Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mushrooms and A Grandma Hotline

So I went to the grocery store this week. This is not an unusual occurrence now that it is winter, but what made it rather noteworthy was that I decided to peruse the meat section. I don't buy meat at the grocery story any more. I pretty much buy all my meat at the Market now, but I guess I was just curious to see what they had on offer. After scanning shelves upon shelves of chicken breast and pork loin, ground beef and steaks, I finally came to a tiny section with what I suppose most people would consider the 'unwanted' cuts of meat - the tongue, the liver and the heart. I decided to buy a heart. It's in the freezer now, waiting until the day when I'm brave enough to attempt to make it into a delicious dining experience. If anyone has suggestions as to how to cook beef heart such that it is enjoyable, please do share.

Today I went to the Charlottetown Farmer's Market in hopes that the new Mushroom Man would be back with his portobellos this week. I was delighted to see he was there with his white wares. I asked for a pound of mushrooms and was informed that instead of the usual $3.75, he was only asking $2.50 per lb this week, since he'd picked the shrooms on Tues/Wed, instead of Thurs/Fri. What a bargain! I have since learned that this Mushroom Man is pretty new to PEI and had a successful mushroom business when he lived in the UK. He has set up 10 greenhouses here and is planning a crop that will result in 20,000 lbs of mushrooms being harvested each week. That's A LOT of mushrooms.

This afternoon I was making Irish Soda Bread and using a recipe my mom had given me. It called for a pinch of cardamom (sp?) for flavoring, but I didn't have any of this spice. I was thinking about using Rosemary instead, but thought it best to call Mom and see if this was a decent substitute. It occurred to me after we'd had our conversation (she said rosemary would be fine, but I didn't even have to flavour it) that not everyone is so lucky to have a mother or grandmother or father for that matter that they can call up any time they are in the kitchen and have a cooking question. I am one of the fortunate of my generation who grew up with a Mom that cooked meals from scratch and had her daughters learn their way around the kitchen before they left home. FOr all those that are not as fortunate, I can understand how they'd find the idea of cooking to be overwhelming. Wouldn't it be fantastic if there was some sort of hotline you could call any time you had a cooking question and some lovely old lady who has 40 years of cooking experience would answer the phone and help you find your way around the kitchen?

Ta da. My post for the week. I am super tired, my contacts are bothering me and it's 2am, but darn it, I am keeping to my self-induced 'post once a week' rule.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cheap, Tasty Medicine and No Prescription Necessary!

I've said it before, I'll say it again, here in Canada and, indeed, in most Western countries, we do not have a health care system, we have a sick care system. It seems, at least from where I am standing, that the vast majority of resources directed towards human health focus solely on how to treat diseases and conditions once a person has become sick, rather than focusing on how we can avoid getting sick in the first place. Oh sure, there are the public service messages to remind us to get our 60 minutes of daily activity and government-issued guidelines on what is supposedly healthy to eat (I take major issue with these guidelines, but will discuss that in a separate blog post), but really, there's not a lot of money or research being invested in preventative medicine.

This past summer my friend, Raeanne, was visiting PEI and I was grilling her about the holistic nutrition program, as she had enrolled in it during the spring and I was planning to start my studies. I cannot recall the context of what she said to me, but I clearly remember her saying 'Just wait until you get through Fundamentals, it just all becomes so clear.' And I didn't grasp what she meant until perhaps the last three weeks, as I made my way through the chapter on Vitamins, having covered off Water and the macronutrients (Fats, Carbs & Proteins).

Suddenly, everything crystallized in my head, and it became plain as day to me that the saying "Let Thy Food be Thy Medicine" is the single BEST piece of advice any person seeking to be live a healthy life could ever receive. It turns out that Mother Nature designed foods to not only to help us grow and give us energy, but also to protect us from all sorts of physical and mental ailments.

Maybe this doesn't seem like such a revelation to some. We've all heard the saying 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away', and it's hard not to notice the rows upon rows of vitamin bottles that line the drugstore shelves. Food marketers have certainly jumped on the bandwagon, making all sorts of health claims about their processed, sugary products that have been fortified with this or that. So, in some sense, perhaps there's a vague acknowledgement that food and health are connected, but I think most people must be missing the boat.

What occurred to me as I was reading through the chapter on vitamins, was that there seem to be growing reports of certain conditions such as diabetes, depression, anxiety, autism, cancer, etc. Could it be, just possibly be, that some of these conditions are resulting from a diet that is deficient in fresh, wholesome foods that have Nature's medicine enclosed, while at the same time being overly abundant in sugary, processed, refined foods that actually deplete our body of vitamins that it requires in order to function optimally.

It seems like it's all about taking drugs to manage these diseases and conditions. That's great for the pharmaceutical companies, but what about the person taking the drugs? What about his/her family, who may have to be a caretaker?

