Thoughts On: Why I Cook

Foodie Baby's got the joy

Food unites us. We are all equal at the table. No matter how rich or poor, how successful or struggling, how strong or weak, we all need to eat. Frequently.

Food provides us with reason to pause. To be grateful. To slow down(even for a second or two) and care for ourselves.

Food pleases our senses. Our smell, sight, touch.

Food nourishes our bodies. It gives us strength to do the things we love. To move and breathe and play. When we eat healthy food we have color in our skin, skip in our step.

Food comforts us. It invites community. It is welcoming.

Cooking allows me to be part of these valuable things. It allows me to be part of my children being nourished and growing, on the most cellular level. It allows me to have a table where people are welcome and cared for. To sit at my table is to be my family. Cooking allows me to teach my girls about gratitude and nature. About beauty and the miraculous. About kindness and generosity. Cooking stimulates all my senses, which is a gift to my creative soul.

It may seem menial. It may seem burdensome. It may seem mundane. But to me…these are my people who need to be fed. These are my friends who need to be loved. This is the earth, created to be enjoyed. This to me…is life.

Recipe: Chocolate Coconut Haystacks

quickest cookies ever

Scenario: 8:30pm, babies in bed after a long day, home alone, craving chocolate. What’s a girl to do? Time for a new healthy cookie recipe!

This is my evening! So I called up my neighbor/bff and ask her about her delicious haystack cookies. She gave me the recipe and with a few teensy tweaks…voila! A healthy cookie with no flour, no sugar, and gluten free (as long as you use GF oats). Yummy and start to finish 10 minutes! I am currently getting chocolate fingerprints on my MacBook.

Also, if being yummy wasn’t simply enough, these cookies also win the prize for least-destruction-to-the-kitchen. This is kind of a big deal in my house. Sexy Husband is practically perfect in every way. He is thoughtful, completely responsible, an AMAZING Daddy, Sexy(obviously), and, believe it or not, the cleanest man who ever did live. Now some people (of course not me, never me) might say that his cleanliness borders on obsessive. I for one, am not going to complain that he is so largely involved in the keeping the house clean process. AND it must mean that he just really loves me that much more that he lets my random hobby and business be about how much of a disaster I can turn the kitchen into. (I honestly think if it wasn’t for the fact that he can EAT the output, he wouldn’t be impressed. Thank God I don’t scrapbook). He spends hours(not exaggerating) washing dishes. I adore him.  Not much mess from these cookies however. The dirty dish count for this project was….1 spoon, 1 pot. Impressive. So…you should make them.

Chocolate Coconut Haystacks

Directions:

In a medium pot, over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup of butter. Stir in 1/2 cup of coconut milk, 1/2 cup of honey, 4 tbs cocoa(I use and highly recommend Cocoa Camino which is organic and fair trade and such good quality), 1 tsp vanilla. Once combined, stir in 1 1/2 cups oats and 1/2 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut. Stir until oats and coconut are coated with chocolate mixture. Remove from heat and drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper. Let cool. Enjoy.

***Tracey, smart and beautiful neighbor puts the zest of one orange in hers, making them extra grown up and fabulous.***

Baking: French Macarons with Fig Confit

petit macaron avec confit de figue

Before I baked healthy things, I just…baked! I love to bake. I honestly think that as much good comes from baking and eating pretty cupcakes or cookies, as from therapy. A pretty cake just makes me happy. I have made pretty much every recipe out of Martha Stewarts Cookies cookbook. Now I spend a fair bit of time reworking recipes to be healthy, or making my own, but of course there is the odd occasion where plain old white sugar is required to make something really really pretty.

