Friday, July 22, 2011

Loving my green power!

Late one recent night, I couldn't sleep and on a whim downloaded a Kobo e-book for my iPod Touch (I can't put into words how much I love this little device). I must say that e-books are frighteningly easy to buy. Just two or three taps and it's yours! Plus you save over the price of a regular (old-school) book - I saved between $2 and $5. I had about a moment's remorse for my impulse buy, but then dove into my new book. I read voraciously in the dark (love the night-reading feature) and after 3 chapters finally turned it off to get some sleep.

Green for Life - Kobo

What was this fascinating read? "Green for Life" by Victoria Boutenko. I've mentioned this book in another post as it was a major source of inspiration for my exploration of green smoothies. After my initial fascination with these verdant drinks, I fell off the wagon and didn't get back on. I found mixing them using my immersion blender too cumbersome and I didn't have the determination to press on. I recently bought a new blender, in the hopes of making the process a little easier* and decided it was time to read more on the subject.

What is so great about Green Smoothies? Through her research, in consultation with many experts in the fields of nutrition - both human and chimpanzee(!) - and her family's own evidence, Boutenko discovered:
  • Greens, above all other food groups, meet all nutritional needs.
  • A raw food diet featuring green smoothies can cure disease, prevent cancer, and even slow or reverse aging.
  • Consuming 1-2 litres of green smoothies per day can have profound health benefits, including: weight loss, improved digestion, improved allergies, healed eczema, fewer headaches, reduced stiffness after exercise, even improved sex life and peaceful birthing.
  • After one month of drinking a litre of green smoothies per day, study participants reported: less fatigue and more energy, increased motivation, "zingyness", fewer grey hairs (!) and cravings moving from processed or cooked foods to raw foods and greens.
Now that's green! My lettuce began to bolt,
so I rescued what I could and made some
green juice: 4 cups packed green & romaine
lettuce blended with 4 cups water
This book is packed with surprising and up-to-date information on nutrition and how it affects our health, as well as copious testimonials. My e-book is full of highlights for every time I exclaimed, "wow!" Needless to say, my enthusiasm for green smoothies has grown. If even a small portion of these claims are true, I should experience a big difference in my health. While I'm definitely the most dedicated smoothie drinker, my husband will drink them if I make them, and my 2.5yo will gladly consume them if they include mango. My discerning 5yo is still vary wary. I've started asking him to try a sip every day and most days he complies.

So what's in a Green Smoothie? It's actually surprisingly simple: water, greens, and fruit. That's it. The ratio depends on your tastebuds, which will adjust as you become familiar with the taste of greens. Novices (this includes children especially) should start easy so the smoothies are tasty and enjoyable. You can get a large number of recipes by registering for the Recipe App on the Raw Family site, or purchase the App for your mobile device. It also includes a FAQ and an excellent guide to green smoothies. There are combinations for all tastes and seasons.

How do green smoothies taste? Yummy! You can completely adjust your ingredients based on preference. If you like sweet, add (very slightly green) bananas or mangoes. If the green flavour is a little strong, add more fruit or lemon juice. I really enjoy drinking green smoothies and look forward to the every day. We recently went away for five days and I didn't get to drink my usual allotment - though I did manage a little - and noticed the difference. I started feeling a general yuckyness and my digestion slowed down.

I carried two of these buckets containing 3 heads of lettuce each
(in their soil) to Cornwall, ON to prevent losing them to flowering
or drought. I used half in smoothies and the other half returned home.

Want to get started now? Some tips from the guide mentioned above: wherever possible, ingredients should be fresh, local, ripe, and organic; and rotate your greens (change it up now and then to ensure nutritional diversity). A tip of my own: frozen fruits can be great for convenience - fresh is better, but frozen is a good compromise, adds a great texture, and is refreshing in summer, I usually combine fresh and frozen fruit.

Here's a basic recipe:
1.5-2 cups packed greens (start with green or romaine lettuce or spinach)
1-2 cups water
2-4 cups fruit (try mango, strawberry, apple, banana, peach, etc.)

Before - romaine lettuce, frozen mangoes,
frozen strawberries, and water

After!

* I learned first hand last week how awful a green smoothie can be if made in a blender with dull blades. The greens and fruit skins remain in big chunks and the result is chewy - yech! Boutenko heartily recommends the Vita-mix blender, but at over $400, it's a little out of my price range at the moment. It could be a future family Christmas present. Instead I settled for a 16-speed Oster and have learned a few tricks to preserve the motor and blades: blend the water and greens first, then add the fruit which should be chopped or in small chunks, frozen fruit should be added gradually. If you get big chunks when mixing, blame your appliance, not the smoothie!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Paralysed by choice or lack thereof

Some have commented on my blogging hiatus, to give a proper answer, I decided, I needed to post.

