Saturday, 28 April 2012

Somebody once said, that the work you do when you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.

I sure hope that's true.

 xo Jo

Friday, 27 April 2012

Sweet Nothings

It seems that lately sugar is  back in style. I've had several conversations with various friends and family about this over the last few weeks. It seems to be a hot topic, probably because obesity, diabetes and heart disease are also hot topics, and rightly so.  North Americans are eating themselves to death. And North Americans do not give in easily to common sense and better dietary practices. They want to maintain their unhealthy dietary practices and somehow avoid the deadly trio of obesity, diabetes and heart disease at the same time. A little Marie Antoinette-ish, don't you think. Yet despite our efforts to find a magic pill, it turns out that we can't have our cake, eat it and not pay the consequences of out of control sugar consumption. Even if we buy fancy, fashionable sweeteners at the health food store.

It is not an exaggeration to say that sugar consumption in North America is out of control. According to, Americans consume 165 pounds of added sugar per year- that's 31- 5 pound bags. The bulk of added sugars in our diets come from soft drinks, sugar added fruit juices, and foods like ketchup, flavoured yogurt, canned vegetables and fruit, peanut butter, boxed cereals and salad dressings, many of which offer "low-fat" options. Amazingly, the sugar content of "low fat" foods can be just as high or higher than "regular" foods. Most people don't read the nutritional content labels to discover this on their own.

Considering that in 2012,  30% of Americans and 14% of Canadians are considered "obese," and to be obese, one need be thirty pounds above an ideal weight, the role of sugars, either hidden or obvious is worthy of consideration. Obesity as an issue is not simply a matter of being fashionable- of preferring slimness as an aesthetic quality over plumpness:  it is matter of life and death.

So why is sugar itself so bad?

glucose: is used, but is not required for cellular function. We get enough glucose to maintain this function through carbohydrates in the form of fruit and grains and even from fats and protein. "The body works very hard to keep blood glucose in a narrow range, through careful administration of insulin. Too high and all kinds of damage can be done, too low and all kinds of death can occur. So really only one kind of death, but in the grand scheme, isn’t one enough?"

fructose: fructose mainly enters the body through fruit (unless you eat a lot of added sugar foods). Fructose is problematic, as it has been specifically linked to obesity. Furthermore, the processing of fructose taxes the liver, which "tends to promote an increase in triglycerides in the blood, which are a definite marker for heart disease."

So, while consuming your 31 bags of sugar, well on your way to obesity, you can also look forward to diabetes and heart disease.

It used to be that if one wanted to be healthy one simply avoided "white death," due not only to sugar's links to the unholy trio of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but also because the consumption of sugar has been linked to behavioural changes in children. No wonder, really when you think about the grueling process  the body has to go through to metabolize those sweet treats that well- meaning parents or grandparents tend to dole out to their beloved children or grandchildren, assuming that a little won't hurt them. Most disturbingly, marketing campaigns, undoubtedly backed by various sweetener producing companies are schilling the sweet stuff again and have repackaged some sweeteners in sheep's clothing. Even health foodies are jumping on the "healthy sugar" bandwagon. But should we be jumping up with them? Cane sugar and agave nectar are the latest types of sweeteners to enter the market as health foods. Stevia is another "sweetener" that has recently become popular, and while not technically a sugar, may or may not come with its own health risks in the form of leading to male reproductive problems, interfering with  metabolism and genetic mutations. While it has been used in South America for centuries in its pure herbal form, it seems that the distilled and refined derivative being used in north America may pose its own health risks. The jury seems to be out on this one, although we may call to mind the earlier advice that avoiding highly processed foods is always the best route, and stevia in its commercially sold forms is highly processed.

When talking to dieticians, nutritionists and other healthcare practitioners about which is the healthiest kind of sweetener to use, the answer is generally, "none." Sugar is sugar, regardless of where it comes from and which new slick marketing campaign is applied to it. Organic sugar is still sugar- it simply hasn't been assaulted with pesticides. All sweeteners are made up of varying ratios of fructose and glucose. And as it turns out demon sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup have about the same ratios as less demonized sweeteners as honey, agave syrup and evaporated cane juice.