I was doing a consultation for a wedding last night and thought that if ever there is a time for shamelessly pretty desserts, it’s when you’re talking wedding. Same goes for sparkly pink wine. So I made a few things, including the elusive french macaron. I’m sure you’ve seen these adorable cookies at high end bakeries and of course if you ever read blogs by the masters of all things pretty such as this girl, this girl, or this girl. Macarons have quickly become a trendy replacer for cupcakes. (don’t tell anyone but to be honest, I enjoy looking at cupcakes more than eating them.) Macarons are kind of a distant cousin to macaroons, you know, the shredded coconut type cookies. They have a reputation for being a bit finicky and I can tell you….they are. I don’t understand it but I have tried the same recipe, in the exact same way, about 6 times. Usually I get fallen, cracked macarons that are simply not pretty enough to serve to people. Well in a state of wedding-planning enthusiasm, I gave it one more go and miraculously, perhaps due to planetary alignment, they worked!!! So I thought I would put up a picture. I filled them with a red wine, honey, fig confit and they were as yummy as they were pretty.

Recipe: Roasted Purple Potatoes with Kale and Lemon

pretty purple potatoes

Poor Sexy Husband has been under the weather. It’s never fun to be sick. After a few days of not eating much, his appetite was slowly returning for easy-on-the-stomach kinds of things. We made soup, we made fresh bread. The usual. Then yesterday IronSister invited me to pillage her garden, which she is harvesting because here in Calgary it has become winter already. So the girls and I went with our buckets and puddle boots and picked all sorts of yummy things. We decided to make a purple supper! It is honestly nothing short of a miracle that something in nature grows to be the miraculous color of the purple in these potatoes. They were so pretty I would have accessorized with them if that wasn’t…weird. I enjoyed the opportunity to show Picky Princess the miracle it is that food grows in the ground, that it is beautiful and amazing. Even Foodie Baby oooo’d dramatically when we cut into the potatoes. And kale is one of my favorite snack foods. We often roast it in the oven until it’s dry and crispy and oh so slightly seaweed-y in taste. This very simple and delicious recipe came out of this adventure. I hope you enjoy it!

In other fig & fennel news…thanks to my fabulous graphic designer, Mark, we are getting a nice little makeover. The new and improved look will be up sometime later this week. I’ve also got some upcoming features on cool local places doing cool local things, pretty things I love and think you may too, more inspiring info on how to live healthy from IronSister, and some people who are inspiring and who are changing the world, starting with their own little circle. It’s amazing how the more engaged you become with your world, living in the moment, remembering what is important, breathing a little deeper, the more you see inspiration all around you.

Roasted Purple Potatoes with Kale and Lemon

Serves 4

5 lbs of purple potatoes (ok this is a total estimation because they came dirty from the garden. You can use as many or as few as you like. I filled a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with quartered small potatoes), cut into quarters

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 large head of purple curly kale, rinsed, spines removed, and coarsely chopped

1 large lemon, juiced and then sliced

5 garlic cloves, peeled

sea salt to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 375. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil quartered potatoes until they are just tender. Drain. Take a fork and smash them around a bit, not to fully mash them, just to scuff them up a bit. Put potatoes, olive oil, kale, lemon juice, lemon wedges, peeled garlic cloves and sea salt into a baking dish. Bake until kale and potatoes are turning brown, stirring at least once, approximately 45 mins. Serves and enjoy!

before being roasted

IronSister Says:

