Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How-To Manual: Eating Healthily, Ethically, and Cheap as a Student

This blog post is a practical response to an essay I wrote titled “Digging for Real Food as a Genetically Modified Consumer Culture.” I concluded that our modern food system – one of hyper-palatable edibles – leaves many consumers digging for authenticity by relaxing and redefining what constitutes ‘real food.’ We do this by making ‘real’ a factor of our relationship to food, less often a quality of the food itself. This relationship manifests itself through geography, emotions, cultural history, and our perception of simplicity. Respectively, these sound like: “it’s local,” or “it was cooked with love,” or “my grandma buys this ingredient,” or “it’s just a simple apple.” And, all of these are precursors to the idea “…so it MUST be healthy, right?”

Not necessarily. In reality, these factors do not inherently change a food. Yes, they contribute to the more ephemeral side of nourishment, but ultimately the ingredient remains the same. It might have been sprayed with pesticides, grown on land that practices mono-culture and clear-cut farming, and/or been transported by underpaid laborers.

How, as students, do we navigate this dilemma? How do we eat well, save the planet, save money, but avoid sounding like pretentious food yuppies? Moreover, why should we care? If you can sacrifice ten minutes to read below, you will discover the answer. Seven years of working at farmer's markets, restaurants, farms, and a cooking school has taught me much in the way of 'real.' My hope is that this can be a useful free resource to students who have the right intention but don't know where to start... 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What to Do with Bitter Lettuce

Whenever I have a head of lettuce that's over-grown, bitter, or end-of-season, I try to work with it's woodiness instead of disguise it. A delicate salad would only highlight its toughness, so instead why not use it as a wrap? Or, you can marinade it with a rich dressing. Treat it as you would chard or kale. This bundle of thick romaine made great little "tortillas." I flattened the leaves, removed the centre rib, then spread a layer of creamy pumpkin seed cheese (recipe here). Top with whatever crunchy vegetables you like. I used homemade sauerkraut, shredded kholrabi, and a little of the cooked spaghetti squash you see in the back. Season with salt and pepper - my brother gifted me black Icelandic sea salt from his latest adventure - and roll up the leaves. Tuck the edges under and place close together on a plate so they keep their shape. If you want to use chard leaves instead of lettuce, give them a good massage after removing the centre rib. Soaking them for an hour in a little lemon juice + water also helps. Or, be bold and just eat them raw. Dishes like this are supposed to be no-fuss. So, "cutting corners" is often healthier - appreciating food in its most natural state.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cheesy Squash and Cabbage *Vegan

Nutritional yeast is a person's sneakiest ingredient in a plant-based kitchen. When combined with oil, salt, and thickening agent you end up with a damn good cheese-substitute. This dish couldn't be simpler or more satisfying after a long, chilly autumn school day. Just steam your favourite squash and cabbage. I used the last of our farm share's acorn squash and nappa cabbage. While they cook, combine the following in a high-performance blender:

- 1/3 cup of cashews
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 red onion, peeled
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tbs apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- Lots of salt and pepper to taste; miso paste is a good salty substitute
- *1/2 tbs of toasted curry spice if you want an awesome twist on flavour

Toss the cold dressing over warm vegetables and allow their temperatures to mingle. Serves 1 big portion or 2 small.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hemp and Maca Smoothie

New favourite smoothie! Its flavor is creamy, subtle, and rich. The variety of healthy fats are comforting on a cold, Autumn morning. Should you want to take it on-the-go, this kind of mix won't separate on you. It packs 30g of protein, and the power of maca - known to balance hormone levels, boost libido (especially in men), and improve mood. I added a number of other tonic ingredients - as a creamy smoothie is the perfect disguise for astringent powders - but that is optional.

Blend the following ingredients:
- 1 cup water or almond milk
- 1/2 very ripe, frozen banana
- 1 scoop plant-based vanilla protein powder
- 2 tbs hempseeds
- 1 tbs maca powder
- Splash of cold coffee or coffee ice cube
- Ice, to personal preference
- 1/4 avocado, add at the very end of blending
- *Optional: mucuna powder, ashwagandha, etc.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Eggplant and Fig Dip

This is halfway between a traditional baba ganoush and a tangy tapenade. I've been dipping cucumber and pepper slices into it all week. Tuck a bowl of dip in the fridge and you're never without an instant snack. Fast food at its best. The vinegar in the dip develops the flavor over a few days, making it taste more pickled. As usual, no recipe is needed. Go with your tastebuds and keep adjusting the salty/sweet/sourness until you are happy with the final result.