When pressed further, health care and dietary practitioners will concede that if you must use a sweetener (and really is there ever a time when we "must" use one?), that you should use one that has been subject to as little processing as possible. There are only two sugars worthy of mentioning in this category: Unpasteurized honey and evaporated cane juice. While agave nectar's glycemic index is understood to be about 5 times lower than other sweeteners, the agave plant is subject to a horror show of processing in order to make the syrup, making it as highly refined as white sugar. Its fructose content is on par with high fructose corn syrup, the grand-daddy of bad sugars. Furthermore, agave plants are often doused with pesticides and many shipments from Mexico to the U.S. have been refused due to unsafe levels of pesticide use. Maple sugar was not mentioned in much of the literature, but it is also worthy of consideration as it is very lightly processed and also contains important minerals such as manganese (an antioxidant) and zinc (excellent for heart health). If you must use sweeteners, that is.

Avoiding processed food of any kind is reasonable and good advice. We should use this as a guiding principle for all of our dietary considerations. I for one am a huge proponent of eating food that is actually food- as close to its natural state as possible. I not do microwave food (a future blog will be dedicated to this). Oh sure, I've been called a paranoid hippie. I've always wondered why people would think this is a negative name? But I digress.

In moderation, sugar is not the devil in sweet disguise. However, most North Americans do not have a firm grasp of what appropriate levels of intake look like; nor are they always aware of when they have consumed added sugar, which makes it impossible to measure and control sugar consumption. Furthermore, it seems that our tolerance for how much sugar it is ok to consume has increased steadily over the decades, with the consumption of sugar increasing by 20% between 1987 and 1997.

Added sugar should account for no more than 10% of a person's daily caloric intake. In a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that's just 200 calories -- or eight heaping teaspoons of table sugar at 25 calories each. A single can of regular soda, with the equivalent of 10 teaspoons, would put you over.

So what can we do about this health crisis? (And if you don't believe that obesity, diabetes and heart disease rates constitute a health crisis in north America, then you haven't been paying attention!)

Here are some tips:

  • read the labels of processed foods that you buy- read both the nutritional content labels and the ingredients. You will be surprised how many foods you consume have sugar added to them. 
  • Avoid foods with added sugar. Often, if we make it ourselves from scratch, it would contain little or no sugar. A good example of this is home made vs store bought pasta sauce. We would probably not add sugar to home made pasta sauce, yet many store brands have added sugar. Either make it yourself, or look for brands that do not contain added sugar.
  • watch your beverage consumption. Drink water and unsweetened tea and coffee. Sodas and fruit juices, vitamin waters and the like are loaded with extra sugar. 
  • watch your portion size- follow the nutritional content serving size so that you can keep track of how much sugar you have consumed each day.
  • when you crave sugar, eat fruit. Sure, it has its own natural sugars, but it does not pose the same health risks. Plus you get vitamins, minerals, fibre and water when you eat fruit. And it will probably satisfy your craving for unhealthy forms of sugar.
  • AVOID processed foods. Make your own dressings and sauces, eat oatmeal with fruit (don't add sugar), eat plain yogurt with fruit sliced into it. Do not add sugar to things that are already sweet, such as fruit.
What about artificial sweeteners? Avoid these altogether. There are a host of health issues related to the use of artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame. Avoid these like the plague. Here's some info on why. 

Ideally, we should be cutting our consumption of sugar- of any kind- drastically. This can prove difficult, as sugar is addictive and pervasive. It is also associated with many of our most fun days of the year: Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day- holidays that seem to revolve more around the consumption of sweetened food than they do around their spiritual foundations. The consumption of sugar is often culturally determined, which means that collectively, we need to rethink how we celebrate these occasions. Are there other ways to celebrate our love for each other than through heart-shaped boxes of chocolates? Can we mark the crucifixion and ascension of Christ without chocolate bunnies? I thinks so.