Thoughts on digestion:
Although the human body is composed of billions of little cells and a handful of vital organs, I believe the key to unlocking optimal health lies within the digestive system.  Often we look at our digestive system as the one thing that will never fail us, day in and day out we in our western lives consume anything within arms reach – food, nonfood, liquids, solids, chemicals, stimulants, relaxants, drugs, etc.  Somehow we then have heigthened expectations that our systems will magically mix it up, break it down, sort it into good and bad, use the good and get rid of the bad…. and never let us down.  When inevitably something in our body lets us down, we rarely look at our overloaded and exhuasted guts as the culprits.
When pondering digestion this past week, I was drawn back a few to years to my anatomy and physiology courses.  I loved these course, and I had the pleasure of taking it in 3 different programs; Nutrition School, University and Respiratory Therapy School (paying for it three times I did not care for).  Each time I took this course I was thoroughly astounded by the complexity of our digestive system.
Extremely briefly:
Digestion starts in our mouths, all those juices are there for a reason with an incredibly important role, moving downward, food passes through a tube called the esophagus located behind our windpipe (trachea).  Our esophagus penetrates through our diaphragm, to a special opening called the gastroesophageal junction and then it enters the stomach.  Moving on we go through the stomach to the duodenum or the small intestine which also houses the common bile duct, a pathway from the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.  After a marathon distance of football fields the small intestine ends and the ileocecal valve and the large intestine begins.  Five feet of cecum, ascending, transverse and descending colon brings us to the rectum.  From the rectum, we return to the earth what we have taken, in some way or another.
I say all of this because I think this is a very short, very condesnsed explanation of how our diet choices greatly affect our health.  There are a lot of body parts, organs, cells and kilometers of guts that are affected by the choices we make, inevitably poor choices over a period of time can overload a very large and complex system, which will likely manifest itself as a very large and complex ailment.    As an example, the liver is apart of our digestive system, after years of toxic overload, I would suspect it would become sluggish.  The liver also plays a large role in our blood detoxification, blood circulates through our body affecting various things like gas exchange and cardiac function.  A bad liver is garunteed to result in probles further on down the line as well.
I suppose ultimately this is just further to my interest in optimal nutrition.  In my last post I talked about food and nonfood items, and  when looking at the complexity of our digestive pathway, it becomes more clear how affected our health can be by our choices.
This week I will leave you one more healthy choice we can make: consider proper food combining.  This is a topic I spent hours learning about in school, so to sum it up in a few short sentences is challenging.  Mixing certain foods together is a problem because carbohydrates are first digested by alkaline juices from our mouthand proteins are digested by acid juices from our stomach.  If eaten together, the result is a neutralization of the digestive juices and a massive increase in the time it takes to digest food.  Extended digestion times increase fermentation and putrefacation of toxins being formed in our guts.  Seperating the food groups leads to simpler, quicker and more complete digestion and less time for pests to party in our guts.  Less toxic production means our body’s absorb nutrients, eliminate cell waste and maintain balance.
With all this said, I suppose it causes problems for our “meat and potatoes” western diet.  This may also mean that our whole way of living and eating needs to be revamped.  But we can also look at food combining more as a stepping stone to improving health rather than an absolute.  Ultimately the purpose will be to power up digestion to the point that intestines will have little (or less) time to produce new toxins.  If digestion is efficient then extra digestive energy is left over to go out to our blood stream and clean up the old accumulated toxins.  Surplus digestive efficency can do some much needed housecleaning for the body.
Food combining is kind of a complicated topic that maybe I will tackle here for you further in the future. But for now, if you do one thing for your body this week, attempt to fill it with food only, no chemicals, preservatives, or other non food items. The less processed or altered your food is, the healthier your guts will be!
fig & fennel – if you have topics or questions you would like IronSister to answer, leave them here in the comments and she’ll try to get you some answers!

Think Fresh: Pesto

I love, love love loooooove pesto. Maybe because I LOVE basil. It’s just one of those goes-with-everything kind of things. A traditional pesto is: basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt, processed together. It is yummy on flatbreads, instead of tomato sauce on pizza, with pasta, coated on fish or chicken, in savory scones, spread on sandwiches etc. Really you can use it as a flavorful and healthy sauce for anything. BUT I have ventured way outside of the traditional recipe this summer and tried so many delicious variations. Here is the formula you need for great and easy pesto: a vegetable + a nut or seed + some olive oil + some seasonings(garlic sea salt etc) = delicious pesto.  I love this because I try hard to eat all the produce in the fridge before it goes bad and sometimes there are just bits and pieces left. Usually they make a great pesto!

Personal favorites include these combinations: green bean pesto with sunflower seeds, carrot ginger pesto with pecans(serve with goat cheese SO good!), pea pesto with hazelnuts, and broccoli pesto.

Heidi from 101 Cookbooks, posted this recipe a while back. It turns out AMAZINGLY. I have used it in a hundred combinations and definitely recommend you give it a try. As an entree with quinoa, it is so healthy and delicious. http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/double-broccoli-quinoa-recipe.html

Just last week Deb from Smitten Kitchen posted this fabulous recipe: http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/09/linguine-with-tomato-almond-pesto/

Tomato almond pesto sounds just about too good to be true.