In a blender or food processor, mix the following until chunky or pureed:

- 1 large or 2 small eggplants; baked 45 minutes at 425F and soft part scooped out
- Handful of fresh or dried figs; if the latter then use more liquid
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 huge handful of fresh parsley leaves
- Big spoonful of tahini
- Big spoonful of balsamic vinegar; I used fig-flavoured
- Big spoonful of olive oil
- Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- Big pinch of garahm masala

Community Shared Agriculture

Our farmshare with Fertile Ground Organic CSA is coming to a close. Our last pickup is this Tuesday, and the produce will be sorely missed all winter. Angie and her team have outdone theirselves, yet again! Here are some pictures from the late season. I've been featuring their produce, and mentioning them nearly every week; so, photos will provide some more context. Special guest, Agricultural Minister Leal, is seen visiting in the second row of photos on the left.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cold Weather Nutrition

As the temperature falls, food naturally turns to hot, comforting dishes: stews, roasts, warm drinks, etc. While I love breaking-in my slow-cooker for the season, nutritionally I notice the deficit of vitamin-rich food. Cooking absolutely everything - porridge in the morning, soup for lunch, more hot food for dinner - leaves our bodies at a loss for snappy, fresh nutrients. Immediately, we don't notice the symptoms, but they creep in through out the season. We feel more sluggish, less desiring to exercise, perhaps more irritable, etc. It's why fresh strawberries, asparagus, and peas are so welcomed in the spring! Sustaining oneself with a portion of raw, living foods through ought the cold season, I have personally found, is optimal for physical and mental health. Adding some fresh citrus or apple cider vinegar is also important, along with healthy fats/oils. This lunch creation was the perfect antidote. As usual, there is no recipe required!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Nourishing Dinner Bowl

You know, the more I learn about cooking - fancy techniques, flavor pairings, luxury ingredients, etc. - the simpler I end up eating. You'd think, given the slew of amazing culinary influences in my radius, that the outcome would be the opposite. Give me a bowl of rice, lentils, swiss chard, and tomatoes and I am a happy woman. It's amazing what happens when we turn our attention away from intensely sweet/salty/fatty food and direct it back towards Mother Nature. All of a sudden, fruit becomes exceedingly decadent. Tomatoes and celery, by virtue of their water content, provide a natural saltiness. And, items like cashews and coconut oil posses all the richness desired. It took me about a year to ween off of, and no longer desire "standard" Canadian foods. It was a patient and forgiving process. If I wanted a little cheese, I'd have it. If an egg or two found its way into my breakfast, then so be it. Now that I am here, however - eating a vegan diet, featuring about 75% raw, local foods - I relish in how genuinely satisfying it

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thanksgiving: Instead of Turkey

Holiday flavours - sage, celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms, wild rice, etc. - are not exclusive to meat. Think of everything that goes into turkey stuffing, and pack it into an acorn squash instead. If you are keen to avoid the bread and butter, replace it with some of the mashed squash, lentils, and coconut oil. The bonus crispy and salty topping is made with sunflower seeds. Stuffed squash is an awesome vegetarian/vegan option for the Thanksgiving table. At the very least, it's a stellar side dish. Plant-based eating need not be boring. Dishes like these are decadent, colourful, exciting, and nourishing. 

1. Pre-bake squash: Cut an acorn squash (or pumpkin, or kabocha or butternut squash, etc.) in half and scoop out the seeds. Bake in the oven at 425F until it is tender, but not too soft. About 40 minutes. Doing this the night before helps. When cool enough, scoop out the squash, leaving some meat around the edges and bottom. (See picture). You want the squash to be sturdy enough for stuffing.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Painting Website is Live

Hi everyone,

Something a bit different for this post.... By popular request, I have created a sister site for my art business. Painting with Claire has a scroll-able portfolio, how to order section, and contact information listed. Many of you know that my approach to cooking is highly intuitive and rarely utilizes recipes. Painting is a similar creative outlet for me. My artwork is featured in homes all around Waterloo and Canada. If you are interested in ordering a custom piece, we can work one on one to create something you love.  Details are listed on the site.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Flexible Meal Prepping