 The first few days, even weeks without sugar can be difficult as your body deals with its dependance on sugar and as your taste buds adjust. But it won't be long before you no longer crave sugar. You will be surprised how sweet - almost unbearably so- food tastes that has been sweetened.

Pretty soon you will look at pictures such as the one above and see fat, health risk, food dye and poor health instead of a pretty bowl of sweet nothings.

xo Jo

Thursday, 26 April 2012

simple and healthy berry muffins

This is a recipe I have adapted from my good friend Anna. The recipe was delicious on its own, but I had to meddle with it and just tweak the nutritional content a little so that, again, I sneak in as much nutritional goodness as I can for my son.

preheat oven to 400.

1/2 cup of quinoa flour
2 cups of whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup organic evaporated cane juice sugar
dash of salt
1 cup buttermilk (coconut milk would work too)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted ( I actually used peanut oil once because I did not have enough butter and that worked.)
1 1/2 cups of fresh blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, Saskatoon berries or blackberries

Combine in the usual manner.  spoon into paper lined muffin tin. adjust where it suits, such as using brown sugar and/or skimping on the amount.

bake for 20 minutes.

Thanks Anna. These are so easy to make. And they are good.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Today I am green

As Kermit the Frog said, it's not easy being green. It is a colour of pointed contradictions. Despite its cool, soothing essence, and its associations with nature and growth, fertility and positivity, and more recently as a political sign of environmental protectionism, green is also readily associated with jealousy, illness-- nausea and inexperience. It seems there are as many shades of green as there are people on the planet, probably owing to its origins in the natural world. Green is said to be a neutral colour, used by designers as they would use black or brown. But green can also hold its own as a feature colour, emanating a confidence and sureness of its own sense of purpose and place in the world as the source and origin of life from tiny chlorophyll molecules to oceans whose waters can be as green as they can be blue. I love green.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Those cookies are made from lentils?! Crazy! Crazy good!

 Raisin spice (lentil) cookies

So, in constant pursuit of ways in which to sneak in protein to my picky son's diet, I have given these cookies a try.

If you've been following my posts, you already know why we should be eating lots of lentils anyway. Making them into "healthy" cookies is just pure genius. I mean really, if you have kids you probably have at least one picky eater. Just don't tell anyone what is in them!

Here is the recipe I came up with:

3/4 cup brown lentils, uncooked
1 1/2 cups water or coconut milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup pumpkin (I keep cubes of frozen pumpkin the freezer for recipes such as this. Cut up your leftover pumpkins and freeze them for muffins, stews, curries, smoothies, etc. You can also use canned pumpkin)
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour(next time I make these I will add in some quinoa flour to the mix and see what happens)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoons orange peel
  handful of raisins and dried orange cranberries- you could toss in some chocolate chips if you are so inclined and of course any nuts you might have on hand.

Rinse lentils and combine with water in a pan. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and cover pot. Simmer for 40 minutes or until tender. 
Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add honey/syrup and butter and cream until smooth. Add the vanilla, pumpkin, and cooked lentils, use an immersion blender to puree into a smooth mixture. In a separate bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder, spices and orange peel. Add to the lentil mixture and combine well. Fold in dried fruit.

Drop by teaspoons on a parchment lined or greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 12 minutes, or until they look done. 

 Yup. They were good. And Remy ate three of them in one sitting.

xo Jo

Monday, 23 April 2012

53 photos, 52 weeks

So as an artistic challenge and to get better at using my fancy new camera, I decided to do a weekly photo challenge. It is last year's, but whatever. The prompts are simple and leave lots to the imagination and there isn't any pressure.  I just need something to help me focus so that I a actively learning.