When last I wrote, we had begun a journey into flexitarianism. All was going well at first. I was all aglow in optimism. As our family life became busier with school, work, and other commitments, my excitement started to fade. Without copious amounts of time to experiment, I found I was at a loss about what to prepare. Meals became very boring and lots of pasta and pizza were served.

My advice, now that I'm looking back: don't jump headlong into a new eating plan without... a plan. I didn't have enough quick and easy meals under my belt and I didn't have a meal plan. Although my husband is happy to ride along with me on this journey, he's mostly following my lead. Left to his own devices, he resorted to what he knew how to make: meals centered around meat.

As I explained to a friend today, I love cooking and have a large repertoire of recipes that I both enjoy making and are delicious. By removing meat from our diet, I essentially cut many of those out. I think part of my problem is that I was mourning  this loss. The other is that I had yet to build a new repertoire and was left both with little choice and too much choice.

A little confession here (no surprise to those that know me well): I'm competitive. I find I strive for more when those around me have similar goals. If they can do it, so can I! Well, a few of my friends are now changing their family's eating habits and pursuing vegetarianism. Enter my renewed enthusiasm! I also have others to share with and that is enormously important to me.

So what does my blogging future hold? Some book reviews (currently reading "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman), updates on this year's garden, and some green products I can't live without.

Now I'm off to the kitchen to make Golden Quinoa Salad with Mango and Walnuts. (I've updated the recipe with a much easier way to cook the quinoa.) This will be in our fridge for the next few days as a wonderful lunchtime go-to. For dinner, I'll be attempting Bittman's Rosotto with Vegetables and Herbs. For dessert, likely a green smoothie. We'll also try a "raw ball" (see photo below) courtesy of "The Kind Diet" by Alicia Silverstone and suggested to me by an aforementioned friend. I'll keep you posted!

 Do you have a favourite easy, meatless recipe? Please share!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vegetarian Lessons

It seems that lately all I think about is food. I admit I'm a little compulsive since declaring us a flexitarian family. At lunch yesterday, I realised I had an overwhelming choice of delicious options in my kitchen - leftover butternut squash lasagna*, vegetable samosas, split pea soup, masala hummus (thank you Julie for introducing me to this!), green smoothie, etc. I chose a samosa, some sweet potato fries (my 2yo's choice), followed by a green smoothie. Learning to eat vegetarian is an adventure! Bonus: in over a week, I've started to look at vegetables differently.
Strawberry banana green smoothie

For example, DH and I had ordered  vegetarian versions of our fave Thai meals (me: coconut curry, DH: pad thai). When looking at the leftovers the following day, he asked, "are you going to finish your curry, or is it all vegetables?" I laughed and said, "it's all vegetables and yes!" In the past, I would have eaten some of the veggies, but focused on the chicken. This time, everything (except for the huge chunks of onion) had an equal chance of being eaten and enjoyed. We loved our vegetarian dishes, perhaps even more than the chicken versions. I was very happily surprised by that.

Valentine's Day was Monday and I learned a few things...
  1. I already can't consume as much sugar as I used to without feeling pretty sick. (I also am convinced that the eczema on my hands is linked to refined sugar, since it starts to burn after I eat something sweet.)
  2. My craving for sweets is more psychological than physical. My body doesn't want the sweets now, my brain does. I'm working on changing that.
  3. Missing my green smoothie - which I did that day because of all the food being consumed - causes me to feel not only guilty, but also incomplete.
  4. My husband is wonderful. (Okay, to be fair, that one I knew already.) He came home with dinner - something he never does unannounced - vegetable samosas, Indian split pea soup, 6 california rolls, hemp hermit cookies, and some incredible Green & Black's Carmel chocolate. He wanted to show his support for how hard I've been working to get our family eating better. I was in tears.
And the quinoa obsession continues... We've made two cookie recipes from Quinoa 365: Healthy Cookies and Oatmeal Raisin cookies. Here are some of the ingredients for Healthy Cookies:
Dry ingredients: whole wheat flour, sunflower seeds, rolled oats, flax seeds, coconut
Cooked quinoa
Before baking
Yummy Healthy Cookies
Everyone who has tried these cookies, young and old, loves them. They're not too sweet (1 1/4 cups brown sugar for 56 cookies) and are full of good things.

When I made the Oatmeal Raisin cookies, I had only a 1/2 cup raisins and so I used chopped medjool dates to make up the other cup. These are also really tasty and I prefer the dates - which are a new experience for me - to the raisins. Dates are very sweet, however, and next time I'll reduce the sugar to compensate. These cookies are gluten free as they use quinoa flour.