We need to start taking responsibility for our own health, for the health of our communities, and the health of our society.We aren't being responsible as a society when we allow giant food companies to market Fruit Loops and McDonald's cheeseburgers to children. We aren't being responsible to our community, when we ignore the fact that many of our farmers are dousing the land, our water supply, and our food with chemicals. We aren't being responsible to ourselves when we choose to guzzle pop instead of water, or chomp on chips instead of carrots.

My thoughts about public 'health care' are quite difficult to sort through, but I do believe that our current systems of 'health care', whether private or public, are failing us as a society. And many of us are failing our future selves too, with the choices we make or don't make. I think that by the time I am of that age that most people seem to start suffering from degenerative diseases, the medical system that we have today will have imploded unto itself. Unless we wake up now and start taking care of ourselves each and every day, I reckon the individual and collective abilities of the human race will devolve. Our bodies and brains were designed to run on real food, and if we instead choose to feed them with fake foods and drugs, we will never, ever live up to our potential.

I didn't intend for this to be a sombre blog post. I suppose I can't help but be disheartened by all the glaring signs that we are not only killing our planet with the terrible choices we are making individually and collectively, but we are also diminishing the potential for future generations to realize their grandest dreams.

Next time, I promise I'll write an uplifting post. In the meantime, I implore you to find yourself a farmer and make friends with him/her, then ask if you can perhaps buy some real food, you know, stuff that comes directly from the ground or the pasture and never passes through a factory or laboratory. Then thank that farmer for saving your future self from years of lower quality, disease ridden life and then, finally, thank your self for investing in the best medicine available on this planet. And miracle of miracles, the medicine tastes amazing. Mother Nature knew exactly how to get us to 'take our medicine'.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ktichen Makeover - Part 1

It seems both my mother and sister had determined that my kitchen was lacking in some regards, as they both gave me various kitchen items for Christmas. Granted, I did put a couple on my list, but only after my sister came to visit one day and exclaimed (with slight judgement I think) "What, you don't have a wire whisk?!'. Apparently I was also lacking a decent peeler, a spice rack, a working blender, good kitchen scissors, a plastic scrapping thing (for scraping pots & pans), and an 8 in square baking pan.

With all this new loot for my rather tiny kitchen, I figured I might as well go the whole nine yards and do a total makeover of my kitchen, including a major cleanse of my pantry and fridge.

I've been meaning to get rid of temptations in my pantry for awhile, so last Friday night I got a big garbage bag out and started tossing food into it. I had another bag for temptations that I didn't want to throw out, but also didn't want to have in my kitchen. My main goal was to get rid of all the baking supplies in my kitchen, as well as any refined carbohydrates that aren't going to do my health any good.

Since my progression towards healthy eating has been an on-going journey, I think I'd give my pre-cleanse pantry a B- based on its contents. There was definitely no shortage of baking supplies, including sugar, chocolate chips, cocoa powder and flour, but the seasons of holiday baking had just past! What wasn't in my pantry before the cleanse was more telling: no Kraft Dinner, no cereal boxes, no cookies or chips, no 'healthy' rice cakes, no packaged 'fake' foods, and the only boxes of pasta and crackers were remnants of partie or special birthday dinners that had been prepared in my kitchen.

Despite giving my pantry a decent report card rating, I still had a big blue recycling bag full of food to bin and one of those 'Bags for Life' from Sobeys filled to the brim with stuff I didn't want to throw out (because I know there's going to be a time when I just 'have' to bake cookies for some sort of event).

Post-cleanse, I am giving my pantry a straight-up A. I cleaned out pretty much all my baking supplies, save for a bag of flour (in case I need to use it for thickener in a stew or something) and a small bag of sugar (in case someone wants sugar in their coffee....even though I don't actually have any coffee in my kitchen). I also disposed of a lot of mystery bags from the bulk barn...mostly spices I wasn't able to identify.

So, what the heck is left in my pantry? I decided it'd be easiest just to show you!!

As you can see from the top photo, I have some herbal teas (even though I'm not a tea drinker), along with some nuts and cranberries (for my salads). Tucked behind these top shelf items is a can of hot chocolate - my one indulgence that I shall not cede! There's also some chicken and beef boullion - not as ideal as homemade stock, but everything is a work in progress right!?

The next shelf is mainly canned goods, primarily in anticipation of being invited to a potluck (the obvious dish will be some sort of bean salad). Canned wild pacific salmon, while not the ideal source of salmon is, possibly, better than freshly frozen farmed Atlantic salmon (and all Atlantic salmon is it is more often farmed in S. America and shipped to us Atlantic Canadians!). I like to make salmon loaves, and the canned salmon works well and is inexpensive. I also have some coconut milk and cream, which are paleo-friendly, so long as they aren't the low-fat versions (and they aren't). I'll use these in my thai cooking experiments, along with the peanut satay sauce, which is surely laden with sugars (that's when moderation is a useful tool!)