Week 1
Weekly Theme: Trees

A good choice, considering it is spring and all. We don't have any leaves yet- the trees still look pretty barren and wintery. But the leaf buds are appearing. Remy, my 2 year old and I have been watching them appear for the last few days. They are starting to really green up on my chokecherry tree.

This will be a fun year in the garden. Remy really likes to help and be a part of everything, and he loves being outside. Today I cleaned out my flower beds and he was right in there with a garden spade. He squished an ant (yay) and a ladybug (boo), but that is part of learning. We watched a worm who was still a little sleepy move very slowly. He wasn't so impressed with that worm's lack of speed. The ground is still quite cold; the snow's only been gone a few days. I can't blame the worm for being so sluggish (?). 

Here is are two photo studies of my pear tree.

Next week's theme: Mother

xo Jo

Sunday, 22 April 2012

hearty coconut raisin lentil soup. Mmmm Mmmmm Good!

As is typical for me, I find a recipe I like, I read it, then walk away and go and do something entirely different, having had an idea in the meantime. I had read a recipe for lentil soup the other day and that got me thinking about lentil soup. I couldn't remember what that recipe called for, but that didn't stop me. Nor did I bother to go back to my computer to read it again. I just went in the kitchen and started making something. When I went back to the original recipe, the only ingredient mine and the original had in common was lentils. I do this all the time. You never have to worry about me stealing your recipe and claiming it as my own!

It was good. Really really good. I think you should try it.

Here's what I came up with.

Chop some onions and garlic and add to melted butter in a soup pot. Add paprika, coriander, cumin, dry mustard, some dry chili flakes and saute until fragrant. Admire the beautiful colours and aroma.

Add red and yellow lentils and continue to saute. Add carrots and keep sauteing . Again, admire the colour and enjoy the fragrance.

Add raisins. At this point, the mixture is probably starting to get dry and starting to stick to the pot. I added a large yogurt container sized clump of homemade frozen broth. You don't have to use homemade, but it would be better. I make sure I always have a ready supply of homemade broth on hand. It can be vegetable, or meat broth. The easiest way to do this is to always boil your bones. I've always wanted to say that.

In all seriousness now, this is what I do to ensure a steady supply of broth. Whenever I make ribs, I boil the ribs for about 1-2 hours before grilling them. This ensures that after grilling, they will be crispy on the outside and melt in your mouth tender on the inside. It is the only way to do ribs. I sometimes add garlic, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves to the rib water (not to be confused with ham water...heh), but sometimes I leave it plain. I never salt it. I sometimes add pepper and chili flakes. When the ribs are done and ready to be grilled, I save the broth and freeze it in old yogurt containers.

Back to the recipe.

After adding the frozen broth, I added a 1/2 cup of water and a little while after that, after the liquid in the pot had reduced a little, I added a can of coconut milk. I always use Arroy -D brand because it seems to be the only widely available brand that does not add a bunch of junk, like preservatives, to the coconut milk.

Continue to allow this boil and add more liquid- as in water- as needed. I let mine cook for about 45 minutes.

It was so yummy I couldn't stop eating it. And nutritious too. Lentils are super good for you.

Furthermore, "Lentils are rich sources of protein, folic acid, dietary fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, essential amino acids and trace minerals. A 100 g serving of lentils contains 60 g carbohydrates, 31 g dietary fiber, 1 g fat, 26 g protein, 0.87 mg thiamine, 479 μg of folate and 7.5 mg iron. Among the winter growing legumes, lentils have the highest concentration of antioxidants." 
Check out this site to learn more about the goodness of lentils.

Here is the list of ingredients. I didn't measure anything when I added it- I never do, so you will just have to use your judgement according to the quantity you want to make, and adjust ratios according to your preferences. You could add a little chicken or pork if you wanted, or even a mild sausage if you want meat in it.You could add other veggies. Peas would taste good in here too.

dry mustard
chili flakes
red and yellow lentils
coconut milk
a little love

xo Jo