I've been doing some homework to make sure I'm covering my nutritional bases and to get some suggestions for a veggie newbie. I'm currently picking my way through the Vegetarian Starter Kit from Vegetarian Times. While I don't agree with everything (I'm not convinced of the safety of consuming non-fermented soy products, i.e. soymilk), here are some things that stand out for me:
  • eating a variety of plant protein sources over an entire as a way of getting a "complete protein" rather than focusing on having it in each meal (the older way of thinking)
  • better to focus on dairy-free sources of calcium and limit animal protein, a high intake of which encourages calcium loss from bones
  • there is a link between type 1 (juvenile) diabetes and milk protein allergy
  • using sliken tofu instead of sour cream in dips - can't wait to try this
 One of the best things to happen this week: I think drinking green smoothies prevented K (2yo) and I from getting F's stomach flu. Hurray!

Are you eating meat less or even never? Please share any lessons, tips, resources, or recipes you find helpful.

* I modified the linked recipe by using a combo of butternut squash and pumpkin that I had frozen and then mixing in some cooked quinoa. If you choose to do this, I'd say cook up about 1/2 cup dried quinoa and reduce the squash to 3 cups, otherwise it won't all fit in the baking dish (as I found out). I also used spinach lasagna noodles to give the meal some colour.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Green Smoothies

About a year and a bit ago, I was "inspired" to try making green smoothies.  I'd read a post about The Wonder of Green Smoothies. However, my fear both of drinking one and of making my little breastfeeding guy gassy prevented me. Today, my no-longer-breastfeeding guy and I made one.

This is what went in:

6 -8 leave romaine lettuce
2 cups water
3 cups chopped mango (I used thawed frozen mango)
juice from 1/2 lemon

I gave away my blender about a year and a half ago, so I mixed it using my immersion blender. The result was this:

A pretty vibrant green. My 2-year-old son K was watching the whole process and when I would give a taste before adding more mango, he'd ask for a taste. When I poured my (litre) glass:


he asked for one too:


And he had seconds, saying "I luh-uh-uh-uv juice!" Fingers crossed that what the author of Green for Life, Victoria Boutenko, says is true. She claims that the reason many of us (K and I included) suffer from indigestion, bloating, heartburn, etc. from greens is because we don't chew them enough to sufficiently break them down for digestion. When the greens are macerated in a blender, we apparently won't have that problem. I sure hope so. When he was still breastfeeding, K used to wake in the night screaming in pain if I ate a salad during the day. I eventually gave up eating greens, because I couldn't stand the guilt (and the night-waking).

Boutenko claims that all sorts of good can come from drinking green smoothies. She has testimonials from people who have had their warts, eczema, and asthma clear up. Drinkers have more energy, have lost significant amounts of weight, and cravings for junk food and sweets disappear. Further, Boutenko describes a walk in the woods where she found herself craving the greens growing along the edge of the trail! K currently has a cold and was feeling pretty rotten before making the smoothie. After drinking his two helpings, he was in much better spirits, his runny nose slowed, and he stopped coughing. He started playing and laughing again. Whatever the reason, I saw a big improvement in him.

But what did my green smoothie taste like? Pretty good. I found drinking it was strangely compelling. Despite the fact that I was looking to consume almost a litre of lettuce juice (remember, I don't particularly like vegetables), I had no problem getting it down. I'll be fiddling a bit with the ingredients to keep it interesting. My goal is to drink one a day for a week and see how it goes. I'll keep you posted. I may be growing a lot of lettuce this summer!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Quinoa Obsession

Red Quinoa (dry)
Recently I discovered a book at Costco, which made me break one of my New Year's Resolutions. I had sworn not to buy any more cookbooks, due to my overflowing cookbook shelves (yes, plural). I'd seen this particular book before Christmas and had considered adding it to my wishlist - I actually took a picture of it. In early January, I found myself standing in Costco, looking longingly at the pile once more. Then something inside my went "crack", and my resolution was broken. All for the greater good (of my family), I told myself. (Yes, I can be weird about things. It only cost $17.39.)

