make dinner each night. Plus you won’t end up with a good rotation of nutrients by sticking to the same foods over and over again. Variety is the best way to get the 60+ nutrients we need into us.

But the main issue with this are the seasons. In a country where we do have very definite seasons, our requirements change throughout the year. Even from one week to the next they are different, particularly in a transition season such as the one we are in now.

It takes time to build up a menu plan for sure. But keeping them means you could work this way over the course of a year. That way you’d build up enough meal plans to rotate through according to the weather. I have a few years worth stocked now and will often check the same week in a different year to gather inspiration for a meal. Time, as you know, moves very quickly and it wouldn’t take long to bank a ton of weekly meal plans.

The other thing I use for inspiration is my weekly organic vegetable box. Mine arrives every Monday which I like as I can use it to plan my week. I want to use everything in there so I will work around what’s in the box.

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This is my box from this week. I have carrots, potatoes, red pepper, garlic, beets, squash, kale, apples and eggs. Here’s how my week will look:

Monday: Party leftovers from the weekend, sautéed with egg, a green salad with beets.
Tuesday: Fishcakes, Brown Rice and Kale
Wednesday: Borscht Soup and Bread
Thursday: Squash and Lentils with red pepper, carrots and garlic
Friday: Gnoochi with tomato sauce using leftover potato

Any recipes needed, let me know!