So there you go. Make some pesto. Add to anything. Enjoy!

Recipe: Leek Potato Cauliflower Soup

warm soup on a cold day

Tricky as it’s proving to be, I have tried very hard today to have a good attitude about the snowy rooftops that greeted us this morning, the dreary grey forecast and the slight blue tinge to my fingers. The day started off well with a trip to the Farmer’s Market. Always a highlight. Usually we go as a family, but today, Picky Princess was busy at preschool, so Sexy Husband and I took Foodie Baby for a morning visit. We don’t get to do a lot with just her and she clearly loved all the attention, being extra sweet and charming. After a predictably great coffee from Phil & Sebs, inspiration greeted us in the form of produce that just seemed to be begging to be turned into soup. This recipe is what came from our need to be warm, comforted and together around the table. So tasty, so easy.

Leek Potato Cauliflower Soup

Serves 4

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

3 leeks, pale green and white parts coarsely chopped

1 large russet potato, coarsely chopped

2 cups (approx) cauliflower, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

sea salt

1/2 tsp red chili flakes (I used Aleppo chiles)

3 cups water

shredded parmesan

Directions: In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add all the vegetables, sea salt to taste and chiles. Saute for a few minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add water and simmer until potatoes are soft approximately 20 minutes. Using a wire whisk, smash large chunks of vegetables so that soup thickens a bit. Serve garnished with shredded parm.

Recipe: Roasted Pepper Hummus Stuffed Potatoes

hummus stuffed potatoes, braised cabbage and apples, fried cauliflower

Because Sexy Husband is a gracious foodie who is willing to try anything, it has been an easy evolution to becoming a “vegetarian” family. I put vegetarian in quotes because we do eat meat every once in a while and I feel like the “v” word sets you up for scrutiny. No thanks. So we eat vegetarian probably 6 out of 7 days a week. And when we do eat meat, it’s fine, we like it, whatever.

This weekend Sexy Husband and I were away for a couple of days and found a FABULOUS restaurant called Nuba. It was described as Lebanese food in the tradition of the 1940s when Lebanon was considered the Paris of the Middle East. Even the description sounds fabulous. We went with another lovely couple and pretty much ordered one of everything on the menu and shared it all. Such a fun way to eat. Highlights included but are not limited to the following: apple lime sangria, tomato feta confit, fried cauliflower, lentils, hummus, tabouleh, baba ganoush, falafels. Seriously it was SO good. So I came home and promptly wanted to incorporate some of those tastes into my week. Here is something I whipped up that is a delicious and nutritious vegetarian entree. Give it a try!

Roasted Pepper Hummus Stuffed Potatoes

Serves 4

4 russet potatoes

2 sweet peppers (I used one orange, one yellow)

2 cups cooked chickpeas

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove

juice from 1/2 lemon

sea salt to taste

1/2 cup crumbled feta

Directions: Preheat oven to 400. Roast peppers in a baking dish. At the same time wrap potatoes in foil and bake until soft approx 45 mins(you can do this in a microwave if you want it to be faster). Peppers are done when they are soft and turning golden, 30-45mins. This could definitely be done ahead.

When potatoes are done, cut them in half and scoop out most of the potato, reserving it for the hummus. Leave enough potato in the skin that it retains its shape. In a food processor combine all the ingredients including the scooped out potato and the peppers. Process until combined and becoming smooth(keep it as chunky as you like!). Scoop hummus into potato skins and return to the oven to keep warm until you serve.

Recipe: Zucchini Barley Muffins

Here in Calgary, we have a chain of cafes called Good Earth. The coffee is nice and earthy, the food is pure comfort. My favorite thing on the menu is(was…sniff sniff..) the Zucchini Barley Muffin. They were so good, had dried cranberries and almonds in them and I’m sure a lot of sugar…However, they have discontinued them. So I thought I would try to replicate a similar and very healthy version. They turned out to be delicious! And I’m only about 1/4 of a way through the giant zucchini, so…I might make a few batches. Give them a try!