The glorious book in question? Quinoa 365: the Everyday Superfood:


What the heck is quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah")? From the publisher's website:
One of the world’s healthiest foods, quinoa contains a perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids, and is a great source of protein, making it an increasingly popular food choice for those looking to incorporate superfoods into their everyday diets. Gluten-free, wheat-free, and nutrient-packed, quinoa is ideal for those who are health-conscious, vegetarian, or physically active, as well as for those with gluten intolerance, wheat allergies, and other digestive disorders. But that’s not all; you can eat quinoa guiltlessly knowing it’s free of cholesterol and trans fats, contains natural antioxidants, and is a source of vitamin E, calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. In Quinoa 365 sisters Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming show you how to use this miraculous superfood in all your favorite dishes.
It is not a grain either, but the fruit of a broadleaf plant. All by itself, cooked quinoa is a great sidedish and alternative to rice. Since it's a complete protein (extremely rare for a vegetable or plant), it is an ideal meat substitute. But really, use it in all your favourite dishes? Yep. There are recipes in this book for salads, breads, cereals, stews, burgers, frittatas, cookies, and puddings to name a few. Flipping through the book, there are countless ways I see that we can incorporate quinoa into our new flexitarian way of eating.

White Quinoa (dry)
Until this book, my only other quinoa recipe was Golden Quinoa Salad with Mango and Walnuts. I got the recipe from the newspaper and was so smitten, that I made it for a family gathering at the end of the summer a few years ago. It was a hit and I (who hates cold salads) couldn't get enough of it.

Golden Quinoa Salad with Mango and Walnuts
There are many blogs with adoring posts about quinoa. I even found a blog by a mom admittedly "Keen on quinoa". It's a great source for quinoa recipes: How Do You Cook Quinoa?

My first dish from Quinoa 365 was the Minestrone Soup. I had all the ingredients on hand and felt like making something warm and cozy (because of what our weather has been like lately). The quinoa cooks with the soup, so there is no extra step. When I served this yummy minestrone, it looked like this:

Minestrone Soup

But after it had sat a little longer, the quinoa plumped up and became more visible:

Minestrone Soup - Day 2

I make a similar soup as part of my own repertoire, but I will now definitely add quinoa to it for a nutritional boost. In fact, I'll likely be adding quinoa to all my soups!

The other recipe I tried was Outrageously Quick and Easy Pizza Crust. In a word: fantastic. When we make our own pizza dough, I've used a recipe that came with our breadmaker. It's very good, but this is better. The quinoa is cooked and cooled first, then added to the dough. I found the dough a little difficult to work with, but I'm sure that will improve with practice - and I WILL be "practicing" this recipe.

Slightly Overcooked Pizza made with
Outrageously Quick and Easy Pizza Crust recipe
I was a little worried that the crust would be too doughy, since it puffed up when baking, but it wasn't at all. The quinoa (although practically undetectable) gives the crust an interesting and satisfying texture. It's hard to explain, but I'll say it was a HUGE hit with my family. I made the pizza vegetarian, save for the tiniest bit of crumbled bacon.

You can find a handful of recipes on the Quinoa 365 website, including Championship Chili (on my list of next-to-try), but I strongly suggest buying or borrowing the book, because once you get started with quinoa, it's pretty exciting stuff. Some other dishes on my list: healthy cookies, quinoa veggie bake, jalapeno chedder pepper scramble, pumpkin pancakes, black bean soup, tomato and basil crustless quiche, caramel date cake, chewy chocolate chip cookies, to name but a few. I did say I was obsessed!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Flexitarian Family

I've recently come to the decision that we, as a family (but especially DH and I), can and should be eating less meat (red, white, fish, etc.). I'm aiming for vegetarian-ish, which apparently is called flexitarian. This means that we will endeavour to eat vegetarian as much as we can. So far, so good.



Why not go "whole-hog" (if you'll pardon the pun)? Most importantly: DH and I love meat and I don't especially love vegetables. In fact, I'm a very reluctant vegetable eater and I've struggled hard to incorporate them into my meals. Give me boiled or steamed veggies (with a very few exceptions) in a pile on my plate and I'm unlikely to eat them. For this reason, despite the fact that I've long aspired to vegetarianism, I didn't think it was realistic and figured I'd probably starve.

So why on earth do I want to do this? Good question. Without getting into the many long and difficult arguments, I'll give you my main reasons:
  • Ethical and Financial - The more I learn about how the majority of food animals are raised, fed, bred, and slaughtered I don't want to be a part of it. There are better alternatives, but doing things "right" costs much more money than assembly-line, corner-cutting factory farming. So either we find more money in the budget, or we treat meat as a treat. The big bonus to the alternative sources I've found is the taste - unlike anything I've ever tasted before and so delicious.
  • Health - I want to eat delicious food. I don't want to feel that I'm missing out on meat. If that happens, this will end up as a short-lived experiment rather than a lifestyle change. So I've got to find great-tasting meals with lots of variety. It also means that eating out will become even more of a rarity. I'll be cooking more of our meals and by default, we'll be making better choices with our food.
What spurred this on? Mostly a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. About a year ago I read The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Excellent books, great reads and really thought-provoking. I think they should be required reading. A month ago, I finally watched Food Inc. and my mom's group book club started reading Omnivore's Dilemma (at my request). I just finished the short and sweet Food Rules and have started our next book club selection: Eating Animals. But long before all of this, I took a first year university philosophy course on ethics, where we discussed the philosophical arguments for and against vegetarianism. The seed was planted then, so to speak.