In the middle photo, you see the next two shelves are basically all my little bags of spices. Despite have a lovely 20-jar spice rack on my countertop now, I still have some additional spices that I'll be turning to, including a favorite for making baked sweet potato fries taste yummy: cumin (mix it up with curry powder and sprinkle over 'fries' that have been tossed in olive oil).

The bottom shelf is definitely my least paleo-friendly pantry. I have kept some rolled oats, because I use them in my salmon loaf as well as my pork burger recipe. Once in awhile it's also nice to have a hearty bowl of warm oatmeal for breakfast. I discovered three bags of quinoa during my cleanse and have kept those at hand as well. Quinoa is an ancient seed that originated in S. America. It has a high protein content, plenty of nutrients and is super easy to prepare. Of the grains/seeds out there, I reckon I'd label this the 'Super Seed'!

So, there you have it, my kitchen makeover has begun. My pantry is relatively barren and I have a Sobeys bag brimming with 'bad' foods tucked away in a corner of my bedroom. Watch this space for more exciting adventures as I delve into my freezer and fridge. Maybe I'll make it even more dramatic with a live video!!!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Almost in Time for the New Year

For the past few years, instead of making a New Year's resolution, I've written down a list of goals to be accomplished throughout the year. I even break them down by theme - health, career, education, self-development, finances, etc. I then detail how I plan to achieve these goals. For example, I plan to follow a weekly budget for my variable expenses by using cash, a mason jar system, and by recording all my spending in a ledger. Sometimes, depending on the goal, I also break down steps by quarter-year, month, or week. I try to review my goals each month and identify ways to work towards my goals each week of the month.

All of this to say that I like to have goals and then I like to execute plans to reach them.

Yesterday was supposed to mark my return to the gym after a much-too-long hiatus. Tonight I was intending to hit the nutrition books in an effort to catch up on time lost over the busy months of November and December, when I was planning MEAL and getting ready for Christmas. January 3rd then, would mark the beginning of my 'Pursuit of 2012 Goals'.

It seems, however, that my body has different plans for me during this first week of 2012. I started to feel unwell around noon of yesterday, with a sore throat and general lack of energy. I let myself sleep for ten hours last night, in hopes of staving off any cold or other virus that might be trying to make an abode in my body. Alas, I still feel under the weather tonight and so, while I'm not physically well enough to hit the gym or mentally well enough to concentrate on details of vitamins, I figured I could at least blog about some of the things that I've been thinking/plotting as of late. As I enjoy lists, I think I'll make include some list-like features in the remainder of this blog.

1. I am planning to blog with more regularity this year, specifically, at least once a week.

My intention to blog weekly is motivated by a number of factors. First, and foremost, I enjoy writing. Well, actually that's a bit of a liee, writing is a love /hate relationship for me, but I'm hoping that by getting into the habit of doing it regularly, I might get used to staring at blank pages and just writing down whatever wants to come out. My creative writing teacher always said there were two ways to get better at writing: read more and write more.

I've also been inspired by my friend and nutritionist-in-training, Raeanne, who writes lovely posts about all sorts of nutrition related topics that I find fascinating and informative. I love learning, but I might actually love teaching even more! I want to make my blog educational, interesting and inspiring - a tall order, I realize, but I like to aim high.

My final incentive to blog more regularly is tied into another of my 2012 goals, which is to continue with my education in holistic nutrition. I started the 2-year distance ed. RHN program in October and have been finding it a bit of a struggle to learn solely by reading textbooks. I've decided I need some way to apply what I'm learning about fats, carbs, proteins, vitamins, etc. so that it will stick with me more. One way to do that is by teaching others, so I'm going to try to blog (maybe even video blog) about what I've been studying and hopefully, in the process, provide some interesting insights about health and nutrition.

2. I'm going to keep following my passions

If the last year has taught me one thing, it is that if you follow your passions, you will be amply rewarded in ways you never even imagined. I never anticipated that having a passion for local food could result in meeting and becoming friends with so many amazing people such as Shannon M., Soleil, Natalie, Megan, Randy, Mathieu, Jackie, Jared, Jen C., Amy & Verena, Raymond, Phil, and....well, the list goes on and on. I also had an amazing time being part of two MEALS - there was so much work involved in organizing them both, but it never really felt like work! And to top it all off, my penchant for wine took me to Moncton, where I met Mr. Wonderful at the Moncton Winefest (yes, we both still say on occasion 'Moncton? Really?').

This coming year, my nutrition studies are a major focus of continuing to follow my food passion. I am also contemplating the development of a food business, have applied to be a foodie writer for a local paper, and am certain that I'll be involved in more MEAL planning over the coming months. Stay tuned!

3. Eating and wellness are going to remain major focuses in my personal journey towards optimum health

No big surprise here, I'm on a continual journey to improve my health, both physically and mentally. This year I hope that my nutrition studies will help guide my eating choices, while I plan to try new exercises and maybe incorporate some meditation into my routine.

And now my bed is calling out to me. I can't wait until this sickness is gone!