Zucchini Barley Muffins

Zucchini Barley Muffins

Makes 12

1 cup spelt flour

1 cup barley flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

3 tbs flax seeds

1 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup shredded zucchini

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

honey for drizzling

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 and line a muffin tin with paper or silicone muffin cups. In one large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate large bowl, mix together yogurt, oil, agave nectar, egg, vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until almost combined. Add zucchini and raspberries and stir just a couple of times until combined. Scoop into muffin cups. Drizzle tops with honey. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden on top.

Enjoy!

Thoughts On: Healthy Kids

The words “I am SO excited to eat that!!!” just came out of the mouth of my little Picky Princess. I can’t believe it.

We have tried really hard to not make healthy food choices and meal time a stressful time where we spend an hour each meal arguing with her about what she can and cannot eat. At the same time, I refuse to make a separate meal just for her, consisting of bland non colored items(her fave). So I am constantly pulling at my creative reserves to make healthy food fun and interesting for her.

I have three primary tactics to making healthy food appealing for her highly intelligent, highly particular Little Self. Perhaps some of these ideas will be helpful to any of you who find meal time a battle.

1. Lunch on a Stick – This was what elicited such excitement at lunch time today! Picky Princess refuses to eat a sandwich but if the same ingredients are skewered on either a bamboo skewer, or in this case, a chopstick…she’s all over it. Today’s lunch was leftover salmon, cubes of homemade multigrain bread, organic mozzarella and spinach. She even (gasp) ate the spinach. Apparently it tastes better off a stick. I made another skewer with peaches, blackberries, apples and bananas. That would have been a good breakfast, served with yogurt! It really takes no more time to chop and skewer stuff, than it does to just chop it, and she even thanked me for such a yummy lunch(gratitude and a experimenting palate all in one meal…wow!)

Lunch on a Stick

2. 6 Different Things – This is my go-to plan for lunch. Most days I will say, “What should we have for lunch today?” and Picky Princess will squeal, “SIX DIFFERENT THINGS!!!” Which is great. Here’s how it works: I fill a 6 cup silicone muffin pan with small portions of 6 different things. There is always a vegetable, always fruit, always some kind of complex carb and a protein. Then sometimes a little treat, other times an extra fruit. Either way she knows she has to eat some or all of all 6 items. If there is a particularly exciting treat in one of the muffin cups, then I can say “ok, before you eat THAT, you have to eat THAT and THAT.” Works every time. Yesterday she had: sunflower seeds, multigrain crackers, blackberries, mango cubes, organic cheese cubes. Other usual additions are: nuts, tuna, avocado, carrot sticks, chopped tomatoes, hard boiled egg.

6 Different Things

3. Petite Chef – I have included my kids in cooking and baking, practically since birth. When they were super teensy I would put them in a rocker or chair or swing and sing to them and talk while I cooked. Now that Foodie Baby is one and a bit, she helps by playing with very exciting tools like the whisk and silicone muffin cups. Picky Princess has her own apron(collection), which are easily accessible to her and she is welcome to help me in the kitchen ANYTIME she likes, which is most days. She stirs, she adds ingredients, she gets me things from the fridge. And the reality is, if she helps me make it, she is WAY more likely to eat it, or at least try it. It comes at a little bit of a cost. I would probably be a bit quicker without my little helper, although because she started early, she’s actually become quite a help. I realize that inevitably there WILL be a wooden spoon full of flour sprayed across me. There WILL be more mess to clean up. I WILL have to share my already ridiculously limited counter space. BUT, all of this is completely worth it to me, to have my child see that the food we put into our bodies is healthy and beautiful. That Mommy has to work hard to make us yummy things to eat. That cooking is fun and time together. So get your kids involved! Ownership is so valuable. They’ll try it, because they made it. Because you value their help.

So as your wee ones are heading off to school, and time gets tight, maybe these ideas will help keep your little people healthy and happy!

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