Here's an example of what I might throw together for lunch on any given day. It may look fancy, but I promise this is as simple as a making a sandwich, or heating a bowl of soup. If you "meal prep" one day per week - in the form of: making flax crackers, hummus, soaking and cooking lentils and rice, boiling some root vegetables, baking a squash, starting sprouts, making a small batch of sauerkraut, etc - you'll have all the components to make healthy fast-food on demand. It takes about 2 hours on a Sunday, but it makes eating clean a breeze the rest of the week. Instead of stocking my fridge with actual meals, this method allows me to create whatever I feel like that afternoon/night. Perhaps I want to use a portion of the cooked chickpeas to make a vegetable stew, or a veggie burger, or to toss in a salad. I'm not locked into measured portions of macro-nutrients. That might work for body builders, but I genuinely look forward to the creating of food. It's an artistic outlet, and therefore it's nice to have a pallet of ingredients to choose from. Instead of "meal prepping" I think a better option is "meal potential-ing." Then you get in the habit of nourishing yourself everyday, creatively; only, it takes ten minutes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Easy Nut Butter Fudge

This might be one of my greatest vegan inventions ever! It's basically the MacGyver of desserts. If being drop dead delicious wasn't enough, the simplicity of this fudge recipe takes the cake. You need one saucepan, a few pantry ingredients, and a brownie tin. I made a large batch and stored it in the freezer for a month. Every time I had company over, it served as an impromptu dessert. Craving something sweet or cookie-doughy after work? Have a little piece. Crumble it over anything soft and frozen, or melt it into other chocolatey desserts.  My friend Lauren (seen in picture) and I used it to make the best banana nicecream sundae. If you'd like a recipe for the frozen dessert portion, check out my precious post: Vegan Chunky Monkey.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Curried Sunflower Seed Dip

This is similar to a hummus, but uses raw, soaked sunflower seeds instead of chickpeas. You don't need specific measurements to make this recipe, just a little intuition! Take two big handfuls of sunflower seeds and place them in a bowl of water overnight. In the morning, drain, rinse, drain, and rinse. You want the water to run clear of murky liquid. On that note, you'd be surprised with how much cloudy gunk comes off of nuts after soaking. With the exception of cashews and macadamia, all nuts should be soaked before eating. It removes their enzyme inhibitors, and makes them more nutritious and digestible. After your sunflower seeds are ready, place them in a blender or food processor. Toast a few teaspoons of curry powder, cumin seeds, (and any other spices you like) in a hot pan. You can get away with a dry-toasting as long as you hover over the pan and watch that they don't burn. Add them to the blender. Zest and squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Add some garlic, whether it be a fresh clove or garlic powder. Add lots of fresh parsley and a few glugs of a neutral-tasting oil, ie: sunflower, grapeseed, or virgin olive oil. Blend everything on high for a minute. Scrape down the sides and repeat as necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve alongside crudité. Once you have a feel for the base of this "recipe," you can play around with the spices, oils, and herbs. You could take it down a spicy, Asian, ginger, and cilantro route. Or, you could use garahm masala, throw in a date, and make a sweeter Middle Eastern version. Get creative! :)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Quinoa and Chickpea Stuffed Peppers

The goal with stuffed peppers is to cut into them and not have the contents tumble everywhere on your plate. Because these are vegan, I needed a creative solution to "bind" the ingredients without cheese, eggs, or dairy. The filling can include any legume and/or vegetable you like. I used: cooked quinoa, cooked chickpeas, minced purple onion and garlic, finely chopped green pepper, shredded carrot, and lots of chopped fresh parsley. Amounts of each can very, but aim for more grains and less big pieces of things... I searched my fridge, hmm... something to make everything stick together. Hummus! I had a 3/4 cup of a cumin-y hummus leftover, so added it to the bowl. It worked perfectly! Season the mixture to taste, then pack into hollowed out bell peppers. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 375F and then let cool slightly. Top with something spunky, like a pile of spicy sprouts. I served these at a healthy brunch, along side a tofu scramble, fresh fruit, and student-grade coffee. Can't win 'em all.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Green Power Bowl

Granted, this was not the most delicious of my Buddha Bowl series, but it packed the highest nutrition. Edamame, aka young soybeans, are a phenomenal source of protein and, when combined with mushrooms and peppers, have a very "meaty" effect. This edamame came from our farm share, raw and still on the stalk. I picked the shoots off the stem, blanched them for 5 minutes, shocked them in cold water, and then peeled the beans out. If that's too much work for you, edamame is available, ready to boil, in the freezer section of most grocery stores. You could even make the beans into little burger patties, and stuff with the grilled veggies between your favourite hamburger bun. For extra vitamines I laid everything on a bed of raw spinach, though any lettuce or steamed bitter-green would work just as well. The dressing is made simply by blending avocado, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper. This whole bowl was a little bit weird, and a lot a bit awesome.