So we've been at this for over a week, officially, and I'm thrilled both with how much we're enjoying our new way of eating and with how easy it has been. DH has been wonderfully supportive and on-board. He is a pretty adventurous eater and has loved sampling the new recipes like this 4-cheese Manicotti.

4-cheese Manicotti - unbelievably delicious

I followed the recipe, but for these exceptions: omitted the spinach - didn't have any, used our favourite Zarky's sauce (no extra anything in it, as close as you can get to making your own) instead of following the marinara recipe. I served it with a cheese garlic bubble bread. Words can't describe how tasty this meal was. I asked my husband at the end of the meal, "did you miss the meat?" His answer, "no way!" While the example may not have fulfilled the "healthy" motivation, it sure was encouraging and satisfying.

Which brings me to my next post... My Quinoa Obsession

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Feeding the family during "Snowmageddon"

We'd expected anywhere from 30 to 45cm of snow in Hamilton yesterday, but didn't get it. What we did get was enough to shut down the city and we all got a snow day - yay! There was something about all the snow outside, the sound of snowblowers and shoveling, and being snug and warm inside that made me want to cook. I'd heard of people stockpiling groceries in the days leading up to the storm, but I was happy that we had more than enough to sustain us for several days (but probably more). We'd run out of raisin bread - the boys' favourite - and so I made a new recipe in the bread machine. It turned out great and so much better than storebought.

I still felt like baking - and honestly, bread machine bread can't really be called "baking" - so upon a suggestion from my sister-in-law to check my freezer for summer fruit, I settled on a berry buckle. It uses a handful of basic ingredients, plus frozen berries. The boys helped and it was fresh out of the oven when they and DH returned from shoveling the driveway.

For dinner, I'd already planned on making loaded baked potato chowder in my new Pampered Chef Covered Baker. (Aside: I recently had a party and stocked up on some stoneware and necessary cooking tools for next to nothing. I got $258 worth of stuff for about $19. I was thrilled.) The chowder is made in the microwave - I almost never "cook" in the microwave, just heat - and takes about 30min from start to finish, including prep. It tasted fabulous and was really easy - not to mention frugal!

So today, the bread is almost gone and I may just be making another loaf for tomorrow. The chowder probably has about 2 servings left and the berry buckle is about half gone. So what's for dinner tonight? Hmmmm... I'm on a quinoa kick after purchasing Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood (more in a post to follow) and am thinking of trying the "Outrageously Quick and Easy Pizza Crust". However, I only have bread machine yeast, not quick rise yeast and am trying to figure out how to successfully substitute. Fingers crossed, we'll have a yummy pizza for dinner.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Irresistible Zucchini Bread

Last night I dug out some frozen shredded zucchini. It was from our garden. In 2009! I thawed it, rinsed it, drained it, squeezed it (to remove some of the extra water), and it was just fine.

I used it to make a family favourite: Zucchini Bread. It's from my beloved Betty Crocker cookbook. I've had the book since about 1998 and it has so many good recipes.

Photo from BettyCrocker.com
You can see the recipe here. Modifications I make: reduce sugar by 1/3 cup to 1 1/3 cups; reduce cloves to 1/4 tsp (I'm not a huge fan of cloves); for flour, I use a blend (see below); skip the nuts (my boys don't like them).

My sons helped me make the bread (which they prefer to call "cake") and love to eat it. What an easy way to get some veggies into them.

I've made the pumpkin variation before and am considering trying it with butternut squash.

When I harvest the zucchini from the garden (you can also buy it in season from a farmer's market), I wash and shred it right away. If you've got really picky eaters who will balk at a little green in their bread, you can peel the green off before shredding. I prefer to leave it on to keep the vitamins. I put three cups into a bag, mark it and pop it in the freezer. This way I can make a zucchini bread whenever the mood strikes. Even over 1.5 years later!

Flour Blend (from "The Sneaky Chef" by Missy Chase Lapine): Mix together 1 cup unbleached white flour, 1 cup wheat germ, and 1 cup whole wheat or whole grain flour. Once blended evenly, use instead of white flour in recipes. I keep mine in a glass jar in the freezer (so the whole wheat flour doesn't go rancid) and then measure out what I need for a recipe.